Solve Your Learning Errors

Since learning is a skill with a range, you have a learning A-game and a learning C-game. The approach to solving your learning errors is the same approach you use to solve your performance errors: Eliminate the C-game mistakes. Unfortunately, they are not always obvious. Below are five common learning errors and their corrections, with the stage of either the ALM or the ZLM in which they occur.

Plateau: Intangible Competence and Unconscious Incompe- tence. The biggest strides in your learning often come during periods of great inspiration. So, what do you do when your previously steep learning curve has flat-lined? Maybe this has happened because you don’t know what to work on next or because you achieved a long-term poker goal, such as winning a large tournament. Poker could be feeling like a grind and you wish you were as excited about the game as when you first started playing. Whatever the reason, you need a way to make poker exciting again. If you choose not to address this problem, your game is at risk of becoming outdated. If that happens, you’ll face a huge investment of time in order to catch up. Instead, try challenging yourself with new goals, learning a new game, or getting a coach. You don’t have to dramatically increase your learning curve right from the start; you just need to get it climbing upwards again.

Premature realization of skill: Conscious Incompetence. In the race to master skills, poker players often think they’ve reached the finish line when they’ve actually just stepped up to the starting line. This often happens while working away from the table, when they feel as though they really “get” something. Their sense of understanding feels so strong that they assume the concept can easily be applied at the table. Then, when they actually get to the table, they make mistakes that reveal how much improvement is still required for mastery. They hadn’t accounted for how much repetition is needed to master a skill; it is not instant, as much as players wish it were. The simple solution to this issue is to realize that the first time you recognize a new mistake or a new tactic, you’ve entered the first conscious stage of learning. You still need to work through the next two stages of the process before the correction to that mistake is truly learned.

Immediately knowing the mistake: Conscious Competence. Ever make a play and realize immediately afterwards that it was a mis- take? Part of the problem was failing to know the right decision in the moment, but many players fail to dig any deeper than this. They assume that because they recognized the mistake immediately, the problem is solved and no further work is necessary to prevent the mistake from hap- pening again. However, this is the perfect time to focus on it. Why? You’re so close to mastering it! Putting in the extra work can help that skill reach the level of Unconscious Competence so that the next time, you will know the correct decision before you act, not after.

Intentionally learning while playing: Conscious Compe- tence. During a session is not the time to be actively learning; it is the time to take the test and prove what you have already learned. Many players use up valuable mental energy reviewing previous hands, doing equity calculations, and fixating on past mistakes while playing. The problem is that if they’re actively trying to learn and play at the same time, neither process will get the amount of mental energy it needs to be done well. Still, some players believe this is an effective way to learn, which in fact makes them more likely to repeat the same mistakes they are trying to learn from. They don’t realize this method of learning is flawed, and fail to put in the required work off the tables.

If you’ve become accustomed to learning in this way, breaking out of it can be tough. Aim to make only slight adjustments while playing, and do your active learning away from the table. If it’s helpful, jot down the things you want to revisit after a session so you don’t have to try and remember them all. This will allow you to remain focused on the action while still making sure that issues that come up will be addressed later on.

Overconsumption: Lack of Unconscious Competence. There is a lot of poker material available, and it’s easy to consume so much of it that you can’t make practical use of it all. This could even happen if you try to apply the material in this book to your game all at once. If you’re constantly learning new things and not spending enough time mastering what you have already learned, you will have too much to think about and not enough space in your mind to consider it all.

New information is exciting and can make you feel hopeful about its potential to better your game. In actuality, new information often proves to be a false prophet. It may improve your game, but not as substantially as you had hoped. When you haven’t yet mastered the knowledge you currently have, a new piece of information becomes just another thing you have to consciously think about. This puts you at risk to outlevel your- self, become lost in your own thoughts, and suffer a big step backwards during a downswing. Make sure you are mastering existing knowledge and eliminating C-game mistakes before trying to add new concepts to your game.

Matts Quiding Midstakes Limit Hold’em

“My biggest learning problem was accepting the reality of my level. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning a lot of things only to the level of Conscious Competence. Then, the bottom would fall out and I would be back to my C-game without even realizing what happened. This cycle was slowing down my learning process. I was spending too much time focused on parts of my game that I already knew really well, rather than training the things I didn’t know well. I realized the reason I was cutting my learning short was related to being a perfec- tionist. I would become overly emotional and fearful of failure when I didn’t know something. That compelled me to overthink situations and end up playing in a safe and predictable way—not using any moves that weren’t mastered. Now, I’m working in a much more process-ori- ented way. I can see the overall plan for learning and this takes away all the stress. I have much more trust in my decisions, even when I’m not certain they’re right, because I have a process for finding and fix- ing any mistakes. That allows me to learn a lot faster and keeps me focused on improving the consciously competent parts of my game until they become mastered.

I’ve found that keeping a written journal really helps a lot. (Now I make video journals because they’re just as effective and take less time.) The journal keeps me constantly aware of my weaknesses and

my A-game, so I always know what I’m working on—especially in the weak parts of my game. I use the mental hand history to think deeply about the cause of my mistakes and to search for good strategies for eliminating them from my game. I like how it digs deep below the sur- face to uncover the real reasons why problems show up. When I can understand the problem at a deep level, I automatically feel at ease and never need to overthink it.

I’m not perfect; sometimes I still get a little lazy when it comes to work- ing on my mental game. Recently, I was annoyed by a poor run and started to miss a lot of bets, which is a huge mistake in Limit Hold’em. In the past, this setback would have led to mistake tilt. But instead of getting annoyed and making bigger mistakes, I was able to analyze the situation and see the real problem: I was tired. I had started a demanding new schedule and wasn’t giving myself enough breaks. Awareness is the most important thing for me. When I know the enemy better, he’s easier to defeat.”

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