The Starting Line

The players who are most successful at achieving their goals are the ones who understand their “true” starting point. At this stage of your poker career, it’s impossible to start from scratch. You’re always building on the goals you’ve achieved and what you learned in the process of reaching them. When setting new goals, players are often only focused on where they’re headed and don’t incorporate the lessons from their past experiences to help them get there. Below are a few questions to help you understand your starting point. It may be wise to revisit these questions a few times so that a moment of inspiration or negativity doesn’t bias your answers.

  • What’s your track record in accomplishing your goals?
  • How skilled are you at setting goals that are attainable?
  • What are your current strengths and weaknesses?
  • In the past, have you tended to over- or underestimate your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are the things you have been most passionate about in poker? Do they still inspire you?
  • Do you tend to over- or underestimate the time it will take to achieve your goals?
  • How accurate have you been in determining your potential?
  • What has previously caused you to fail?
  • What conflicting goals have caused problems for you in the past?
  1. Ideally, your starting point includes all of your previous accomplishments and failures. As discussed previously, dissatisfaction can drive players to want to start a new goal “fresh” and do things like delete their Hold’em Manager database to mask previous failure. You cannot wish away pre- vious failures. If you did, you’d be ignoring all that you could possibly learn from those failures and wasting their potential to facilitate future success. If you truly could start from scratch, you would just have to fail again in order to relearn everything that was deleted from your memory. One of the great things about poker is the sheer variety of possible achieve- ments. You could aim to become a great player, make a lot of money, win bracelets or major tournament titles, and you can do so in a multitude of games, stakes, and formats. The key is to narrow it down to a few things you really want—with so many options available, it’s easy to be pulled in too many directions to actually accomplish anything. Why You Want It In the process of setting goals, it’s important not just to know what you want to achieve, but why you want to achieve it. This can help you to:
    • Determine the benefits of success and the consequences of failure.
    • Clarify and make your goals stronger. (You may realize that the benefits of a particular goal are not as strong as you originally thought, and you need to reconsider and maybe even revise it.)

• Avoid distractions, laziness, and quitting when you encounter a difficult situation.

The most common reason why players want to achieve their goals in poker is, of course, money. But, even when money is the number-one goal, there is always something beyond cash to gain from being success- ful in poker: being your own boss, proving your parents wrong, feeling like a big winner, or just having a really cool job. Understanding these often-unconscious motives helps you to recognize what else is at stake, and can also provide direction for your goals. If you realize that the reason you play poker is because you are ultra-competitive, set goals and a plan that correspond to that reason, such as regularly taking shots against tough players. If the biggest reward you get from poker is hav- ing a cool job, set goals to play live events in interesting places. If poker gives you the opportunity to spend more time with your family, you might decide to play more tables online so you can play the same volume in less time. Aligning your goals with the reasons you want to achieve them will help you to get more out of the game, and may even increase your overall happiness and life EV.

What Drives You?

In his bestselling book Drive1, author Daniel Pink draws on a large body of research to highlight that our preconceptions about what motivates us is flawed. Money, of course, is a big motivator, but only to a small degree. Once someone is earning an amount of money that they can live comfortably on, the lure of more money shows diminishing returns. Beyond money, these are the three traits Pink identifies that really motivate people to achieve goals in their working lives:

  • Autonomy: A feeling of being in control of one’s work, to not be constrained by it or a boss.
  • Mastery: A sense of reaching the top of your craft, to be the best at what you do.
  • Purpose: The sense that your work means something, and that you have contributed to society in some way.

After reading Drive, I naturally thought about how well these three traits fit in with the life of a professional poker player. Autonomy makes perfect sense: The sense of freedom in poker and making your own hours is one of the biggest appeals of the game. Mastery also fits: Even though there’s a popular belief that poker is all about finding the weakest games, the players that tend to do the best in the long term are the ones who maintain enthusiasm for improving and challenging themselves. Purpose is the difficult one. Poker is viewed as a selfish and unproductive job, not only by society, but often by the players them- selves, because success comes at someone else’s expense. When you look at purpose in the context of motivation, it makes a lot of sense why some players get disillusioned with the game after a while. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. Poker can fulfill the personal goals you have for yourself, teach you skills that transfer to other aspects of life, and be something that you love to do. You may not be motivated to make $100,000 in a year without knowing how the money could help your family. You may not be driven to beat $3/$6, but devoting time to coaching other players keeps you motivated to improve your game. Think about what poker means to you and find a deeper sense of purpose. Phil Hellmuth isn’t always the first role model I would point out, but his dogged determination to win more bracelets than anyone else gives him a strong sense of purpose. For that reason, he’s worth emulating.

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