The energy you use to be self-disciplined is your willpower. Many people think of self-discipline as an unchanging character trait that consistently remains at the same level throughout their lives. However, there is a large body of research that shows how willpower is a finite resource, and how a loss of it in one area of life affects how much of it is left in another area. One study1 found that students were more likely to smoke, stop taking care of their personal hygiene, and become prone to emotional outbursts, while cramming for finals. The stress of studying for finals lowered their overall willpower and led to lapses of self-discipline in other areas of life. Essentially, the loss of willpower exposed their self-discipline C-game, just as tilt or fatigue can expose your tactical C-game. This research helps to explain the types of difficulties poker players experience regularly. When grinding a lot of poker, both live and online, players often eat poorly, exercise less, are too tired to go out with friends, or drink and party heavily. At the end of a long session, players often become undisciplined tactically and start spewing chips. They may even be unable to resist playing craps or keno before walking out of the casino.

By pushing yourself to be more self-disciplined at times when it doesn’t come easily, you can increase your willpower. This is similar to runners being able to increase their physical endurance by pushing themselves to run farther than what feels easy to them. Here are two other ways to increase willpower:

1. Develop good habits. Only use your willpower when you need it most. Too often, players lack good habits and they waste willpower in basic areas of their life, such as starting their day, going to the gym, and eating. Habits or routines allow you to flow from these basic daily activities without having to deplete valuable energy. Your habits can preserve willpower even more when you can develop what author Charles Duhigg calls “key- stone habits” in his book, The Power of Habit2. Keystone habits are habits that create a domino effect and lead to a much wider pattern of good habits. For example, making a healthy breakfast in the morning might lead to studying before you play, being on time to play, and starting in a good frame of mind. Conversely, if you skip breakfast entirely, you might just jump right into playing and be at risk of tilt or playing poorly.

2. Kill a wish. Players often wish they had more self-discipline.They see other players with this skill and wish they could have it too. Perhaps they see self-discipline as a character trait they just weren’t born with, or they don’t want to put in the work to develop it. Either way, the wish is a passive approach to gaining a skill they’d ultimately like to have. Even worse, the wish deactivates willpower because why would you work hard to achieve something if you believe that you can have it simply by wishing for it? When you kill the wish to have more self-discipline, you give yourself the opportunity to increase your willpower and use it productively.

Work Ethic

Work ethic is the value you place on studying, learning, and developing your game away from the tables. In poker, a relaxed attitude towards work tends to be glorified through images of college students instantly winning millions of dollars. The fantasy of making tons of money with very little work has attracted many players to the game. For many of them, poker is enjoyable and doesn’t feel like work. However, problems arise when players abuse the freedom that poker affords them.

While having a more professional work ethic may not seem fun at first, it’s definitely more fun than failing, going back to a “real” job, and proving your doubters right. Success is a lot of fun and makes the mundane tasks that are necessary to achieve it more enjoyable as well. This doesn’t mean that a Saturday night spent at the casino or putting in extra hours of study is more desirable than going out with friends or spending time with family. But, those decisions take on a different meaning when they give you a greater chance of reaching your goals.

If you’re lacking sufficient work ethic, start by answering the following questions:

  • Who are the people you respect most in poker? How would you describe their work ethic?
  • Who do you respect more, people who are smart or people who work hard?
  • What are your current thoughts about the value of work? Have they changed over the years, and if so, how?

• What negative associations do you have towards work? Where did they develop?

• Who was your biggest influence—even if negative—in under- standing the value of work? What did this person teach you?

As was mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, you only need enough self-discipline and work ethic to reach your goals. With the game becoming more competitive and the aftereffects of Black Friday weighing down on the whole poker economy, many of you need to step up this area of your game. Solidifying your beliefs about the value of work through the above questions can help to provide that needed boost. In addition, use the mental hand history to break down and resolve any negative associations you have towards work. This will further free you from any conflicts that are undermining your attempts to improve.

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