Why do you play poker? To have a little fun, as a diversion, as a challenge, to grind out some extra money, as a semipro, as a full-time pro, or some combination there of.
When I recently asked a group of poker players this question each could answer it, easily.
The follow up question — What are your goals? — was met with quizzical looks.
For the most part, those who play poker meet their immediate goals: win some money, win today’s tournament, make my grind. But most players don’t have an articulate set of goals.
As Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”
Goals are important in all aspects of life and are essential to achieving peak performance in poker play.
Poker players of all levels should be setting specific goals. This includes the novice, the occasional player, the recreational player, the serious non-professional player, the semipro, the professional and the elite professional. Of course the goals will be different, and as one moves up the chain goal-setting becomes more important.
The novice and occasional player will readily give up their game if they don’t have fun or don’t sometimes win. It’s hard to have fun at this game without winning.
The avid player has some commitment to the game. This player reads books and magazines, possibly has a study group, watches training videos and not only enjoys the game but wants to make a profit. The serious non-professional has taken things a step further by tracking play, traveling to play and really focusing on the game. The professional is trying to make a living and move to an elite status.
Each of these players has different goals. Each will be able to perform at their peak by doing some simple goal-setting.
Goal-setting, done correctly, is a no-fail exercise. Self-determined goals can (and should) be modified when new information is gathered. How many times have you heard poker is a game of gathering data and adjusting? Goal-setting is the same. The more information we get the more we can adjust and modify our goals.
Sometimes we make mistakes and make our goals dependent on factors outside of ourselves. Things you can’t control, as long as you keep your goal self-determined, can be modified as you move along.
As long as one tries to narrow the goals to something measurable and accomplishable, one can account for the outside variance. When a goal is self-determined it can be modified by new information. You planned on playing four times a week and family and business issues took priority; modify and revise your goal — and all of your goals — up and down the line.
Setting goals is a powerful method of enhancing performance and has a consistent and powerful impact on behavior.
Many peak performers follow the S.M.A.R.T. method:
SPECIFIC: Goals cannot be vague; they have to be specific. Instead of “I will become a winning poker player” use “I will play in three tournaments a week and read one book a month, because if I play more and more consistently and study I will improve my game.”
MEASURABLE: You have to know when you reach a goal. Instead of saying “I am playing well and am going to move up to the next stake” try “ When I double my current poker bankroll from X to Y, I will move from the $2-$2 game to the $2-$5 game.”
ACTION-ORIENTED, ATTAINABLE: Goals cannot be passive. Your goal, and how you state it, should be action-oriented. A goal also has to have a good chance of being attained.
REALISTIC, RELEVANT: You can’t set a goal of “not being sucked out on.” But you can set a goal of getting your money in with the best hand. Goals have to also become realistic and relevant to what your are trying to accomplish.
TIMELY: There is always a time factor. Can the goal be accomplished in the time allotted and does the timing make sense?
SMART: Goal-setting allows greater achievement and eventually peak performance.
A well-stated goal can’t be dependent on external variables. “I will flop only sets, straights and flushes” is an absurd goal. “When I flop a set, a straight or a flush I will maximize my return,” is a much better stated goal.
Goals should be difficult, yet realistic, and have to become real to you, not just pie in the sky. You can make goals real by writing them down or telling someone else. I worked with a person who kept a picture of the World Series of Poker on his bathroom mirror. His goal was to play in a WSOP satellite and finish in the money. He looked at this picture every day, he told his poker buddies, he didn’t hide it and he committed the necessary stake and time to improve so that he accomplished it.
Your goals should have intermediate-term objectives and short-term objectives and each should fit within each other. Your short-term goal, the one for this week, should be a step toward reaching your intermediate-term goal; the one you set for six months from now and fit your long term, the one-year goal.
Each short-term goal should be a steppingstone to the intermediate-term goal and toward the long-term goals. Each intermediate-term goal should be a steppingstone to the long-term goal. Once a short-term goal is reached a new one has to be formulated. This is a constant process, lasting until you reach your dream goal.
Dream goals are long term and way out there. But even with dream goals every shorter-term goal has to fit in. Write down your dream goal, now. Every goal works backward. You should start with a goal that’s realistic and accomplishable a year from now, figure out where you have to be in six months, look to see if your three-month objective will get your there and ask yourself, “What did I do today to meet the next objective?”
Remember, each of these short-term goals is a step to next larger goal. The great thing about goals being self-determined is they can be modified. Modification is not failure.
In my opinion you set your long-term goal at least a year out, if not further, and work back. Let’s assume you set a decent goal that can be accomplished in a year. Where do you have to be in nine months, six months, three months, one month, this week, today?
If you really want to keep your head in the game, the question to ask yourself daily is: “What have I done today to make my weekly, monthly, six-month, one-year goal or my dream goal?”
— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. His column will give insight on how to achieve peak performance using poker psychology. Email him at email@example.com