Yes, you should set poker goals

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I have been an advocate of setting goals for so long and in so many settings, it’s hard to think this is a debatable point. In Ante Up, I’ve written about setting SMART goals and setting immediate, short-term, intermediate and long-term goals.

I recently read an online article by Graeme Turner, Why Successful People Don’t Set Goals and You Shouldn’t Either.

Turner argues: There are many famous individuals who “knew” exactly what an industry was going to do.

• “This band’s going nowhere,” Pete Best, original Beatles drummer, 1962

Turner asks how it’s possible to set realistic goals when it’s impossible to predict all those factors outside of our control that could influence these? Single-mindedness and total commitment to a goal can make a person oblivious to reality, unable to deal with changes to their market or environment.

Turner also argues that defining goals defines your limitations and instead make a commitment to continual improvement. This has an appeal. I don’t have to work at goal-setting; I don’t have to define what improvement really means; I just go along and have some kind of subjective, feeling that I get better every day. How would I know that without some form of measurement?

I don’t think this abandonment of goals is useful. I think it leads to copout and sloppy thinking. I think it leads to laziness.

Saying goals limit us is wrong. Paradoxically, I like the goal of continual improvement and suggest goal-setting as a way of getting there. Let’s call it what it is: Continual improvement is a good goal. Goals shouldn’t be absolutes; they should be guidelines. Continual improvement needs to be operational to be meaningful and useful, otherwise it becomes a misquoted Zen-type mantra that is just a feel good.

If your goal is continual improvement, how do you make it happen and how do you know when it has happened? Be more specific about defining continued improvement. Let’s say you decide patience is important. To continually improve your patience, you need to operationalize and measure.

Hypothetically, you can set parameters for your play that will increase your patience. For example, you might decide you can increase patience by never limping from early position or you might decide to limit the number of hands you play pre flop.

The part of your game you want to continually improve is up to you and how you set goals to accomplish that is also up to you. I still advocate the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) goal-setting system.

Don’t take the easy way out. Keep your head in the game.