Poker Motivation – How To Keep The Fire Alive

It’s very easy to lose poker motivation playing this game. Distractions, tiredness and running bad to name but a few obstacles. You know you have to get the hands in… but you just don’t want to. Your lack of poker motivation to grind often feeds into procrastination which in turn leads to other problems like stress, anxiety and subsequently… failure. At the heart of this problem is often poor goal setting, stopping you from not only reaching your poker goals, but reaching your potential too.

It’s a serious problem, so let’s delve into the elements of poker motivation, the problems we face as players and some goal setting solutions to those issues.

How To Stay Motivated At Poker? 

You may not be motivated to play, but you are motivated… just not to play poker! Whether it’s to lounge around, watch TV or socialise. Whatever it is, there’s some form of motivation behind it and it’s often a battle of the mind as to whether you’ll play poker or do that something else. But why?

Setting Reasonable Poker Goals Helps Motivation

If your goals are unclear, unrealistic, or solely monetary, it is inevitable you will lose motivation to constantly pursue them. Subconsciously, It’s just easier to give up if deep down you know you aren’t going to fulfil those goals.

A goal such as ‘Always play my best’ is both vague and unrealistic. You cannot apply strong focus into something that it is too wishy-washy. Also when you are constantly learning, they’ll always be a range your play, you’ll make mistakes, making always playing your best unrealistic.

Set Process Not Result Poker Goals

The goal ‘Make 30k next year’ is unrealistic if you only made 2k this year learning micro-stakes. Plus it’s completely monetary and has no plan of action, meaning two-months in you’ll have completely written it off, leaving you aimlessly plodding through the poker world leaving your poker motivation behind you.

I think the best goals have an incremental plan of action AND the end prize. I guess you could compare it to a Car Rally driver and his podium win. He hits checkpoints along the way until he reaches his ultimate goal of winning. With checkpoints he can monitor his progress and keep up his determination. With the ultimate prize of winning the race, he has the end point with which to channel his energy towards. In poker we can do the equivalent; we create many small reachable goals with the bigger goal in further sight.

Ex: REGtheREG is a solid winner at NL100. He is looking to increase his yearly earn and is setting out his goals:

“Last year I earned $25k+ RB at NL100 @ 4.5bb/100 playing 6 hrs a day, 5 days a week. This year I want to earn 35k. I have determined I will need to gradually increase my winrate to by 2bb to 6.5bb or increase my time playing by 30%+.To do both is unrealistic, but a 1bb increase in WR and a 15% increase in playing is attainable.  I will give myself the best chance by setting the following goals:”

  • Create time management log to see where/if time is being wasted during the day.
  • Work harder off the table to increase strategically, 3 hrs extra per week based on log findings. Hand histories, sweats, EV calcs etc.
  • Increase playtime by 15 mins per session for 1 month, increasing by 15 mins extra each month to build up playing stamina.
  • Table select better. Never sit with players under 45%VPIP, this will increase my overall WR.
  • Track progress on weekly basis, filling out simple excel spreadsheet
  • Revisit goals every quarter and at my discretion withdraw any amount over required thresholds as a reward if quarterly target attained. *Threshold is $8750 per quarter (per 35k p/a target).
  • Fine-tune goals based on results per quarter

Now this is good goal setting. It has a systematic plan of action, regular mini-goals and an overall pinpoint purpose. He realizes the task in hand, but approaches it in a measuredly manner. So he does not become disillusioned with his long-term goal, he rewards himself along the way with incentives. The quarterly ‘mini-goals’ don’t have to be monetary, they can be small strategic targets like losing less with small pocket pairs for example, or improving your redline.

Be sure to include these elements in your own goal setting. With correct goals set, poker motivation is greatly increased because you know exactly what’s required of you. If you just play when you feel like it, it’s far to easy to just say “meh, I’ll have the night off”. Consistency is key if you are determined to succeed.

What Causes Poker Burnout?

Even with the best laid plans, there will come a time when you get derailed, hopefully not completely. Here are some common issues facing even the most hardened of player.

  • Spark – Perhaps you’re tired or recently had an argument with a loved one. You’re a bit off and need a boost to get you thinking straight. What you need is a reminder of what you need to be doing. We recently touched on poker warm ups here in recent article. Check it out!
  • Mental Burnout – Not to be confused with just being lazy, burnout occurs when you are clearly overdoing it. Trying to get way ahead of your goals, over studying or just playing for much longer than usual without proper rest in between. The trick to avoid burnout is to just leave a little in the tank. Stop playing when you still feel good, not when you can barely keep your head up. You’ll return with same hunger with which you left the table.
  • Fear of losing – A bad patch can often induce the fear of playing or create the negative thoughts of the pain of losing more money. Fear can often follow a good stretch also, in fear of losing it all back. The strange thing here is we are fearing something that has not happened yet! The trick here is to reword the questions whizzing around your mind into something answerable:

Ex 1: NOT –When will I stop running bad? BUT – I can’t possibly know this, how can I better understand how variance works?

Ex 2: NOT – Am I going to make it in this game? BUT – Am I giving myself the best chance?

By rewording the questions torturing your mind, you stop the mind constantly searching for the answer and the fear goes away. It’s ok to be uncertain such is the essence of learning, but fear does NOT have to play a role.

Setting Poker Aspirations

If still none of this works for you and you still remain an inconsistent, lazy and lacking in drive, you may have to ask yourself if you still want do this poker thing? It’s a harsh question to ask yourself, since you have likely worked very hard to get to this point. But the reality is, poker is a hard way to make an easy living. You will ALWAYS run both good and bad. Players often talk of the ‘doomswitch’ which of course is total nonsense; it’s just you running bad after a period of running good (when you likely withdrew money too). The giant swings will never ever go away, they are intrinsic to this game.

I’ll leave you with this quote from an unknown source:

“If you aren’t doing everything to get what you want, don’t you dare say you want it”.


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