Delusion and Commitment

Most people have problems with commitment – and I’m not just talking about relationships here. I have a friend at school who is constantly complaining about how he wishes he had better grades. Let’s call him “Bad Grades” Joe. Now let’s take a moment and consider some of the possible reasons that “Bad Grades” Joe gets bad grades:

1. He doesn’t work hard enough.

2. His professors are bad and/or mean.

3. The school is out to get him.

4. The government is out to get him.

The top excuse for bad grades is typically going to be number 2, and I will usually hear number 3 and even number 4 cited long before I hear anyone admit that number 1 is probably true. The most common reason my fellow students are successful than they’d like to be in school is that – you got it – they’re lousy students.

It gets on my nerves sometimes, because I hear so many people make the same, worn out complaints. “This class is too hard,” or “my professor doesn’t grade fairly,” or “that test was bullshit.” No, sorry. If this class is hard, it’s probably hard for everyone; if the professor grades harshly, it probably reflects on the whole class; if the test was bullshit, too fucking bad! Again, everyone is taking the same test. You’re all experiencing the same lectures facing the same tests hating the same professor. What you do with that is up to YOU.

It’s actually pretty amazing how resilient the human mind is — we’re able to bounce back from a lot. In particular we are very good at taking negative situations and turning them into neutral or positive ones in our head. Sometimes this can be a good thing, like when people criticize us unjustly. This is an objectively bad moment, but we pretty easily turn it around, often shifting the negatives onto the other person. But in other cases, our resilience bites us in the ass. When our psychological immune system takes a negative series of events and causes us to feel so comfortable that we don’t react — we have a problem. In the case of Joe, he likely doesn’t do as much textbook reading or studying as he should, and he might not even go to every lecture. But when asked if he’s doing as much as he realistically should be doing for that class, he will probably say yes. At most he may shrug off the question or hem and haw and admit that he’s doing almost as much as he can. Perhaps he’ll say he’s too busy to do more than he’s already doing.

Whatever the excuse, it’s pretty incredible that we can delude ourselves this effectively. Because I assure you it’s no act. “Bad Grades” Joe really believes that he is working hard in his classes. He may even believe he is one of the hardest workers he knows, despite the fact this can’t really be true.

Which brings me to poker. When it comes to poker, there are practically endless ways for us to delude ourselves. Here are a few delusions that I think are important to take note of mentally so that we can combat them:

1. One huge delusion that I a lot of players get tricked into is that they are doing everything they could be doing to improve at poker, and they just “haven’t been able to get anything going” yet. This one can be more subtle than it seems, especially since it won’t normally be spelled out in such blatant terms. I see forum posts once in a while that read something like:

“I play X hands,  do Y hand history reviews , read Z articles, and watch X*Y*Z strategy videos per week – why am I not at 10Knl yet?!????!?!??!?!?!”

Cliche as the following phrase may be, it’s true that “quality is more important than quantity.” I’ve watched many a strategy video passively, barely even paying attention, perhaps “multitasking” or not pausing when off-computer distractions arise. I’m a little better with articles because I tend to be an active reader, and HH reviews help me a lot personally because I’m forced to focus, but I can’t even begin to tell you how many of my total online hands were played with almost no clue about what I was doing or why. Passivity is a huge danger during study and play, and it seems like a lot of players think that if they just watch their allotted number of videos each week, they will become Phil Ivey in a few months time.

2. Similar to the above is that a lot of people think that getting good at poker is easy. The unfortunate truth (well, actually fortunate if you think about it) is that most people who play poker will be bad. Most people who play poker and work at getting better… will be bad. Hell, most people who play poker and put in a ton of hours will be bad too — but you get the idea. What I’m getting at is that for most people, poker doesn’t come naturally, and people’s natural instincts will tend to get them into trouble. So it takes more than just learning tactical poker strategy to get good. Most people will need far more work in the areas of discipline, execution, and mental fortitude than in actual poker strategy. This is not easy work, and it is often not fun work, but people will try not to see these aspects of poker, even if they are trying to improve.

3. Of course the biggest and most dramatic delusion people fall into is that they run bad. I can’t count the number of poker players I’ve encountered who believe that they run worse than the average player. In fact I’d estimate that at least 85% of poker players believe they run worse than the 50th percentile poker player on the luck scale. (Now, it’s entirely possible that I’ve just happened to encounter mostly players who DO run worse than the 50th percentile player, but that’s pretty unlikely given how many poker players I talk to.) The dangerous part of this delusion is that it effectively removes any semblance of player responsibility for the player’s results. If a player genuinely believes that he runs terribly, then to him, his results (even long term results) won’t accurately reflect his abilities, and he will have no motivation to improve. Which makes the run-bad delusion the single biggest killer of would-be up-and-coming solid players. I guess I should be pleased though. Variance and “run bad” have deterred many, MANY players from improving and making this game even harder to beat.

For many players looking to improve their poker game, their motivation starts out strong and then wanes as their results do not match with their expectations. Sometimes delusion may have inflated their expectations prematurely, and when these expectations are not met, the psychological immune system kicks in and actually increases the weight of some  delusions, making it even less likely that the player finds the motivation to improve.

This is where commitment comes in. When I started taking a closer look at my poker game (and mental game especially), I realized that I would need to put in a helluva lot of work to get better. I think when a lot of people reach this realization, it becomes a deterrent even stronger than the delusions were. Work sucks. There’s no getting around it. But if your goal is to make serious improvement at poker, or anything, you need to make a similarly serious commitment to that goal to have any hope at success. You need to throw yourself at your task with fervor. You need to spend time doing it. You need to be thinking about it. You need to be eating, drinking, and sleeping it.

You need to commit.

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Poker, Poker, and some random things


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