Realistic Goals Are Not the Path to Success in Poker
American businesswoman Mary Kay Ash once said, "An average person with average talent and ambition and average education can outstrip the most brilliant genius in our society, if that person has clear, focused goals."
This is a pretty audacious statement, but it is one with which I happen to agree. Unfortunately, many people don't live up to their fullest potential because they have not been taught the proper methodology for setting goals.
One of the most common misperceptions about goal setting is that there are only a few things you need to know in order to achieve your goals.
Perhaps you have heard before the acronym "S.M.A.R.T." being used to help remind you to set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-limited. While this is a nice start, the acronym doesn't do justice to some of the tremendous complexities that psychologists have discovered to be important to the goal setting process.
Let's get into some of that research now so you can see how to become more effective with your goal setting strategy.
Make Your Goals Challenging and Specific
Psychologists Edwin Locke and Gary Latham have worked together for decades to develop a strategy known as "Goal Setting Theory." It's an approach that is so powerful that it is considered to be the number one tested management technique for achieving change in the workplace.
Locke and Latham co-authored a now famous textbook called A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance in which they discuss the theory. They have also overseen hundreds of studies that underscore one of the most important points about goals — unfortunately one that is frequently not adhered to by goal setters. That most important point is that goals need to be both challenging and specific in order to be effective.
Let me repeat this point because it is so important. Any time you are seeking an outcome to a performance goal, your goal must be challenging and specific. According to Latham, people's omission of this one feature is the foremost reason why most goals fail.
Another common goal setting trap for many people is that they keep their goals deliberately vague and simply wish for positive outcomes. Setting easy (or "realistic") goals also means you never have to feel bad about yourself if you fail.
Unfortunately, this is not the path to peak performance. Setting mediocre goals that are not particularly challenging and that don't require much effort leads to subpar results. Making your performance goals both specific and genuinely challenging is the only way around this trap.
In addition to these findings, psychologist Jessica Tracy and her colleagues have found that setting mediocre goals also failed to promote "authentic self-esteem." If you want to feel better about yourself, then you'll need to pursue hard tasks that take you outside of your comfort zone.
What Is "Realistic" Is a Matter of Perspective
For this reason, I want to challenge the common use of that word "realistic" as a guideline for your poker or life goals. Some of your best goals may appear to be unrealistic at first, but when broken down, they are probably quite attainable.
It's important to keep in mind that challenging and specific performance goals are goals that exceed your capabilities at the present time. It is important also that you clearly define them and write them out. Also, don't forget that tracking progress is an important part of goal achievement.
Locke and Latham additionally found across many studies that measurable goals produce more and better efforts because they encourage accountability. Throughout their writings, they emphasize the fact that those things which cannot be measured cannot be achieved.
What this means is that not only must goals be challenging and specific, but they must have some type of yardstick by which you can measure your progress.
Here's your challenge, if you choose to accept it.
Determine a challenging and specific poker-related performance goal that you would like to achieve, and write it down. Then, break that goal down into smaller sub-goals which are simply the steps you must take to achieve your overall goal. Be sure to come up with a system for tracking and measuring your progress as well.
Now go about making progress towards your sub-goals and very soon you'll have achieved your overall performance goal!
Dr. Tricia Cardner is the author of Peak Poker Performance (with Jonathan Little), available in paperback, audio and e-book formats via Amazon. Take her free online course Rev Up Your Poker Success, a step-by-step guide to designing your best year ever. And for more from Dr. Cardner, visit her website and follow her on Twitter @DrTriciaCardner.