New Year Resolution

2014 is around the corner and next year millions of people will be making, and breaking, New Year’s Resolutions. The success rate for New Year’s Resolutions is tremendously low. I’ve read studies that have said fewer than 14% of goals made on January 1st are achieved by the end of the year.

Although New Year’s Resolutions are comical in their success rate, now is still a time where we start thinking about what we would like to achieve next year. I’ve worked with hundreds of professional poker players as a mental game coach, and while few of them came to me saying they had a problem with setting goals, almost all of them did.

Here are some ways to avoid falling into the New Year’s Resolution trap:

Set a Realistic Starting Point

The biggest single problem with setting goals on January 1st is that you’re usually in way too optimistic a mood. You start the year full of inspiration and energy, and right now, sticking to that goal seems very easy. The start of the year gives us the fantasy of a fresh start, it tricks us into thinking that all the mistakes and leaks we had in 2013 are a distant memory simply because the year changes.

This period of high inspiration is useful, however, and you can use it as your jumping off point to get going. But know that it is only temporary. When you know that you are potentially setting a goal with too much confidence, you won’t feel deflated a week later, or at some point in the future, when sticking to it becomes harder. By all means set your goals at the start of the year, but give yourself the option to refine them two or three weeks later, without feeling like a failure. You may also want to set a secondary goal which you will be pleased with if the first one doesn’t look attainable. If your goal is to play 500,000 hands in 2014, but then you decide that it is not realistic, it is much better to still try and go for 350,000 hands instead of giving up completely.

Prepare a Spark of Inspiration

When you know that the inspiration you feel at the beginning will not last forever, you can make your life easier by planning for times in the future when you’re low on motivation. For example, if you have a fitness goal, take time now to stock up on healthy food or pay your personal trainer in advance. In poker you might want to hire a coach or find a friend with similar goals to give you accountability during the tough times. When you are full of energy is the time to prepare for periods of low energy—if you wait, it’ll be harder to stick with your goal. Preparing is great prevention for failure.

When things are not going as imagined or planned, you can get frustrated, down, or anxious—making it tough to motivate yourself to keep working hard. At times like this, you need a spark of inspiration to give you that extra energy. Select a sample of inspirational things ahead of time so you’ll have them waiting when you need them. For example, a movie clip, quote, song, picture, or a family keepsake. If the theme from Rocky is the thing that gets you fired up, make sure you have it with you every time you play, or are preparing to play.

In addition, when originally setting your goal, ask yourself: why do you really want to achieve it? Even if the answer is just about money, figure out all the reasons why that money is so important to you. It could be: financial security for your children, buying a house, making your parents proud, proving people wrong or just the feeling of being a winner. Whatever the reason(s), during tough times remembering why you want to achieve your goal is another way to give you a boost of inspiration to keep you working hard. Studying five hours a week might be tough, but reminding yourself that the money you’ll make from poker will pay for a great family vacation, will give you a boost to stay motivated to put in those valuable hours off the table.

Anticipate Roadblocks

We are poor predictors of the future. Rarely at the time of setting a goal do we think about all the bad things that can stand in way of achieving a goal. Often a single instance of an unexpected roadblock might be enough to derail a goal for good.

One of the biggest mistake players make when setting yearly goals is not asking themselves these two simple questions before they start:

  1. What are the likely roadblocks that could stand in my way?
  2. How will I deal with them as they come up?

If you haven’t prepared for them, you increase the chances that you’ll fail to respond to them properly. It’s a gamble. Although, if you just took a few minutes to think about, you could figure out the problems that were most likely to arise and could create a plan to respond to it. This simple act of planning, puts you in a much better position to sidestep these problems so you can keep moving forward.

For example, if you set a goal to play 30,000 hands/month. Road blocks to that goal could be work, school, family commitments, getting sick, or a big downswing. You might prepare for other commitments by setting secondary targets when they come up, and increasing your monthly target the following month to compensate. You might prepare for being ill by granting yourself two days off guilt free but committing to a weekend the following week. You could deal with the downswing by setting a stop loss which if you reach it, you will drop down in stakes for 10,000 hands.

Not only will preparing for roadblocks give you a better chance of dealing with them, it also makes them less mentally taxing when they occur. By having a system in place as a default response, you don’t have to stress or think about how you will act, which saves valuable mental energy needed to perform. You can’t prepare for every roadblocks, but preparing for the most likely will help you face of any form of adversity and increase your chances of success.

Jared Tendler is a mental game coach to over 300 professional poker players and the author of The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2. Both books are available in all good book stores, potentially free on audiobook and can even be bought with PokerStars FPPs.