Poker Mental Game & Planning

Discipline & Self-Control in Poker

5,856 Views 0 Comments on 19/2/16

Discipline and self-control while playing poker are essential for any player. Master these two emotions and reap the benefits.

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Discipline and self-control are among the most important qualities of a successful poker player. We all like to think of ourselves as disciplined professionals on a clear path to high stakes and eternal poker glory. Unfortunately, very often our plans, intentions and imagination are disconnected from our actions. We think that it's OK to skip that coaching video we were about to watch or that poker session conflicting with our favorite football team's game because it's 'just one video' or 'just one session'. That, in turn, prevents us from forming good habits and good habits are essential to our long-term success.

Discipline vs. Motivation

Motivation is one of those tremendously popular buzzwords nowadays. Everyone seems to be looking for it and every place seems to be offering it. From Youtube clips, through self-help books and motivational speakers. Motivation is attractive but elusive, and therefore unreliable. Even when we manage to find a source of it, that source will inevitably dry out. That's why we shouldn't rely on it for realizing our grand ideas and instead focus on small activities that will build good habits.Substitute motivation with discipline.

Success is very often a sum of small tasks performed regularly. Passionate motivational speakers yelling that you should be willing to give up sleep seems to make sense when your goal is as ambitious as becoming a high stakes player. After all, grand ideas should require great sacrifices, right? In reality, you can't become a high stakes player overnight. It's a long game and a good sleeping schedule is a rather important element of it so it's important to shift our focus from the before mentioned grand ideas to small actions, from motivation to discipline.


Human beings have a long history of sacrificing long term investments for a small immediate pleasure (trading eternity in the garden of Eden for an apple comes to mind). This happens because we're giving up to the impulse. There's no rationality involved. We don't weigh the negatives and positives before we eat that diet breaking donut or skipping our poker session to watch a Netflix show. Our brain is not designed to help us make the most effective choices, in the long run, it's designed to survive and, therefore, prone to act on an impulse.

We subconsciously assume that today's abundance of resources can turn into scarcity at a moment's notice. The fact that we live in a world of instant gratification doesn't really help the case either. To remedy that we should learn how to make good plans for the future and how to live in the present. We have a lot of information on those subjects on our website, so check them out:

Monitor Your Progress

Problems with self-control are often caused by the fact that it's easy for the human brain to ignore something that will have consequences in the future. One hour of poker education doesn't really impact our career that much, but the 1000 hours you might spend on poker education throughout the year can make you into a different poker player. That's why it's extremely important to monitor your progress.

It's easy to skip a session when it's "just one session", it becomes harder to do that when you know that session is a part of weekly plan, and that weekly plan is a part of our monthly plan, and that monthly plan is a part of our yearly plan and so on and so forth.

Take advantage of that in the planning phase and consider splitting your goals into small, easy to measure chunks.

Hack Yourself

You don't have to become a Buddhist monk to master the art of self-control.  Behavioral science offers us some useful techniques that are easy to understand and can be easily implemented into our poker routine.

  • Reward substitution - If you're having trouble staying disciplined, try connecting unpleasant activities with pleasant ones to make yourself behave in a right way... for the wrong reasons. An example of that would be to sequence your poker education in a way so that the most hated but important form of learning (database analysis for example) came before your favorite one (like watching coaching videos), You can reward yourself with an episode of your favorite TV show after every hour of poker session etc. etc. If you associate the necessary unpleasant action with reward coming right after it, it's going to be easier for you to perform that action.

  • Self-control contracts - As we discussed above, the world is full of temptations and our brain is predisposed to succumb to those temptations. The one way to deal with that would be to establish self-control contracts, artificial barriers that can prevent you from using shortcuts and foiling your long-term plans. Use browser extensions like Website Blocker to disable the sites you tend to visit instead of playing poker, or working on your game. Arrange frequent sweat sessions with your poker friends or start a poker blog and commit yourself to playing that way. You can also consider streaming your poker sessions for the same reason.

Discipline and self-control are not mystical powers. They are available to everyone. As long as you're planning for success, making small, consistent, measurable steps to achieve it and you're constantly monitoring your progress, you should gain a considerable edge over less-aware players who try to rely on motivation alone in their endeavors.

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Matt VIP

Matt is predominantly a mental game and planning expert, with a terrific knowledge of science, meditation, practical methods of improvement and of course, a good level of poker skill! Look out for his strategy articles and follow him for his nobel-prize winning forum po ... Read More


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