Playing poker for a living might seem like a romantic idea on the surface, but every grinder worth his or her salt will tell you that it's, in fact, a grind. Poker is a "hard way to make easy living" and the day to day life of a professional is far less glamorous than one might think. "The grind" is, after all, a phrase associated more often with a standard nine to five affair than with using one's intellect to earn money playing poker at a virtual table.
Like with everything else in life you have to put in a lot of hours in order to reap the rewards and the hours starts to feel very, very long if you're doing something consistently for a long time. In this article, we'll lay out a simple plan that will help you avoid the negative effects associated with playing poker for very long hours and allow you to make your daily grind as painless and efficient as possible.
Eyes on the Prize
“If you have a goal, write it down. If you do not write it down, you do not have a goal - you have a wish.” - Steve Maraboli
The first step in ensuring that you won't get stuck in a rut of the daily grind is to make sure that your goals are as well defined and as visible as possible. Setting goals that are worth having is an art in and of itself, but the most important thing that you should keep in mind is that they should be tangible. Write them down, preferably on a piece of paper and have that piece of paper in your vicinity at all times. Whether it's a notebook that you keep on your desk or a note folded in your pocket make sure that you're constantly reminded about where you're headed.
If you prefer to rely on technology and you like to record your goals using software like Evernote or Trello, you might want to take additional steps to make yourself accountable. Share your goals with your poker friends, set-up a blog or journey thread on your favorite poker forum, find a group of like-minded players and create a study group that's working towards similar achievements, keep yourself accountable and give others mandate to keep you accountable.
There's a bunch of studies out there suggesting that our ability to focus is far more limited than we might think. The more pessimistic ones claim that the advent of smartphones caused the average attention span of a human being to become shorter than that of a... goldfish (8 vs 9 seconds). Even if you take more realistic estimates into account twenty minutes of sustained attention is the most an average human being can hope for.
The expectation that you'll just sit down behind your desk and grind for eight hours, seven days a week is at best somewhat unrealistic and at worst straight up unhealthy. Since playing poker at a high level is considerably more sophisticated than pushing pencils or being a cog in a production line you should really care about your mental performance and the first step to optimizing it is to accept your limitation.
Fortunately, there's a number of things we can do in order to maintain our focus. Taking breaks is the simplest and the most essential tool in your arsenal. If you're not taking a five-minute break at least every hour you're most likely doing it wrong. If you can take a minute or two every 20-30 minutes - that's even better. What you do during a break is also important, walking around the room, doing five push-ups, taking a look out the window, or a few mindful breaths will all be far superior and better for you than scrolling through Facebook.
If you can't take many breaks consider listening to some soft instrumental ambient music while playing. Studies show that this might actually slightly impede your performance at the tables (though with a proper choice of music the effect will be negligible or even slightly positive depending on the individual), but it can also increase the amount of time you can stay focused for. Lastly, consider streaming your session via Twitch.tv.
Changing your environment can be instrumental in boosting your motivation and helping you maintain focus. As a poker player, you can either introduce novelty via your game selection or through modifying your workspace. If you're a holdem grinder, consider learning some PLO or MTT on the side. Maybe you're tired of the poker room that you've played hundreds of thousands of hands on?
Consider changing it - preferably for a one with better VIP deal or softer tables. Find some new graphic skin for the tables you're playing on or redesign your HUD. As for changing the workspace, if you're on a budget you can do a bunch of simple, inexpensive things like buying a plant or a LED strip for a few quid to add some ambient lighting to your setup. If you're a midstakes baller, buy an additional monitor, some gaming peripherals or a beast PC.
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