Secrets of Mental Toughness

If you played poker for any length of time, then you know how important mental toughness is to the game. Commentators and professional poker players often talk about mental toughness, but what exactly is mental toughness and how can it help at the poker table?

I like to think of mental toughness as a combination of motivation and resilience. First off, you must be motivated to do whatever it takes to take your game to its highest level. Motivation is the inner drive to commit to doing the work. Resilience is your ability to bounce back. Poker is filled with challenges and bad beats, and you must be able to bounce back time after time if you want to make it. It’s this combination of motivation and resilience that gives you the will to be focused and consistently driven.

By now you are probably wondering how you can increase your motivation and resilience. I’d like to offer a few strategies that have been empirically tested and shown to be effective by peak performance psychologists.

Mental Toughness Secret #1: Have a Daily Focus

You can start your work on this by setting clearly defined goals for your poker career. Whatever your main goals is, make it a challenging one. A challenging goal is far more motivating than an easy one. Take the time to break your big goal down into daily and weekly actions that you can take steps towards with focus and dedication. To figure out what you should be doing on a daily basis make sure you have a clear understanding of what is it that you want to achieve. Create habits that take you towards your goals and keep track of your progress with regular reviews.

Mental Toughness Secret #2: Have a Why

It’s easy to stay motivated when you have a powerful why. Why do you want to achieve your poker goals? Is it to help your family out or so your kids can have a better life? Is it so you can quit your 9-5 job and turn pro? Knowing why you want something helps you keep your eye on the prize. You’ve got to be motivated to get through the long hours of study and training that it’s going to take. Realize that most people won’t do this because they lose focus. Always maintain focus on what your goals are and why you want to achieve them.

Mental Toughness Secret #3: Play to Win

The mentally tough do not aspire to merely get by. They want to win. Train yourself to be really committed to the outcomes you want. Survival is not your goal, winning is. In a tournament scenario, who do you think has a better chance at making a final table – the guy with a survival mindset or the gal who takes chances? It’s all about the mindset you keep. Be committed to doing your best at all times and focus on doing those things that have the best chance of leading you to success.

Mental Toughness Secret #4: Learn How to Laugh

Poker is an extremely tough game. It can get monotonous and sometimes no matter what you do, things don’t go your way. In those moments, it’s important to keep a good attitude. Go to you happy place (a technique known as dissociation in psychology circles) and have a good chuckle at the absurdity of what’s happening to you. Surround yourself with good friends and family who will help you keep perspective through the tough times.

Mental Toughness Secret #5: Plan Your Game and Game Your Plan

Before you sit down to play, remind yourself of your overall goal. Stay focused and have a plan ahead of time for how you want your session to go. Visualize how you would like things to go, but always have contingency plans for when things don’t go as planned. Knowing what you will do when things go wrong will increase your confidence at the table.

Poker success is a journey, not a destination. The most important advice I can share with you regarding mental toughness is to never give up.  I’d say that 99% of people get to the point where they are good enough players to get by and the stop working on their game. Strive to be in the 1% who never stops learning and improving. If you commit yourself to being mentally tough, good things await you.

Patricia Cardner

Patricia Cardner

Dr. Patricia Cardner has two doctorates (one in psychology and one in criminology), and is a licensed professional counselor. Patricia has taught numerous university courses in psychology including courses in sports psychology, positive psychology and a special topics course on the psychology of poker. In addition, Patricia is an avid poker player and since learning the game a few years ago, has over six figures in tournament winnings. Patricia is one of the few people with the level of education and clinical expertise who actually plays the game.
Patricia Cardner

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