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Setting Goals

They should be specific, measurable, and achievable

by Matthew Hilger |  Published: Feb 01, 2011


I have a list of goals and a list of blessings on my bathroom mirror. I’ve been doing that for 15 years … Now, enter the mindset coach (Sam Chauhan), and one of his techniques is that he wants me to e-mail him a list of 10 goals and blessings every morning. It oftentimes mimics the current list I’ve got on my bathroom mirror, but it’s a new way to do it consciously. I start off my day realizing how blessed I am every day, and I’m beginning my day in a powerful, positive, thankful position. — Phil Hellmuth
Note: This column contains some excerpts from the books The Poker Mindset, by Ian Taylor and Matthew Hilger, and Peak Performance Poker, by Travis Steffen.
It’s a new year, and millions and millions of people make resolutions for the upcoming year. The statement above by Phil Hellmuth from the book Peak Performance Poker demonstrates the power and importance of setting goals and embracing them every single day.
Unfortunately, millions and millions of people will fall short of their goals. Most just don’t understand how to set goals in a way that will foster success. I’ve worked with two different poker authors, and they both have addressed the topic of setting goals in their books. As Travis discusses in Peak Performance Poker, goals should be specific and measurable. Ian Taylor talks about goal-setting in The Poker Mindset, which discusses the importance of making sure that your goals are achievable.
Goals should be specific: All this really means is that your goals need to be detailed. It isn’t enough to say that you want to be the best poker player you can possibly be. How will you achieve it? When is your deadline? The more specific you are in how you define your goals, the better chance you will have of reaching them.
Goals should be measurable: If you can’t measure a goal, you won’t know if you’ve succeeded or failed. “I want to get in better shape” is not measurable. A better goal might be, “I want to lose 10 pounds within two months.” Unfortunately, as Ian and I discuss in The Poker Mindset, your goals in poker should never be monetary targets:
1. You have limited power to achieve monetary goals.
2. Conclusions are difficult to draw when you miss your monetary target.
3. Monetary targets distract from your true goal.
Of course the objective in poker is to win money, but the reality is, you have little control over achieving this, at least in the short term. Even over a year, variance can greatly impact your results. Your primary goal in poker should be to make the best decisions you can as frequently as possible. Setting monetary targets can actually be detrimental to your game. For example, let’s say that your goal is to earn X amount by the end of the month. At the end of the month, if you are short of that amount, you might play when tired, play in bad games, play too loosely, or try a lot of different things that lead you to make poor decisions to try to reach your monetary goal.
The best types of goals in poker should relate to studying the game and maybe the number of hours that you play. “I’ll watch one instructional video every day,” or, “I’ll read one poker book every month,” or, “I’ll avoid sessions over eight hours long.”
Goals should be achievable: This relates to the previous topic of measurability. To be achievable, your goals must first be measurable. You should be able to reach your goals, while at the same time ensuring that you aim high. Many people limit their ceiling because they underestimate what they can achieve. I often like to talk about how little one can achieve in a day or even in a month, but if you look at time frames of one to three years, people can completely turn their lives around. When my wife and I moved back to the U.S. from New Zealand in 2003, I had no job, no house, no car, no kids, and some student debt. A few years later, I had a fully furnished house, two cars, three kids, a publishing company, and several websites. I don’t know what I accomplished every month, but my life has completely changed.
One of the best things about setting goals is that there is no downside, only upside. If you meet or exceed your goals, it gives you a great confidence boost and challenges you to set bigger, more challenging goals. If you fail to achieve your goals, you will either be motivated to try that much harder or be forced to re-evaluate whether or not your goals were realistic. Either way, the fact that your progress is being measured can be enough to push you to achieve greater results.
If you’ve already made some resolutions for the year, take a look at them and revise them if necessary. If you haven’t made any goals for the year, now is as good a time as any. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind while you are working on them:
• Make your goals specific and measurable.
• Aim high.
• Step outside your comfort zone.
• Seek out resources that can help you.
• Map out the road that you need to follow to get where you want to be.
• Hang your goals on a wall where you can see them every day. ♠

Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books.” Recent releases include Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha, Volumes II and III, by Jeff Hwang; Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em, by Ed Miller, Matt Flynn, and Sunny Mehta; and Peak Performance Poker, by Travis Steffen. Dimat publications are available at Amazon and