I recently sent Daniel Negreanu a message on Twitter asking him what has made him so good for so long. He replied with a list of items and not surprisingly, engaging in regular goal setting was at the top.
There are numerous reasons why setting goals has contributed to Negreanu’s success. In this article, I’m going to break them down for you and share a recipe for setting and achieving goals that virtually guarantees results.
A major reason to set goals is that people who are in the process of striving towards something personally meaningful tend to be happier and far more satisfied with their lives than people who aren’t pursuing goals. That’s not even accounting for you will accomplish; Negreanu has done pretty well for himself using goal setting techniques!
Despite what you may think, it’s not attaining the goal that boosts your happiness meter. Instead, it’s the process of working towards a valued and challenging activity that yields these results. In fact, it’s common to feel somewhat let down once you’ve achieved a long held goal. The antidote is to continue setting new, personally meaningful goals.
Setting objectives provides additional benefits. As you pursue a goal, it provides you with a sense of purpose and control over your life. Your self-confidence and self-esteem increase, and we all know these play a major factor in our poker success. Goal pursuit also teaches you how to manage and structure your time more effectively and efficiently.
Finally, goal setting typically requires you to extend your social network. That’s because working towards complex goals often means engaging with teachers, coaches, friends and colleagues, and social engagement is very important to your psychological health both on and off the tables.
Now that you’ve seen a plethora of evidence on why you should set goals, let’s get down to business on the how of the matter — what’s the best approach for setting goals for ourselves?
Most of us erroneously believe that in order to make changes, we have to go big with our goals. We don’t want to set unexciting, “realistic” goals like doing a bit of daily exercise. Instead, we set a goal to run a full marathon!
We go full steam ahead with our eyes wide open and our ambitions high, but usually within a few days or weeks our excitement wanes and the immensity of our target becomes real and perhaps even a little overwhelming.
Think about what it takes to bring a goal to life. There are many steps involved in achieving a big goal and a lot can go wrong on the road to its achievement. You have to be motivated to change and have the ability to change. There also must be something that triggers your new behavior — something that tells you to behave in the new way right now.
This is a pretty tall order, so in order to give yourself the best chance to succeed, Stanford University professor BJ Fogg suggests a different approach. According to Fogg, the best way to make changes is to go exceedingly small.
Fogg says we can effectively transform our behavior by focusing on making one small change at a time. Habits are about repetition. Our brains are accepting of very small changes, so we have no need to rebel or put up defenses.
Fogg’s formula requires that you look for a trigger which is an existing behavior to which you can attach your new tiny habit. You decide that every time you do X, you will follow up with Y. After you do your new tiny behavior, celebrate it in some way. Celebrations are meant to be small — they can even just be verbal declarations like “I’m awesome!” This may sound silly, but it is important to reinforce yourself for sticking to your new habit.
If you plan to bench press 200 lbs. by year end, start out so small that there is no way you will give up. Begin by lifting three-pound weights for a limited number of reps. If you wish to study one to two hours after a long day at work and family time in the evening, start with three minutes. Or just one minute! The trick is to go small, but do your goal behavior every single day (or several times per week in the case of weight lifting).
Next, decide when you will do your target behavior, and tie it to a regularly occurring activity so as to create a “reminder” trigger. Perhaps, after your morning coffee, you immediately go to the gym and do your weight lifting. Or just after putting the kids to bed — that will be the time when you sit down to study poker.
When you’re done, give your former procrastinating self an ol’ fist bump! You are one step closer to your goal!
Ultimately, goal setting is about systemization — you identify your goals, then create the strategies to reach your objectives. By taking one small step at a time, you can make achieving your dreams a reality.
Dr. Tricia Cardner is the author of Peak Poker Performance (with Jonathan Little), available in paperback, audio and e-book formats via Amazon. Take her free online course Rev Up Your Poker Success, a step-by-step guide to designing your best year ever. And for more from Dr. Cardner, visit her website and follow her on Twitter @DrTriciaCardner.
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