There comes a time in a person’s poker practice where he or she decides that the game is more than just a side hobby. Maybe you start making weekly trips to the casino or you set up an automatic deposit in your PokerStars account. If this is you, then you are ready to start becoming a professional poker champion and bring in big money.
However, it can be tough to go from someone who plays here and there to becoming someone who can honestly say “Yes” when asked “Are you good at poker?” It’s an identity shift, and it can be scary for a lot of people. Your “old self” will want to get in the way and bring things back to the status quo. A lot of psychologists say that your subconscious mind tends to resist change, even when it’s healthy and necessary.
This is where visualization comes in. As far as inner game strategies go, visualization is one of the techniques for self-improvement that is agreed upon by virtually every business author, self-help guru, or athletic coach with a strong track record.
When most people talk about visualization, they think about sitting down for twenty to thirty minutes and imagining themselves successful. In the traditional practice, you would create images in your head of you with extraordinary luck and skills in poker. You’ll see yourself getting dealt pocket Aces. You’ll see other people folding when you raise a few chips. You’ll see yourself making the best judgment in each hand.
Unfortunately, that strategy is fatally flawed when it comes to poker, because there is so much that is out of your direct control. For example, you will never improve your chances of getting pocket Aces, no matter how good your game is.
Instead, I offer you an alternative way to visualize your poker game. This is not something you necessarily have to do every day, but you will grow in your game, the more often you use it.
Here’s the process:
1. Clear Your Head
First thing you need to do is leave everything from your day behind. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and sit down. Don’t use your bed, because you’re likely to fall asleep. Take at least three slow deep breaths and relax.
2. State the Goal
Think of what your goal is for poker. Maybe you want to win the World Series of Poker or maybe you want to make $3,000 a month from poker. Get a clear sense of what you want.
3. Create the Persona
This is the bulk of the exercise.
Let’s say you’re a 26 year old accountant and you would love to replace your job with poker income. You need $4,000 a month to do this.
Ask yourself, “What kind of man consistently makes $4,000 a month playing poker?”
Think of the qualities that come up. You’re asking about someone who makes easy money from poker on a regular basis and doesn’t even need to work anymore. This is clearly a special person. What kind of personality traits might this person have? They might include:
• Stays cool under pressure
• Is great at managing money
• Is in complete control of his emotions
• Loves the game of poker
• Has no ego about winning and can leave a game that’s going badly.
You can write these down or just think of them. The advantage of writing them down is you can focus on them one by one as you go on with the exercise.
4. Step into the Persona
This is the part where you take on the qualities for yourself.
Ask yourself, “What would I be like if I always stayed cool under pressure?”
This is where the real visualization comes in. You make a mental movie of yourself being very calm in stressing moments. Maybe you see yourself with one chip at the table while everyone else has a stack of 500 chips, yet you are cool as can be. You see everyone around you amazed at how relaxed you are.
You can expand this visualization to your daily life as well. You may see yourself in a massive traffic jam with only a half an hour to go before your poker tournament starts. In your car, you’re relaxed and just enjoying the breeze through your window because the delay doesn’t get to you.
Let’s do another one: “What would I be like if I was great at managing money?”
For this, you see yourself being a master of both your chips and your bank account. You see yourself happily transferring money from your poker winnings to your long-term savings account and investments. You see yourself budgeting for groceries and not getting the super-expensive whiskey because you have a tournament coming up and need to have a certain amount of money free for that weekend. You see yourself paying with a check instead of a credit card because you don’t incur any debt.
Keep doing this for every quality that comes to mind. Switch between seeing this scene “1st person” through your own eyes, and “3rd person” with an outside vision of yourself.
Do this for thirty minutes. If you’re a serious poker player and want maximum results, do it every day. You can also work into this session other qualities you want to install into yourself, as this is one of the most effective ways to improve your life. This very exercise is talked about in some of the greatest self-help classics, such as “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill and “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz.
Keep in mind that while this and other inner game tactics are especially helpful for improving your success rate and game, that they are no substitute for regular practice and knowledge of poker theory. As we’ve discussed in other posts, poker can run counter-intuitive to a lot of our basic instincts, so that’s why it’s essential to have a clear understanding of statistics and solid gambling principles. The good thing is that once you have all of that down, these inner game exercises will really take you to the next level.