The problem poker players have with motivation

Jared Tendler has shared an excerpt from the motivation chapter of his book for those of you struggling to find the fire in your belly.

We know you will be super pumped with goals in the new year but why wait until then? Mental Game coach Jared Tendler has kindly shared with us an excerpt of his Motivation chapter in The Mental Game of Poker to give you an insight into where you might be able to make improvements to your 2021 goals setting. 

Chances are you have come to this chapter looking for a way to not be lazy. In the past, you’ve tried listening to music, watching iconic sports moments and dramatic movie clips, reading books and quotes, and making big prop bets—all in the hopes of getting motivated to play. It’s as if laziness is some sort of prison, and with the right spark of inspiration you can slip past the guard and escape forever. But no matter how hard you try, laziness always catches up with you.

While you may have tried all manner of elaborate schemes to fool yourself into being motivated, have you ever confronted why you lack motivation in the first place? It’s actually a simpler problem to solve than you realize.

For starters, some of you think you have a motivational problem, when in fact you have another mental game issue. If you constantly quit before going on tilt, perform poorly under pressure, or have no confidence in your game, your lack of motivation is a symptom of those problems. Often, your lack of motivation has been a problem for so long, it’s easy to forget that tilt or fear was the original cause. By fixing the other mental game issues affecting motivation, most, if not all of it, will return.

Many players don’t have tilt, fear, or confidence problems, and instead, are skilled procrastinators, lazy, and barely able to play when running bad. Players often don’t think these problems can be eliminated, but they can be—especially laziness. Laziness is not a permanent part of your personality unless you want it to be; some players are actually quite proud of how lazy they are. Aside from being lazy, here are other motivational problems addressed in this chapter: You play too much or too little when running good or bad. You procrastinate studying or working on your game. You play too much and get burned out. You don’t feel like playing after a setback, such as a big loss against a tough opponent. Your dreams of playing Rail Heaven make you not want to grind lower stakes. You improve too quickly and your game falls apart once you lose momentum.

The Nature of Motivation

Poker coach Jared Tendler
Jared Tendler

It’s obvious when you have motivation and when you lack it, but have you stopped to think about what motivation actually is? The answer is important, because it helps to define the underlying causes of problems with motivation. Motivation is the emotion or energy behind achieving your goals. It’s the fuel used to accomplish them. If you’re lacking motivation, you either have problems with your goals or the energy you need to achieve them. Rarely do poker players say they have problems with their goals, yet every player with motivational problems has them. Here are a few examples of goal problems that will be explained in more detail later in the chapter:

  • You’re only after results, and have no process-oriented goals.
  • You have high expectations.
  • You have no short-term goals, only far-off ones.
  • You reach your goals and fail to set new ones.
  • You have too many goals.
  • You have many interests and can’t choose what you want.
  • You have underlying goals such as looking good, avoiding mistakes, or keeping up your win rate.


Motivation meme

Although many consider them to be one and the same, there’s a significant difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is like a marathon runner and inspiration is like a sprinter. Motivation and inspiration each play an essential part in achieving goals. Motivation is the more solid and stable energy that keeps you consistently working over the long term, while inspiration provides short, intense bursts of energy needed to get you fired up or to stay on track. There are many ups and downs when striving to achieve goals. Inspiration is the extra juice that pushes you through tougher times and helps you reach higher levels of play. Players are inspired in many different ways and by different things—some too spontaneous to conceptualize or predict. It may be a book, movie, song, seeing another player’s success, or a reward that gets your blood pumping. Successfully finding ways to inspire you can sometimes be the difference between success and failure.

  1. If you’re constantly looking for new things to keep you inspired, you’re relying on inspiration too much and likely compensating for underlying problems in your motivation. In other words, by playing clips of the movie Rocky or challenging yourself to play 100,000 hands a month, you might actually be protecting a problem that inspiration cannot fix.
  2. You think a surge of inspiration makes problems such as tilt, anxiety, and a lack of confidence disappear. This is one reason why New Year’s resolutions fail. People forget that it takes a long time to eliminate old habits or resolve underlying flaws. Being on an inspirational high can make these problems seem like a thing of the past.

Stable Motivation

Finding the right mix of goals and sources of energy that drive you is key to attaining the motivational sweet spot: “stable motivation.” The sweet spot is a middle ground where you are driven by the right amount of energy. This allows you to efficiently work toward your goals, maintain a steady learning curve, and perform at a high level without experiencing major ups and downs, or just downs. Stable motivation is different for each person, since we’re all unique. The easiest way to find this motivational middle ground is by resolving the underlying causes of your motivational problems, which may include other mental game issues. After you do that, what remains is stable motivation to achieve your goals.

This is part of the Motivation chapter in The Mental Game of Poker, the full chapter delves into the specific motivational issues poker players have which are unique to this game and how to resolve them.

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