'The Mental Game' #4 - Goals

Ok, so there have been some questions concerning the objective/goal setting portion of the Mental Game series. I can appreciate the difference of opinions based on various people’s perspective, experience, and previously read literature… it has helped me in clarifying my point and will assist me in assisting others in achieving their end state in the game.
Let me first address the goals that we must establish in order to improve our game, then I’ll attempt to clarify the theory how to achieve your goals. There are 8 basic steps to the Goal Achievement Theory. These 8 basic steps that will assist each person that has a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-framed (SMART) goal; the following are the simple steps:

8 Steps to the Goal Achievement Theory

1. Define your goal.
It may be a new car, house, a certain amount of money, a job, etc. Define it as precisely as possible. (Poker relation: I want to be a winning player @ $6-11 stakes and move up in stakes by end of the year; improve my hourly rate by 15%; etc)

2. Visualize.
You need to visualize the goal coming true. Picture yourself after the goal has come true. (Poker relation: See the BR needed to succeed and where your BR will be in order to achieve your goal)

3. Write the goals down.
Write the goals down, and look at it often, certainly morning and night, preferably repeating out loud. (Poker relation: Put a sticky on your computer with your goal; focus on it; say it)

4. Believe it.
Doubt you goals & they won’t happen; you’re admitting defeat. Believe you are worthy of the goal! (Poker relation: You should feel comfortable in the stake you play and if your goal is realistic & attainable, it’ll make it more believable—you’re the one that matters as only YOU can achieve your goal)

5. Gain the knowledge.
Find out how others achieved the same goal. It is unlikely you’re the first. There are different routes, and the knowledge exists. (poker relation: This is why people join poker training sites, Skype groups, read articles/forums/etc. There ARE others that have reached where you would like to be (with your goal); seek them out and tap into their experience… learn their lessons, be a sponge, and understand their difficulties/successes)

6. Work out a plan.
Look at where you are now, look at where you want to be, and work backwards, step by step, until you can see what the first step is, that you need to take to get to your goal. (Poker relation: Develop a blueprint how you expect to achieve your goal. Determine where your game is at compared to where you want it to be, then develop your plan (setting objectives) to strive toward the end state)

7. Take the first step.
This is often the hardest, but can be powerful, unleashing energies, both within you & around you. (Poker relation: stop procrastinating and put your plan into gear)

8. Keep going.
Once the initial enthusiasm wears off, once the going gets tough, keep going! No-one said it was easy! (Poker relation: Swings/variance are mathematically inevitable, do not let this defeat you or crush your plan to achieve your goal. There could difficult times but patience/perseverance will prevail. This is where motivation, determination, persistence will come into play.)
Goals that are difficult (but NOT unreasonable) to achieve and specific tend to increase performance more than goals that are not. A goal can become more specific through quantification or enumeration (should be measurable), such as by demanding "increasing productivity by 50%"; or by defining certain tasks that need completing.

Setting goals affects outcomes in four ways:
1. Choice: goals narrow attention and direct efforts to goal-relevant activities, and away from perceived undesirable and goal-irrelevant actions.
2. Effort: goals can lead to more effort; for example, if one’s goal is to maintain a certain win rate/ increase an hourly rate/ maintain a certain ROI% then a person will strive to make reality.
3. Persistence: An individual becomes more prone to work through setbacks if pursuing a goal.
4. Cognition: goals can lead an individual to develop cognitive strategies to change their behavior. Studying, focusing, staying alert, staying current are way to adapt your playing behavior.

In fact, goal setting theory is generally accepted as among the most valid and useful motivation theories in industrial and organizational psychology, human resource management, and organizational behavior.

Let’s look at Dr Edwin Locke's pioneering research on goal setting and motivation in the late 1960s. In his 1968 article "Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives," he stated that employees (people) were motivated by clear goals and appropriate feedback. Locke went on to say that working toward a goal provided a major source of motivation to actually reach the goal – which, in turn, improved performance. To motivate, goals must have: Clarity; Challenge; Commitment; Feedback; Task; and Complexity.
Let's look at each of these in detail.

1. Clarity
Clear goals are measurable and unambiguous. When a goal is clear and specific, with a definite time set for completion, there is less misunderstanding about what behaviors will be rewarded. You know what's expected, and you can use the specific result as a source of motivation. When a goal is vague – or when it's expressed as a general instruction, like "win a tourney or make money" – it has limited motivational value. To improve your performance, set clear goals that use specific and measurable standards.
2. Challenge
One of the most important characteristics of goals is the level of challenge. People are often motivated by achievement, and they'll judge a goal based on the significance of the anticipated accomplishment. When you know that what you do will be well received, there's a natural motivation to do a good job. Rewards typically increase for more difficult goals. If you believe you'll be well compensated or otherwise rewarded for achieving a challenging goal, it will boost your enthusiasm and your drive to get it done. When setting goals, make each goal a challenge! If an assignment is easy and not viewed as very important then the effort may not be impressive.
It's important to strike an appropriate balance between a challenging goal and a realistic goal. Setting a goal that you'll fail to achieve is possibly more de-motivating than setting a goal that's too easy. The need for success and achievement is strong; therefore people are best motivated by challenging, but realistic, goals. Ensuring that goals are Achievable or Attainable is one of the elements of SMART.
3. Commitment
You have to understand and agree to put in the effort to achieve your goal to be effective. Your goal will take time/money/resource commitments; ensure you fully comprehend what is required in order to strive toward goal achievement. Interestingly, goal commitment and difficulty often work together. The harder the goal, the more commitment is required. If you have an easy goal, you don't need a lot of motivation to get it done. When you're working on a difficult assignment, you will likely encounter challenges that require a deeper source of inspiration and incentive. If your goal is to add/win $1 to your current BR of $3K, this probably will not be that difficult (.03% of BR) versus add/win $1 to current BR of $2 (50% of BR)
4. Feedback
In addition to selecting the right type of goal, an effective goal program must also include feedback. Feedback provides opportunities to clarify expectations, adjust goal difficulty, and gain recognition. It's important to provide benchmark opportunities or targets, so individuals can determine for themselves how they're doing. These regular progress reports, which measure specific success along the way, are particularly important where it's going to take a long time to reach a goal. In these cases, break down the goals into smaller chunks, and link feedback to these intermediate milestones. This can be done by reviewing successes/failures after a session, reviewing your OPR/Sharkscope stats, posting hands in forums or Skype chats—review the feedback received to determine what went right, or what went wrong.
This part of the original article received the most criticism as I stated “my session will be for XX 18-man games (specific), the $6 game will cost me $XXX for the session (measurable), DON’T DEVIATE (accurate), given my current ROI at this stake I should effectively make $XXX this session (realistic), and I have cleared XXhrs on my schedule to accomplish this (time-framed)”. As you see this is not that you are guaranteed or always expect to win at a certain ROI, but it is a method of providing feedback towards reaching a goal if the goal is to average 15%ROI at 18-man games. Sometimes the ROI will be greater, other times it will be less… but it gives a point of reference for review as you focus toward your end state.
With all your goal setting efforts, make sure that you build in time for feedback. Certainly, informal check-ins are important, and they provide a means of giving regular encouragement and recognition. However, taking the time to sit down and review goal performance is a necessary factor in long-term performance improvement.
5. Task Complexity
The last factor in goal setting theory introduces two more requirements for success. For goals or assignments that are highly complex, take special care to ensure that the work doesn't become too overwhelming. People who work in complicated and demanding roles probably have a high level of motivation already. However, they can often push themselves too hard if measures aren't built into the goal expectations to account for the complexity of the task. It's therefore important to do the following:
• Give the person sufficient time to meet the goal or improve performance.
• Provide enough time for the person to practice or learn what is expected and required for success.
• Ensure there is sufficient life-balance to prevent burnout and/or lack of motivation!
The whole point of goal setting is to facilitate success. Therefore, you want to make sure that the conditions surrounding the goals don't frustrate or inhibit people from accomplishing their objectives. This reinforces the "Attainable" part of SMART.
Further research in goal theory has also identified the following dichotomies:
Mastery orientation is described as a poker player's wish to become proficient in a a poker game (be it cash, SnG, or MTTs) to the best of his or her ability. The student's sense of satisfaction with the work is not influenced by external performance indicators such as grades. Mastery orientation is associated with deeper engagement with the task and greater perseverance in the face of setbacks. Mastery orientation is thought to increase a student's intrinsic motivation.
Performance orientation is described as a poker player's wish to achieve highly on external indicators of success, such as improving overall poker game/Sharkscope graph/making $$$. The poker player’s sense of satisfaction is highly influenced by their external indicators, and so it is associated with discouragement in the face of low marks. Performance orientation is also associated with higher states of anxiety. In addition, the desire for high marks increases the temptation to cheat or to engage in shallow rote-learning instead of deep understanding. Performance orientation is thought to increase a poker player's intrinsic motivation if they perform well, but to decrease motivation when they perform badly.
Task/ego involvement
A poker player is described as task-involved when he is interested in the task for its own qualities. This is associated with higher intrinsic motivation. Task-involved poker players are less threatened by failure because their own ego is not tied up in the success of the task. Someone who is ego-involved will be seeking to perform the task to boost their own ego, for the praise that completing the task might attract, or because completing the task confirms their own self-concept (eg. clever, strong, funny etc...) Ego-involved students can become very anxious or discouraged in the face of failure, because such failure challenges their self-concept.

Approach/avoidance goals

Not all goals are directed towards approaching a desirable outcome (e.g., demonstrating competence). Goals can also be directed towards avoiding an undesirable outcome (e.g., avoiding the demonstration of incompetence to others). (Elliot, Andrew. "The Hierarchical Model of Approach-Avoidance Motivation". Motivation and Emotion). It is thought that approach goals contribute positively to intrinsic motivation whereas avoidance goals do not. An example of this is to approach the game with the mindset “I don’t want to lose” versus “I want to win”.

So with a clear understanding of goal setting and achievement, as a poker player we should focus our attention on the motivational aspect that is required to meet our needs. American psychological theorist David McClelland is most noted for describing three types of motivational needs, which he identified in his 1961 book, The Achieving Society:
McClelland's particular fascination was for achievement motivation, and in a laboratory experiment illustrated one aspect of his theory about the affect of achievement on people's motivation. McClelland asserted via this experiment that while most people do not possess a strong achievement-based motivation, those who do, display a consistent behavior in setting/achieving goals:
Volunteers were asked to throw rings over pegs rather like the fairground game; no distance was stipulated, and most people seemed to throw from arbitrary, random distances, sometimes close, sometimes farther away.

However a small group of volunteers, whom McClelland suggested were strongly achievement-motivated, took some care to measure and test distances to produce an ideal challenge - not too easy, and not impossible. Interestingly a parallel exists in biology, known as the 'overload principle', which is commonly applied to fitness and exercising, ie., in order to develop fitness and/or strength the exercise must be sufficiently demanding to increase existing levels, but not so demanding as to cause damage or strain. McClelland identified the same need for a 'balanced challenge' in the approach of achievement-motivated people.
McClelland contrasted achievement-motivated people with gamblers, and dispelled a common pre-conception that n-ach 'achievement-motivated' people are big risk takers. On the contrary - typically, achievement-motivated individuals set goals which they can influence with their effort and ability, and as such the goal is considered to be achievable. This determined results-driven approach is almost invariably present in the character make-up of all successful business people, entrepreneurs, and poker players.

McClelland suggested other characteristics and attitudes of achievement-motivated people:
• Achievement is more important than material or financial reward. (Why is the WSOP bracelet so important? I do not 100% agree with achievement being more important than financial reward. In poker they usually go hand-in-hand)
• Achieving the aim or task gives greater personal satisfaction than receiving praise or recognition.
• Financial reward is regarded as a measurement of success, not an end in itself. (This addresses my concerns in the first point).
• Security is not prime motivator, nor is status. How many people make a living playing poker (prior to Black Friday) that were NOT household names? Many…
• Feedback is essential, because it enables measurement of success, not for reasons of praise or recognition (the implication here is that feedback must be reliable, quantifiable and factual).

• Achievement-motivated people constantly seek improvements and ways of doing things better.
McClelland firmly believed that achievement-motivated people are generally the ones who make things happen and get results, and that this extends to getting results through their actions and resources, although as stated earlier, they often demand too much because they prioritize achieving the goal above the many varied interests.
In one of the Skype groups that I belong to, they stated that I should pack my breakfast if I plan to debunk other poker goal theories; well I packed my breakfast/lunch/dinner/and enough snacks to keep Jimmy Ficke satisfied. I however do not think my aim was to debunk any theories, just utilized previously presented theories and studies to apply them to poker. The bottom line I hope to achieve for all that read this, is that to succeed in this game you should approach it with solid BR Mgt and a SMART goal in mind!

Be sure to check out the other articles in this series

'The Mental Game' #1 - Bankroll Management
'The Mental Game' #2 - Pre-Game Strategy
'The Mental Game' #3 -  In-game Strategy

(This excellent series of articles was written by Tim 'The Chimp' Klingenberg, many thanks for this)