Propel Forward

Mastery, success and the near win

The World Series of Poker is upon us once again. With 45 days and 65 events ahead of us it is best to be in the right frame of mind. And to that end I am going to offer some musings with regards to success, mastery and the near wins that we should use to propel us forward.
Success is the win. A moment in time. A label that the world gives to you.

Mastering is not a commitment to a goal, but the constant pursuit of improving.

Phil LaakAnd the near win is an opportunity to get us to focus on the right now. What we plan to do to improve and play even better than before.

By embracing the near wins we give ourselves an opportunity for growth. To go over how we might have played a hand differently. To help us identify why we didn’t do what we knew we were supposed to do. To improve.

Mastery is in the reaching, not the arriving. This is what you should strive for as a poker player. Focus on the getting better. Embrace that no matter where you are on the poker “skill curve” that there is always room to improve.

Ben Saunders, the arctic explorer, once said that his triumphs were not merely a result of a grand achievement but as propulsion of a lineage of near wins.

We thrive when we stay at our own leading edge. That is where the growth happens. As we move along we should be cognizant that it is at the boundaries where all the action is. Where much of our learning awaits.

Duke Ellington said that his favorite song was always the next one … the one he had yet to compose! As poker players we can take a lot from this. We should always be focused on the next (current) hand. To be looking for the next spot, the next situation where if we were not on point we might miss it.

And what about those blundered hands, the missed bluffs, or the missed value from flopped monsters. Those are the “near-wins” that though they may elude us they are all built into the fabric of mastery. The greater our proficiency the more clearly we might see that we don’t know all that we thought we did.

We must be careful not to be victims to the “Dunning and Kruger effect.” These behavioral scientists showed that for many non-experts in a particular field people often …

1) Tend to overestimate their own skill level.
2) Fail to recognize genuine skills in others.
3) Fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.

In poker (and many fields) those who are not competent often times don’t even know it. They are missing the very skills that they need to have to be able to notice it! (Luckily this is not you, right? You are clever and are ahead of the curve. As evidenced by you reading a poker magazine, right!)

Mastery, success, and the near win … Strive for mastery. And understand that though success motivates us, the “near wins” are what propel us in the ongoing quest to improve as a player.

The reason the near win has a propulsion effect is because it changes our view of the landscape and puts our goals (which we tend to put at a distance) into a more proximate vicinity to where we stand.

The near win often times offers us the chance to focus on what, right now, we plan to do to play even better than we did one hand ago.

In 1984, Jackie Joyner-Kersee missed taking the gold in the heptathlon by 1/3 of a second. Her husband predicted that would give her the tenacity she needed in follow up competitions. In 1988, she won the gold in the heptathlon and set a record of 7,291 points. A score that no athlete has come very close to since.

We thrive, not when we have done it all, but when we still have more to do.

We thrive when we stay at our own leading edge.

The masters of poker (or any craft for that matter) are not experts because they take the subject to its conceptual end — they’re masters because they realize there isn’t one.

In your pursuit of poker mastery you should know that you are giving yourself over to a voracious unfinished path that will always require more.

Coming close to what you thought you wanted can help you attain more than you ever dreamed you could.

Completion (the win) is always the goal but be sure to never let it be the end.

There is no end to your poker career. It is ever eternal. Find the joy in mastering your skills for that is the secret toward realizing the success you desire.

Oh, and if we meet along the way, please don’t felt me. I very much would like to play the next hand.

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June 2014