On Self Affirmation

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
–Thomas A. Edison
It’s been awhile, eh faithful reader? Unfortunately I have been so busy at work and had a sister-in-law, her husband and two year old running around the house for the past two weeks, so I’ve barely had time to think. At least my Swedish is improving, although it’s a bit sad when a two year old knows almost as many words as you.
Anyway, nothing too exciting is going on here. Still putting in lots of hours for the best Online Poker site out there (we DO have the best software, I have to say).
Instead of a real post, I’m going to recount an email discussion I had with a reader that I thought was interesting. The subject is “self affirmation,” something that seems to be a big part of fan-favorite Phil Hellmuth’s daily routine.

Hi HDouble,
The following is the structure of an affirmation, I used this to
change or maybe remind myself of whom I want to be as a person.
Affirmations are a strong tool in defining who you are, where you are
and who you want to be in achieving goals. I believe they would be
helpful in developing an overall winning game, example: Mike Caro
coined “a powerful winning force surrounds me”. Sounds great, but how
did he create for himself “a powerful winning force surrounds me”,
perception of himself and his game?
It’s purpose, a reminder, as you worked towards your substance as a
player and refined your poker skills.
Which could be “a powerful winning force surrounds me”.
I wonder how many of the professional players would complete this?
Would they want you to know this about themselves and their game?
I’m curious, useful or rubbish?
I would appreciate your thoughts.

Good question. I wondered about this “self affirmation” thing when I saw the Hellmuth WSOP short on last year’s ESPN coverage (he had some self affirmation slogan on his mirror… I think it was “good things happen to me” or something like that).
Personally, I’ve never done much self affirmation, although I probably did some subconscious affirmation in my football pregame routine.
To me, self affirmation is not relevant to poker.
At the levels I play at, poker is a game of knowledge. Reading players is more instinctual, but the importance of reads and tells is relatively unimportant in cash games, in my opinion, since the players don’t usually give away much unless you’ve played with them over a longer period of time.
To me, the most important thing in poker is concentration and awareness. In my opinion, knowledge of odds and outs and rules of thumb is far more important than reading other players, but let’s suppose for a second that we are playing at the highest level of poker and everyone has more or less the same knowledge.
Now at this highest level, the things that will differentiate me from my opponents are twofold:
1. The ability to observe my opponents
2. The ability to make the correct decision given these observations
Let’s assume that I have perfect observation skills. At that point, whether I make the correct decision is dependent on my knowledge of what my observations mean. I think this is relatively easy.
So, the “hard” part of poker is actually making correct observations about our opponents. There’s a lot of instinct involved here, but in order to acquire enough information to make a correct read on someone, there is one thing that is more important than anything else: full concentration.
Give me the greatest poker player in the world and I will show you the best concentrating poker player in the world.
If I ever get to the level of playing poker against the best in the world, I will do concentration drills every day and do my best to “out concentrate” my opponents. I believe that many tournament players are relatively lazy in this arena, and therefore it’s relatively easy to gain an edge in this department.
Creativity and instinct are important in poker, but not nearly as important as concentration and knowledge. The latter can be learned with a lot of hard work and focus, the former two are much more difficult.
That was the long answer to your question.
The short answer? Time spent on affirmation in the goal of improving your game would, in my opinion, be better spent on learning how to concentrate.

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