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Improving Motivation


In this article
  • What Motivation is
  • The Meaning of Divided Motives
  • Common Motivational Problem

Motivation is an essential ingredient for becoming a successful poker player, but it can often be one of the most elusive. It’s easy to find a short-burst of motivation after listening to an inspiring song, watching an iconic movie clip, or reading dramatic quote. Even a good prop bet can spark a fire that gets you to put in more volume by avoiding another long session of mindlessly surfing the internet. Unfortunately, these sparks are just short lived and you sink back into old patterns of laziness, procrastination, and worse. The longer it goes on, the more it seems like being unmotivated is a permanent part of your personality.

There’s no such thing as being unmotivated. Whatever you do with your time, you’re motivated to do, even if it’s not what you want to be doing. In the film Office Space, Peter was one of the laziest people alive, but that was his goal. Despite appearing lazy and unmotivated, he was highly motivated to do nothing. If you want to stop hanging with friends, watching TV, browsing forums, or anything else you end up doing when you should be playing poker, you need to find out why you’re motivated by it. Once you realize the reason(s) these things other than poker motivates you, you’re one step closer to realigning your motivation for poker in the way you want it to be.

What is Motivation?

Motivation is the emotion or energy used to accomplish your goals. 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:

  • Only have results-oriented goals, such as money.
  • High expectations.
  • No short-term goals, only long-term goals or big dreams.
  • Fail to set new ones after achieving goals.
  • Too many goals.
  • Underlying goals such as, looking good, avoiding mistakes, keeping up your win rate, protecting a win, and avoiding pain of losing.

These problems actually decrease the amount of energy, focus, or emotion behind your goals. In other words, they divide your motivation and make it harder for you to have the success you want in poker.

Divided Motives

Suggesting there is no such thing as being unmotivated may sound a bit odd, but if you are not motivated to play poker, it simply means that you are motivated to do what whatever you are doing instead of playing. Divided motivation means that when you want to be playing poker, you’re also motivated to do other things. Consequently, a battle is waged to see which motive is going to win. Here are a few examples:

  • Play poker, or protect the two buy-ins won that session.
  • Play poker, or sleep.
  • Play poker, or quit because you’re bored.
  • Play poker, or watch a movie.
  • Play poker, or quit to avoid tilt.
  • Play poker, or avoid the pain of losing.
  • Play poker, or enjoy life.

It’s likely there are times where you recognize this battle in your head as you fight to get yourself to play. Sometimes you win and other times you lose. Ultimately, to become more motivated, you have to find a way win more often and consistently in the long-run. To be clear, winning this battle means that you recognize the choice—for example, play poker or watch TV—and choose to play poker. It may be tough to convince yourself to play at that time, because it’s likely you’re not going to be in a great mindset for poker.

However, that’s not an acceptable excuse. By using a proper warm-up routine you can get into a solid enough mindset to play your B-game and avoid major mistakes. Sure you may not play your absolute best, but if you can play solid at a time where you typically wouldn’t even be playing, you’re a step closer to solving the problem.

Motivation vs. Inspiration

Motivation and inspiration are often thought to be the same thing, but they’re dramatically different. The difference is analogous to motivation being a marathon runner and inspiration a sprinter. 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.

Motivation and inspiration each play an essential part in achieving goals. However, when inspiration is overused, it’s actually hiding or compensating for deeper motivational problems that inspiration alone can’t fix. There are many ups and downs when striving to achieve goals and inspiration is ideally used just as the extra juice that pushes you through tough times, or helps you play better than ever. When it’s used on a regular basis to consistently play a basic amount of volume, you’re hiding the real problem preventing a basic amount of play.

Common Motivational Problems

Finding motivation to achieve your goals in poker is easy when you first start playing. Poker is exciting, you’re learning a lot, and making some money. Then, the game can become a grind and finding the motivation to put in the hours at and away from the table becomes harder and harder. Laziness is the most common motivational issue poker players struggle to control, but here are a few others that I’ll address in this article:

  • Procrastination
  • Burnout
  • Dreaming too much

One of the major reasons poker players don’t solve their motivation issues, is that the problem seems simple to solve. They know what they “should” be doing, so it’s reasonable for them to believe that know what’s wrong is enough to solve it. That kind of thinking, however, is an illusion. If it truly were that easy, the problem would have been solved already.


Laziness is the skill of doing anything else besides what you ought to be doing. Many poker players learned this skill early in life and with years of practice they’ve become quite good at it. Some players have been so good at it, for so long, they think it’s a permanent character trait. Laziness is a skill like any other, and is only permanent if you do nothing to fix it.

Laziness often develops early in life when someone isn’t challenged or pushed to succeed in school. As a result, they haven’t developed a work ethic that best allows their natural talents to flourish. Commonly in poker, laziness also develops when players are faced with the responsibilities of being a professional.

As a poker player you are your own boss and have to decide what games to play, how much to play, what to learn, who to listen to for help, improve your mental game, stay-up-to-date with software and the latest strategy, and more. Poker would be easy if someone told you, like boss, what to do everyday. (PokerStrategy.com of course makes it a lot easier.) Learning how to manage all the responsibilities necessary to be a successful poker player can be overwhelming. Rather than step-up to meet that challenge, many players become lazy.

Regardless of how it developed, in order to fix it, you have to analyze your pattern of laziness by detailing all the activities that you do instead of playing poker. Be specific and write out the amount of time devoted to each one. Then, write down what you “should” be doing. Finally, start doing more of what you should be doing and less of what you shouldn’t. Force is required. Building a solid work ethic is like building muscle, you need to push yourself. If you don’t know what you “should” be doing, ask for help.


Procrastination means constantly delaying or putting things off. Rather than playing five hours of poker today, you stop after two, and say that you’ll play more tomorrow. Instead of watching a poker video today, you watch TV and say you’ll watch the video tomorrow. There are many examples of what poker players delay doing, and it wouldn’t really be a problem if what was delayed got done tomorrow. Instead, “tomorrow” is an excuse not to do it today and once tomorrow becomes today, once again things are delayed until tomorrow.

The consequence of procrastination is that it leads players to perpetually fall behind and not reach their potential. A major reason for what perpetuates this problem is they believe the fantasy that doing things tomorrow will be easier. But, day after day, more and more gets delayed into the future, which means you have MORE to do not less. Tomorrow isn’t easier; it’s going to be harder because you have today’s work to do, and tomorrow’s. In a competitive game like poker, work doesn’t go away, it just piles up. The more that accumulates, the more likely that it’ll just keep getting delayed because in the moment when you decide to delay playing or working, you believe that you’ll do it tomorrow and it’s a lie.

In order to break your pattern of procrastinating, you have to put the work in to change it today. That doesn’t mean you have to do it all today; developing a consistent work ethic also means working and playing at a steadier pace. Cramming learning into long study sessions does little for long term retention and cramming long sessions of play means you’re likely to have big gaps in the quality of your play. Steadily, become more consistent by doing more today of what you would have delayed until tomorrow.


Another reason motivation can be low is a lack of energy. Often, poker players who are highly motivated go through periods of time where they “appear” lazy and unmotivated. However, these players are so motivated they become mentally fatigued and burn out. Burnout can mimic all the symptoms of regular motivational problems, except that it’s caused by studying and playing too much. Consequently, they become tired and don’t feel like playing or working on their game. It’s the mental equivalent of an athlete whose muscles have fatigued from being overworked.

Burnout is a problem that many poker players are not aware exists. One of the reasons is they underestimate the amount of stress and pressure that comes with playing poker. Eventually, the intensity of playing so much wears them down mentally to the point that mustering up enough energy to play becomes harder and harder. This problem is made worse when players believe they are just being lazy and become self-critical. Recognizing the difference between burnout and laziness is critical because the solutions are complete opposites. Players who are burnout need to rest, while those who are lazy need to play more.

If burnout is a problem for you, the key is achieving a good balance between working hard and getting enough rest. For example, you may decide to take at least one day off per week. Or you might work a ton for a month straight and then take a week off. Consider taking notes after sessions about your game so you’re not mentally grinding on poker afterwards. Also, keep an eye out for the early signs of burnout: getting tired easily, feeling lazy, avoiding playing, and being less mentally sharp, so rather than continuing to push yourself, you instead take a break. Developing consistent motivation, without burnout, happens just like a weightlifter puts on muscle: working hard, backing off, resting, and repeating that cycle. Push too hard for too long and your mind will break down, just as muscles do.

Dreaming Too Much

Aspiring players often dream of competing against and destroying the best in the world. While these dreams can be useful in defining your goals, they can become problematic if you get too caught up in them. Dreaming can cause emotions about the dream; which in turn, makes it feel real in your mind. Moreover, since nothing bad happens in the dream, nor is there anything stopping you from achieving it, you don’t think practically about the steps it’s going to take to get there. Consequently, you’re unprepared to handle setbacks or difficulty, which lead to you losing hope about achieving your dream and motivation to keep working towards it.

On the road to achieving anything worth dreaming about, you’re going to hit roadblock, have setbacks, and even get stuck. No great accomplishment came without some difficulty. To prevent from being completely blindsided by the realities of achieving lofty goals, you have to take your dream, turn it into a goal, figure out the actual steps you need to make it real, and work hard (without burning out) to get there in reality.


The goal of this article was to give you a new perspective on the causes and solutions of some common motivational problems. While there are other causes of motivation problems (such as, running good and bad, absence of learning, and high expectations) by analyzing the motivation behind why you’re doing things you don’t want to be doing, you’re a step closer to breaking down the problem and redirecting your motivation.

All players will experience ups and downs in motivation. Although, when those cycles keep you from achieving your goals in poker, it’s time to take a closer look at what’s causing the problem, so you don’t look back wondering “what if I had done more?”

"About the author: Jared Tendler is the author of the groundbreaking book "The Mental Game of Poker" which covers tilt, coping with variance, confidence, fear, and motivation. Since he began specializing in poker in 2007, he has coached over 180 poker players from around the world, ranging from nosebleeds to low stakes, and helped thousands more through articles like this one. You can find more about him in Mental Game Coaching with Jared Tendler"


Comments (20)

#1 janushr, 07 Mar 12 14:38

nice article,i see why my friend vbzg admire ur work...thanks,have a nice day:)

#2 datsmahname, 07 Mar 12 17:41

Solid. I think I need to force myself to take tomorrow off :)

#3 Salivanth, 08 Mar 12 04:49

Would I be correct in assuming that a good way to see whether you're suffering from laziness or burnout would be to look at how many hours you play? If you don't play much, it's probably laziness. On the other hand, if you play a crapload, burnout is more likely to be your problem. (Both because of the amount of hours you play, and that by playing that amount, you prove you're normally not very lazy.)

#4 lycoreus, 08 Mar 12 11:50

very nice.....may the variance be with you! :)

#5 JaredTendler, 08 Mar 12 13:29

#3: Distinguishing between laziness and burnout can be hard, but what you're saying is a very easy way to separate the two.

Thanks for good words - may the variance be with you too! vn

#6 VorpalF2F, 12 Mar 12 15:51

A lot of the stuff here reminds me *so* much of the material used to pump up sales people. Just as sales people must cope with rejection on a huge scale, poker players need to learn to cope with loss and move on.

#7 bradomurder, 13 Mar 12 02:15

I think a big problem is setting huge goals, failing and getting down about it. For example saying "i'm gonna review 500 hands" then giving up after 20 cos 500 is so far away. If you say "I'm gonna do 50 hands before my session" then you're much more likely to do what you set out.

Very very good article. It inspired me, I'll find out tomorrow if it motivated me

#8 Ohs, 09 May 12 22:59

Cool article, I've read half i'll finish it tomorrow. ;)

#9 Michaelfeiz, 04 Jun 12 09:07

It was a very nice article, I loved it.

#10 badbones141, 08 Nov 12 01:21

study poker from different sources and compare what you learn... also mix playing poker with reading lessons and stick with it... it took me a little over a year playing micro stakes but I made a 50/50 deal in the BIG $5.50 on pokerstars with 2 left I cashed $4.521.30... good luck and remember if you can't be good... be great!

#11 x3mwisp, 29 Jan 13 14:14

Huge article for me! Thx!

#12 WpIoNker, 07 Jul 14 19:33


#13 AnnieRKH, 02 Aug 14 09:00

If motivation is the emotion or energy used to accomplish goals, and laziness is the skill of doing anything else besides what you OUGHT to be doing, isn't inactivity/laziness the refusal to achieve anything perceived as EXTERNAL obligation? Or in other words, more energy invested in rebellion against obligation? Poker players are generally perceived as non-conformists, thus more likely to be 'lazy'?..

#14 pepxlew, 16 Oct 14 13:26

Great article. I just see I suffer from motivation problem recently. I used to play for a week or two every day like 8~10 hours a day then I just can't stand it anymore and didn't play for a month or two, and I feel very stressed every day. When I play because I play too much, when I don't play because I'm not playing and I feel I need to play...

I made some math analysing my years of playing and discover I could play more volume by playing every day a short session. Now I have a routine and I do some exercise for 40 min and play for 3~4 hours every day.

Is working great for me until now. Do you think that's a good strategy?

#15 Kosilei, 14 Nov 14 17:48

Thanks so much for the greasing of elbows.

#16 Insharai, 04 Mar 15 02:13

Thanks for this, a problem I've been struggling with outside of poker in my day to day life.

#17 xfmandaminx, 24 Apr 15 15:39

A very helpful article indeed!!!

#18 tenev76, 05 Aug 15 09:37

hi all

#19 juozasAK, 06 Jan 16 02:26

very good text, thanks

#20 edison23041989, 06 Jan 16 08:08

just very good