Sharpen Your Ax

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”
–Abraham Lincoln

This is a great quote about execution. To be at your best you need to ensure that when you enter the arena your tools are sharp and you have what you need to execute to the best of your ability.

I wonder what Abe would say about preparing for competition in something like the World Series of Poker (WSOP) or Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP)? My guess is it would be similar. Instead of an ax, you’ll have your expertise and the quality of your mental game. You’ve got 2 months to prepare for SCOOP, which lasts 4 weeks, using Abe’s ratio you need to start preparing now.

Being Ready

Assessing how well-prepared you are to play poker or golf, trade, etc. is essentially gauging your level of readiness. The level of readiness you need is dependent on the situation and the stakes. For instance, if you are in the midst of the daily grind, preparation that includes your daily warm-up and cool-down is likely sufficient. If, however, you are competing in a major tournament like SCOOP or the WSOP with career-changing/defining opportunities daily, preparation looks entirely different.

At that point it becomes about starting months ahead of time (spoiler: I mean NOW) to upgrade your skills/expertise and look at the major areas of your mental game to ensure you are as buttoned up as possible in each and every one.

The daily grind rarely allows for this kind of dedicated focus on upgrading skills (though I have some ideas at the end for Traders, who have less of a “season” than poker players and golfers). But when you are looking at tournament play, there is a cycle. Prepare, compete, rest. Prepare, compete, rest. Right now, you’re in the preparation cycle and you should be doing everything in your power to ensure you are at the top of your game before the WSOP and SCOOP begin.

Once it’s time to compete, you’re taking the test. Your time to study has passed. All you have at that moment is what you’ve prepared – the odds of you conjuring next-level play is so low you’re gambling.

You need to be ready. Last month, I explained that new skills, knowledge, or expertise are acquired through a predictable learning process that has a distinct start and finish. The Adult Learning Model has four stages and the last, Unconscious Competence, is only reached when you’ve learned something so well it becomes automatic. If you half-ass it, you will be stuck in one of the earlier stages and once you are fatigued or run into a problem, any newly acquired skills/expertise will go out the window.

Upgrading Skills

Obviously there is preparation that goes into your day-to-day performance. But I am talking here about the long-term development of expertise/problem-solving. This is similar to the cyclical routine that athletes follow. Season, followed by training, followed by season.

The PGA Tour players I coach, for instance, have a set of preparatory goals for the off-season, which get them tournament-ready for when the season kicks off. In fact, the first of the five biggest tourneys in the world is coming up this week, The Players, and has the largest purse ever in golf history – a whopping $20M.

The players obviously want to be ready to capitalize on that opportunity, which means during December and January they were working on their physique and swing, as well as leveling up aspects of their Mental Game. Not last week, or even last month. They spent intensive time in the off-season because it is harder to do long-term development when they are in-season. This cycle applies to more than athletes.

Getting Ready for WSOP & SCOOP

In particular I want to call attention to the role of preparation for tournament poker players. When you are trying to prepare for a series like WSOP or SCOOP, you need to carve time out dedicated to leveling up your skill set in a more distinct and profound way.

This is true whether you are new to poker or a returning pro. Last year Diego Ventura and Matt Affleck worked with me on tournament prep and I included it in my Mental Game Tune Up for Tournament Poker video course. My course is a solid way to structure your prep and at least one bracelet winner tells me it contributed to her success in 2021.

Right now, you need to define the areas you want to improve and this is still the time to get started. You don’t want to coast along when taking care of the big line items could give you a large jump in performance/execution. If you are advanced in your mental game work, you may be able to simply review and take stock, and can focus on other areas of your game to improve. If, on the other hand, your mental game needs work, now is the time to do the real work needed to improve. Don’t procrastinate and cram at the last minute – it’s simply not as effective.

Instead, have a period of focused study/training well in advance and then slowly decrease that time as the event gets closer. Then shift into integrating what you’ve learned, which is all about taking what you’ve learned and applying it.

In summary, your prep cycle should be to pull back from daily play, study, and gradually go back into daily play. WSOP and SCOOP offer significantly larger payouts than the daily grind. You know how much opportunity there is. If you want to capitalize on it, start now. To motivate you to get started the right way, use code: Prepare2022 to save $200 on my video course. Valid only until March 31.

Traders Making Their Own Cycle

If you’re a trader, long-term development/upgrading skills is a bit trickier because there isn’t a comparable cycle. The markets are always open, so you have to define a cycle throughout the year.

Look at when you usually take time off, or whether there are periods that are naturally quieter. If they tend to happen at certain times of the year, you can plan for it.

If quiet times are more spontaneous as the market changes, another approach is to have the materials ready that you need to keep yourself from staring at screens. Don’t waste an opportunity to look at new indicators or set-ups, backtest new strategies, etc. Use that time wisely.

Another benefit is this strategy also reduces the risk that you will take sub-optimal trades and waste capital because you feel the need to just do something.

Regardless of whether you are a golfer, poker player, trader or other type of professional, being well-prepared reduces fear, bolsters confidence, and helps you identify trouble spots in advance so you are not thrown by them at your decision-point. It’s literally a game-changer.

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