I knew short-term variance made poker the profitable opportunity it was. I wanted to be friends with variance, but deep down I hated it.
Forward Acknowledgement: This is an article of strategies I learned from The Mental Game of Poker on the foundation of how to learn. The ideas, terms and lines are taken directly, or slightly modified, from Jared Tendler’s book. Though the theories are nothing new (some frequently attributed to the psychologist Abraham Maslow), Jared Tendler brilliantly explains them in his own way and it was in his book where I truly came to understand the content. If you are interested in these topics, or if you like poker, pick it up.
“Would you like me to give you the formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But isn’t that at all.” -Henry Ford
Inchworm is an eye-opening concept that illustrates the process of improving over time. It isn’t new, but you likely haven’t thought about it previously. When you understand inchworm you will be able to:
- Consistently and efficiently improve anything.
- Keep clear of common learning mistakes.
- Avoid fighting a reality you can’t change.
- Recognize where a skill is in the learning process.
- Handle the natural ups and downs of learning.
To begin looking at inchworm, take a moment to examine the natural range that exists in the performance of your greatest skill-set. Think about the quality of your decisions at your absolute best, and when you’re at your absolute worst. How good do you get at your best? How bad at your worst?
Regularly you’re performing somewhere in the middle between your best and your worse. If you plotted the quality of every decision you’ve made in the last six months on a rating of 1-100, you’d observe a bell curve.
This bell curve shows the natural range that exists in your skill-set, and is present in every skill-set of life (though some ranges are more narrow than others). You will always have aspects of your performance that represent the peak of your abilities, and your worst. Always. You’re skills are always evolving, and that means you’re learning. If you’re learning that means there’s a range in the quality of your decision making.
Range exists everywhere. It’s especially obvious in professional sports. Golfers shoot over par on holes they’ve previously shot an eagle. Hockey players make sharp passes as well as outrageous turnovers. Soccer players acrobatically strike the ball mid-air to score incredible goals and also whiff the ball in front of an open net.
When looking at yourself, for better or worse, it’s important to be honest about the reality that range exists. Not what you wish the reality to be, but what actually is.
The right side of your graph represents your current peak in ability – generally when you’re in the zone with a great mindset. It includes all of the newest skills and information you’ve acquired. Remember, these skills are the ones learned only to the ability of conscious competence and cannot yet be considered part of your permanent skill-set.
The left side displays your worst. The mistakes you shouldn’t make but still do. The errors that occur when your mind goes blank. It’s interesting to note these lapses can be avoided and are often linked to weaknesses in your mental performance. As the aspects of your mental performance develop, you frequently perform closer to your best.
The inchworm concept applies when you look at how your range improves over time. Imagine the movement of an inchworm. If you haven’t seen one, it starts by stretching its body straight, anchors the front “foot”, then lifts up from the back end, bends at the middle to bring the two ends closer together, anchors the back foot, then stretches it’s body straight again, and takes another step forward.
When you reach a new peak in your ability, the front end of your range takes a step forward. Your best just became better, which also means that your range has widened because the back end hasn’t moved yet. The most efficient way to move forward again is to focus on the back end of your range and make improvements to your greatest weaknesses. By eliminating the worst part of your game, your bell curve takes a step forward from the back end, and now it’s easier to take another step forward from the front.
Consistent improvement happens by taking one step forward from the front of your bell curve followed by another step forward from the back. The implications of this concept are:
- Improvement happens from two sides: improving weakness and improving your best.
- Performing your best is a moving target, because it’s always relative to the current range in your ability.
- You create potential for an even greater A-game (and mental game) when you eliminate your C-game because mental space is freed up to learn new things. (Yes the quality of your mental peak of zone can improve as well.)
Two Common Learning Mistakes:
Constantly learning new things while ignoring, avoiding, or protecting your weaknesses cause a wide range in your performance. The problem is it takes a lot of mental energy to think through all the new things you’ve learned and as you lose focus there is a dramatic drop-off in performance level. So when you’re at your best you’re better than ever, but when it gets bad, it gets really bad.
To make matters worse, because performing well takes so much mental energy, it will rarely happen. Also mistakes, many of them basic, will show up completely out of nowhere. Most of the time you’ll be bad, and as your poor form frustrates you, you’ll get worse. Your confidence will drop, you’ll become anxious and nervously watch your performance level free fall deep into (your activity)-hell. (For me, poker-hell.)
Preventing this from happening is actually quite simple: you must stay focused on learning the correction to your weaknesses until it is trained to the level of unconscious competence – especially after your A-game improves. Doing so keeps you humble, reminds you of your weaknesses, and is the most efficient way for you to improve.
Comparing Your Worst to Your Best
On a run of poor form it is especially hard to maintain proper perspective, specifically of your development. While recognizing improvement may not seem like much, it can be critical to helping turn things around.
The only way to prove the back end of your range has taken a step forward is by analyzing your worst, and comparing it to your previous worst during a previous tough stretch. Under intense pressure you rely heavily on the skills at the level of unconscious competence. So, for better or worse, what shows up at that point gives you a perfect view of your greatest weaknesses.
Comparing your worst to your previous worst and seeing improvement in the midst of a tough stretch will give you the much needed confidence boost to recover to your best.
I hated losing, but I’m now at peace with it. Growth is difficult. Mistakes happen, and negative emotions are going to be there. When you’re at your worst it is time to work hard to make it a little better, so it won’t be as bad tomorrow; it’s the one thing you can do to make your dreams a reality.
“Without some failure, you can’t learn what’s needed to achieve greater success. Real failure only happens when you give up.” – Jerad Tendlar
P.S. If you want to accelerate your success in implementing these strategies and reaching your goals, we’d love to help you. Apply today to our Mentorship Coaching program and we’ll gladly offer you a free coaching session to see if we’re a good fit.