My first time playing poker, I won $12 in a home game. I immediately fell in love.
It wasn’t because of the money of course but the sense of pride that came with winning.
In the years that followed I continued to pursue the game, using every session as an
opportunity to improve. While I measured my success by the amount I won, it was
merely a way of keeping score; it was never about the money itself. To me, poker was about the excitement and challenge that came with striving to be the best player I could be.
Being motivated intrinsically, or playing for the love of the game, was what led me to develop the skillset to turn pro and ultimately reach the highest levels. It’s because I loved the climb more than I loved standing on top of the mountain that lead me to build the career I have.
When I briefly attended Chapman University, I took a sociology class. Our professor
taught us about the difference in both enjoyment and performance when we are
intrinsically motivated (behavior that is driven by internal rewards like pleasure) vs. extrinsically motivated (driven by external rewards, such as money).
In short, when motivation comes from an external source, both performance and enjoyment decline.
Edward L. Deci, a Professor of Psychology and Social Sciences at the University of Rochester and director of its human motivational program, observed this during his studies as well.
In one famous experiment he observed two groups of people while they solved a puzzle. Group A was given an extrinsic reward (money), while Group B received no rewards. Afterward, both groups were secretly watched. Group A (extrinsically motivated by money) stopped playing, while Group B continued playing.
Deci summarized his findings brilliantly in his book Why We Do What We Do. He writes, ‘Stop the pay, stop the play.’ He goes on to state that ‘monetary rewards undermined people’s intrinsic motivation. Rewards seemed to turn the act of playing into something that was controlled from the outside: It turned play into work and the player into a pawn.’
I’ve noticed this phenomenon to be true in my poker career as well. When my primary aim is profit, my performance and enjoyment both suffer and, ironically, so does my bottom line.
Instead, when I’m longing to play for sheer pleasure, to test my capabilities, to improve an aspect of myself, and to experience the joy of competition, I play my best. Of course, I typically end up winning more as well.
This realization has helped me to understand that my job as a poker player, in fact, isn’t to make money, but to make winning decisions. Making money is simply the inevitable byproduct of doing my job to the best of my ability.
Learning this lesson in poker has helped me when navigating the business world too. I knew before starting a digital marketing company, a poker training site and a personal brand, that whatever business endeavor I chose had to be something I deeply enjoyed.
And I’d have to want to do it even if I never make a dime, simply because it’s something meaningful to me. Indeed, people are willing to put in the work and sacrifice that’s required to become successful only when they do something that they truly enjoy.
And it’s in continually doing this process that ultimately leads to monetization. My journey in creating Conscious Poker followed this same path and was born with a genuine passion for sharing the lessons poker had taught me about life.
I began publishing content on YouTube in 2014. After experiencing thousands of interactions with people from around the world, I was able to comprehend and quantify their common struggles.
I began to receive requests from those wanting help on their poker journey, so I started my private coaching practice.
Six months in, I realized most of my first lessons were very similar in nature. I was staying in Antibes, France at the time, and, inspired by a consultation when a client asked me to give him a concise system to get a read on his opponents, I spent the mornings on our balcony distilling my process down into something that he could apply to his game, and it’s the same process that’s the foundation of what I teach to this day.
Over the past five years, Conscious Poker on YouTube has grown organically to more than 50,000 subscriptions and 10,000,000 lifetime views. I’ve rarely sold, marketed, or endorsed anything to my audience during that time. Instead, I gave value without asking or expecting anything in return; as a result, I earned people’s trust.
Then, when I launched the Conscious Poker Membership, I made my audience aware of my courses offered at Conscious Poker, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. Later, many of my students told me that they were looking for a product of this kind from me for years.
Today, I continue doing what I love, sharing things along my poker journey, and as a result from providing value to my audience, my brand (and business) continues to grow.
In poker, your job is to make great decisions.
In business, your job is to provide value to your niche.
In both regards, making money is merely the byproduct of doing your job correctly. It’s not your primary aim.
Too many people get these two things confused. They’re so fixated on monetization that they take shortcuts in hopes of getting rich quick.
In poker, shortcuts equate to taking shots at bigger games or playing tournaments you can’t afford.
In business, shortcuts equate to selling your audience a mediocre product or endorsing something you don’t believe in.
Too many people start companies focused solely on making money. Instead, I believe they’d be far better served to uncover what inspires them, to uncover their own true Northstar. Within that space there’s almost always a problem which needs solutions, and it’s in that space of market inefficiency where the money making opportunity lies.
The hard truth is that the process of building a brand or business requires a lot hard work and sacrifice. Intrinsic motivation is what’s required to push through the brick walls that will inevitably appear on your journey.
In observing my behavior and motivation over the years, I’ve found an easy test that people can do to determine if they’re pursuing the right activity. It’s actually quite simple.
I call it the 5:00a.m. test.
Are you excited about waking up at 5:00a.m., because the project you’re working on is something that’s compelling you to get up early?
I find that the periods in which I’m sleeping in late are not because I’m more tired, but rather because I’m experience apathy for what I’m working on in that moment.
To be clear, I’m not saying one should sleep 3 hours a night. Quite the opposite, I value sleep immensely, but if you rather stay up late to ‘Netflix and Chill’ than to get up to work on your passion project, then chances are you haven’t found that ‘thing’ yet.
Keep scratching away until you find something which pulls you toward it. With rare exception, you shouldn’t feel like you have to push yourself to grind. I believe that’s just another sign from the universe that people haven’t found the thing they’re ultimately meant to do.
How do you know when you’ve found it?
When you don’t have to ask the question.