Many authors immerse themselves in a subject or field in order to write about it. A.J. Jacobs spent a year living biblically. Dan Lyons worked at HubSpot. Others, like Stefan Fatsis, try to become a kicker for the Broncos or, like Michael McKnight, try to learn to dunk a basketball.

But usually they dip in and dip out; their experiences help provide a somewhat inside perspective for a book or longform piece. (A little like me doing 100,000 pushups in a year.) 

And then there's Maria Konnikova. Two years ago she decided to write a book about poker but she knew almost nothing about the game. So she did the smart thing. Instead of getting a coach, she got a pro: She connected with Erik Seidel, a professional poker player who has won eight World Series of poker bracelets and a World Poker Tour title. 

Seidel decided that for Konnikova to really understand the game, she had to follow the path beginners take. She had to build her bankroll from scratch. So she started playing in $20 and $40 tournaments. Then she moved up to higher stakes tournaments, finishing second in one and winning $2,215.

And then earlier this year she won $84,600 at the PCA National... and decided to push back her book to 2019 and go all-in (pun intended) on poker, a decision that paid off when she finished second in an Asia Pacific Poker Tour Macau event and won $57,519.

"PCA was the moment where everything kind of came together," she said. "I'm learning and it's sticking and I'm playing well. It's a really wonderful feeling when you're studying and working to have that validated."

Konnikova didn't set out to become a great poker player. She just wanted to get better.

That's the thing about progress. That's the thing about success. Even a little progress successes makes you feel good. Even the smallest successes validate your effort. Tiny progress, small successes... they make you happy.

And that provides all the motivation you need to get up tomorrow and keep working on whatever trying to learn or improve.

That's why almost all incredibly successful people set a goal and then focus all their attention on the process necessary to achieve that goal. 

Sure, the goal is still out there. But what they care about most is what they need to do today -- and when they accomplish that, they feel happy about today. They feel good about today. 

And they feel good about themselves, because they've accomplished what they set out to do today. And that sense of accomplishment gives them all the motivation they need to do what they need to do when tomorrow comes -- because success, even tiny, incremental success, is the best motivation of all.

When you savor the small victories, you get to feel good about yourself every day, because you no longer feel compelled to compare the distance between here and there. You don't have to wait for "someday" to feel good about yourself; if you do what you planned to do today, you're a winner.

Pick someone who has achieved something you want to achieve. Deconstruct his or her process. Then follow it.

Along the way you might make small corrections as you learn what works best for you, but never start by doing what you want to do, or what feels good, or what you think might work.

Do what is proven to work.

That way you won't give up, because the process you create will yield those small successes that keep you motivated and feeling good about yourself.

Even if you're a writer who decides to learn a little something about poker.

Published on: May 3, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.