Mike Leah: “Setting Goals Helps Me Play My Best”

Studying the game, playing good and running better are important to poker but setting goals can be just as important.

One player who is constantly setting goals is Canadian Mike Leah. It was an important step in Leah’s capacity to quit his previous career and move into player poker full time.

Earlier this year Leah published a list of goals outlining some of the things he hoped to accomplish in 2014 and beyond. Some of those goals he crossed off the list and others he hopes to achieve at WSOP APAC.

We caught up with Leah to find out how important goal setting is to his game and to hear a little bit about some of the goals he set in the past and the ones he has accomplished.

Mike Leah

PokerListings.com: This year and in past years you have been very open about poker goals that you have. Is this an important part of your success?

Mike Leah: Goals are very important for me simply because I play a lot better when I’m motivated.

So playing a tournament that is part of a goal like, a WSOP or FTOPS or WCOOP goal, helps me play my best or at least, play my best more often than not.

PL: Is playing good the primary reason for setting goals?

I would say so. My background first is sports, then sales, and for both of those goal setting was important to success. I’ve kind of used the same approach to poker which seems to have helped me a lot.

Whether it’s at the start of the year or at the start of a series. Or even start of week or start of a day, I try and mentally set what I want to accomplish. It helps me be focused on what I’m doing and hopefully help me play my best game.

PL: Does your goal setting involve stepping back and taking a moment to process the goal and map out an actual plan on how to accomplish it?

I do a little bit of everything, it just depends on the goal.

If a goal is to win WSOP POY, then it starts with sitting down and working out what I have to do to accomplish that – which events I need to play, how to figure out my bankroll, if I’m selling action, if I'm going to work out during the summer, what am I going to eat.

Basically everything I’m going to need to do to accomplish that goal.

Some of it then will be studying or something. Like the goal might be wanting to improve my 2-7 game, so I study and aim to get better.

Mike Leah

PL: Do your goals ever get adjusted or changed midway through trying to accomplish them?

For sure. It doesn’t happen that often, but sometimes I will lower a goal.

A basic example, if my goal this year was to win the WSOP POY, then it’s kind of impossible now so I’ve adjusted that goal towards trying to make another final table and win my first bracelet.

I wasn’t really setting out to win Card Player POY and those magazine kind of ones, but now I think I have shot at those so I might go for it. So in that way I may adjust my goals.

PL: Did you map out some goals coming into WSOP APAC?

I definitely looked at the schedule and tried to plan out what I was going to do. I think I decided I was going to play every event, even if I’m in another one.

Mike LeahI think they are spaced out enough that the schedule will allow me to do that and give me a best chance to make a final table or multiple final tables and maybe win something.

I also really wanted to get my sleeping pattern on point in Australia because I thought that would help with my playing. So I had goals to limit the amount of side action and just focus on the tournaments…

But then I stayed up all night the other night watching NFL football. Then I stayed up all night last night playing cash, so sometimes you do get side-tracked from your goals.

PL: Do things not going to plan like that affect your mindset and change your motivation?

In terms of APAC, I think, for me, if I had done really well in one of the first events it would have motivated me to maintain that focus.

Sometimes when four or five events are finished and I haven’t done anything yet, sometimes it definitely takes me off my game. Which is why for me setting goals is important as it just keeps me on point.

PL: Do you find it tough to get back on track?

Sometimes I’m really good, sometimes I’m really bad. I just have to get myself deep in a tournament and everything kicks in.

The early stages of a tournament are tough when things aren’t going that great because the blinds are so low and it’s more difficult to play your A-game sometimes.

PL: One of your goals at the start of the year was to post a seven-figure score. You did that in the Seminole Hard Rock event in August. How gratifying is it to tick goals like that off the list?

Mike LeahExtremely gratifying. From the goals I made at the start of the year I’ve already accomplished quite a few already. I won a player of the series, I got into that WSOP million dollar freeroll and a seven-figure score is a big one.

I also wanted to win another FTOPS title and I had a 2nd and 3rd place in the last series, so I got really close to that one. I’ve had a pretty good year in terms of reaching my goals.

I guess the WSOP stuff is where it falls short. That’s definitely my biggest focus coming here is to try and knock those big WSOP goals off the list.

PL: Was the seven-figure goal kind of bittersweet? Because you crossed off that goal, but I’m sure you would have preferred to win the tournament rather than finish 2nd.

Obviously my personal goal to get the seven-figure score after being a full time player for six years was pretty awesome, but the elation and high I would have had if I won the event, well there’s no comparison.

It was obviously great for my bankroll and my life and everything else that comes with winning a million bucks. But there wasn’t really a big celebration like there would have been if I won.

PL: Do you remember some of the early goals you made in your career that may have helped you take the next step in the poker world, or even outside of it?

I can think of two.

One when I first started playing poker full time. It was September 2008 I left my career to play, so going into 2009 I set the goal to win the POY for all the magazine titles and everything like that.

Mike Leah

So I set my schedule and planned to be on the road the whole year to try and accomplish that. I had a very good start, I think I was in the top five going into that summer.

But because I was doing very well I got into a lot of other things like running a big staking stable and so I got distracted and finished 10th that year.

I set a big goal and tried to achieve it, but fell short, however I was still satisfied being able to finish in the top 10.

That basically gave me the confidence to know that I could be successful in poker as career.

PL: Is there a new goal moving forward to replace the seven-figure result now that’s off your list?

It’s still a WSOP bracelet. By far the top thing on the list. And that’s probably never going to change.

Because when I do win number one, then the next goal will be to win number two.

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