One of the key differences between winning poker players and losing ones is discipline. Knowing what the right course of action to take is one thing, being able to stay the course and execute the proper course of action can be quite another.
Discipline applies both to your actions at the table and your poker related activity away from the table. For example, you may set a goal to do a certain amount of poker reading per week. You've determined that this amount would be an ideal one, in order to further your understanding of the game. When it comes time to do it though, it's often too easy to find excuses not to. Or it may be to focus on playing poker and giving your full attention to the game. When playing online though, there can be a lot of potential distractions and at times it's too easy to give into them. Or your goal may be to play a certain amount per week. Or it may be to play at a certain level for a time before moving on to another one.
In terms of game play, you will no doubt have a number of strategic and tactical elements to your game, ones that you've come to decide would be best in a given situation. It may be for instance to play a certain starting hand in only certain circumstances, but perhaps you've become bored or frustrated, so you loosen up. Or you come to decide that a certain strength of hand needs to be laid down to a raise in a certain set of circumstances, but you haven't won a hand in a while and decide to depart from your more well thought out plan. Or you get drawn out on a few more times than you think you deserve to, and start playing more aggressively than you normally would think desirable.
These are just a few examples of course, but you get the idea. Regardless of the criterion or goal, the common element is that these are standards you've set after deliberately thinking about what the best course of action would be, but the best laid plans are only as good as your desire to see them through. When you come to abandon your strategy in the heat of the moment, you are doing yourself a real disservice of course, and your game overall will suffer accordingly.
This is not to say that adjustments in strategy should not be made. On the contrary, these adjustments form an integral part of your development as a player. In order to ensure any adjustments are profitable ones to make though, this requires careful reflection and deliberation, not simply changing gears in the heat of battle, being motivated more by whim than what would be best for your game in the long term.
Having the proper discipline, especially at the poker table in the heat of a game, is often easier said than done though. Every player struggles with this to at least a certain degree, and has given in to these whims at least occasionally, some more than others of course. Our emotions play a central role in our lives, including poker playing, and it's often difficult not to let them cloud our thinking.
We know for a fact though that when we decide on a given course of action we have deemed that to be best for the circumstances given our current knowledge and understanding of the situation. When the time comes to execute the plan, we must learn to trust our skills and follow through. There will be instances where it becomes obvious to us that perhaps we may have been mistaken, and need to rethink he plan, but if we look to make changes while the game is in progress we must try to ensure that this change is a product of clear thinking and not overly clouded over by our emotions at the time.
As a beneficial exercise, keep a note pad, either a real one or one on your computer, and write down each time you feel you need to deviate from your current plan, and why. If you decide to change the plan on the fly, during game play, make additional notes on why you think the change would be beneficial. Even if you don't decide to change at this time, make a note of the event anyway, so you can refer back to it later. Make all this as detailed as you can make it. Then later, when the game is over, read over and reflect back on your notes. Pay particular attention to what inspired the desire to change the plan.
This exercise has many benefits in addition to prompting you toward a more disciplined style, which in itself is a very important element of successful poker play of course. In addition to this, you'll also gain very valuable insights on your thinking during this process, not only making it more transparent, but having the additional opportunity to reflect on it more critically, in a more structured manner.
Often we tend to blame events or luck for our own failings at the table, and we of course want to move away from this as much as possible. Instead of doing things such as blaming the cards for a bad session, or others whose inferior hands got lucky, we instead can examine our own play continually to ensure we not only have the right plan, but are sticking to it faithfully. When we do both, nothing can stop us in the long run.