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I'm All In: What Poker Taught Me About Life and Business

The photo above was taken in 2010 I believe while I was playing in the World Poker Tour LA Poker Classic at the Commerce Casino. 

I used to take playing poker very seriously. I spent countless hours playing out hands in my head, reading forums and books to go along with thousands of hours spent playing online (before it was deemed illegal). My best stretch was when I was 22 and cleared a shade under $10,000 in 4 months during a summer. I was pretty good but I really disliked the unhealthy lifestyle that came with playing for 8-12 hours daily to make a living.

Poker is a zero sum game. This means that in order for there to be a winner, there has to be a loser. And at times the best play was to target those who would exhibit signs of addiction as those people aren't playing a sound game, mathamatically speaking, This is not something I feel particularly proud of but that's the game. 

And while I no longer play to pay my bills there were a lot of lessons I picked up playing cards.  Many lessons that translates over to life and business. Here are a few of them.

Expected Value (EV)

In probability theory the expected value of a random variable is the sum of the probability of each possible outcome of the experiment multiplied by the outcome value (or payoff). 

Simply stated EV (in poker) is the amount of money you can win or lose on your average bet. It's often explained by flipping a coin, which is an example of neutral EV. What are the odds it will be heads or tails? Over a small sample size it's 70% tails, extrapolated over 1,000 or 10,000 flips, it will be closer to 50/50. 

No one, not even the best players win every tournament, let alone every single hand they play. Whether you play well or poorly, you'll win some and lose some. Good players are profitable over the long haul because they maximize their spots when they're winning and minimizing losses when cards aren't running their way. They focus on making good decisions regardless of the outcome.

This rings true in business. If you continue to put yourself in the best position by playing the positive percentage plays, more often than not you'll be a winner. 

Which leads me to the next point. 

You can do all the right things and still lose

This one drove me insane. How can I be an overwhelming 95% favorite and STILL LOSE!!!

Because like in life, you aren't in control of everything so anything can happen. Yes you should've won, you should've gotten that business because you're better than your competition, but a'las they've decided to go with Joe-Trainer instead. That's completely out of your control and you need to accept the cards of life as they fall even if they're not in your favor. Move on to the next play.

Always Moving Forward

Piggybacking off the last point, even if you don't get the business, you can't dwell on it for long. Continually beating yourself up for mistakes isn't going to help you change for the better. It's only a complete failure if you fail to learn from your mistakes.

There were so many times I made the wrong move at the table which cost me tournament wins and money! I was angry/sad for a bit but ultimately I would reflect on what I could've done differently. There's no point in being upset with something that's now in the past.

Learn from the past, be in the NOW, and always be preparing for the future

Bankroll Management

If I bring in $1,000 and spend $900 of it on going out. I'm not left with much else for anything else. Let alone any unanticipated expenses. 

Knowing how to budget your money is an invaluable skip to learn. You need to stay within your means because you never quite know what might happen. In the case of Poker it might be a few dry months where your cards couldn't hit the side of a barn; in life it could be a car accident or broken appliance you clearly weren't expecting.

It goes without saying again: Always be saving and stay within your means so you can weather the bad times. If you take one too many risks, you might play yourself right out of the game. 

Know Your Numbers

What are the odds of flopping a third Ace when you have two of them in Texas hold em?
Odds of flopping a straight?
How about completing a flush on the river if I only need one last card?

I know these numbers off the top of my head like the back of my hand. I'm not rain man, I just memorized them. But knowing your numbers is just as important in business. 

What's your conversion rate for free consultiations to paid clients?
Run any marketing campaigns? What's your CAC (customer acquisition costs)?
What are your food costs? 

You don't need to know these things at an accountant level, but you should know what's going on behind the scenes. Knowing the lingo helps you communicate with experts and understand what's going on in your business. 

In case you were wondering:
Flopping 3 of a kind 8.5:1 or 10.5%
Flopping a straight about 1%
Completing a flush on the river, assuming you have all 9 remaining cards of that suit, is roughly 18%. 

Understanding basic human psychology

Most people have watched high level poker on ESPN and imagine that pros can detect any facial tick or lean which gives them an edge. While this is sort of true, what great players pick up on are patterns. I would often pay close attention to deviations in patterns:

How did they play after losing a hand?
Does that change if it was "unlucky" versus playing poorly? Do they even think that was a poor play?
Are they more talkative when they're nervous? Do they always take a sip of water when making a borderline decision?

It comes down to understanding how people normally act and if or when there's a change, deciphering what it means. When dealing with clients who are resistant to change, knowing how to pick up on non-verbal cues has been an invaluable skill to have cultivated.

Implied Odds

This is calculating the odds of completing your hand and the future bets you would collect if you do. You need to take stock of the percentage chance you have to complete you hand versus the amount of money already sitting in middle of the table. 

Simply stated: Calculating risks is a little more cut and dry in poker since it's all math. But the same basic principles apply where you need to take stock of what an investment of time or money will cost you, and whether or not it's going to be worth doing. If you make decision"x" what will be your return on investment? And how long will it take for you to break even?

Poker is a game that's easy to learn but hard to master. There are only a few of the lessons I've picked up from this game. I believe poker is a fantastic training camp for those looking to cultivate skill necessary for business and critical thinking. 

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Social Media: Where Pros Give Unsolicited "Advice"

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It's late one night and you're scrolling through a social media feed on your phone and come across some friends working out. Like most individuals you might give them a like or comment about how that's awesome or congratulating them on a new accomplishment in the gym.

You go to the comments and see:

"Not hitting depth, smh"
"I'd be careful, your back shouldn't be like that"
"Shoot your hips back more and focus on arching"
"Leg drive! Arch! You'll push more once you learn to do that"

The "Fit Pro" Commenth

You click on the profile of the individual who left one of these types of comments and discover they're trainers and coaches who've decided they know best on how EVERYBODY should train.

Now I'm not talking about the fitness enthusiast who fancies themselves an uncertified trainer because they have a six pack or competed in a powerlifting meet. I'm talking about a true "professional" who puts food on the table training others. These are the guys I have a gripe with. I used quotes because these "pros" aren't very professional. 

Here's why it's a load of bull for one fitness "professional" to call out another publicly on social media.

I'm ACE, NASM, NCSA, ISSA, ABC123 CPT

While you may not agree with what you're seeing, it's also not your job to be judge and jury for all things fitness simply because you passed the most rudimentary of Personal Training certifications. Nor does ripping off someone else's training philosophy and system suddenly make you an expert. As a professional it is your job to help YOUR clients and contribute to the fitness industry. It's easy to move on and not waste your time being the form police. Instead of tearing others down why not be a positive beacon building others up by reaching out. Don't try and hijack someone else's feed by putting them down and trying to show how superior you are and why they or their followers should add you, they won't.

Did it ever cross your mind that the person you're critiquing is the very person in the video, a person who is NOT a professional but a paying customer? Now I know what you're thinking, hey if that coach did a better job the client would be moving better. Heres the problem with that line of thinking. You have no context as to how long this client's been training and more importantly how much progress said client has made.

While you may be watching someone perform a squat to a less than desirable depth or deadlift with a slightly rounded back, you didn't know that the coach wanted the client to be focused on hip positioning today. They're crushing their hip position and in time I'm sure they'll fix that back position as well. This often can be the case for very untrained individuals because they can easily become overwhelmed with dozens of cues and checkmarks. A good coach breaks things down into easy manageable steps. Sharing progress is that, progress and not the final product. Critiquing the technique of a beginner is as ridiculous as over analyzing a T-ball swing, really man what are you doing?!

Social Media Crusader

Here's my biggest gripe I have with other fitness "professionals" criticizing other pros via social media: Your critique can be the sole reason another person loses business and is unable to keep the lights on in their home. Said client may read your comment and decide that maybe their trainer isn't good and decides to stop. While you may think you're doing a service to the industry, all you're doing is a being a jerk. I've meet thousands of trainers, some good and some needing more CEU's, but for the most part they've been good people. Judging others coaching abilities isn't up to you! Who are you to be reaching in and taking money out of somebody else's pockets?! Don't be upset with them, be upset you aren't better at marketing your services to help more people. 

I firmly believe the cream rises to the top. If a coach is good they'll succeed on their own, just like they'll run themselves out of business all the same if they don't deliver results. It shouldn't be because you're planting the seed of doubt into their client's head. Yes sometimes these coaches have their clients performing less than stellar technique on a regular basis but also remember that their poor training only highlights how good you are without saying a single word. 

If you really feel the need to criticize another coach, for all that is good and holy just send them a private message.

Lastly lets stop being lazy with these bot comments and copy+paste DM's. I get you're trying to build up your following but you're trying to do so by being lazy and trying to take a short cut. Some of these comments don't even make sense, I'd ask for a refund for that bot if I were you.

I continue working on my own social media presence, it takes work and if you're a true professional, you'll be working on it yourself. 

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Fad Diets

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Fad Dieting

"I've tried everything, I lose some weight but when I go back to eating regular food I regain it all back."
  • I only eat veggies and drink water for two months.
  • Detox juices
  • The Blood type diet
  • Cabbage soup diet
  • Paleo diet
  • Cucumber and milk
  • I only eat fruit 
  • Drink this tea and lose weight

These are all examples of fad diets. Some better than others but really what they all have in common is that they tell you NOT to consume certain foods for the sake of maintaining a specific "diet". 

What is a Calorie?

A Calorie is chemistry. It is the measure of energy stored in food. More specifically the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1L of water by 1 degree Celsius. Food energy is turned into eat which is how we measure what we understand to be food calories.

Science and Your Body

70% of weight and body shape is hereditary. This is where we get body shapes like the ones below. 

Photo Courtesy: Precision Nutrition

Photo Courtesy: Precision Nutrition

However I believe that while you may be predisposed to a certain body shape it isn't an excuse to blame your parents for why you can't lose weight. No matter your body shape there's no reason you can't look the best YOUR body can be. You can lose some weight on any diet, but it comes right back on if it wasn't built upon proper nutrition habits. 

Psychological Aspect of Weight Loss

John goes on a diet to lose weight. And he is able to lose 10 lbs in 3 weeks. John proceeds to tell everybody how great his diet was. He gives full credit to the diet. The problem is John proceeds to go back to his usual eating habits and regains the weight. Instead of blaming the diet, he blames himself.  Does this sound familiar?

Often times these diets restrict and cut out a large macronutrient. That alone will force weight loss, albeit mostly water and glycogen stores. The diet had very little to do with the person's success and now it damages the individual's psyche because they don't believe they're able to succeed. And that alone is large enough of a reason to not entertain trying these types of diets. 

Many fad diets have little science to back-up their crazy ideas and claims. This is why the results aren't what you're hoping for. Just because something works for someone else doesn't mean that it works for you. When you're looking to lose weight like getting a thinner waist or smaller thighs, your body doesn't know that's all you want. Metabolically speaking, it adjusts and when you continue to consume the same amount of food you ate to lose weight; you stop losing weight. In the same way that exercise needs to be progressed so too does your nutritional protocol. 

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What Does Male Fitness Look Like

Photo Courtesy: WWE

Photo Courtesy: WWE

Growing up in the early 90's I spent a large amount of time watching WWF wrestling. These larger than life men running around in their underwear with muscles captivated me. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Slyvester Stallone were all over the movie screens with their oiled up muscular bodies; what boy didn't want to be like Rambo or the Terminator! I wanted to be like them.

5'7" 135lbs

UThat was me my senior year of high school. And this was AFTER discovering what a gym was. I had gained 10 solid pounds over the summer and was "on my way" to being like these guys I idolized as a little boy. 

Today I have a different perspective on the "ideal" male physique. Are we driven to want big, lean muscles because that's something we legitamely want or have we been told by others that's the physique we should aspire to?

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Most men interested in fitness have seen this meme on the internet. From a performance stand point it doesn't make any sense. The activities while similar (both are running) require two completely different physiological adaptations. One is endurance related and the other is power based. To compare the two is apples and oranges.

What I get from this photo dives deeper into the consciousness of Men. It illustrates the point that we should want to be big and muscular. But Why? From an early age we're told that unless you're big and muscular, that you weren't a "real man". Hell even our action figures were buff! So If you don't look like an upside triangle with a giant V-taper, you don't fit society's ideally male body. You aren't built for survival.

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Does this mean you think the marathoner isn't fit? 

Fitness means a lot of different things. I believe being fit comes in a variety of shapes, forms and modalities. Each physique is capable of things the other cannot do. It doesn't mean one is better than the other, it simply means they're different. 

"That dude is scrawny"

So what?
Why does it even matter? I believe it comes down to this: 

How big is big enough?
How strong is strong enough?
How fast is fast enough?

I would argue that unless your job is professional bodybuilder, weightlifter or athlete there should be more or less a target for you to aim for. Why do we lift weights, run and eat well? Other than looking good, its to live a long healthy life. Yes you should strive to always be getting better, but just because someone doesn't fit YOUR ideal depiction of fitness doesn't make them or their goals lesser than.

I'm sick of hearing bodybuilders saying those powerlifters are fat. 

I'm sick of weightlifters saying those bodybuilders aren't functional or mobile.

I'm sick of runners saying I don't do weights because then I'd be slow like those powerlifters.

Regardless of what you enjoy doing, there's A LOT to learn from each other. So instead of focusing on all of our short comings, we should be helping each other get better and be happy. But a lot of guys won't because talking smack is easier than raising each other up, because putting others down means you're a man. A real man, right?

I say that's one insecure man, now could you oil me up while I wear my man thong-singlet for my 10k meet?

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Voyage LA Interview

I recently finished an interview on Voyage LA detailing my history as a trainer and the road to where I am today.

To read the full write up:

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