When I started out, I deposited $12, turned it into something like $54 in a weekend at $.01/$.02 NL, and then blew it all in a couple days.
Then I deposited $13 more (I had a $25 Visa
All-Access card), and played too tight, slowly losing it over a few weeks.
I deposited $50 a month later, this time I decided to give it my all.
Every time my BR would get to $70 ($20 profit) I'd start to slack off. I had four full-buy-ins profit and I was playing short-stack anyway, and that $20 wasn't "real" money to me anyway, so I did not play smart with it. I'd use the "extra" money to take chances and make plays that I wouldn't normally make.
When my BR would dwindle down to $52 or so, I'd come back to my senses. I didn't want to be a losing player, so I'd put all my effort back into grinding and playing my best. But when I'd get to $20 in profit again, I'd start to slack off, and repeat the cycle.
Three things fixed my game:
1. PokerTracker. I got PokerTracker which put everything I did on my permanent record. I *hate* having red marks on my permanent record, so in that drastically cut down on my "oh what the heck" plays
Due to fear of red stats, I tended to play when I thought I could win. That is, if I was tired, bored, and distracted, I didn't let myself play because I knew that playing then would be hazardous to my stats.
2. Leaning about online play. I had read several poker books
before making a deposit, but they were based on live play, not online play. Many of the principals apply (like the math), but there are other things you need to know. My big revelation was what people were willing to call. I'd just half-pot my way to the river when I had a good hand.
Specifically, a couple videos I saw of a guy playing $25NL drastically changed how I saw the game. He pointed out some some behavior that proved invaluable, and showed me the power of a c-bet. (I think one of the videos is here (http://www.cardschat.com/f53/25-6-max-100-6-max-104001/))
3. Moving up in stakes. This is normally a mistake, but I was good enough to move up. Part of my problem was getting bored. When I had a profit, losing a few centes here and a few cents there meant very little to me. But when I put $20 aside to play the $.05/$.10 rings, well, that was a *big* difference from $.01/$.02. Those numbers meant something to me, and kept me on my toes.
Those three things made my stats go from an EKG pulse to a nice stable climb.
Basically, #1 and #3 were me knowing my weaknesses and taking steps to compensate. #2 was a bonus that just added steroids to my game, making the winning graph steeper than it otherwise would have been.
So if I were to give advice to a beginner who's looking to move up, I'd say to start at the lowest levels. He should be *able* to beat those consistantly. If you can't, then either you're sample size is too small or you have some learning to do. (IE, you're getting involved in big pots with only top-pair/top-kicker and other rookie moves) I *hate* hearing people complaining about people playing at the lowest levels because of all the calling machines. Calling machines might result in greater swings, but they should also result in a higher overall profit.
Next, once you know you can win consistantly if you really try, do something that will give you some sort of accountability. Like I said, PokerTracker helped by putting every dumb play on my record and it was my biggest motivation keep my stats high/optimal/green.
But in addition to PokerTracker I set up some rules about my play. I could not play for real money
if I had a beer that day. I could play for real money if the TV was on. I could not play for real money if I was tired, or moody.
As far as learning about online play, check CardsChat's video section and their hand analysis section. It's a *great* way to learn from other people's mistakes.
Now, I'd be hesitant to advise someone to move up when they're not winning consistantly at a lower level. But if your losses are due to boredom, that could be a good move. I made a rule for myself (I make a lot of rules for myself). When I won $20, I could put that to a higher limit game. If I lost $20 at that level, I'd have to make $25 before I could move up again. Then if I lost $20 I'd have to repeat the process. That way I had a $5 profit.
As it turned out, excelled at the higher limit, and never looked back. But I would have stuck to that rule. You know, come to think of it, I hated the idea of having to move back down to the lower level. I think not wanting to lose and grind it out at the bottom level again was part of my motivation.