Triggering Elite Performance

Most of the trading literature teaches us to find ways to eliminate our negative emotions when we trade. At SMB we ask our newbies to make a list of things that may cause them to trade on tilt. Then we prescribe visuali-zation exercises to develop the emotional skill to eliminate and control these triggers. I had lunch recently with a world-class performer who offered a different take, and I cannot stop thinking about it.

 

Josh Waitzkin, former chess and martial arts champion and author of The Art of Learning, shared a different solution. What if you could take that energy that causes you to trade on tilt and channel it into a state of hyper-focus? Josh’s contention is that the real world, trading live, and practice (in our case, visualization exercises), are not the same. There will always be a new something that causes you to get upset and potentially trade on the tilt. And teaching performers to subvert their natural emotions is forcing them to change who they are at their core. This leads them away from a path of building on their unique personality. At the highest levels performers will crumble in these moments if they do not learn how to turn this negative energy into a heightened state of concentration.

I was talking with Dr. Steenbarger, the Coach K of trading psychologists, about this idea recently and he shared that when he was in danger of taking a significant trading loss his brain flipped to “it is on.” When I have a large position that has suddenly traded well against me and my screen is filled with red, I immediately close out all thoughts other than how best to escape. There is no time for banging and screaming and complaining. No time for thoughts of how unfair this is or how much this loss hurts. I think: How do I exit? Where do I exit? What are the best exits?

Remember John McEnroe yelling and screaming at the officials and then playing better? We all know great traders who burst out the most obscene cussing and then find a way back to profitability. For some getting really pissed can signal a short burst of anger but then moments of intense creativity and hyper focus.

I am not sure how these ideas best apply to trading. I am still thinking. But maybe as traders and trading mentors we need to figure out how to teach our traders how to turn negative energy into hyper focus.

You can be better tomorrow than you are today!

Mike Bellafiore

One Good Trade
The PlayBook

No relevant positions

6 Comments on “Triggering Elite Performance”

  1. I think of trading like riding a bike. We can read every single book about all the details but it´s not untill it becomes a subconscious habit that we can do it well.

  2. Since we’re still thinking and not sure how the above best applys to trading… which is pretty refreshing and dicey… at the risk of being tangential I’d like to share the following link while noting
    my developmental edge entails aspects of all of the above in the context of “something integrative”. Some keys: awareness, authenticity, balance, edge, transformation, depth, humility

    Eating Your Shadow, In Honor of Groundhog Day: To confront a person with his shadow is to show… http://bit.ly/e3DJNd #psychology #news

  3. Hello Mike,
    Indeed, turning “flight” responses to focus is a question I have been wondering for a while as well. The thing is that, when I get important stress in my job, I generally manage it well by being more focused, more productive and less prone to letting my mind wander (I am a software developer). When a big problem occurs, I generally try to sort the priorities out, then make a plan (mentally if it’s simple, on paper if it’s more complex) and focus on each task at hand. Also, I am much better prepared after several years of exeprience than when I was a newbie.

    I think the same could be applied to trading, except the time frame is much shorter in trading. So my suggestion is very simple (in fact, I am quite sure you have already thought about it yourself) : why don’t you rehearse “panic sessions” in a safe, simulated environment ? You know, just like fire evacuation plans. Maybe you already do it anyway :p

    Cheers !

  4. Whenever I go on tilt or just can’t perform I focus my mind back to the basics. By reviewing the basics, the “Foundation”, I am better able to make One Good Trade. Growing up on my friends’ billiard he would always beat me in a game of straight pool, eight ball, etc. So I went out and bought a book by Willie Mosconi, one of the greatest players at that time (hate to give my age away). He instructed on all the basics: feet, body, arm, head and hand positions. I studied these alot and became much better and still, although I was more competitive I still could not beat my best friend. So, I reviewed the book and practiced, reviewed, practice over and over again noting the position of my forward hand position, how well my stroke arm was positioned again and again. Finally I WON! I actually became much better than him. I began to play at the local pool hall where some incredible players would kick my “@ss” and that would upset me so much that I would go back to that book and read and study it again, over and over until I placed 7th in the California State University Pool Championship. In trading when I go on tilt I reiterate your golden rule: Make One Good Trade!

  5. I think making a list of negative emotions is great.  It allows you assess under which emotional context you are acting when you consider taking a trade or hestiating to take a trade.  Are you hesitating because something is bugging you in your personal life, do you lack belief in yourself because somebody has made you feel you can’t make it, do things you percieve as failures in your past shape your judgement, or is it previous failed trades; if so when you look back in hindsight you see it was one of your barn door set ups and something must have clouded your judgement. Or are you hesitating because your subconcious/ intuition (however much it has developed so far) is telling you that the set up and orderflow is not one you are comfortable with. I think the negative feeling can be used as information if you can dissect and understand what is driving your selection and therefore action.  Negative tilt factors can help make better decisions which means you have fewer losers, but i feel if you transfer that energy into ‘hyperfocus’ there may be a tendency to be impulsive but i think this also depends on your pre-morbid personality type – first you need to find out whehter you are system 1 or system 2 inclined.  Personally I feel hyperfocus for me would lead to more impulsive or premature enteries.

  6. I think making a list of negative emotions is great.  It allows you assess under which emotional context you are acting when you consider taking a trade or hestiating to take a trade.  Are you hesitating because something is bugging you in your personal life, do you lack belief in yourself because somebody has made you feel you can’t make it, do things you percieve as failures in your past shape your judgement, or is it previous failed trades; if so when you look back in hindsight you see it was one of your barn door set ups and something must have clouded your judgement. Or are you hesitating because your subconcious/ intuition (however much it has developed so far) is telling you that the set up and orderflow is not one you are comfortable with. I think the negative feeling can be used as information if you can dissect and understand what is driving your selection and therefore action.  Negative tilt factors can help make better decisions which means you have fewer losers, but i feel if you transfer that energy into ‘hyperfocus’ there may be a tendency to be impulsive but i think this also depends on your pre-morbid personality type – first you need to find out whehter you are system 1 or system 2 inclined.  Personally I feel hyperfocus for me would lead to more impulsive or premature enteries.

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