Friday, November 13, 2009

Preparation and Perceptions of Time

Note: This is the fourth post in a series dealing with trading performance and self-coaching. Prior posts in the series were:

One of the more interesting interviews I conducted for the Trading Performance book was with the heads of a school that trains pit crews on the NASCAR circuit. Talk about a performance discipline! Pit crews have to change tires, make needed repairs, and conduct routine maintenance on cars in a matter of seconds, or they will cost their drivers precious time in the run to the finish line.

An interesting observation from the training school was that they train pit crews to "go slow in order to go fast." Smooth operation is better than hurried activity, as the latter leads to mistakes. When tasks are trained to the point where they become automatic, crews can operate very efficiently and yet not in a frenzy. The preparation slows the perception of time, because crews feel in complete control of what they're doing.

As I observe in the book, markets "seem to move more slowly when we're prepared, when we know what to look for. If I am frantically searching for trade ideas as markets are moving, the markets will feel fast regardless of how much business we're doing at the time" (p. 165).

I have seen this consistently in my own trading and in work with traders: when we are not prepared for various market possibilities, we feel behind the market. Time seems to be moving quickly, and we become reactive, getting in and out of positions at the worst possible prices. When we are prepared, however, we're in a position to anticipate. Time slows down with the perception of control: our decisions become deliberate, not forced.

What are key price levels from the previous trading day? From pre-opening trade? From the opening range? How are we trading relative to those levels? What are the price targets we're likely to hit if those price levels hold? Where would we have to enter a trade to achieve a favorable risk/reward level for a trade to those targets?

Pit crews practice every possible scenario with their cars, from routine stops to major maintenance and repairs. Each move is choreographed; everyone knows their responsibilities. That is how trading can be.

Preparation slows perception of time, because it instills perceptions of control. Prepared traders are never frantic traders.