Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Will to Prepare to Win: Key to Successful Trading

One of the challenges of trading is acting as both trader and coach: performing, but also working on improving performance. I consistently find that the time and energy traders spend on this self-coaching function is positively correlated with their career longevity. That makes sense from a performance standpoint: no athlete or performing artist would enjoy a long, successful career without practice and focused work on their skills.

In my book on Enhancing Trader Performance, I emphasize the concept of "learning loops". These are activities in which performance is followed by evaluation and goal setting, followed by further goal-focused performance. These loops are characteristic of expert performance; more properly, they drive expert performance:

"We often talk about expertise as if it's a quality that one possesses. One person is an expert, another is not. Such talk makes it sound as though expertise is an all-or-none thing. Research tells us, however, that expertise is a process--one that unfolds over a considerable period of time" (p. 9).

Coaching oneself most often fails because the trader's time and efforts are not structured in a way that supports the process of expertise. Instead of learning loops, there are learning oops! Mistakes are made and never become the concrete focus for directed efforts at improvement.

This is why we see among elite performers an intense competitive drive, where the focus of competition is against oneself. It is a passion not just for the game, but for the process of self-improvement. That is why a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods will compete long beyond the time when they could comfortably retire financially. It's not about the money: it's about winning--and that's about becoming the best they can become.

Self-coaching begins with reflection:

* What am I doing right that is working for me?

* What am I doing wrong that is losing me money?

* What are my strongest areas of performance?

* Where am I weakest?

* How can I take more advantage of my strengths?

* How can I minimize my weaknesses?

* What can I do today that will improve on yesterday's performance?

* What can I carry over from yesterday to sustain good performance?

"The key is not the will to win... everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important," Coach Bob Knight once observed. It is that will that sustains learning loops and builds expertise.