Saturday, February 15, 2014

Performance Lessons From David Blaine

Very recently, I was standing at a bar with friends waiting for our dinner table when a casually dressed man approached me and fanned a deck of cards.  "Pick a card," he said in a laconic voice.  Behind me, I sensed people gathering.  One gasped and called out, "OMG, it's David Blaine!"

If you check out this video, you'll see a man in a car and his reaction to David's street magic.  That pretty well sums up my reaction as well.  Blaine is truly a master at his craft.  One could observe in his work a level of concentration and timing that would be the envy of any trader.  Only very infrequently do I get the sense of being in the presence of world-class talent.  That night, having David Blaine take the card I selected and have it appear--folded!--underneath someone else's watch while observing his every move, I most definitely had that sense.

Over the course of his time with us, I became less interested in the magic and more interested in Blaine the person.  I spent time with his right hand assistant and asked plenty of questions.  When I asked how much time David spent in practice each day, the assistant looked at me quizzically.  "That is all he does," was the response.  When I then looked puzzled, he explained, "You know what we're going to do after dinner here tonight?  We're going to a bar and David will do it all over again and try out new tricks.  Today he has done some things I've never seen before."

There it was:  the power of intense focused dedication to a craft, extensive deliberate practice, and continual performance-based learning.  The world-class traders I've known have been like David Blaine:  they treat trading as a performance activity and continually hone their craft.  What did you try out last week and what did you learn?  What will you be reviewing and practicing this weekend?  What are you going to be working on next week?  Those are the questions that capture not just a learning curve, but an expertise curve.

But there's more to David Blaine's success than intensive practice and mastery.  He challenges himself with extreme goals and dedicates himself to reaching those.  This is evident in his Ted Talk, where he describes how he prepared himself to hold his breath for 17 minutes.  Watching the video, you get this sense that this is not a person who has goals, but rather a person whose goals have him.  

And that's what I've learned over the years.  Average traders approach trading as a hobby or as a job; good traders tackle trading as a career.  But the great traders?  For them, trading is neither hobby nor career.  It is a mission.  When the trading day is done, like David Blaine they pack up after dinner and begin the quest anew.

Achieving Greatness as a Trader


Tappy said...

Hi Brett

Good stuff. This post is timely I am presently reading "Sleights of Mind" What the neuronscience of magic reveals about our everyday deceptions...many market insights and applications imo.

Wonderful to have you back.

David Ayer said...

The timing of this is interesting. Jack Sparrow of Mercenary Trader posted earlier this week ("Getting On the Rough Road") that traders should seek greatness, which he defined as a "relative and comparative measure" where "you must aggressively exceed a standard or a norm set by peers". I then wrote at TraderHacks ("The Pursuit of Greatness") that goals should be appropriate to expertise and that excellence was the end one should seek. You are using great in the same sense as excellent, which is something a little more objective than Jack's use of great. If trading as a mission is the only path to excellence, what about balance with the rest of things in life such as quality downtime or giving full attention to important others? Do these get sacrificed? If so are there mental health concerns?


DaveS said...

Dr. Brett. Nice to see that the blog has been reactivated. Your observations will be a welcomed part of the daily process. DaveS

SSK said...

OH MAMA MIA! THAT’S FUNNY!, Hello Brett, bet that was fun…amazing stuff isn’t it? At the end of the article you mention that for great traders, it’s a mission. That is what separates goal oriented thinking from systematical thinking… Brief therapy goals are the key for incremental learning, and placed within a larger framework of systematical thinking one can make trading into a mission instead of a goal. I see most in the market have the only one goal that is to make money, lol completely missing the very essence of what it is to be a trader! That is the many variables that even give someone a fighting chance after yrs. of practice, at least to do something GREAT as you mentioned. I know a few people that have been lucky over the short term and have made small amounts in the market. I ONLY KNOW ONE PERSON PERSONALLY THAT UNDERSTANDS AND WORKS PROCESS. Most think they are an expert after a week of simulation, then a few months later, they never speak about trading again, or, they are on the constant search for the following…All have one thing in common, they all want to know where I think the market is going! They never ask the question, “How can I learn where the market is going? How can I change how I think? They don’t study or read anything about the body and mind, physcology , nothing! They never ask the why or how question. They completely miss process and systematic thinking. I am finishing a brief article on the comparison of the two that is goal orientated thinking vs systematic thinking, in the context of a real world example, then in the context of trading…will share when I am finished. Combining Brief therapy goals within a larger framework keeps the creative thought process going, and you never get tired of experiencing new and novel things. And you can never do that in a pure way, if you’re not simulating, because there are too many other variables that can effect how you think while your trading live, and before you know it, confuse the process. Bad behavioral actions, the stress response, these things can not only sabatoge the implementation of the creative idea, but also loose real money, which for most, affects both brain and body. Why would you want that to happen during that time that you are testing out novel ideas? I think there should always be some sort of simulation happening even if you’re trading live while you try new things, and keep it as clear in your mind as possible that it is an experiment and not confuse the two. That way there is limited performance pressure, and you can enjoy the process. For example, trading different time frames, different markets, etc.It kills me that so many speak badly about simulation, me included in the past, I remember a fellow that was in a trading room that mentioned he was an engineer of some sort, and that he was on his 3rd yr. of simulating. I remember saying to myself, “wow, he is not so smart”. Well I am no longer in that small box! My roots are growing, and the process is fantastic! I have traded money in the bonds, softs, grains, currencies, etc since the late 90’s on and off, and knew Nothing..Nothing…like I understand now…and the learning continues, in Novel ways…on the road to Great things…I love the Olympics in that vain…how much incremental learning! How much simulation! Wow..yrs and yrs, they never stop! They truly know process and how to achieve great things! Thanks Dr. Brett, Best, SSK

Unknown said...

Dr. Steenbarger, it's a little off topic but I landed on your blog in 2007 and you have been an inspiration ever since.

With comments like, "Average traders approach trading as a hobby or as a job; good traders tackle trading as a career. But the great traders? For them, trading is neither hobby nor career. It is a mission." no other person has had a greater impact on me or my trading career. It is truly an honor and pleasure to have you back blogging again.