Sunday, 26 February 2012

Performance Anxiety

I wanted to write a bit about a great article in the FT Magazine by John Carlin entitled The Tragedy of Fernando Torres

Originally discussed on Peter Webb's Bet Angel Blog, the article talks about Fernando Torres's loss of form and how performance anxiety can affect sportsmen and women. A few excerpts which caught my eye:

“What it all shows,”........“is how fragile the mind can be, how subconscious elements can combine to trigger problems where, on past form and experience, they rationally should not exist.”

I think us traders can all relate to that!

“There are times,” Solari said, “when you feel as if you are an unstoppable phenomenon of nature. There’s a happy convergence of the mental and the physical in your game and your confidence just grows and grows. It all seems so natural. But then you have a bad game, and then another one and you start to get anxious, and you feel each time you go out and play as if you’re walking down a step, with one brick, and then another one, weighing you down. Before you know it you’ve walked down so many steps and the bricks have piled up to such a point that you feel as if you were lying buried under a big building.”

Replace the words 'game' and 'play' with 'trade' and it would accurately represent the extremes of trading and how things can so quickly turn from the good to the terrible.

Fernando Torres is an extreme case who has succumbed to “a dynamic in which everything you did before effortlessly becomes impossible, and then you try harder, working double as much, but things only get worse.”

John Murray, who before becoming a sports psychologist was a professional tennis player, also attaches blame to “overthinking” and counsels that for Torres to overcome what he describes as “catastrophic performance anxiety” he must try to play as he did when he was a child, “happily, for fun”.

This describes perfectly the way I was trading almost exactly a year ago, a period where I tried so hard and analysed so much but it all just seemed to make things worse. I realised that it was anxiety that was the reason I couldn't get out of the rut:

Down the Well

This 'performance anxiety' reached a peak at the time, exacerbated by the fact that I 'needed' the money but my bank size was tiny and money management poor. Today, I enjoy trading much more because I have a style of trading that suits me better and this twinned with much better bank management, no complete reliance on the income source and a risk-averse strategy, mean that I am able to trade without anxiety.

I also find that 'over-thinking' is becoming much less of a habit. My experience as a tennis trader now totals around 5000 hours (still 5000 short of the supposed 10,000 quoted by Malcolm Gladwell, required to become an expert!) and I'm now much more trusting of my instinct. As a result, things are starting to become more and more automatic for me and as each week goes by, my confidence is becoming stronger and stronger. I guess you could say, I'm starting to feel possibly how Fernando Torres felt when he was at Liverpool! Let's hope his Chelsea days are not on the horizon..........

OFF-COURT BEAUTY: World number 14, Serbia's Jelena Jankovic:

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