Sunday, 26 October 2014

Complete Lack of Focus

One of the things I've written about lots of times on the blog is that my biggest trading issue is a struggle to remain 100% focused. I don't think most people actually believe me when I say this. If I'm doing so well, how can my focus be that bad? It appears contradictory but I can tell you with absolute certainty that I would be doing even better if I could control my often appalling lack of focus! If I told you about some of the things I've done purely because of my complete inability to focus on the match I'm trading, I'm sure you would be shocked. I've done some unforgivably slack things when I've had thousands of pounds on the line, purely because I've been so desperate for mental stimulation that doesn't involve flashing numbers and yellow balls. These include preparing dinner, chatting on Twitter, reading online articles, buying stuff on Ebay, replying to emails, getting dressed for a night out, watching TV and many other things when I should be watching the ladders.

This isn't something I've always struggled with. Back in the early years of this blog, I had no problem whatsoever keeping focused. Just look at the number of posts I made in the first 2 years. I was totally immersed in trading. When I wasn't trading I was blogging about trading, when I wasn't blogging, I was reading other blogs, when I wasn't reading blogs, I was reading trading books, when I wasn't reading books, I was reading my own trading notes and when I wasn't reading notes, I was on Betfair trying to come up with new strategies. There was always something for me to do and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge because I was always learning something new. When I went to bed at night, I often dreamed about trading and when I woke in the morning, I was always raring to get into the action and was excited about when the first match was starting.

But the more successful I became, the more this changed. It was almost a direct correlation: the more profit I made, the more unfocused I became. Successful traders will always tell you that they are constantly learning but you will never learn as much as you did in those formative years when you struggled to make money.  Also, the motivation naturally drops. Trading becomes monotonous and more boring, as you essentially just repeat the same things over and over once you have found what works. This makes it much harder to enjoy what you are doing, especially when your personality is one that thrives on variety, new challenges and less routine.

Vitalia Diatchenko

Watching Serena Williams over recent years and this year in particular, I've come to the conclusion that she struggles to find focus in a very similar way. Those who don't watch her regularly might be surprised by that. Looking purely at the stats, she has a phenomenal record which suggests the last thing she has a problem with is focus or concentration but having watched her week in, week out, first round to final for a number of years now, I can tell you that Williams is extremely vulnerable in the early rounds of tournaments and regularly struggles to find her game in the early stages of matches. Just look at the WTA Finals this week. She should have been knocked out in the round robin phase after being bageled by Simona Halep and ironically, only reached the semi final because Halep took a set off Ana Ivanovic in what was a dead rubber for the Romanian (a naive move on her part because it came back to bite her in the final when Serena got revenge). Once in the final, there was never any doubt that the experienced and vengeful Williams was going to be at her best and I backed the world number one to win the tournament as soon as Halep won that set against Ivanovic, sealing her qualification (and I haven't placed a straight bet in years, that's how confident I was!).

I believe this is mostly a question of a lack of focus. I think she finds it harder to get fully motivated and revved up for some matches these days and you can see the frustration this gives her, manifest itself in some frankly frightening outbursts! Her body language often suggests a complete bemusement with why she can't seem to find her game and this is always followed by primeval roars once she eventually does, letting out all that frustration. I can tell you that I do exactly the same when I trade! There are days when no matter how hard I try, I just cannot find the discipline required to focus on the tennis. I will do any minor chore that requires doing (polishing, hoovering, washing-up) with much gusto, yet cannot muster the same enthusiasm for trading. I will literally start daydreaming or even nodding off during matches, yet as soon as I have something vaguely interesting to do (such as check my email, read through my Twitter timeline or help one of my Academy members) I'm wide awake!

This was in fact the principle reason that I began the Academy in the first place. I was struggling so much to find regular focus, that I needed something to give my days more variety and purpose. It has definitely worked, although it did bring up a new problem, which was that the Academy became TOO distracting! In the same way that being on Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and the Internet were such a distraction that I needed to ban them whilst trading, I would spend so much time helping out members that I was doing it mid-trade, as a consequence ruining many a session on the ladders. These days, I have managed to strike a better balance on when to trade and when to add some variety but it's still a daily battle. This is one of the reasons why I've decided to do the Sultan Skype Sessions. They will add at least one day a week of extra challenge and variety and I'm looking forward to getting started. The first paid session is scheduled for next week and you can read full details by clicking above.

Like Serena Williams, once I do have full focus, I always do well. When she's 100% dialed in, there's no player in the world who is going to beat her. Once I am fully concentrated I don't make errors and so I inevitably tend to have better results. But like the world number one, it is simply not possible to be 100% focused, 100% of the time. I understand this and so have action plans in place for when I am not quite there mentally. These range from not trading at all for the day, to taking time-outs to do something mentally stimulating, to 20 minute power-naps - a relatively new revelation in my trading routine! I also warm up for 20-30 mins before each session - a combination of stretching, music and clearing the mind so I'm mentally on it. So as you can see, there are still things I struggle with and still things I have to work very hard on to maintain my consistency and profitability. Lack of focus remains the biggest issue for me - though it's a much nicer issue to have than throwing down my entire bank on one angry chase bet!

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