Like traders, top athletes compete and practice their sport day after day. Like traders, top athletes have good days and not so good days. Here’s an insightful comment by an elite tennis player after winning an important match in which she didn’t feel 100% (emphasis added in bold):
Actually, mentally I’ve been going well from every match, I’ve been unbelievable. Probably stronger and stronger considering I didn’t play my best and didn’t feel great really, but kept on going with my head. So that’s what pulled me through today.
Even though she “didn’t feel great” she was able to play well and win the match. One of the hallmarks of a champion is playing well enough to win despite feeling poorly. How do they do this? Note that this tennis player attributes her success to her mental skills – as she said, she “kept on going with my head.”
Recent research shows that how we feel inside has little bearing on our performance. We can feel nervous, tense, and even scared, yet still perform well. Athletes and their sport psychologists know this and incorporate specific mental skills in their training. One way they do this is to adopt the role of the Observer.
Anyone can observe what their mind is saying to them and how they feel. As you read this article, you can–in your mind’s eye–observe yourself reading and thinking about this article. Try it for a moment. You’ve just taken on the role of the Observer!
The Observer notices how poorly one may feel, but also knows that the goal of winning the match is important. Rather than placing attention on the discomforts, the Observer accepts the discomfort and chooses to play anyway. Attentional focus is redirected to the task-at-hand.
For traders, embracing the Observer will help improve your trading. As the Observer, you can stand apart from your internal processes such as negative thoughts, unwanted feelings, and uncomfortable physical sensations. You notice these things as they occur but choose not to center your attention on them. The alternative of engaging your negative thoughts and feelings only serves to magnify them and cause distractions. Then, you become vulnerable to trading your emotions. Adopting the role of the Observer can help you make the choice to refocus back to what’s most important to you – managing the trade at hand.
Learning the role of the Observer takes practice. Like building muscle, the more you consistently do it, the better you will be at it. And, you can do it anywhere. For example, after a meal, wash your dishes. Be attentive to actually washing the dish. As the Observer, notice when your mind wanders. Then reorient to the task-at-hand. Look for other opportunities in your daily life to practice noticing, observing, and refocusing your attention.
Adopting the role of the observer comes from cutting-edge human performance psychology.