I have lost count of the number of times I have deadlifted in my life. If there were a single exercise that I would prescribe for everyone it would be deadlifting. Nothing beats the athletic payoff derived from picking something up off the floor and then putting it down again. I always looked forward to deadlift day – until this day. This day was different as the bar lay on the ground mocking me. The odd thing was it only had on it a weight I would have easily ripped off the ground some 15 months earlier. In fact I would have been so dismissive of it that I would have considered it to be part of the warm up. My mantra always used to be – somewhere there is a Chinese girl warming up with your maximum. Which was also something I would mention to blokes who I saw either doing a pump class or lifting with gloves on. Who the fuck lifts with gloves?
This time I couldn’t seem to get the weight to move. Some eighteen months earlier I had ruptured my Achilles tendon doing a metabolic conditioning workout called a 10 tonner. This workout consisted of 10 sets of 10 deadlifts at 100Kg – the total volume for the day being 10 tonnes. In between each set you performed a short wind sprint – rest for 2 minutes and then went again. However, exactly half way through the workout I turned to accelerate into the sprint, planted my right foot and heard a loud bang. It is interesting the things your brain thinks of in times such as this because I remembered that that the speed of sound was faster than the speed of nerve conduction which is why you hear injuries like this before you feel them and I thought to myself this is going to hurt. And it did. Twenty four hours later I am lying in a hospital bed with a half caste on planning my recovery. As someone who played a lot of contact sports injuries were nothing knew to me and I had a routine I engaged in when recovering. Arrogance is my default setting with such things. As soon as possible it was back in the gym using machines to work around the injury and I kept my cardio high by using the grinder which is a bastard of a thing. So this should be a doddle…..
Back to the present day and the bar still had not moved from the floor and I was buggered if I could work out why since I was giving it all I had. My body was fine, my injury had healed but my mind had not. My rehabilitation had taken longer than I thought and this had annoyed me no end, it seemed that at every step I was being thwarted in my desire to get going again. Every time I went back to the physiotherapist it seemed as if undertaking a particular activity was two weeks away and in the nature of Sissyphean torture two weeks never seemed to come. This had coloured my thinking in such a way that my brain was getting in the way of my body. My beliefs that were born of frustration were short circuting what I was trying to do. I had developed a series of limiting routines.
I believed in my very core that I had to be perfect and that if I could not move this piss poor excuse for a weight then I was not as perfect as I thought. I had forgotten about the process and that the end result was not what I was after. Merely the process and if the process was perfect then the end result would be more useful.
This desire to be perfect during my rehabilitation was something that I did worry about. As someone who has always been active the thought of not being as active is a worry, even now many years later that is still a worry. But in reality how important in the overall scheme of things was not being able to move a weight. In my world very important and something to worry about – particularly if you derive a large sense of your identity from it. The problem is the act of worry in and of itself is an energy drain and you begin to loop around your own failure. I found this set a feedback loop in that the worry impeded my progress which in turn caused me to worry which in turn further slowed me down.
When I set about looking at the real root cause of these roadblocks it all came back to the initial injury – a past event was slowing my recovery. There were many times when I was hobbling around on crutches that I wondered about the wisdom of doing such an intense metabolic conditioning workout. I had always worked on the belief that exercise never killed anyone but I had the nagging suspicion that maybe a simple act of hubris might have potentially altered my future irreparably. Just as investment managers are keen on saying that past performance is not indicative of future returns. Although if you are investing with an Australian fund manager it is most likely that your shit past returns will be followed by shit future returns
The central issue in all of this is the power of the software that runs your brain to interfere with every aspect of your life and to set the tone for any future endevour. To get out of my rut I shortened my focus to the here and now – I got little tasks done and used them as stepping stones. My view became on of not competing with my past self but working on my current self.
The relevance of this to trading is obvious. I will state dogmatically and without fear of contradiction that trading in any form is a supremely psychological endevour. It is not about valuations, company reports, board meetings, overbought/ oversold, Elliot Wave/Gann, or any other indicator or tool. Anyone who thinks that these are the prime drivers of trading knows nothing about trading.And sadly never will.
As a thought experiment lets replace my ruptured Achilles with a trader who has suffered an extreme loss or series of l;losses and is trying to get back in the game. My observation of traders who have suffered such an event is that they first rail against the unfairness of it – that it shouldn’t be happening. This is often the mantra of traders who use valuation based models to predict price points. Generally what happens in such situations is that reality steps in and the markets view of what something is worth doesn’t tally with theirs. The central view here is one of disappointment at how unfair the market is being. I have lost count of the number of people I have heard say that the market is wrong and should come to its senses. This merely betrays a belief that the market should be fair in that it agrees continually with you and your assumptions of what it should be doing.
An injury is in many ways like a loss in that it sometimes arises from a mistake you have made. Wrong place, wrong time or simply wrong technique. The notion is that imperfection and frailty are part of being human. As the bumper sticker says – shit happens. Humans are an error based machine, we make mistakes and perfection is never really on our radar despite our best efforts. The realisation that mistakes are at the core of good trading is hard for many to accept as they are locked into the belief that you cannot make money if you get trades wrong. Fortunately there is no nexus between making money and being right. Many, many years ago i discovered that the fewer fucks I gave the more I made. To revert to a past life choice of mine – you could never be a fighter if your expectation was that you would never be hit.
History repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce so says Marx. But and there is always a but particularly in trading. The past is only the future if you do not learn from it and do not let it become an millstone around your neck. A remarkable amount of trading is self fulfilling and repeating the mistakes of the past is something traders are expert at because they dont seek to learn from their past. They continue on the same route expecting that somehow things will be different. They are only different if you make them different. The joy of trading is that this difference can be achieved will only tiny course correction. The wonderfully chaotic nature of trading means that small changes in initial conditions will result in vastly different outcomes if you allow those outcomes to unfold.
The majority of life events are reasonably neutral but we choose to give them colour and emotional energy and in doing so will imbue them with power over us. As Epictetus the Greek stoic philosopher noted “People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.”