In tennis, one of the most common mistakes that newer players make is to look across the net at the spot they are targeting as they strike the ball (or worse yet, they look at their opponent.) You might not think this is a significant error, but it turns out, it is. And if you read a little further, there is a concept here that might help your trading.


The process of striking a tennis ball in your racquet’s sweet spot that’s coming toward you at 50, 70 or even 90 mph requires exquisite timing. The brain can handle it, but it needs the visual cues during the 3-5 milliseconds before the moment of impact in order to make the fine adjustments necessary to hit a solid shot and control its direction.


The paradox in tennis is that if you look at the target, or you look at your opponent, you will miss the target and dramatically increase your chances of making an unforced error. Instead, you must ignore your opponent and visualize your target in your mind’s eye as you prepare to strike the ball, but remain  focused on the ball through the swing and even a bit after contact.


The pros are taught to not even turn their head to watch their shot cross the net.  In fact, the more still you can keep your head as you strike, the better.  Roger Federer is the prime exemplar of this skill, but you will also see it clearly in slow-mo replays of Kei Nishikori, who is playing a major tournament this week in Japan. At 5’ 10” and 165 lbs., Nishikori is at a distinct disadvantage on the pro circuit, where most players are over 6’ tall and more muscular, yet Kei is ranked #6 in the world, the highest ranking of any Japanese in history.


So what does this have to do with trading? Due to the high level of randomness that we encounter in the market, we all have a tendency to want to make up for losses or missed opportunities. In the short-term, this can cause us to over-focus on money and on winning.


But because we have a limited amount of attentional energy, we need to be careful about how we allocate it. If we are temporarily over-focused on the money, for example, we are likely to be under-focused on something else, such as our method. This loss of discipline opens the door to improvisation and revenge trading.


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