Winning at Trading and Investing - 'Its all in the Mind'.

I was recently asked by a hedge fund manager: 'What is it that I do differently to other coaches? What is it that is unique about my approach?' - I told him that the unique angle is that I do not focus on what people ‘do' as traders, most people pretty much know what to do,  instead I focus more on how people 'are' as traders. - How ‘you are’ is at the core of success, it underlies everything a person does. If ‘how you are’ is better, then everything you do can become ‘a little better’. And a lot of ‘a little betters’ can add up to ‘one hell of a lot better’. Helping people improvde 'how they are', is consequently what leads to them making considerably more money. = This is at odds with what many people believe a coach should do, the general feeling is that coaching should help people improve the ‘doing' better. However, if you look at sport as a comparison, sportspeople tell you how great performance is about ‘mindset’ and winning ‘the mental game’. The doing matters, you have to be fit, prepared and capable, but ultimately the difference between great sportpeople, and the rest is often that what is occurring within their mind. 

"Winning is all in the mind".

This simple statement is as relevant to trading as to any sphere of sport or endeavour. –  At the core of this is ‘self-belief’: Without ‘self-belief’ you’ve already lost. – You may be sitting there with the best system, superb research, a strong money management approach, and nice pile of capital, but without self-belief you will be nothing more than just another struggling trader at best.

It is quite apt that in the week after the passing of my all-time sporting hero, Muhammad Ali, and with the Olympics just a few weeks away, I am going to use Britain’s greatest ever Olympian, Sir Steve Redgrave, who won 5 rowing Gold’s at consecutive Olympic, to make a point. - The following is an excerpt from Redgrave’s book 'Inspired', which describes an interview immediate post-race at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. This will tell you a little more about what ‘Self-belief’ is, it also refers to my all-time sporting hero, the late great Muhammad Ali. 

When we came off the water having just won the gold medal in Sydney, the BBC was waiting to interview us. "When did you know you'd won the race, Steve?"

"After 250 metres." "D'you mean with 250 metres to go," Steve Rider corrected me, clearly thinking I'd be crazy to imagine the race won after only an eighth of the distance. "No, I mean after 250 metres," I said. I wasn't joking.

I know that some people thought I was arrogant. That's a peril of self-belief. It might have appeared arrogant in that exchange with Steve Rider, but it was only the truth.

I genuinely felt that at the time, mainly because the belief doesn't spring from nowhere. It arrives because you work like a dog for years and years and years.

Self-belief is probably the most crucial factor in sporting success. The bodies are roughly equal, the training is similar, the techniques can be copied, what separates the achievers is nothing as tangible as split times or kilograms. It is the iron in the mind, not the supplements, that wins medals.

Poignantly, given the sad disabilities now suffered by a once-colossal athlete, no one embodies this invisible power of self-belief more than Muhammad Ali.

Ali turned sport into theatre, entertainment, comedy, tragedy and the towering influence in his life was his own all-powerful, undaunted self-belief.

I wasn't like him in terms of volume. No one ever called me the 'Marlow Mouth' and I didn't stand up before our race in Sydney and shout, 'I am the greatest', but perhaps it was somewhere in my thoughts as we approached the first 250 metres of the gold medal race.

Otherwise how do you account for the way I felt? The opposing crews were still with us and yet I was sure. In Ali's case, it was part of an act, but at the core was the truth.

Ali's monumental self-belief was at the heart of his barely credible story. He was 22 when he fought Sonny Liston, the malevolent, mafia-backed heavyweight champion of the world.

People laughed. A reporter from the New York Times was told to check out the distance from the ring to the hospital. That's where Ali would be soon enough, they reckoned. Instead, he was on his way to becoming the greatest sportsman of the 20th century.

He said he'd beat George Foreman, the huge, hammer-hitting champion, in their 'Rumble in the Jungle' in Zaire. People were genuinely fearful for his safety. He won. Few expected him to beat Joe Frazier ever again, after his undefeated professional record was taken away by Frazier at Madison Square Garden in 1971.

The fight was so huge that Frank Sinatra only gained entry by masquerading as a Life photographer. It was worth the ringside seat. In a brutal encounter, Ali was knocked down by a 15th-round left hook – 'the punch that blew out all the candles on the cake'. Ali just rebaked the cake and beat Frazier, not once but twice.

His belief in himself was exemplified in Zaire when an hour before the fight against Foreman he looked at his terrified entourage and tried to encourage them to relax. He grinned at them.

"This ain't nothing but another day in the dramatic life of Muhammad Ali," he told them. "Do I look scared? I fear Allah and thunderstorms and bad plane rides, but this is like another day in the gym."

That was self-belief, the stubbornness of mind that acknowledges the physical pain, but discounts it for a higher purpose. God knows, rowing hurts. Not like a left hook, but at least that's over quickly.

The pain of rowing is the scream of lungs, legs, back and muscles. That's just one stroke. Multiply that by 240 strokes in a 2,000-metre race.

I understand pain, but Ali ignored the pain in the interests of regaining his title, stripped from him after refusing the draft to join the US Army and make himself available for Vietnam. He was determined to achieve the destiny he had set for himself and he did so with typical melodrama.

Ali fought way beyond a time that was sensible, but I understand why. It wasn't just that he needed the money or a sop to his ego, it was because he sincerely believed in his powers.

Experience had taught him so. I'm the right man to know how he felt. When I began to realise I was pretty good at rowing, my ambition was an Olympic gold medal. Simple as that. One gold medal was my goal. I achieved that in Los Angeles, ahead of schedule. Why didn't I stop then?

The answer is simple: I thought I could do better and win another one.

By the fourth in Atlanta in 1996 even I'd had enough. That was when I came out with my one and only famous quote. After Matt Pinsent and I had won our gold medal we were interviewed by the BBC. It was just after the race – always a dangerous time when the brain is not fully in gear – and the question arose of whether we were going to Sydney.

At that moment, we were not. "Anyone sees me go anywhere near a boat, you've got my permission to shoot me," I said and immediately entered the sports quotes book market. That makes my one to Ali's thousand.

I have never met Ali to talk to, but I have been close. It was the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. I was carrying the flag for Great Britain and the climax of the evening was Ali igniting the Olympic flame.

There was such a nervous hush in the arena as this revered figure came forward, the torch visibly shaking in his hands from the ravages of his illness, and I for one wasn't sure whether he would be able to perform his role. He seemed so diminished from the great warrior I remembered and it made me feel sad, yet he did light the flame and, as the crowd roared, the sadness was replaced by a different feeling altogether.

The power of the man – call it charisma, nostalgia, whatever it may be – was tangible. I didn't come away sad. I came away with the thought that I'd just witnessed something magical.

I shall finish by taking is one paragraph out of this article and amending the wording slightly:

Self-belief is probably the most crucial factor in trading success. The intellect of traders and investors is often not the differentiator, the training is similar, the techniques can be copied, what separates the achievers is nothing as tangible as entries or exits. It is the iron in the mind, not the signals, that earns profits and returns.


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Steven Goldstein is a leading Performance and Executive Coach working with Traders, Banks, Energy Firms and Hedge funds: He is Managing Director of at Alpha R Cubed, which works with banks and investment firms to improve their human capital within financial risk businesses. To know more about Alpha R Cubed, visit their website or email Steven at

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