How many times does one have to read good advice before acting on it? I don’t know. I for one continue to struggle. This time the advice comes from Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps’s coach, in The Golden Rules: 10 Steps to World-Class Excellence in Your Life and Work (St. Martin’s Press, 2016), written with Charles Butler.
The rules are straightforward:
1. A champion sets a “dream big” vision
2. Adopt an “all-in!” attitude, not a “get out!” one
3. Take risks—and then enjoy the rewards
4. Short-term goals lead to long-term success
5. Live the vision every day
6. A team approach can inspire individual success
7. Stay motivated over the long haul
8. Adversity will make you stronger
9. When the time comes, perform with confidence
10. Celebrate your achievement, then decide what’s next
Following them is something else.
Bowman recommends that competitive swimmers seek to achieve, not to medal. As he says, “Gold medals are out of your control. Another swimmer may simply be better than you on race day.” But if swimmers “set their sights on breaking a record—at nailing the best time possible—then they can visualize something that’s tangible, achievable, and within their control.” That recommendation can easily be translated into the language of finance: don’t focus on profit, which is out of your control; focus on the things you can control, like risk management and your own performance. And, Bowman would add, keep a scorecard.
One of the problems I think most traders and investors struggle with is staying motivated over the long haul. But just think about how hard it must be to stay motivated when you’re swimming back and forth for 7,000 meters in the morning, all the while staring at the lane’s black line, and then doing the same thing again in the afternoon, day after day, month after month. Bowman’s advice: make every day seem not like every day and find another passion to offset the grind that comes with your primary one.
The other problem, this one ubiquitous, is dealing with adversity. Bowman suggests that you practice being uncomfortable (the famous example being the time he stepped on Phelps’s goggles and cracked them so that the swimmer’s goggles would fill with water when he was competing in an unimportant heat—something that certainly served Phelps well when the same thing happened to his goggles, this time of course not caused by his coach, in the Olympics and he nevertheless swam to gold).