Your Limits May Be Greater than You Think

‘Will I ever be able to do this?’

I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years. Chances are you have too.

These words can creep into our minds when a goal seems beyond reach. We think about where we are — then where we want to be — and wonder how we’ll ever get there.

Now, this can apply to anything. It could be with trading, business, sport or study.

The fact is, most successful people start at the bottom. They then work their way towards the top — one grinding level at a time.

I often hear from people who say their trading isn’t progressing. Many have been in the market for years, and wonder if they’ll ever reach the next level.

This feeling isn’t unique…

I remember grappling with the same issue during my third year at Bankers Trust. After some initial success, my progress started to stall. I began to question if I was at my limit.

You may be in the same place now.

While the task at hand can often be overwhelming, don’t let it stop you.

The key is to keep moving forward, one step at a time.

I gradually rose through the ranks of the dealing room. The hardships from early in my career were stepping stones — the path to where I wanted to be.

And do you know what?

You could do this with your own trading. I believe it’s within your reach.

This week’s update is about recognising how far you’ve already come. The fact that you’re actively learning about trading puts you way ahead of many people.

But first, here’s where this story begins…

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Chance discoveries

It’s funny how random events can have a lasting impact on your life. I was listening to ABC Radio a few years back. I’d tuned in by chance during a trip to the shops.

It turns out there was a talk show in progress. The guest was former Test cricketer Justin Langer. He was talking about his cricketing career, and it was a tale of contrasts.

You see, the first half of his career regularly saw him in and out of the team. He was continually falling short of the selectors’ expectations. His career was often on a knife’s edge.

But the second half was radically different. Justin’s star was soaring. He went on to become one of the most successful opening batsmen of all time.

So how did he do it?

Well, the centrepiece of Justin’s story is a book — a gift from a teammate while on tour. Justin says this was a key event in his career. It began a whole new way of thinking.

The book became his constant companion. Justin said he would keep it on his bedside table. And each night, he would read one of its short chapters.

You’re probably wondering what book I’m referring to.

Well, let me say it’s unusual. You probably won’t read about it anywhere else this week.

The name is Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams. It was written back in 1979.

So what does martial arts have to do with cricket — or trading, for that matter?

Well, Zen in the Martial Arts isn’t about drills and technique. The focus is more on life and philosophy. It’s about creating a positive from a negative.

I always pay attention when a high achiever gives away a ‘secret’. You never know where it will lead.

So, I went online when I got home to look for the book. And sure enough, it was there. Amazon had it in stock for a bargain basement $12.95. The biggest expense was shipping!

Zen in the Martial Arts is outstanding. Its 135 pages contain some real gems. Some of the chapter titles include: ‘Conquer Haste’, ‘Active Inactivity’, and ‘Lengthen Your Line’.

I bought Zen in the Martial Arts in 2009. It’s still clear in my mind 10 years later. I often find myself teaching my kids a lesson from the book.

Even the masters have masters

Now, I want to tell you about one chapter in particular. I believe it’s the single most important part of the book. I’ll often reflect on this section whenever my progress at something slows.

The chapter’s title is: ‘Even the Masters Have Masters’. It describes the process of building your expertise. I use this section to help put my own abilities into perspective.

The author — Joe Hyams — describes his experience in the martial arts. He talks about ability as a never-ending staircase with frequent landings, or plateaus.

The rising stairs are easy to imagine. These represent the growth in a person’s skills. But we don’t always move upwards. The landings mark the periods when our progress stalls.

Hyams’ greatest frustration was being stuck on landings. These were discouraging times. He says that no matter how hard he’d try, there were long periods when he wouldn’t improve.

I know how this feels — I’m sure you do too.

I’ve had many plateaus in my career. These are the times when I wasn’t improving. And yes, those times were frustrating. I’d often wonder if I’d ever reach the next level.

But life is often how we frame it. The right perspective can make all the difference.

Hyams recalls his mentor’s way of dealing with the plateaus. When discouraged, he would go to watch the beginners train. This would remind him of how far he had already come.

He would then sit and watch the black belts. Their relative mastery would inspire him. Seeing these people in action showed him how much better he could be.

Eventually, he was a black belt himself. But that wasn’t the top. His master was higher, and his master’s master was higher still. The potential to improve was endless.

I often think of the infinitely-rising staircase. A landing is no longer frustrating. It’s now an opportunity to take stock…a chance to see an ever-increasing number of landings below.

Try it yourself. You’ll probably find your progress is already an inspiration to others.

Until next week,

Jason McIntosh,
Editor, Quant Trader

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