Developing Mental Toughness

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Dr Gary Dayton

15 Jul, 2010

in Psychology

Trading Psychology Ė Learn from Tennis Champions to Develop Mental Toughness
Occasionally, we get to 'look' inside the mind of a great performer.† This year's programming for the Wimbledon Tennis Championships offered such an opportunity.† What many consider the greatest tie-break in tennis history - the completion of the fourth set of the 1980 Wimbledon Men's Final between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg - was replayed point-by-point with both McEnroe and Borg providing commentary.† We got to see and hear what was going on in the minds of two great tennis champions.

Momentum Shift
McEnroe won the tie-break, 18-16, bringing the match to dead-even with one set left to play. Although the match was even, momentum had clearly shifted to McEnroe as he overcame Borg's deft, expert play.

Commenting 30 years later, McEnroe said he knew the momentum had shifted.† Borg had had several match point chances during the tie-break, but couldn't convert them.† McEnroe thought Borg was demoralized and that the Wimbledon Championship was his to take.† Borg admitted he felt down and expected to lose.† In fact, he said he was "sure of it."

A Career-Defining Experience
But McEnroe did not win.† Borg found deep within himself the will to overcome McEnroe's momentum and won the 1980 Wimbledon Championship. John McEnroe said this loss was a significant moment in his career, but not in the way you might think.† Borg's mental ability to dig deep within himself and not let the loss of the tie-break defeat him was eye-opening for McEnroe.† He witnessed in Borg an exceptional level of mental toughness that he, too, wanted to possess.† McEnroe was inspired to work on his mental game and soon became one of the great players in tennis.

A Lesson for Traders
How many traders become demoralized by a loss and then become entangled in their emotions?† When things looked bleak, Borg dug deep.† He didn't feel sorry for himself or shift attention to his emotions.† Instead, he remained committed to his game and kept his focus on what mattered most Ė executing the right actions.

Like tennis, trading abounds with setbacks and adversity.† Everyone makes mistakes and has losses.† It takes a certain amount of mental toughness to overcome the adversity.†

Mental toughness is about doing what needs to be done in order to trade well.† Itís taking the actions necessary to keep yourself in the trading game.† When a trader makes a mistake or suffers a loss, it often marks the beginning of a downward spiral where things quickly go from bad to worse.† Feeling pressure, more mistakes are made, and perhaps more losses are suffered.† Letís look more carefully at how this can happen.

How Mental Chatter, Stress and Emotions Take You Out of the Trading Game
When a mistake is made or a loss suffered, the naturally tendency is to go inside and focus on what the mind is saying, on our bodily stress, and how badly we feel.† This is nearly automatic.

After a loss, for example, you might hear your mind say something like, "Another loss!† Itís the same old thing.† Iím never going to be successful in trading.† Iím a loser."† Pretty depressing, isnít it?† How can a trader trade well when buying into such thoughts?† Believing such mental chatter takes you right out of the trading game.

Such self-talk will also tend to produce stress and unwanted emotions.† A loss is seen as a threat and causes our body to react with tight muscles, a queasy stomach, or sweaty palms.† Emotions such as anxiety and fear seem to confirm what our thinking.† But attention has shifted off the market to the traderís internal experience.† Sound trading decisions now become difficult.

This focus on downbeat internal experiences takes the trader out of the trading game.†† To trade well, focus needs to be external, concentrating on the market.† No one can trade well when their attention is on what their mind is saying and how they feel.

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Purple Brain;2184340
The mental toughness I could do with is nothing to do with handling the emotional impact (?) of losses, but staying sharp past midday. On the days that Iím trading I typically start my day around 4am UK time to catch the end of the Asian and start of middle-east sessions. In principle Iíll take trades any time up to about 4pm UK time. So itís only 12 hours, but I find the mental or perhaps more likely the physical fatigue significant by about midday and I am aware I become less willing to take trades even when thereís no reason not to, simply to avoid having to do the fairly minor analysis effort required to construct the trade.

Iíve tried all the normal stuff to stay sharp, but itís a problem.


It's called willpower and you are depleting it with each conscious decision. The best way to replenish it either to take a quick nap (10-30min) or raise your glucose levels by eating something, preferably a little bit sweet.

You can do a google search on the subject by "ego depletion" or "willpower depletion" words.

Sep 09, 2013

Member (177 posts)

Purple Brain;2184268
I've never considered my mental toughness to be an issue as I'm not sure what it really means. Sounds to me more like fixedness of mind and inflexibility which isn't what I want. As for meditation, I have heard good things, but not got round to seriously considering it.


I was skeptical about it as well, but stumbled upon an articles how it's beneficial, studies, brains scans before and after and decided give it a try.

I'm doing it for more than a month and I can say that it's probably made me happier and calmer person. Calmer in a sense not worrying about every little detail and small fry in general.

You may give it a go and see for yourself, I'm sure you'll find it helpful at least in relaxing and unwinding you mind after intense day.

Sep 09, 2013

Member (177 posts)

The mental toughness I could do with is nothing to do with handling the emotional impact (?) of losses, but staying sharp past midday. On the days that Iím trading I typically start my day around 4am UK time to catch the end of the Asian and start of middle-east sessions. In principle Iíll take trades any time up to about 4pm UK time. So itís only 12 hours, but I find the mental or perhaps more likely the physical fatigue significant by about midday and I am aware I become less willing to take trades even when thereís no reason not to, simply to avoid having to do the fairly minor analysis effort required to construct the trade.

Iíve tried all the normal stuff to stay sharp, but itís a problem.

Sep 05, 2013

Member (1613 posts)

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