Goals matter. They provide the structure for defining how you get from where you are now to where you want to be.
Last month I recommended that you spend time reviewing your progress so that your goals could be both sharp and realistic. And last year around this time I outlined why New Year’s resolutions are stupid and setting achievable goals was the smarter path. I am a believer that January is a great time to set goals, and you can even use my goals worksheet to make that process easier.
But while I’ve clearly talked about goal-setting before, I haven’t spent as much time on a big question that underpins your goals: Why are you a trader, poker player, or golfer? Actually answer this question right now.
Is that a question that you can answer easily, or is there some hesitation and fumbling over your words to clearly articulate your reasoning.
There is a reason you chose to spend your time in this arena. And you are still choosing it. When you lose track of all of your reasons, or it naturally evolves without you realizing it, a host of problems can pop-up: motivation is inconsistent, focus wanes more easily and lacks the usual intensity, and guilt and overthinking pops up more as you’re critical and unsure of how much you should be trading/playing or working on your game.
When your reasons are all defined and clear in your mind, however, you automatically have better structure and organization, are more at ease with the amount you are working and satisfied with your results. There is a greater acceptance of how your life is balanced (even if it feels extremely unbalanced because you’re obsessed and this is all that you do).
Why Do You Do What You Do?
Three of the most common reasons I see in the fields I primarily work in are freedom, challenge and competitiveness.
Professionals who choose non-traditional paths like trading or poker often value the freedom to set their own schedules and be their own bosses. They prize independence and autonomy. An example of recognizing this “why” and bringing it in alignment with goal-setting was one of the traders I included in The Mental Game of Trading.
Michael was burned out. He felt trapped having to trade all day, particularly when nothing was going on. His motivation went through big ups and downs. He stopped going to the office as much, and felt guilty about it.
What made the difference for him was a commitment to go hard for the first three hours of the trading day and then, if nothing was happening, he could take the rest of the day to follow other pursuits with zero guilt. A core reason he had become a trader was freedom. This strategy ensured that he had the freedom to trade without being imprisoned by it, and that revitalized his passion for trading 20 years into his career. (You can read more of his story in Chapter 8).
Another common “why” I see is those who love the challenge of constantly becoming better. Personally, that’s why I put as much energy as I do into golf. I’m not a professional but it remains a large part of my life and I spend a lot of time on my game because it teaches me more about myself and what it takes to be successful and improve. I view it as a playground to test ideas that make me a better coach and author. It’s also an important physical outlet and ties in, for me, to the third theme that matters to me – competitiveness. When I have success in tournaments I know I’ve achieved something unique and rare and that excites me.
That desire to compete, and to be among the most successful in their fields, is something I often see in my clients and why they continue to find joy in their jobs.
Another example of defining your “why”and keeping it in alignment can be found in some of my poker clients who still loved the game but found the grind of constant travel to be interfering with the rest of their lives. To achieve more balance, they created seasons for themselves where they cycle between periods of intense playing and studying, with times when they’re off doing something else.
Mind you, being in alignment doesn’t always equate with stepping back from constant work. While the examples I gave here were seasoned professionals, particularly when you are early in your career it is OK to be obsessed.
The mark of the best performers in any of the fields I’ve worked in is that they always have a deep love and passion that drives them to work harder, to learn as much as they possibly can, and to constantly be thinking about ways to improve. It’s easy to see how this could be perceived as an unhealthy obsession. But when you are happy, fulfilled and successful it’s hard to call that unhealthy. It’s all about what you want and how that aligns with your values.
Whether you need to find more balance or are at that stage where you want to work all day doesn’t matter. What you need is alignment and synergy, because without that everything gets harder.
Get Clear for Yourself
If I know you well, you didn’t actually take the time to answer the question above. Well now is the time to do it and get clear on why you trade, play poker or golf.
Write a list or paragraph, as short or long as you want it to be. Be honest and as deep as you want to get and give yourself 7 to 10 days to nail it down. Keep it on your mind, have conversations with people that know you well, think about how you’ve grown, how you’ve changed in the last year, and how those changes may impact why you are here and doing this.
Once you’ve got something solid that clearly reflects your reasons, you can use it on a daily basis to create greater clarity for your motivation.
Successfully accomplishing your goals over the course of 12 months is A LOT easier when you have consistency and stability in your motivation. There inevitably will be peaks and valleys with your motivation over that long of a time period, but you can use your “why” to push you higher when you get deflated, and on the flip side, keep your motivation lower when you get too inspired.
I know this doesn’t sound sexy or exciting, but you’ll thank me when we get to December and you’ve achieved more and grown more than you did the year before.