Friday, December 14, 2007

Success Tools: Harvey Mackay's Website

Networking guru Havey Mackay has a great site that I just discovered. The famed author of Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive has included downloadable checklists, podcasts, rss feeds and more. You can't get enough good networking advice in this world, and I reccommend a visit to Mackay's site.

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Success Tools: The Major Definite Aim

If you haven’t read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich this would be a good time to pick it up. This book is one of the “uber-classics” of success literature, and many successful people re-read it frequently. One of the main concepts in the book is the Major Definite Aim: a short paragraph defining your main goal and how you plan to implement it. The MDA is re-read on a daily basis.

I first tried using the MDA in 1981 when I set a ridiculously high goal for a future income. It worked.

Recently, I set a trading goal using the MDA. I wrote out an exact amount that I wished to attain in my trading account, and I started writing down those actions and approaches I deemed necessary to achieve that goal.

I achieved that goal within 45 days, I am happy to say.

Now, as I reflect upon this gem of a concept, I can see a number of aspects that wise Mr. Hill embedded in this success tool that I did not see years ago when I was starting out in my career.

First, The Major Definite Aim acts as a prioritizing system. If you are constantly stating to yourself what your MDA is, other ideas, opportunities, and distractions are automatically prioritized downward, below our MDA. The existence of the MDA will create cognitive dissonance when you attempt to violate it by focusing on other priorities.

Second, the list of methods that you generate for achieving your MDA keeps you pursuing your main course of action. In the case of my trading MDA it kept me trading my systems day in, day out, without obsessing on any particular daily result. In other words, it worked as a “forcing system” to encourage both persistence and consistency. I have no doubt that there were fewer deviations in my behavior than there would have been had I not been referencing my Major Definite Aim.

Here are a couple of examples of how it worked for me:

I am an emotional, “jumpy” person. I often say and do things that I wish I hadn’t, and my emotional nature has derailed a lot of progress in my life. One of the “methods” that I listed under my MDA was “Maintaining emotional balance and focus, and engaging in behavior that promotes emotional balance and focus”. I was surprised particularly at how I was able to “edit out” behaviors that I knew would cause animosity from other people in my life: I knew I had a particular path to pursue, and I knew that I did not want to be distracted by emotional skirmishes as I pursued that path. Thanks to that same “method”, I also found that I was less apt to engage in over-simulative behavior. I did not want to come into my trading room one morning filled with self-loathing or with a splitting headache. Thanks to the MDA, and my list of methods of achieving it, I was able to stay on an even keel.

Another bad habit is taking “discretionary” trades, outside of my system, usually out of panic. I noticed I tend to lose money on these trades. I listed as one of my MDA “methods” to “take no discretionary losing trades”. I am positive that part of the reason I attained my goal so easily was because I was not “driving with the brakes on” (by losing money when I didn’t have to).

Finally, I want to mention one other benefit I found from the MDA. I found that I was constantly coming up with new methods to add to my list of how I was planning to achieve my goal. I found myself producing a flow of creative ideas related to my Major Definite Aim. I have posted frequently on Mind Power and I believe that a Major Definite Aim produces a response in the unconscious that results in an outpouring of creative solutions directed toward your goal.

Adding it all up, the Major Definite Aim provides a compass to your daily activities. All activities, whether related to the MDA or not, are automatically referenced to the MDA , which you read to yourself frequently. You begin to see each action, each possibility in terms of whether it leads toward, or away from, your Major Definite Aim. Remember also, the Universe is chaotic. Random. It is we, through our minds, wishes, thoughts, and plans, who affect this formless collection of events in ways that lead us to our goal.

I find the concept of the Major Definite Aim of even more value to me today than it was when it first changed my life, many years ago.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

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Success Tools: Checklists Revisited

I’ve posted recently about Charlie Munger and his recommendation that people employ checklists. Recently a post by Monica Jackson, which in turn linked to an article in the New Yorker reaffirmed the immense benefits of checklists, especially in Intensive Care settings. But I submit that Charlie Munger’s insistence on the use of checklists has even more far-reaching implications. We associate checklists often with aircraft takeoff procedures, because so many complex and critical procedures need to be performed in a synchronized and (hopefully) error-free manner. However, in our modern lives there are many areas of our lives that are increasingly complicated, and I think that is what Charlie Munger is getting at. As simple a task as going out on daily errands would benefit from a checklist procedure. So would locking up the house before a trip. Or meeting wth a handyman on a range of home improvement tasks. What about meetings which occur rarely, but with important professionals, such as attorneys or doctors?

The simple fact is, the case for “winging it” is weak, and getting weaker. The truly historic results achieved in the ICU environment even regarding well-known and “rote” procedures, is enough to give one pause.

Ok…that’s everything on my list.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Success Secrets: Best of the Year Part 3

I have been reviewing what success techniques have worked best for me in the past year. This is part 3. Part1 is here and Part 2 is here .

A few more techniques that improved my results this year:

Decision-making techniques

Decision trees, Expected Monetary Value, and pencil-and paper rough diagramming of solutions

My interest in decision-tree methodology got re-kindled when I read Charlie Munger’s statement that Warren Buffett thinks naturally in terms of decision trees (I have a lot of posts about Munger here). Thinking about future events, and assigning a probability and quantitative (or dollar) outcome (if possible) to each alternative branch has been a major factor in various trading and investing methodologies I have been following. I also found the various decision-making methods mentioned in Kepner and Tregoe’s The Rational Manager to be very effective.

In some cases all I needed to do was draw a very simple two-line diagram and think “one step” into the future. In my trading methods, I was able to double the efficiency of one of my methods by simply thinking about the results of two alternate hypotheses. In fact, just writing out possible outcomes rather than leaving them in my head made vast differences in my results this year.

Munger and Buffett’s "Circle of Competence"

Methodologies that succeed are to be cherished, reflected-upon, and improved. They should not be replaced unless other methodologies can be shown to be superior. This does not mean that new ideas should not be explored. Of course, new ideas and innovations are crucial. But Munger reminds us that many fortunes can be made with just a few, core insights. Those successful insights must not be changed or discarded on a whim. I found that I made great progress by improving on things that had quantitatively worked already, although it bruised my ego that these slight improvements often succeeded better than more “original” ideas. The more “mercilessly” I “interrogated” new procedures by comparing them to existing successful ones, the more powerful my “circle of competence” became. The circle is a small, charmed space, and not a lot gets in, but what does get in produces strong results.

GTD Techniques

In October 2006 I began assimilating Robert Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity . In particular, my initiation of the Weekly Review, a good filing and archiving system, and keeping a handy pocket notebook nearby have truly helped me “know what I’m doing”. My “Agendas” folder helps me collect thoughts I want to pursue with specific individuals, and my “Waiting For” folder helps me keep track of ongoing “trigger” events out into the future. Allen’s unique insights into how to stay organized allow the human mind to free itself from being a “to do list”, and to expand into the creativity and results-producing engine it can be. Once I began to “trust the system”, my productivity began to soar. Once you begin to feel the power of knowing that data is being sent to a trusted place, the feeling of relief is palpable. You never want to go back.

Final Thoughts on 12 months of results:

As Munger might say, “Me” is less important than “Results”
Follow the data
Entertain all new ideas, but put your “big money” on what works
Seek the highest opportunity cost possible
Trust and improve your Circle of Competence
Think on Paper
Walk through decision scenarios
View progress as an endless process

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Success Secrets "Best Of the Year" Part 2

I have been posting on the “Top Success Techniques” that have worked for me in the past year. Part 1 of this post is here. Here are two more techniques that have contributed to my progress this year

Never giving up/Paying attention to all solutions that appear.

The human brain, the unconscious, the imagination, etc. are always working on solutions. The brain is constantly comparing our desired goals with feedback from our results to date on those goals. It then suggests new ideas, images, courses of action, etc. that may lead us toward better solutions. If we record and respect those ideas, they can help us discover still more paths which could take us to our goals, and which also “feed back” into our brain, which, in a “virtuous circle”, will produce still more ideas and solutions.

Some of my best personal results this last 12 months have emerged from combining and refining certain trading and investment results based on sets of previous results that were successful. I found that I could in some cases triple the results by combining already-successful methods in new ways. By paying attention to the ideas coming at me from both the “outside world” (the actual results) and the “inside world” (new ideas that continue to be generated from my brain), I am “bootstrapping” my results upward.

As long as one perseveres, reality will continue to produce new possibilities that lead us toward the solution to our problems…if we stay aware of new possibilities,, and if we make the effort o explore the possibilities that appear. Every avenue must be pursued, even unlikely ones. Another reason why “never giving up” is important, is because solutions are not singular, but “iterative”. Partial solutions lead to new ideas that then produce better partial solutions, that yield still better results…ad inifinitum. Interestingly, the nature of just what IS a solution, and even just what is the problem , may change. But none of this can be known in advance. We actually have to “run the simulation”, try the alternatives, reflect, and try again.

A corollary of this concept is that, since success become viewed as a process, there is actually less disappointment, and more serenity, since there is only an ongoing series of approximations toward higher and higher levels of success, rather than a “pass/fail” approach to our goals.

"Quantum Success " Techniques

This gem of a book,
Quantum Success: The Astounding Science of Wealth and Happiness , by Sandra Anne Taylor is a collection of literally life-changing techniques to re-make your world. This book is one of the most powerful and profound books I have ever read. According to Taylor our world is an a state of quantum indeterminacy, which only resolves itself as the observer (us) begins to “create it” through observation. We, in effect, create the world we want to see.

Some of my favorite techniques from this book:

Releasing desperation…

Becoming aware of how often we can make choices that influence our lives…

Staying patient and calm…relying on persistent, focused action rather than “one-shot” plans or single-focus solutions…

Written “re-programming techniques” to “wipe out” thought patterns that are unproductive...

One of the points Taylor makes is that we can literally change our world hour by hour through conscious mindfulness of our mental state. Here is one small example:

I am an emotional person. I, unfortunately, let things “get to me”. Through Sandra Anne Taylor’s book, I came to the conclusion that my emotional nature was producing a “domino effect” by which I would get upset when something went “wrong”, and my reaction would impair my productivity in subsequent activities throughout the day, even though they were unrelated to the event that initially “set me off”. To paraphrase on of Colin Powell’s “rules” , “serenity is a success multiplier”. Why is this important? For me, I need a reason to generate internal calm going into a situation. That is, before the destabilizing event occurs. If I know I am consciously calming myself for the purpose of reducing chaos throughout the day, it helps me work through the “withdrawal” necessary to disengage from the unproductive, addictive, “stimulus” of high emotional levels.

In my life as a trader, this has helped me vastly reduce the number of impulsive trades that I might make, as I realize that the “reward” is not in the momentary excitement of a trade, but in the long-term outcome of a set of behaviors.

Another way of looking at Ms. Taylor’s work is that success can be viewed less as a “high” and more of a “low buzz” of intensity, as Doug Newburg puts it

To be continued…