Alex Chappell

19th August, 2016

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Mind Games: Win Your Advantage

As Jason Kenny lined up for his Keirin final on Tuesday night for the third time, anticipation shook the velodrome. It’s hard enough going through the gruelling training regime that is now a necessity for most successful athletes, let alone having your golden moment halted on two occasions as you are preparing for take-off. The importance of mental toughness often dwarfs physical prowess in those key moments. Faced with possible disqualification after overtaking the weird motorbike thing they follow, Jason calmly circled the track with his arms crossed and visor down. The judges thankfully allowed him to remain in the race, and after another stoppage, he lined up for what would be his third and final attempt at equalling Sir Chris Hoy’s record as the most successful British Olympian ever. The rest is history – Jason Kenny powered round the last lap, overtaking his closest rivals with ferocious speed and took his 6th Gold Medal (see the tremendous moment again here.)

We have excelled to win 9 more medals than any other nation in the velodrome, causing the cynical hawks to start to orbit. Then again, we have led the field with respect to both technology and psychology, improving performance and providing a competitive edge. Some time ago the British Cycling team employed Doctor Steve Peters, a sports psychologist who is known best for writing “The Chimp Paradox”. The book is one of many that focusses on the use of mental control to enhance performance. By controlling your emotions and becoming more aware of the nature of your brain and its behaviour, you can turn defence into attack and use it to your advantage.

I was fortunate enough to see Dr Peters present at an investment conference about a year ago, quickly gaining motivation to read The Chimp Paradox. Having a sports psychologist at an investment conference was no accident, and indeed the literature of behavioural finance has become one of the fastest growing across academia in recent years. Just as Mo Farrah had to use his mental toughness to bounce back from his fall in the 10,000M final, we can use it all the time to enhance the quality of our outputs and service for our clients.

When making investment decisions for example, we are conscious of getting sucked in by the vast array of noise (irrelevant information) that spans the investment universe, focusing instead on what we have set out to deliver. When considering someone’s retirement plans, we are able to step back from the emotion, substantiate the goal, and provide a coherent plan to achieve it. Teamwork helps, as questioning and challenging each other’s views and recommendations can reduce the effect of individual behavioural biases further.

Whilst we are not aiming for Olympic medals, we are all on a journey for financial success. We will no doubt be hit with ongoing challenges in the same way Kenny and Farrah have, and will require mental control and toughness as well as ability to overcome them. Usain Bolt is gifted with infinite ability, but he most definitely has his own way of keeping calm… entertaining. When the rest of us hit “a wall”, throwing the bolt arms probably isn’t appropriate, but channelling our emotion in our own way can enhance the chance of winning/improving/achieving.