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Naomi Osaka’s recent triumph notwithstanding, few athletes know how to steal victory from the jaws of defeat like Serena Williams. Her talent for breath-taking comebacks is extraordinary. Seeing it in real time might leave you at once elated for her and in anguish for her opponent. Kim Clijsters, you had her on the ropes and 18 years later we still feel your pain. She is the Khan Noonien Singh to your James T. Kirk (JTK).
Once we recover from the corollary—that crushing, abstract sensation of our own loss—we wonder: What’s she got that I ain’t got? The answer: aside from everything? This thing: quiet eye. That highly-specialized focus wherein she can slow things down, stay in flow, and wisely decide. Or more simply, keep her eye on the ball.
For those competing in the financial markets, the smell of defeat can send our psychological olfactory system into overdrive. Truly, there are moments when we look to the sky, do a quick check on the perm, and bellow, “Khhaaaaan!”
Spock definitely had quiet eye.
For the record, we’re not saying Serena is even remotely akin in character to the villainous Khan in Star Trek II (1982). On the contrary, Serena is our investment-psych exemplar. Sorry nerds, Khan is the hero in this one.
The psych aspect of growing and managing wealth is complex and personal. Those of us who play(ed) competitive games have lost the mental contest on occasion, or in the vernacular: we choked. Choking of any kind is not fun let alone when we ‘lose our composure and fail to perform effectively in a critical situation’, in the more tactful prose of Merriam Webster. Even less so when the dividends of years of hard work and planning are at stake.
Clearly, having a little ‘quiet eye’ in the face of the manifold pressures of investing is beneficial.
Serena makes impossible comebacks, in part, by controlling physical and psychological responses to losing.
You catch the news and market projections look grim. Slow down and track your split-second response. Your heart bumps a notch, you flash with heat and before long you’re loosely strapped into a self-reinforcing psychosomatic tilt-a-whirl. However subtle, that could get away from you and inspire some imprudent moves—all at warp speed.
Self-awareness is pivotal. And noticing and managing internal responses can be learned and developed. Elite athletes slow down their thinking at crucial moments in order to process with clarity and precision. It’s been said that a key challenge to going from college to pro football is the speed of the game. But Brady and Mahomes (et al) see it slower.
Back to tennis. We watch that 2003 semi-final and are transported into the match in hi-def, parallax Serena Vision®, experiencing quiet eye from the inside. It’s a weird kind of ecstasy. We’re a whole step ahead of everything, able to fixate and instinctively control every frame with elegant precision. The moment we take our ‘eye off the ball’ we abruptly crash back into normalcy, where thought and emotion pitch and roll their way into counterproductive action.
The secret is in discovering our internal Khan. Never mind the accent, or the sheer expanse of his chest. Focus on his talent for overcoming the odds and infuriating JTK. (Quick tip: If you’re a Kirk devotee and galled by the metaphor, think of the actor in his role as TJ Hooker, that should soften the blow.) Yes, Khan Noonien Singh was working some intergalactic quiet eye. That he dies in the end is beside the point.
Bottom line: It’s nothing new. The market runs on emotion. But how can we avoid doing the same? This time, it IS all in your head. And this article is an introduction to a series of posts that will consider just that.
Stay tuned. Subscribe. Enjoy!