Monday, January 4, 2010

The Kirk Report

The Kirk Report

Create A Vision For Your Life

Posted: 04 Jan 2010 09:13 AM PST

"Dream big dreams and think tall. Very few people set goals too high. A man becomes what he thinks about all day long." - Raschke's Trading Rules

Create A Vision For Your Life

Over the past couple of weeks you have probably spent some time as I have thinking about the year we just finished and, more importantly, the future. I would say this is one of the most important and precious times of the year. At least for me.

In the busy world we all must face, most of us are too busy with our daily routine and responsibilities to devote much attention to the "big picture" of our lives. I include myself in the majority as I'm often consumed by everything I must get done on a daily basis.

Those of us who are high-achievers always have large to-do lists and working hard is never really the issue. Instead, often the problem is being focused enough in the right way to achieve the numerous goals we set and still be empowered enough to work toward those goals every day AND at the same time be happy. This is no easy undertaking and it requires a level of maturity and focus that I've only personally begun to fully realize in my own life.

A few years ago I started taking time off at the end of the year not just to celebrate and spend time with family during the holidays but also to devote time simply to reflect upon the past year, create a vision for my life, set new goals, and then plan for the year to come. I devote five full days to this process and I have been grateful every year that I taken time to do it. In fact, I think much of the success I've had in recent years can be attributed directly to this process.

Here's how I spent each of the five days:

Day One: The first day I spend just in thoughtful reflection. I take a day to remember and write down the many highs and lows of the year just past. My trading journal helps me quite a bit during this process as well rereading posts I provide here at The Kirk Report. Also, as a reference, I then compare those highs and lows to previous years in addition to the specific goals I set for myself a year ago. This is often helpful to obtain an honest idea of the overall direction I'm currently moving in my life.

When you take time to compare one year of your life to other years you will often see your life in a much different way. In fact, you'll also start to notice trends and changes that you may not have even noticed or fully understood without doing this kind of reflective exercise.

While I try my best to maintain a grateful and positive attitude throughout the year, the fact is that most of us are inclined only to focus on the negatives. For example, if I ask many of you to name the five worst trades you made of 2009 you'd probably have no problem doing so while many of us (including me) would probably have to look up which five trades were the best. Most of us are simply inclined to remember the painful failures more than our successes. Which is why taking a broader overview of both with a year perspective is so very important. In addition, you must learn to take time to reward yourself for your past accomplishments. Most of us don't do that and it is just as important as learning from your past failures.

Day Two: For good or bad, once the reflection is over and I feel I have a solid understanding of the past year's successes, failures, blessings, challenges, and whether I've achieved the goals I've set, the next day is focused on the future. On day two I spend thinking about the direction I want my life to take over the coming year and the years ahead. Mind you, I don't set new goals but I'm simply creating a "vision for my life."

Over the years many people have asked me who is my greatest source of inspiration. The truth is that while I have learned a tremendous amount from other people and I'm so grateful for their help and encouragement, the best source of inspiration I have is one that I personally create and sustain for myself every day throughout the year. In essence, I have created a vision for my life and every day I try to work toward the vision I've created.

If you read a number of sports psychology articles one thing you will learn about is the importance of positive visualization. In other words, actually picturing yourself achieving the things you wish to achieve before taking action. By knowing what you want to achieve and then actually visualizing yourself achieving it, it is the first step toward your success in whatever you wish to accomplish. I know that sounds lame to those who've never practiced this kind of visualization and I once thought the same thing until I actually tried incorporating it in many areas of my life just for fun.

It is sad but true that people who subconsciously tell themselves that they are unlucky, unsuccessful, unattractive, etc. actually make those things realities for themselves. On the other hand, people who think they are fortunate, cherished, beautiful, etc. also make these things happen. In sum, your mind can be your worst enemy or your most powerful ally. This will come of no surprise to those of us who trade for a living, but worth pointing out nevertheless.

Also, if you don't believe me on the importance of visualization, take time to read the biographies of those people who have been successful and who have achieved great things. In doing so, you will usually find that successful people all had a specific vision for themselves and worked hard consistently to achieve that positive vision. Very few people simply find success without some sort of positive visualization for their future.

While there are numerous examples I could cite, just last week I heard the story that talked about how comedian Jim Carey wrote himself a $10 million dollar check and carried it in his wallet before he was successful. This served as a terrific visualization for himself and his future and also served as motivation to keep working hard when he wasn't successful.

In my own wallet I also carry a list of "big picture" goals I wish to achieve each and every year and whenever I'm standing in line, traveling by air, waiting to tee off, etc. I pull that list out and review it. It's amazing what happens and how much you can achieve when you take time to focus on what you really want out of your life and the specific steps you need to take to achieve it.

Day Three: After spending a day in reflection and another day in visualization, the third day I start to create and write down new goals for myself. Again, this includes not only professional goals (like beating the S&P 500 by at least 50% or more in 2010) but also fun goals (like taking time to do an intense and difficult hike with my wife in Moab, UT I promised but never "found time to do" in 2009). I also updated my long-term goals - i.e. goals that I've set that take far more time than a year to achieve (for example my goal of having $3 million dollars in trading capital by the age of 40 - I will be 39 in April and making progress on my book project I've been working on a very part-time basis on for well over a decade).

Days Four & Five: Once you've got the visualization and set your goals, this final two days are the most important. The fourth and fifth days are spent on creating a written map of every step I think I must take to achieve each of the goals I've set for the year and years ahead. This is by far the most challenging and important days of this process as I must detail with as much specificity as possible of how I wish to achieve my goals. A goal, after all, without a specific plan to reach it, is useless.

flow chart
To do that, I create flow charts for each and every goal I set with specific "to-do" list items I must do to accomplish that particular goal. With most goals, I have to start backwards - meaning that I start with the goal I wish to achieve and then figure out the last step I probably need to take before that goal is hit and then work backwards from there until the present.

I begin by working first on mapping out my long-term goals and then move to the short-term goals. I do it this way because it makes more sense to me and seems to work best because long-term goals can't be achieved without using short-term goals to reach them. This entire process takes a minimum of two full days (8 hours each) to really develop a good plan of attack. I know many of you can't believe that it would take that long, but I have found whether a goal is achieved or not usually is dependent upon how much time I take to develop a solid plan. Also, as you work your plan throughout the year, you'll add far many more details to the flow chart or even add more additional flow work charts for each step you must take that will also help you formulate your daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists.

For what it is worth, I've been creating these kinds of life maps for several years now and it takes some practice to get comfortable with the process. Obviously, the more complex the goal is, the more steps you'll probably need to take and sometimes even the best laid plans are not remotely feasible once you get started. This is especially true with any goals that require specific skills to be learned (like trading successfully for example) or require help from others (like cooperation from a spouse or peer to achieve.) But, the point of this process is to have a "plan of attack" for each goal you've set with a set of steps you've recognized you must take. Having a plan, even a rough one will set the foundation for good things to come.

In developing your plans, it is also quite common that 1) you may not be sure or even have a clue on how to achieve the goals you've set for yourself and/or 2) in reality, you may not be ready, willing and able to do what it takes to achieve what those goals actually require. This is common and sometimes you will learn that many goals shouldn't be set to begin with after you take the time to actually plan to achieve goals you think would be good for you. But, this is also part of the process. For me, any goal that I can't make a plan with actionable steps is a goal I don't set for myself. Instead, I concentrate my energy on only the goals that I have specific plans for that make sense to me and that I know I'm capable of and have the true desire to achieve.

Plan Your Work & Work Your Plan: After all of that, I will begin this week to put my plans into action. I generally make it a point to pull out my "game plans" (which is what I call them) every month and update them as necessary by then developing short-term "to-do" lists based on those plans and flow charts I've created. This helps me know what I need to do each day, each week, and each month to stay on the right track. In fact I have a widget on my computer that I stare at each and every day that lays out today's to-do list along with my weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. I read it and focus on it daily.

I also share my goals with my wife and we talk about them frequently throughout the year. I do the same for her as well and this has really been a good thing for both of us. The truth is that every one of us needs someone to hold us accountable and studies have shown that those who share their goals with someone else who will provide that accountability are far more likely to be successful than those who do not. So, be sure after you've set and planned your goals, to share and discuss your plans with someone you trust and who will help hold you accountable for whatever changes you desire.

Finally, as they saying goes, life happens when you're making other plans. This is true and no matter how much we visualize future success, set goals and create plans for achiving them, there will be things that happen over the course of the coming year beyond your control that will impede, slow, stop or even reverse your progress. This is to be expected and, if at all possible, planned for. Frequently the difference between success and failure is being able to accept those challenges head on as they occur and keep working toward your goals even when you experience complete failure and hardship. Anyone who has achieved anything worthwhile has failed in doing so, if not many times. But, that's part of how we grow and get better.

In my experience, those who are successful are better able to face and readily own up to their own failures quickly and then figure out ways to learn and improve from them. This is something you'll find in every successful trader as well. In addition, no plan you create for yourself should require everything to go right or easily for you. While setting big goals and aiming high is extremely important, your plans should not require perfection from you because it will only set the stage for failure, loss of confidence, and disappointment. Instead, build in some flexibility within the plans you make and be sure they are realistic and achievable based on what you've done in the past. Remember also that everyone had to start somewhere and it is ok to set goals that others may think are stupid or easily achievable. (In fact, for many of you, simply to remove your emotions from the market and finding a way just to match the market's performance this year would be a worthwhile goal!) In my experience, it is ok to aim really high and set lofty goals (especially the long-term ones), but at the same time you must have goals you set each day, week, and month that are achievable based on a true honest understanding of yourself.

Final Thoughts: As long as you know the direction you wish to go, and keep honest tabs on your performance, you will set yourself to achieve the goals you desire no matter what they may be. In my view, there's nothing we cannot achieve as long as we devote the time and energy to honestly figure out and understand where we are right now, where we want to be in a week, a month, in a quarter, etc., set realistic goals to achieve our dreams, and then work and develop our plans to achieve them daily. If you truly desire success in 2010, this is one way to do it and if you haven't done so, devote this week for reflecting back, visualizing your future, setting goals, and making your plans. Do that, and you'll be well on your way to making 2010 your best year ever.

At least as far as the markets are concerned, it is my sincere hope that I will also be a positive part of this process for you. I know for certain that is one of my most important goals this year and I will be working to achieve that vision for all those who take time to use The Kirk Report. I have some great things planned for this year (more on this later) to further realize the dream I have of helping people like you achieve more success in the market. Thank you for giving me this unique and special opportunity again in 2010!

We Begin 2K10

Posted: 04 Jan 2010 05:48 AM PST

Good morning and happy new year!

Futures are positive amid strength in overseas markets, dollar weakness, and M&A activity. Also the Federal Reserve's top two officials hinted that interest rates would stay at ultra-low levels for months to come.

Top headlines this morning include the following:

  • Low rates didn't cause bubble, Bernanke says (MarketWatch)

  • Oil above $80 on US economy, demand optimism (Chron)

  • U.S. business loan defaults rise again (Reuters)

  • Chinese manufacturing grew the most in five years (BusinessWeek)

  • Novartis seeks to buy rest of Alcon for $39 billion (Reuters)

  • Total signs a $2.25B shale-gas pact with Chesapeake Energy (Reuters)

  • Merz Pharma Group will acquire all the outstanding shares of BioForm Medical (Bioform)

  • Analysts at both UBS and Credit Suisse upgraded shares of Morgan Stanley (MarketWatch)

At 10:AM we have reports on Construction Spending and the ISM Manufacturing Index. Also today Fedspeak is expected from both Lockhart and Duke during today's session.

Read more of my premarket report.