Developing Top-Down Discipline By, Van K. Tharp, PhD

van tharp bkA note to readers: While Dr. Tharp’s content is timeless, this article is from our newsletter archive and may contain outdated information, missing links or images.

One of the qualities of top traders is their total commitment to the trading process. And while I cannot give you the commitment that it takes to be successful as a trader, I do know of a process that helps build this kind of commitment. It’s called developing top-down discipline. You start with your desired dream life and your purpose in life, and you make sure that your dream and purpose are so motivating to you that you’ll do whatever it takes to achieve them. In fact, you are not finished with the first two steps of this process until you’ve reached this level of motivation.

Once you’ve accomplished that, you break your dream life down into yearly chunks by asking yourself, “What do I want to achieve this year that will bring me closer to my dream life?” The remaining steps involve turning these one-year goals into a plan.

So, let’s look at the steps.

Step 1: Envision Your Dream Life

In this step, dream about everything you could possibly want from life. What do you want in terms of career, finances, relationships, places you visit, what you’d like to own, what you’d like to accomplish spiritually? Everything.

Step 2: The Whys Behind Your Dream Life

The next step is to add “juice” or “energy” into your dream life; make it so enticing that you must have it. We do this by looking at the “whys” behind your dreams. Why must you have this particular dream life? Why is this your purpose? You are not finished with this part of the exercise until your dream life is so compelling to you that you can’t wait to do whatever is necessary to achieve it.

Step 3: Determine Your One Year Goals

The third step is to develop four to five one-year goals that will propel you toward your dream life. These are things that will stretch you and at the same time bring you closer to your dream life. These also must be goals that are exciting to you, and that you really feel motivated to achieve (and if you do not, you simply need more whys behind them).

When you complete these three steps, you are ready to begin your yearly planning.

Step 4: Monthly Goals

Now pick one or two of your yearly goals and ask yourself, “What can I accomplish this month to move closer toward my yearly goals?” You might look at each goal and see it as a series of steppingstones. Let me give you an example. Suppose your goal is to become a full-time trader by the end of the year. Then some of the monthly goals you might want to work on could include the following:

  • I need to begin working on the Peak Performance Course for Traders and Investors to develop the core foundation that I need. (Available on Amazon starting in 2024)
  • I need to complete the Systems Development Home Study course and begin developing my first strategy.
  • I need to read Trade Your Way
  • I need to develop a clear vision of what I want to accomplish as a trader.

Your monthly goals are the basis for your first month’s plan. And in order to complete that plan you need to understand and create a lot of OPAs.

Understanding OPA

OPA is a term coined by Tony Robbins and it stands for Outcome, Purpose, and Action Steps. Start thinking about each monthly goal as an outcome. For example, if you want to write a business plan, first think about the outcome you want to accomplish, instead of concentrating right away on the steps it takes to complete the goal. Generally, if something will take you a week or longer to accomplish, view it as an outcome.

Next, just as your dream life should have a purpose, each outcome should have a purpose behind it (a list of “whys”). One of our monthly goals is “I need a clear vision of what I need to accomplish as a trader.” Why? Your response might be something like the following:

  • I want to be the best.
  • I want the freedom of being in charge of my destiny and not reporting to anyone but myself.
  • I want an unlimited income potential that I’m in charge of producing.
  • I want to be financially free and secure.
  • I want to be close to my family during the day.
  • I don’t want the long commute to work each day. I’d like to just get up and walk to my office in my pajamas.

Now does that begin to make the outcome more exciting to you? If it doesn’t, then you need a lot more “whys.”

To accomplish each outcome, you also need a series of action steps, such as making a list of obstacles that might hinder you from accomplishing a particular goal and working through those obstacles or looking for ways to create passive income to increase your trading capital. Sub-goals might be considered action steps but remember the rule that if it will take you more than a week to accomplish it, it’s really an outcome.

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