A week ago, I was reading an article in the New York Post about yet another brutal New York Yankees loss, this time to the Oakland A's. The Yankees, thus far, have been a disappointment, considering their overall talent and payroll. After they were held to one hit against their opponent on this day, a few of the Yankees spoke out on the difficult spot in which the team had found itself.First, Johnny Damon commented that his teammates were not finding luck during their at-bats and that things were just not going their way. Jorge Posada later professed to the media that luck is something that you go out and make for yourself, and said that his teammates had been "going through the motions as of late." Last, but not least, battered relief pitcher Scott Proctor decided to change the course of his season by setting his cleats and baseball glove on fire, all in the name of cleansing and starting a new winning streak. As you can see, there are a variety of ways to manage a losing streak and change your luck -- that is, if you believe in luck. Traders are a superstitious breed and often put a great deal of faith into ritualistic behavior in the workplace. Some believe that luck can affect a trading week or month, and believe that something as simple as walking to work on the same side of streets can actually influence the outcome of whether they succeed on a given day.
I've had clients who refused to wear short-sleeved shirts in the summer because they felt that wearing long-sleeved sweaters enabled them to be successful throughout their careers. In other cases, I have known traders to smoke a specific number of cigarettes by a certain time each day in order for them to feel as if the smokes were giving them the best shot at success. It is easy to find these ritualistic behaviors humorous and excessive from an objective perspective, but to the actual trader who has made millions, tinkering with their success formula can create severe anxiety and panic. Professional athletes, much like traders, refuse to change their rituals while their performance is hot. They don't shave before games, they abstain from sexual activity, and at times they don't even wash their uniforms. "Crash Davis," the ballplayer in the movie Bull Durham, said it best when he told a fellow teammate, "Never f--- with a winning streak." Even during my hot streaks as a semi-professional ballplayer, I have fallen prey to such traditions as not washing my hat and always conducting the same stretching exercises before each at-bat. I have resisted my girlfriend's repeated requests to wash my hat, all in the name of a hitting streak.