You only have to google ‘Trading Psychology’ these days to find thousands of articles talking about the importance of Trading psychology to the make-up of a successful trader.
For new traders reading this I always talk about viewing traders through the prism of the 4M’s of Trading:
(your trading) Method
(leading and managing) Myself
When I speak to traders I am always assessing them against those four areas. Invariably complete newbie amateur traders are focused on the first 2, whereas professional traders are always focused on the latter 2. The longer your trading career, the more you realise managing Money and Myself becomes the priority.
When it comes to managing self there are lots of variables that go into building a robust trading mentality. For the purpose of this piece Id like to talk about three variables that have been a recurring theme for me recently in conversations and experiences with traders and non-traders alike. I thought I would share them with you all.
In particular I am interested in capacity, resilience and grit. For this part I will just focus on the first element.
Those are interesting definitions for capacity – all of which can be levied against traders (or anyone dealing in challenging stressful situations).
1 – The maximum amount that something can contain – could that be you? What is the maximum amount that you can cope with? Do you know? If so, how do you know? Is that a fixed element or something that flex’s based on your situation? Can you grow ‘capacity’?
2. The amount that something can produce – can you define your productivity in terms of capacity? Do you have periods where you have limitless capacity to produce? Do you have periods where you have diminished capacity to produce? If so, then why?
3. The ability or power to do or understand something – do you have days where you understand the market and your life? Are there days when you have not got a clue about what’s going on around you? Do you have periods when you have the capacity to influence situations? Or do you have periods where your capacity is reduced and life/markets shunt you around?
4. A specified role or position – do you have the capacity to fulfil all the roles and position in your life? To be a trader, business-man, mother, daughter, friend, sister, leader, follower etc? Are there some that build capacity? Are there some that drain your capacity?
Those points are raised more as questions, or food-for-thought, for yourselves dear reader. Perhaps you already have an idea what capacity means to you. Perhaps you’ve never given it any consideration.
Personally I believe that our capacity is something that is in a constant state of flux. Not surprisingly when other areas of our lives are going well then we have additional capacity to deal with whatever life or the markets throw at us. And vice-versa.
I believe capacity is also something that can be built, whether we’re speaking of physical, mental, emotional or financial capacity.
“The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of bigger ideas, never returns to its original size.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes was talking about the mind – but I’d say it also covers our own capacity.
So how do we go about building capacity?
Part of building capacity is about doing it slowly in a controlled manner. If you’ve ever followed a physical training program you know that as you follow the program your fitness improves and therefore your capacity to do more increases. Or the ability to recover faster (that’s the resilience we’ll talk about in part 2)
Building mental and emotional capacity is an interesting concept. Your physical ability to handle stress and overwhelm will help – but then I’ve also worked with many super-fit clients who still had poor mental capacity. So how can you build it? Personally I think that having a wide and varied set of interests outside of trading will help you build capacity. An ability to understand and enjoy the arts, (whatever your definition of them may be) a commitment to something bigger than yourself – that does not have to mean organised religion per-se, it could mean a worthy cause or charity that is important to you. (I wrote a piece earlier this year on my personal reminiscences of volunteering and its value to traders. Please feel free to read again.) I also believe building mental capacity can even be tested through such simple acts as mental quizzes and tests that push you and keep you alert.
Strangely with building emotional capacity I can give you two simple tactics I have used. The first is about gratitude and being grateful for all the good things in your life (of which there always more than we often realise.) On the other side of the coin whatever emotional pain you’re running from, you have to turn and face it. Simple as that. The way past your pain, is through your pain. I am not advocating some masochistic search for additional pain – I am merely saying that your ability and willingness to embrace your pain will build your emotional capacity to deal with whatever life and the markets throw at you. I see lots of traders who will do anything to avoid the responsibility of losing trades (loss-aversion bias) and avoid having to feel the pain of a losing trade. This never ends well. Embrace it rather than run away from it, is my advice. Yes it will hurt – but in parts 2 & 3 we’ll talk about the resilience and grit required to achieve any great deed.
For those clients of mine, and members of the Veterans Trader Project (VTP), part of the process begins before we even switch on our screens in the morning. This we do through the ‘Psych-Fitness Exercise’ every morning whereby we determine our Psychological fitness to trade before we even commit to switching on our screens. Sometimes the most profitable thing you can do…is to stay away from the markets. Trading when you’re tired, overwhelmed, distracted, angry (insert any other destructive emotion/word you like) rarely ends well. In other words, trading when you have reduced capacity is usually a losing proposition..
Furthermore we usually know in hindsight that we probably weren’t in the right frame of mind to trade that day which merely adds to the pain. Remember every painful experience is worth 1.8 times every positive one you have. This plays into managing your self-belief and confidence. No only do you have financial capital on the line you also have emotional capital in play as well. Think of it like a bank account – you have to manage your deposits and withdrawals otherwise you’ll end up bankrupt. Another example of capacity.
I have learnt myself (the hard way, always the hard way) that I have capacity, I have resilience and I have grit. This has been a great personal strength……..and yet also a weakness of mine. It leads me to take on too many projects, too many commitments and too many burdens. Why? Because I know I have capacity and its good for me to be stretched (rather than bored – as The Smiths sang ‘The Devil makes work for idle hands’) I also know that I like to be challenged and kept learning and experiencing all that life has to offer.
With regards to managing capacity, for myself, I have found that by understanding the boundaries of the situation (a trade, a relationship, a meeting, a sports game, a battle, whatever situation you find yourself in) helps me to understand whether I have the capacity to deal with that particular situation.
In terms of tactics to use, what helps me in dealing with all situations is to think of ‘working with the C.I.A.’Now don’t be alarmed what it actually means is:
Control: What in this situation can I actually control? (Here’s a tip: it’s normally a lot less than you think.)
Influence: What in this situation can I influence? (What can I do to influence a possible positive outcome?)
Accept: What about this situation do I have to accept? (What do I just have to accept that I have no control over whatsoever, for whatever reason. Here’s another tip: it’s normally a lot more than you think.)
This simple acronym isn’t perfect but I have found over the years that it has helped me enormously to make sense of a situation (trading related or not). Once you start working with the C.I.A then you quickly learn to focus on the elements you can control and influence and find tactics to deal with the myriad of elements that you have to accept. Once your realise how little you can control, for me, it frees up my capacity to influence the situation. Because I become more focused on the things I can do – and by doing so I become more effective whilst also ensuring that I do not become overwhelmed by trying to control or manage everything.
Dealing with overwhelm and burnout in traders is a constant battle – we’ve all done it (myself included) and you quickly realise that’s not a sustainable way to operate and live your life. By working with the C.I.A. I get to focus my endeavours on the elements that I can control. By doing so I am not using all my capacity, which in itself allows me to operate more effectively. There have been periods in my own life where I have been running in the red-zone like an engine over-heating. Ideally we never want to get there – but occasionally stuff happens and we’re required to do so. It’s at that times that I’m grateful that I have the capacity to focus and deliver – and by merely focussing on elements I can control or influence I am more likely to make better choices and therefore return to normal operating levels sooner rather than later before I burn out or blow-up.
Readers Task: How would you define your own capacity? What could you do to build your own capacity? And what could you do to create an ‘early warning system’ that helps detect when you’re reaching the limits of your capacity and operating in the red-zone?