Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How To Change Yourself

People come to psychologists to make changes in their lives. Sometimes, those changes are to build upon strengths. Other times, the changes are to solve problems.

We have a “real” self—the person we think we are—and an “ideal” self: the person we would like to be.

The psychologist’s job is to bring us a bit closer to that ideal self, either by changing our real selves, redefining our ideals, or both.

But how do people change? How do we move closer to our ideals?

A most important psychological principle is that everything we do and everyone we interact with is a kind of mirror. We experience ourselves through our activities and contacts and, over time, those experiences are internalized and become part of our self –concepts.

A work task mirrors for us whether or not we’re capable, creative, and reliable. An interaction with a valued person mirrors for us whether or not we’re liked, loved, and valued.

People do not change in a vacuum. They change because they enter into situations that mirror new experiences of themselves. Being in a loving relationship after having been in bad relationships or being in a fulfilling job after having been mired in low-level work can be profound change experiences.

This is why counseling and therapy works: it provides a significant relationship as a medium for fresh, positive mirroring experiences. A depressed or abused person who feels worthless finds in therapy a validating experience that gradually becomes part of the self.

This is a key principle: We are the sum of our mirroring experiences. If we are in unfulfilling, frustrating situations in work and love, we will experience ourselves negatively. If we are in situations that bring out the best in us, we will develop positive views of ourselves.

The psychologist George Kelly realized the power of mirroring and developed an approach to change that he called “fixed-role therapy”. In a nutshell, he asked his clients to invent a person who represented their ideal self in some fashion. This fictional character was given a name and described (in writing) in great detail.

Once this ideal character was defined, the challenge was to play-act that character in a variety of life situations. In other words, Kelly had people role-play their ideals, making sure they stayed strictly in character.

What Kelly found was that, over time, people received positive feedback about these enactments that made them easier to sustain over time. Eventually, the ideal behaviors didn’t feel like an act at all. They became part of the person’s repertoire.

If you want to make a change, you won’t do it by talking yourself into it or through motivation. Rather, find a social context in which you can be the change you want to make. The resulting feedback will be the mirror by which you’ll experience yourself as your ideal and make that ideal a genuine part of you.

A big part of being happy and successful is finding the right set of life mirrors. And *that* is why finding your trading niche is so important.


The Devon Principle


bryan said...

Great post, Doc. Therapy often appears to be a daunting subject area with so many different schools of thought. You provide a any extremely clear definition that few practitioners would disagree with. Not easily done!

Anatrader said...


By finding a role model, we could thereby mirror ourselves to as close to the ideal we have in mind.

Finding a niche as a Learning Loop from your book Enhancing Trader Performance is a sure way to go.

contrary canary said...

I agree, nice post, I think life is complicated enough and it helps to have a clear template or ideal model in mind, as you describe, to try to help us be all that we can be. As a trader and as a person.

jsp9999 said...

I learn more about how to live life than how to trade, not in negative sense. It really consolidate my otherwise scattered thoughts. Thanks.

NQTrader said...

To change, one must DO.

timothy_aldous said...


Good article. Your 2nd last paragraph left me hangin'.

Can you give me an example of a social context that would help me become a better trader? It's kinda hard to find groups of traders to hang out with. How do I behave like the trader I want to be?

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for the comments on the post; I appreciate the feedback. I believe online communities have significant potential to serve as social contexts for trading development, especially peer groups that you might create out of like-minded souls that trade similar markets. One reason I like simulation as a learning tool is that it enables traders to achieve positive mirroring experiences with new trading styles without undergoing risk to capital.


Kulbir Singh Bachher said...


Dear Breet ,
M a equity analyst into the market from 4 years , and have been trying to upcome manny of my pschological factors which hamper my trading and analysis system . as u have said in the article that its better to find a ROLE MODEL in order to mirror our self , but dont u think its better we try to be A MODEL by trying to see a changed person in ourself by vision him and as the LAW OF ATTRACTION says we might soon become like it by continiously viewing him.

Khoi Ly said...

Thanks Brett for all your articles related to self improvement (either as a person or a trader).

Kulbir, I think that's what Brett referred to as fixed-role therapy from George Kelly.