Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Vision and the Goals: The First Steps of Brief Therapy

In my recent post, I described a set of change techniques that I refer to as "therapies for the mentally well". These brief, intensive approaches to change are very different from the traditional talk therapies that come to most people's minds when they think of psychology. In coming posts, I will be describing some of the specific methods and how they can be employed in trading situations--and any other life situations in which performance matters.

I also mentioned in that earlier post, however, that these techniques are not the first steps in a change process. Rather, it is crucial to establish goals for change: to know what it is you want to change in the first place.

That is not so easy. We become so engrossed in getting by from day to day, with responsibilities at work and home, that the big picture of our lives stays in the background. Year after year we busy ourselves with work and routines, only later in life to realize that opportunities have passed us by.

So the first question to address in a change process is, "What do you want to change?" Or, stated otherwise, "How would you like your life to be different?"

The usual responses to this question involve eliminating or reducing some negative state of affairs: "I want to stop thinking negatively;" "I want to be less anxious"; or "I want to argue less in my relationship". Even when there is a positive response, it is often so vague that no one can truly act upon it: "I want to feel better about myself" or "I want to be a better trader".

The absence of concrete, actionable goals--and a clear vision for the future--is a main reason we stay submerged in daily minutiae, getting by but not necessarily getting ahead.

If your life is a canvas and you are the painter, what will the finished work look like? Will it be a work of art, with a theme and integrity of its own, or will it be a random assemblage of colors and shapes without meaning or significance? A painter captures his or her vision on a canvas. What is your vision for your life's canvas?

Here's a useful exercise that might help you answer that question:

Imagine your death. You have died, and on the gravestone is inscribed an epitaph. What is written on that stone? What does it describe of what you've left behind and the impact you've had during your life? Imagine very specifically what you would like that stone to say.

Now imagine that you've received the results of medical tests from your physician. No doubt about it: you've got five years at most left in your life. There is no possible cure or remission for your disease. Within five years, your epitaph will have been written.

What would you do during those five years? Would you make radical changes and do things very different from what you've been doing, or would you simply continue on your existing path at perhaps a more urgent pace? What would you need to do during those five years to earn the epitaph you want at the very end of your life?

If what you would do to earn the epitaph is very different from what you're doing now, you quite likely are on the wrong path. You'll find your proper goals in the activities you'd stuff into those remaining five years: those, most likely, would contain the essence of what you would find meaningful, what you would like to accomplish, what you would want to leave behind.

Learning the techniques to make life changes is really the easy part. The harder part is knowing which changes you truly want to make and keeping those topmost of your mind. Mark Twain once advised people to never let their schooling interfere with their education. Similarly, it's important to not let life interfere with living.

You don't want to be that person, regretful at the end of life, hurting and having hurt others. A canvas and a rich array of paints lies in front of you. All that matters is what you make of that opportunity: to face the end with pride, fulfillment, and the sense of having made a work of art of the life you'd been given.