Sunday, April 22, 2007

Handling Performance Anxiety: More Views From Readers

I recently posted comments from readers regarding ways of handling performance anxiety. In this post, I'll summarize emailed ideas from readers and also add a few thoughts of my own. Because these readers opted to email me rather than comment publicly, I am not mentioning them by name to preserve their anonymity.

* Trader O recommends a book by Terry Orlick entitled In Pursuit of Excellence: How to Win in Sport and Life Through Mental Training. Orlick is a former Olympic athlete and coach and has worked with many Olympians on mental training. His methods include focused goal setting, visualization, relaxation, and methods to block out distraction. Recall that performance anxiety occurs when concerns about the outcomes of performances interfere with the actual act of performing. By learning how to direct awareness and achieve a state of focused concentration, a performer can become immersed in the act of performing. For instance, during my best trades I focus intensely on what various sectors are doing and how volume is behaving. My thoughts are on how the market is trading, not on whether my trade will make money. As Trader O and the book suggest, one can train oneself to sustain such focus as a positive habit pattern.

* Trader M observes that "The most effective technique I use for dealing with anxiety is to remember that anxiety is missing the letter ‘d’. There is no entry in any English dictionary entered as “andxiety”." His excellent point is that we tend to lapse into thought patterns where we see ourselves as either all good or all bad. Anxiety can be seen as a form of justice, pushing us toward a more balanced perspective. The word "and" itself adds a balancing element, reminding us that we are subject to both good and bad: winning and losing. This simple reminder--by turning "anxiety" into "andxiety"--helps a trader think and feel with "and". That's a balanced perspective that doesn't put pressure on the performer.

* Trader S recommends the book Emotional Intelligence and its description of methods to resolve problematic emotional patterns. He particularly mentions becoming aware of your own breathing, especially when it becomes short and shallow. By purposely elongating those breaths, he is able to slow himself down both mentally and physically. He has used the Journey to the Wild Divine biofeedback software to help him learn to control his body's arousal. Finally, after undergoing some traumatic losses, Trader S. has limited himself to trading one contract and losing only $100 per trade. This takes the possibility of large losses entirely off the table and enables him to regain confidence. In my next post, I will outline some of my own uses of biofeedback to deal with performance pressures. This can be a very useful tool for self control.

* Trader A mentions a technique from a book that helped him greatly when he started a new trading position with a firm. He kept a daily journal and wrote down the time of day whenever he experienced feelings of panic regarding his trading. He then wrote down the time of day when that anxiety subsided. Although it seemed as though the nervousness was lasting a long time, he could see that, in fact, it only lasted a few minutes at most. Each time he repeated the exercise, the duration of the anxiety period lessened. This is an excellent method, because it reinforces for the trader the sense of "This, too, shall pass." It is one easy way to deal with secondary anxiety: the fear of becoming anxious.

* Trader F recently went through a harrowing loss and dealt with it by shedding half his position and protecting his remaining capital. He notes that such a loss can spiral, taking a trader out of his discipline and interfering with subsequent opportunities. I believe his basic point is so important : we should always have loss limits in place that we can live with. This takes much of the pressure off of losing. I personally try to ensure that no single loss in a day's trade could prevent me from having a green week; no single losing week could prevent me from being up on the month. The key is to have control over one's losses, rather than letting them control you.

Once again, I thank readers for sharing their experiences and life lessons. One great advantage of a blog is that it can become a two-way vehicle for communication, in which we learn from each other's experiences. In the last post and this one, readers have written a virtual manual regarding how to overcome performance pressure. My next post in this series will offer a few perspectives of my own and attempt to contribute to that manual.