Monday, July 30, 2007

When Traders Lose Confidence - Part Three: Structuring Your Experience

In the first post in this series, I suggested that a first step in regaining confidence is establishing perspective on the reasons for trading problems. The second post emphasized the role of self-talk in confidence and ways of changing one's internal dialogue. This final post in the series explains how we can structure our experience to build confidence.

As background for this post, I strongly recommend revisiting the post on the Devon Principle. A major theme of that post is that everything we do in life is a mirror. We experience ourselves through our life activities and the feedback that these provide.

I find this to be a profound psychological principle. What we call the "self"--how we experience ourselves--is the result of all that we internalize from people and events. If we are in loving relationships, for example, we experience ourselves as worthy of love. If we are in abusive relationships, we probably won't feel worthy and, amazingly, may even seek out similarly unhealthy relationships.

Because we are always having new experiences--and can internalize these--we are always, to some degree, remaking who we are. When I went through my emergency surgery in a very unfamiliar social environment (one in which I was the only native English speaker), I experienced people of different cultures in a very new context. Afterward, neighborhoods in that area that I might have previously regarded as "scary" now struck me as familiar. I recently revisited one of those neighborhoods on a trip to NY and had dinner without giving it a second thought. I felt confident walking the streets, because the social environment was no longer foreign to me.

Every activity we engage in provides us with feedback about ourselves: our abilities, how we're perceived by others, our character. In selecting what we do, who we do it with, and how we do it, we can structure our experience to create mirrors of success and mastery. When I first began writing, I chose to write articles for minor academic journals. The editors had more time for me than those at the more popular, top journals, and I gained valuable feedback. The experience of publishing for those journals gave me the incentive (and courage!) to pursue the more selective publications and that, in turn, led to the first of several books and many book chapters.

I did not start out as a confident writer; the process provided me with experiences of success that, over time, stuck with me. Had I structured my experience differently--pursuing topics that didn't interest me, that I didn't know much about, or that weren't relevant to the editors--the resulting failure and frustration would have led me to a damaged experience of myself as a writer.

Experience is our psychological food; it's vital that we feed ourselves well.

But what does it mean to structure our experience and feed ourselves well psychologically?

* Relationships - We are most apt to feel special if we're special to others. Nothing is as damaging as significant relationships that lack significance;

* Learning Curves - By setting doable goals, identifying and expanding strengths, and receiving feedback from others, we internalize a growing sense of mastery;

* Trading - By managing risk prudently, we give ourselves time to traverse our learning curves--and we avoid the damaging impact of severe losses;

* Exercise - We cannot experience ourselves as dynamic and energetic if we exert little dynamism and energy. Exercise provides us with our most immediate, physical sense of self;

* Doing the Right Things - When we act with integrity and see the impact of our behavior, we internalize the sense that we are good and worthy. We are most likely to find success if we internalize a deep sense that we deserve it.

The reason I'm effective as a psychologist, I believe, is not because I'm all that more educated than others or utilize such better techniques. Rather, I have an uncanny ability to see the best in people; to push aside the problems of the moment and see through to qualities of greatness that are present within most of us, however fleetingly. It's because I see the best in people that I can be a good mirror--and help others see in themselves what they otherwise cannot appreciate on their own.

Confidence comes from the right kind of mirroring--and we can choose our mirrors. Look at each day's activities; each week's schedule. How does each activity make you feel about you? It's how you structure those activities that will either contribute to self-esteem or rob you of the confidence that could be yours.