Saturday, June 13, 2009

Overcoming Procrastination

Many times traders know the right things to do--prepare thoroughly for the day's trading, set goals, review performance, maintain a journal--but never get around to doing it consistently. How many times have we told ourselves that we will diet, exercise, or get work done around the home only to let it slide another day, week, month, or year?

Why do people procrastinate? Is it because they don't really want to do what they feel they should be doing? Is it because they have a need for self-sabotage? Is it because of deep, hidden conflicts?

The recent post on psychological energy and life success raises a different possibility: We procrastinate when the *how* of making efforts does not draw upon our distinctive strengths and values. If we can find a way to pursue our goals in a way that is "user friendly"--that makes use of our skills and interests--suddenly we will have ample motivation to make efforts toward those goals.

Let's say I want to get into better physical shape. Telling myself to get up 45 minutes earlier each morning and hit the jogging path or weight machine may not lead to consistent follow through. If I'm a social person, however, and join an exercise class, suddenly I've created a new experience for myself. Having bonded with class members, I'm less likely to let them down by not showing up. Indeed, I may derive considerable motivation from helping them out. Suddenly the procrastination melts away.

When I first began simulated trading, it was easy to skip sessions, quit early, etc. No money was on the line, and I could always engage in the simulations later. When I made the simulated trading a competitive activity, however, and tracked my performance week over week to gauge improvement, suddenly I no longer wanted to skip a session and register no profits for that day. Turning a learning task into a competitive one eliminated the procrastination.

One trader I worked with recently could not sustain journal writing to save his soul. I finally asked him how he liked writing in general. He said that he has always hated reading and writing and wasn't good at those subjects from his early school days. I suggested that we keep a "talking journal" by holding regular phone conversations and letting me take notes as we talked. Those notes would be his journal, which he could review on his own during the week. He was excited by the idea and has sustained the "talking journal" ever since.

Much of procrastination is the result of trying to do the right things in the wrong ways. The answer to procrastination is not to push harder on a slack motivational string. Rather, we need to be as creative in *how* we pursue goals as in the definition of the goals themselves. When we're in the sweet spot of our strengths and values, efforts come with surprisingly little effort.