Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Goal Setting and Well-Being: Antidotes to Frustration

In the most recent post in this series, we saw that frustration generally only disrupts thought and behavior when it occurs against a backdrop of diminished well-being. If people don't feel fulfilled, happy, and satisfied with their lives, they're more prone to react--and overreact--to the normal frustrations of daily life.

What is well-being? A previous post outlined four pillars of positive psychological experience. That post concluded: "The wise trader structures his or her day to maximize experiences of well-being: that is what sustains motivation, concentration, and the ongoing learning needed to adapt to ever-changing markets."

This is an important principle: how we structure our trading determines the level of well-being we are likely to experience.

Consider the recent article that I linked about basketball superstar Kobe Bryant. At 31 years of age--and after 14 years in the NBA--he can no longer sustain his old feats of athleticism. Surely that would have to be a source of considerable frustration to such a competitor.

The article makes clear, however, that Kobe is not beset with frustration in the least. Rather, he has focused on developing new aspects of his game that compensate for his lost abilities. This positive focus is what sustains his well-being, balancing any frustrations that he encounters from game to game.

Check out the linkfest on goal-setting; it makes clear that goals cement learning and development in trading. When we have goals, we have tangible yardsticks for measuring our progress. Those yardsticks, when properly chosen, provide the basis for joy, satisfaction, and energy: they move us forward, even as we encounter day-to-day and trade-by-trade frustrations.

My experience is that the vast majority of traders do not set daily, weekly, and longer-term goals. Even fewer concretely track their progress toward those goals and make needed adjustments. In short, they are not pursuing their careers the way that a Kobe Bryant or Tiger Woods might.

This absence of goals and structured development not only prevents a trader from excelling: it robs the trader of potential positive experience. Every bodybuilder knows that specific goals--whether they be goals to lift particular weights or goals to improve the definition of certain parts of the body--are what sustain competitors through grueling training. Without the opportunity to achieve goals, physical training (like training in trading) is mere drudgery.

Few traders make the link between discipline problems and the absence of performance-oriented goals. You can do all the psychological exercises in the world, but if you're not structuring your development process to yield well-being, you'll miss out on the optimism, drive, and determination that propel elite performers.