Friday, January 01, 2010

Learning Optimism and Building Motivation

The recent post on attributional style illustrated how our ways of thinking about events and their causes affects both mood and motivation. People with pessimistic explanatory styles are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and diminished motivation; those with optimistic styles are more likely to experience well-being and enhanced motivation.

Here is an online questionnaire that assesses your attributional style in terms of optimism and pessimism.

The research of Seligman and his team suggests that people can learn optimistic styles of thinking. The key, he explains, is not positive thinking, but thinking that is not negative. By avoiding cognitive patterns that dampen motivation, we can make fullest use of our talents and skills.

This is an important idea for traders. When frustrated traders attribute losses to general and persistent forces beyond their control ("the markets are obviously manipulated"; "high frequency programs have taken the edge away from traders"), there is no way that they can summon the motivation to make corrective efforts in trading and improve performance.

Fortunately, few people (other than, perhaps, people with depression-related problems) carry such explanatory styles to all parts of their lives. While they might attribute problems in trading to external, global, and persistent causes, they might view good parenting (or being a good spouse) as situation-based and within their control, with problems being merely transient.

In a solution-focused vein, the pessimistic trader needs to find those areas of life in which he or she functions optimistically and then recruit that "personality" to the trading arena. This is one reason I find it very helpful to have traders reflect upon how they would talk to a trading buddy who was in their situation. Often, traders who are most negative in their own thinking can rise above such styles when talking to others and stay constructive and optimistic.

In my counseling and coaching work, I encourage people to think of themselves as comprised of many "personalities". Who we are in social situations can be different from who we are by ourselves; who we are at work can differ greatly from who we are at play. Once we get a handle on these personalities, we can make constructive efforts to bring one "self" into situations that had been dominated by another "self".

At first it feels like role-playing, but over time--with the positive feedback of experience--the role feels increasingly natural and becomes part of us. In being the person we would like to be, we find the path of becoming more than who we are.