Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Good Way to Beat a Bad Attitude

Everyone knows what it's like to be in an attitude funk.  Perhaps it's been a long, slow drawdown; problems in your personal life; an overload of work; a lingering illness; or some combination thereof.  Nothing seems to be going right and nothing is making you particularly happy.  Thoughts and feelings shade to the negative, you're feeling grumpy, and you don't exactly feel like being around other people--especially if they're killing it in markets!

Research tells us that we perform best when we're drawing on strengths and are most vulnerable to burnout when the intensity of our work efforts crowd out the sources of our rejuvenation.  When our willpower is sapped and things aren't going well, it is difficult to access the positivity needed to emerge from an attitude funk.  An absence of positives, not just a surplus of negatives, can weigh on our mood and energy level.

One key to emerging from a bad attitude is making the transition from noun-thinking to verb-thinking.  In the noun-thinking mode, a negative attitude is something we have; we own it.  In verb mode, a negative attitude is something we're doing--we can control it.  More specifically, any attitude reflects our conversations with ourselves:  it is the direct result of our self-talk.  If we tell ourselves we're not doing well and nothing works, we will feel defeated and frustrated.  If we talk to ourselves in ways we'd never want to hear from others, we'll experience attitudes that we'd never want to be around.  

Once we switch lenses to the verb mode, we can see that our attitude is nothing more than the tone of our internal conversation.  Perfectionistic self-talk that emphasizes where we fell short leaves us feeling like we're falling short.  Worry talk about the future leaves us less than energized about pursuing the future.  Our attitude is our relationship to ourselves, made visible.  If we have a caring, supportive relationship to ourselves, we're more likely to face life with gratitude than attitude.

So, in the spirit of verb-thinking, here's a specific activity that can turn negative attitudes around:

Every time you catch yourself criticizing yourself or thinking negatively about your trading performance, write in a thought diary one or two constructive steps that you will take that day and week to make an improvement.  A great way to generate those constructive steps is to reflect on past positive experience and performance and identify what you did well at those times.  Those steps become your near-term goals and your subsequent focus.  It is important that what you write becomes what you do:  goals must turn into action plans. 

In other words, a good thought diary turns negative thinking into constructive thinking:  every self-criticism is answered with a positive change focus.  Negative thinking says, "I'm not doing good enough."  Constructive thinking says, "I'm making myself better."  

That's how we make positive experience a verb rather than a noun:  we can't always defeat a negative attitude with a positive one--sometimes things just aren't positive.  But we can always overcome a focus on what's bad with a focus on what we can improve.  Having a good attitude doesn't hinge on doing well; it is the result of appreciating the ways in which we're getting ever better.

Further Reading:  The Power of Opposites