Saturday, December 16, 2017

Trading Psychology Challenges - 9: Pessimism and Negativity

Interesting research suggests that people are less able to think in creative ways when they are in negative mood states.  People are also less productive when they are down in the dumps.  When we become negative in the face of disappointing returns, we can unwittingly create a downward spiral, where we limit our insight and productivity just when we need them most.

Cognitive psychologists emphasize that it is our way of thinking about events, and not only events themselves, that shape our emotional responses.  (See Chapter 6 of The Daily Trading Coach for a number of cognitive techniques used to reshape our emotional responses.)  When we find ourselves mired in pessimism, very often it is because we are telling ourselves that we cannot win, that we are sabotaging our own success, etc.  Such self-talk is not constructive; by it's nature, it can't lead us to a solution.

As the Ward quote suggests, the answer to our challenges is not to complain or to passively hope that things will blow over.  Our job is to adjust our sails when conditions change.  When we trade poorly, perhaps we have shifted in our ways of trading, becoming overconfident or fearful.  Alternatively, perhaps we're trading in our usual ways, but markets themselves have shifted.  As we've seen in the last couple of years, approaches to trading that have worked in the past (short term momentum/breakout trading, for example) can dramatically fail when the environment changes radically.  Either way, when winds blow against us, we need to either adjust ourselves or adjust our trading--and sometimes both.

A helpful step in breaking negativity and pessimism is to think of your self-talk as self-coaching.  We are always talking to ourselves about performance, opportunity, mistakes, and risks.  If we view that self-talk as self-coaching, we can ask the questions, "How well am I coaching myself?  Would I coach someone else in this way?  Would I want an actual trading coach talking to me the way I'm speaking to myself?  Is this coaching really going to move me forward?"

The essence of cognitive work is thinking about our thinking.  When we focus on learning and improvement, we move ourselves forward--in trading and in our psychology.