Thursday, April 12, 2018

Preventing Trading Stress From Becoming Trading Distress

All true performance activities bring stress.  That is because true performers care about winning.  There may be external pressures to win, but for the best, there are always internal pressures.  Elite performance demands that we push the envelope and attempt to perform at our best.  That demand--that stress--can be a great motivator.  

Stress in itself is not a negative.  It is an inherent part of any activity in which near-term outcomes truly matter.  

Sometimes it is important in life to minimize stress, particularly in areas that aren't central our most important life activities and goals.  For example, when I fly for work or vacations, I select the flights that have the best on-time percentage to their destinations.  That greatly minimizes the probability of delayed or canceled flights.  Margie and I recently found a two-year certificate of deposit with a yield very close to the yield on 10-year Treasuries.  For our savings, that's good enough.  We don't want to have to be concerned with price movement for that portion of our money.

Reducing sources of stress in more peripheral areas of life helps us stay focused on the most central areas of life.

It is in the central areas that we experience the need to do well and the demands of performance.  That is why it can be stressful to be a parent, a trader, or an entrepreneur.  Many retired people lose those central areas of life and experience few performance demands.  That is not necessarily a blissful life.  Happiness--doing fun things--is not enough for many people.  We also need fulfillment, and challenge is one important source of fulfillment.

How we handle stress determines whether it will be a motivator or a source of dis-stress.  

A great way to turn stress into distress is to make performance activities our only or main source of fulfillment.  Then we have much more than PnL on the line.  Our entire sense of self can feel jeopardized.  Often, it's not the trading that is stressing us out.  It's our investing our sense of worth in our trading results.  If you can experience yourself as a successful, fulfilled person even when your PnL is not moving higher, you know you are well diversified emotionally.  If you can't experience yourself positively during times of drawdown or flat performance, no tweaking of your trading will address that underlying vulnerability.

We can perform well when trading is important to us and when that importance pushes us to continually learn, adapt, and improve.  We can perform quite poorly when trading is all-important and outcomes control our sense of self.  A great way of reducing trading stress is to improve fulfillment outside of trading.

Further Readings: