Sunday, March 31, 2019

What Is YOUR Self-Talk?

The latest Forbes article makes the case that self-talk is destiny.  How we process the world--and how we talk to ourselves about ourselves and world--shapes our reality.  That, in turn, defines what we experience as possible and impossible and shapes our actions.  Nowhere is this more true than in trading, where we are constantly dealing with issues of being right and wrong, uncertainty, and making/losing money.

If you click on the above graphic, you'll see a matrix that describes four styles of self-talk.  These styles can be positive or negative in their emotional tone and they can either increase or reduce the energy available to us.  Let's take a look at the four styles and what they might mean for you:

Challenging - This is self-talk that pushes us to do better, do more, and tackle new and larger goals.  

Worrying - This is self-talk that anticipates negative outcomes in the future, triggering fight or flight responses.

Calming - This is self-talk that reassures and puts things into perspective, dampening negative feelings and keeping us focused.

Self-Blaming - This is negative self-talk directed against oneself, dampening initiative and generating depressed feelings.

Clearly, at different times we may engage in different self-talk.  Much of trading psychology talks about dealing with negative emotions (worry, frustration, self-blame) and ways of sticking to trading plans (calming, focusing).  That is an important shift.

The Forbes article adopts a different perspective, however.  Just as we are in danger of living lives that are too sedentary (creating health risks), we can adopt mindsets that are too sedentary.  Many of us can deal with adversity by calming ourselves and avoiding undue worry and self-blame, but not many of us consistently talk to ourselves in challenging and energizing ways.

Take a look at the work of Emilia Lahti and David Goggins cited in the Forbes article.  These are peak performing professionals who have used unusual physical challenges to push their mindsets to redefine what is possible.  A useful exercise is to listen to a David Goggins video clip and think of his talk as your self-talk.  This kind of challenging talk is often found in athletic settings and in the military, but rarely do we see it in office settings--and rarely do I find it on trading floors.

It's great to reassure ourselves, accept losses, and find learning lessons in our setbacks.  That is necessary for a solid trading psychology, but is it sufficient?  If our self-talk is not intensely challenging, how will we intensively tackle new challenges?  A calm mindset is helpful at times, but sedentary calm will never rouse us to do better, do more, and throw ourselves into challenges that expand who we are and what we can do. 

How inspiring and challenging is your self-talk?

Further Reading: