Thursday, June 13, 2019

Trading Psychology Techniques - 8: Overcoming Frustration

The last post in this series focused on ways of overcoming our trading fears.  Many times, it is frustration that can take a trader out of the zone and disrupt trading plans, including risk management.  When trades don't work out--or when we miss good opportunities--there is plenty of room for anger and frustration.  Frustration occurs when we have a strong set of desires or needs and those are thwarted.  Getting stuck in a traffic jam when we have to make an appointment is a great example.  

There are two types of methods that can help us overcome frustration:

1)  Behavioral - This would include relaxation/visualization exercises, biofeedback work, and meditation.  In these techniques, we learn to recognize the signs of frustration as they are occurring (angry thoughts, physiological arousal, pounding the table, etc.).  We then pull back from the frustrating situation and perform exercises that calm us and require us to sustain focus.  For example, in meditation we might slow and deepen our breathing, keeping it quite regular, while we maintain focus on a peaceful image.  By entering cognitive and physical states incompatible with frustration, we can short circuit the anger and prevent it from dominating our actions and decisions.  One powerful variation of the behavioral method is to engage in guided imagery when we are not trading and vividly imagine scenarios that normally might frustrate you.  While you are imagining the frustrating scenes in great detail, you are keeping yourself chilled:  slow, deep breathing, maintaining stillness, etc.  Doing this exercise repeatedly allows you to internalize the calm response when the frustrating situation occurs in real life.  The key is repetition, so that your calming becomes an automatic response to situations that don't work out.

2)  Cognitive - Cognitive methods look at our thoughts and mind states as triggers for our emotional responses.  As the above quote suggests, frustrations are generally preceded by strong expectations and needs.  If we strongly expect a trade to work out--and, even more, if we need it to work out--we set ourselves up for frustration when our scenario doesn't play out.  Such expectations and needs occur when we place too much ego into our trading, so that our feelings about ourselves rise and fall with our profits and losses.  One technique that works well for me is to size initial positions moderately and view the initial trade as a hypothesis.  If my hypothesis is disconfirmed, I can take a modest loss and use that information to potentially take a trade in the other direction.  By viewing my idea as a hypothesis rather than a conclusion, I am mentally prepared to be wrong and, indeed, am in a mindset where I can accept the loss as money well spent for market information.  Risk management is a powerful tool for keeping frustration manageable.  I never want to lose so much in one day that I can't come back over the course of the week.  I never want to lose so much in a week that I can't go green on the month.  When we can frame losses as challenges, they can energize us, not frustrate us.

Trading with too little capital and expecting unrealistic returns to make a wonderful living set us up for disappointment and frustration.  I know developing traders who view each day and week as a verdict on whether or not they'll succeed at what they're doing.  That is simply too stressful for the purpose of maintaining consistency in trading.  We are much more likely to be consistent in our trading if we sustain a consistent mindframe.  That means training ourselves to accept and learn from losses and treat them as learning opportunities, not as existential threats.  Practice in behavioral and cognitive methods can help us create positive habit patterns that defuse frustration and keep us in control of our trading.

Previous Posts in This Series: