Thursday, November 24, 2022

Trading Consciously

Note:  The following is from an essay I wrote a couple of decades ago, recently discovered in a stash of old papers.

A therapy for the mentally well begins with the realization that change is impossible while we remain in our habitual states of consciousness.  Talking about our problems or working on changing behavior while remaining in our characteristic states is like trying to improve the reception on a TV by switching channels.  "What can one do in sleep?" Ouspensky asks his students.  "One can only have different dreams--bad dreams, good dreams, but in the same bed.  The dreams may be different, but the bed is the same".

Such is the state of most coaching, counseling, and therapy.  It changes the content of our thoughts, but we remain in the same "bed".  True change requires that we awaken and rise from our bed.  Because when we can access different states of consciousness, we become able to process self-relevant information in qualitatively different, creative, and constructive ways.  

Several days ago I found myself running late for a morning meeting.  In a frenzy, I attempted to beat the clock by getting myself dressed, quickly checking the overnight trading in the financial markets, and getting my children ready for school.  I went to the closet to get my jacket, but it was nowhere to be found.  Twice I scanned the rack and could not find the jacket.  Meanwhile, the clock was ticking and I was growing frustrated with my mounting lateness.  Suddenly, without premeditation, I closed my eyes and evoked a piece of music that I have come to equate with a clear and calm state of mind.  I calmly walked back to the closet and began looking for the jacket between the hanging garments.  Sure enough, it had fallen off its hanger and was caught between two other articles of clothing.

What is important in all this is that, in my ordinary state of consciousness, I was incapable of seeing between the garments.  The jacket was lost as long as I remained in my normal mode.  Only once I had shifted to another state was I able to see.  How much else lies "between the garments", unseen, while we fuss and fume through the racks of life?

Ouspensky was correct:  As long as we believe we're conscious, we do not take the steps to live--and trade--consciously.

Further Reading:

Trading With a Higher Consciousness

How We Tranceform the Mindscape

A Radical Method for Quieting the Mind


Friday, November 18, 2022

Relapse Prevention: A Neglected Topic In Trading Psychology


A savvy trader at SMB Capital reached out with a dilemma.  Each month he creates a new goal to work on, but to his dismay he has found that, once he moves on to a new goal, a previous problem resurfaces!  Psychologists refer to this as the problem of relapse.  Old patterns of thought, action, and feeling become ingrained habits.  They are not only learned, but overlearned.  It is relatively easy to change a habit pattern when we put full attention to doing things differently.  It is also easy to fall back into that pattern when our attention is turned elsewhere.

This is a neglected topic in trading psychology.  We talk about making changes, but not so much about maintaining those changes.

It is discouraging to make a change and feel that you're making progress, only to fall back into old ways and re-experience negative consequences.  But relapse is an intrinsic part of the change process.  We will always relapse until we have turned our new, constructive patterns into positive habit patterns.  That means that we have to rehearse and rehearse and repeat and repeat our positive changes day after day until they become automatic, natural parts of us.  If we need to muster motivation and effort every time we want to do things constructively, we'll never be able to direct our willpower toward new goals. 

This is where psychological resilience is important.  When we relapse, we want to summon our determination to change and say that "This is not how my story will end!"  If I relapse after three weeks of positive change, that's progress compared with relapsing every week.  Relapse is a detour, not a failure.  If we're truly learning and growing, we make special efforts to learn from our relapses.  That enables us to respond differently and constructively to the situations that may have triggered our old ways.

What I emphasized to the smart trader who raised the question is that you never want to let go of Goal #1 when you formulate Goal #2.  Change is never a straight line.  We always need to be working on our old patterns, even as we tackle new ones.  As I emphasize in The Daily Trading Coach, we defeat relapse through repetition.

Further Reading:

The Power of Regret in the Change Process

The Secret to Changing Our Selves


Sunday, November 13, 2022

Strong Two Day Rally: What Comes Next?


We've seen stocks trade solidly higher for the past two trading sessions.  What has been notable about the move is not simply how strongly we've bounced, but the breadth of the rise.  Notably, we closed the week with over 80% of all SPX stocks trading above their 3, 5, 10, 20, and 50 day moving averages.  Think about what that means:  the great majority of shares are quite strong on multiple time levels.  This generally occurs when money managers and large institutional investors allocate more of their capital to equities as an asset class.  Such allocation is typically not a short-term, tactical decision.

My breadth database goes back to 2006, encompassing almost 4000 trading sessions.  Interestingly, over that period, we've only seen 45 occasions with over 80% of stocks closing above those moving averages.  Such breadth thrust is relatively rare.  Over the next few days, there has been no distinct directional edge, but we begin to detect momentum 20+ days out.  Specifically, over the next 50 trading sessions, the SPX has been up 39 times, down 6 times for an average gain of +3.41% vs. +1.95% for the remainder of the sample.

My preference is to measure breadth in multiple ways and look for occasions in which backtests line up.  On Thursday, we saw 854 stocks across the NYSE universe close above their upper Bollinger Bands.  That database goes back to 2019, and Thursday's reading was the highest over that period.  Since 2019, when we've had more than 400 stocks close above their upper bands (N = 13), the next 20 days were up 10 times, down 3, for an average gain of +2.72%, compared with an average gain of +.81% for the remainder of the sample.

To be sure, market history is no guarantee of the market's future, but we can find probabilistic edges by understanding the behavior of market participants.  When institutions are reallocating capital to stocks, it pays (on average) to swim with the current and not against it.  It is a big mistake to think that trading psychology is simply about our own psychology.  Some of the best edges, in trading as in poker, come from reading the psychology of those on the other side.

Further Reading:

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Trading Psychology Advice - 3: Solution-Focused Trading


The first post in this series emphasized the importance of getting the right kind of help--mentoring vs. coaching--for your trading challenges.  The second post stressed the value of structuring your learning processes the right way, by first pursuing competence and then by cultivating expertise.  In this third and final post, I highlight a valuable approach to making changes--in life and in trading.    

The solution-focused approach that I write about in Trading Psychology 2.0 and throughout this blog reflects a unique psychological perspective.  Instead of solely focusing on our problems, we should examine occasions in which our problem patterns don't occur.  Very often, it is in the exceptions to our problems that we can identify what we are doing right.  So, for example, let's say that I have a problem with trading emotionally and impulsively during periods of frustration.  Well, I don't go on tilt every time something doesn't go my way, so what am I doing to not become overemotional at those times?  Upon reflection, perhaps I'm talking to myself differently on those occasions.  Perhaps my positions are sized or structured differently.  Whatever I'm doing when my problems don't occur could offer the kernels of solutions.  What's great is that these are solutions genuine to me:  ones that are already working.  

Furthermore, the exceptions to our problem patterns are usually there because they reflect some underlying strengths that we can leverage personally and professionally.  For example, I may find that I trade much more selectively and avoid marginal trades when I talk out my ideas with a trading partner or teammate and when they do the same with me.  My strengths in processing information interpersonally (talking aloud rather than writing or keeping ideas in my head) and my social strengths (enjoying working with others and helping them) enable me to be my best self during my trading.

What I've shared in my writings is that, in some measure, you are already the trader you seek to become.  The exceptions to your problems hold the key to your solutions.  By doing more and more of what works, we can become more and more of who we hope to be.  

Further Reading:

Keys to Solution-Focused Trading

Learning How to Lose