Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Self Respect: The Missing Ingredient in Our Efforts to Grow

A friendship or romantic relationship can get through many ups and downs.  At times, during our hurt, it can feel as though our affection has vanished.  Often, however, we can return to closeness because our very hurt tells us we care.  Indeed, relationships can grow stronger from periods of disappointment.

What relationships cannot survive is a loss of respect.  When we feel disappointment and hurt, often it's because of actions that the other person has taken.  When we feel a loss of respect, it's because the other person's character has come into question.  We can tolerate a disagreement with a spouse or business partner and often grow from the resolution.  What is far more difficult to accept is betrayal and dishonesty.  The person we trusted is not the person we had hoped for.  The issue is not bad actions, but bad actors.

Once respect is lost, can there be genuine caring, liking, and love?

Missing in many discussions of personal growth and positive psychology is the element of self-respect.  If we value and respect ourselves, we naturally gravitate to what is good for us and avoid what is damaging.  In the past, I was offered opportunities to work with trading firms that I knew treated their traders badly.  I didn't bother to find out the compensation.  I said no.  It was exactly the same reason that I don't want to put harmful drugs in my body or maintain abusive relationships.  When we respect ourselves, our actions align with our well-being.

When we do things that we know to be bad for us or stay in situations we know to be harmful despite the presence of constructive alternatives, we act on the premise of self-disrespect.  How we treat ourselves is our relationship with our selves.  What we pursue in life is a reflection of what we ultimately desire for ourselves.  What we do with our lives mirrors our character.  An empty life, an indulgent life, a life without overarching purpose?  Without self-respect, there can be no positive psychology.

Self-respect grows from what we do.  It is when we act upon our values that we ultimately feel most valuable.  A great question for reflection:  What am I doing today that I would be proud to be acknowledged in my obituary?  If we're not doing something each day, each week that we are truly proud of, the result is self-betrayal and an erosion of self-respect.  

Life is a great gymnasium.  If each day exercises our character strengths, we grow the kind of self-respect that attracts the right opportunities and the right people.  We can't always be happy and we can't always be successful.  We can, however, always live today with integrity.  

Further Reading:


Thursday, October 19, 2023

How To Transcend Trauma

Recently, I've been privileged to speak via Zoom with a number of those directly impacted by the Middle Eastern conflict.  It's been a dramatic reminder of how strong people can be, even when they feel overwhelmed and broken.  Most of us have been through a life event that has had traumatic impact, whether it be the loss of a loved one or an episode of threat and violence.  One of the real challenges of trading financial markets is that, if we don't exercise sound risk management, we can experience losses so great that they overwhelm us--personally, as well as financially.  Whenever an adverse event threatens what we value, the result can be stress and even trauma. 

As the group on Zoom reminded me, the above situations are different from what is happening now in the Middle East.  A traumatic event typically has a beginning and an end.  Once it's passed, we can focus on coping.  What do we do during a violent and scary war that has no foreseeable end?  How can we cope when we have no control whatsoever of what will happen today, tomorrow, and next week?

The eye-opening reality is that the people I'm speaking are, indeed, coping!  Yes, they cry and, yes, they feel unable to act at times, but they are doing what they can to be there for family, friends, and those they work with.  We sometimes fall into the trap of believing that being strong means being unemotional.  That's not at all the case.  Being strong is being empathic:  standing far enough from one's own concerns at times to feel with others and for others and share our experience with them.

The inspiring people on the Zoom call have helped me realize that transcending trauma involves three C's:  caring, connecting, and creating.  Caring means that we feel for others; connecting means we reach out to others; creating means we do for others.  It can be as simple as thinking about someone struggling, reaching out to them, and making them a meal.  The three C's take us for a time out of our own struggles and help us truly act from the soul.  

Amidst the loss of control that we feel during wartime, caring, connecting, and creating provide us with experiences of doing things that matter.  The most powerful thing we can do to transcend trauma is to gather the determination to not let events control us and to do things that make a difference.  Trauma is ultimately about powerlessness.  Transcending trauma is about finding islands of power in the midst of uncertainty.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Margie and I recently visited the World War II internment camp at Terezin in the Czech Republic.  There we heard about and saw the horrific conditions of the prisoners:  the overcrowding, the brutal punishment, the lack of health care, the death of friends and loved ones, and of course the constant fear of what would come next.  What was amazing was how the prisoners transformed a small living area into a place of worship where they could gather; how they were able to find materials to draw, write, and create artworks; and how they managed to support each other.  Caring, connecting, creating.  Even in a setting surrounded by death, they were able to affirm life.

I've come away from Terezin--and from my Zoom meetings--not confident that trauma won't happen, but reassured that, if it happens, I will have the role models and inspirations to transcend challenge and uncertainty.  All of us are likely to go through painful loss--in markets, in relationships, in our health.  As long as we can hold onto our humanity as caring and creative beings, we will be able to transcend--and eventually become role models for others.  

Forty years almost to the day, I was caught the wrong way in volatility and blew through my trading account, triggering far more than a loss of money.  Today I hit my high water mark amidst growing volatility.  

We can transcend.

Further Reading:


Sunday, October 08, 2023

How to Achieve the Goals You Set

One of the most widely read TraderFeed posts in the last few years dealt with the topic of FIGS:  Focused, Intensive Goal Setting.  Too often, the goals that we set are not much more than good intentions.  New Year's resolutions are a notorious example.  How can we become better at actually achieving the goals we set?

As the previous post emphasized, when we focus our attention on fewer priorities and work consistently and intensively on those, we are much more likely to make progress than if we have a laundry list of changes to make and work on those as the need/desire arises.  So, for instance, if we want to get in good physical shape, dedicated daily time with gym equipment and running is a great start.  That time with lifting, stretching, and running has to challenge us, which means we always tackle more when a given level of effort becomes routine.  If our pursuit of goals is not focused, frequent, and intensive, we're unlikely to sustain a consistent growth path.

We are most likely to succeed if our goals become our commitments.  When I worked at a well-known hedge fund, the founder once commented that, "If it's not in your calendar, it's not part of your process".  This most certainly applies to our trading processes:  researching ideas, turning ideas into trades, monitoring markets, and managing risk/reward.  It equally applies to any of our purposeful activities, including the personal goals we set.

When we commit to our goal-seeking in the daily calendar and create a dedicated time for making efforts at improvement, we experience our desired future every day.  "Anyone who fights for the future lives in it today," Ayn Rand once observed.  Fighting for the future daily means that we experience a piece of our future consistently, making it an intrinsic part of ourselves.  What starts as passion and desire is expressed through regular effort and evolves into positive habit.  

Imagine that you have a single hour every day to pursue one goal that will dramatically benefit your trading, your health, your mindset, or your relationships.  Imagine that this is the first item to go into your calendar; routine work and home tasks have to fit around your one key objective.  Every day, without fail, you are going to use a slice of your day to be your own performance coach and bring your real self closer to your ideal self.  That way, you will spend a fraction of every day living in your future.

That is most likely to occur if we have very concrete targets to hit in pursuit of our goals.  If we want to lose weight, we want to define a challenging but doable objective.  If we are looking to improve our trading, we need to keep stats so that we can truly see our progress:  number of winning/losing trades, average sizes of winners/losers, overall profitability, etc.  If we are making improvements in our relationships, we want to very intentionally do more of the things that bring closeness, happiness, and fulfillment to our partners and to us.

Mental illness is when we live in the past every day.  Mundane life is when we simply live life each day at a time.  Greatness is when we live a consistent portion of each day in the future we are designing and building.

What future do you want to build?  How can you immerse yourself in that future today?

Further Reading:

A Cardinal Virtue of Trading

Blueprint for an Uncompromised Life