Sunday, June 30, 2024

How Elite Performance Actually Occurs

I believe this is an important post.  Much of what has been written about trading psychology--including what I have written about trading psychology--misses an important dimension of elite performance.

First, an explanation of the above picture.  This is a screenshot from the FreeStyle Libre II blood sugar monitor.  It takes real time readings of your blood sugar via Bluetooth and summarizes the readings over time.  You can think of it as biofeedback for blood sugar.  It's very helpful for those (like me) with diabetes, but also helps anyone stay in the zone between overly high sugar levels (which are associated with fatigue) and overly low ones (which create nervousness and distraction).  

The above picture shows a summary of my readings over the past 90 days.  The device measures the percentage of time when my blood sugar is too high (over 180) or too low (below 70).  As you can see, I've been in the proper zone 99% of the time.  Over the last 7 and 14 days, my percentage of time in the zone has been 100%.  The physicians I've worked with have been quite surprised by this consistency.

When I first started with the feedback, getting to 80% of time in the proper zone was a big accomplishment.  Gradually, I learned what to eat, when to eat, and when to do exercise (which lowers blood sugar readings).  I didn't stop myself from going out to eat and from having treats, but with constant readings, I figured out what to do with insulin and exercise to stay in my zone.  It was a lot of trial and error and a lot of adjustment in real time.

What didn't I do to achieve these readings?  I didn't actively motivate myself.  I didn't engage in exercises for positive mindset.  I didn't meditate or use therapy techniques to alter my behavior.  Rather, I tapped into a couple of my personality strengths (achievement motivation and conscientiousness) and kept taking readings, kept learning from those, and kept making adjustments.  Day after day, multiple times per day.

My pursuit of performance fed my mindset, not the reverse.

What if a path to elite trading is active trading, active collection of detailed data on our trading, and the continuous making of small adjustments?  What if how we lead our own performance--our own self-coaching--is the most important determinant of our trading performance?  

What if the best path to trading performance is to reverse engineer how we have best performed in other life arenas?

Lots of outcome data, lots of adjustments, constant small improvements.  Continuous evolution can create revolutionary results.  

Notice, by the way, that I have sustained these positive changes for quite a few years despite numerous lifestyle changes over that time.  If our performance depends upon our mindset, it will always be fragile.  If our performance follows from a flexible process that we internalize, it will always be robust. 


Monday, June 24, 2024

Great Trading Requires Leadership

I would like to build upon the theme of a Forbes article I wrote quite a few years ago.  Each of us has many facets to our lives:  our trading, our careers, our friendships, our romantic relationships, our families, our community activities, our hobbies, etc.  In that sense, our life is an organization, and how well we organize the parts of our lives will play an important role in how successful and fulfilling our lives will be.  

What that means is that, if our life is an organization, then we are the leaders of that organization.  All of us lead our lives, but not all of us act as the leaders of our lives.  Leadership requires the setting of goals and visions; the division and allocation of resources; the creation of inspiration and teamwork.  If you were leading a business organization the way you typically lead your life, how successful would that organization be?  How well are you setting the standards for what will make today, this week, this month successful?  Are you consistently inspiring your own best efforts?

Of course, we are also the leaders of our trading businesses.  How well are we guiding our own learning efforts and structuring our efforts at improvement?  

We are the entrepreneurs of our lives, and we are the entrepreneurs of our own trading.  Perhaps the most underappreciated part of trading psychology is our capacity to exercise leadership in our lives and in our trading.

Further Reading:

Tracking the Rhythm of the Market


Friday, June 21, 2024

The Importance of Market Cadence

In my recent post, I discuss a conclusion from the writings of many trading psychologists:  that successful active trading requires an intuitive feel for market action.  My experience is that looking at relatively static chart patterns or indicator readings does not provide that market feel.  A structural view of markets can be informative, but we get a feel for how a market is moving from the flows of market activity.  It's interesting that many of the experienced traders I've been reading emphasize the value of "reading the tape".  By watching the flow of bids and offers and seeing how price responds to these, it's possible to get moment-to-moment readings of how the market is moving and whether buyers or sellers are dominant.  From this flow of information, we gain a sense for market cadence--and that provides us with a "feel" for the market we're trading.

It's not so different from carrying on a conversation with a person.  We don't just listen to the words a person speaks and their literal meanings.  We also hear their tone of voice and the cadence of their speech.  Those provide us with a feel for whether the person is excited, fearful, cautious, etc.  Consider the difference between a conversation carried out through text messages versus a live, face-to-face conversation.  The latter is far richer in meaning.  No therapist would work people solely through text messages!

It doesn't surprise me that a trading firm that has been successful in training new traders, such as SMB Capital, makes tape reading part of their curriculum.  It's that feel for when buyers or sellers are becoming more aggressive and dominant that allows us to identify solid risk/reward entries and exits for our trades.  Yes, idea generation may come from our research, reading, and conversations.  What allows us to trade these ideas well, however, is gaining a feel for real time market behavior.  When the cadence of price action shifts, we are alerted to changing dynamics among buyers and sellers and suddenly that good idea becomes a good trade.

I'm not convinced that tracking the order book is the only way to gain a sense for market cadence.  One thing I've been doing in my own trading is tracking high frequency market action by using volume bars.  If I'm trading stock index futures, for instance, I might track a chart of open/high/low/close for each 1000 contracts traded.  When the cadence picks up, I feel the volume rising in real time.  When market direction changes with the cadence, I'm alerted to a new dynamic among buyers or sellers.  Gaining a feel for the market does not magically result from being relaxed or focused.  We can meditate all we want, but if we don't understand the dynamics of price behavior, we will calmly lose money.  Our sense for markets comes from absorbing the flow of information, much as a psychologist absorbs the flow of conversation in a therapy session.  We feel markets the same way we feel music on a dance floor:  through shifts in tone and cadence.

Further Reading:

Feeling the Next Trade

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Feeling the Next Trade

What role does emotion play in helping you trade well?

What role does emotion play in disrupting your trading?

How does your trading process harness the intuitive feeling that comes from long exposure to markets and their patterns?

Two weeks ago I wrote about the trading psychology texts I was reading and what I was learning from those.  What I found was that reading multiple books on a given topic opened the door to unique insights.  An important theme from the books I read was that, in some ways, we are wired in ways that prevent us from succeeding at trading.  If we simply go with our natural instincts, we'll sell when things are weak, buy when they're strong, and fall prey to choppy, trendless markets.

Since then, I have scoured texts by Jason Williams, Denise Shull, Mike Bellafiore, Ari Kiev, Eve Boboch and Kathy Donnelly, and Mark Douglas--and there's more to come!

A number of these authors highlight that emotion is a common source of failed trading but point out that our feelings--our gut instincts--often help us identify opportunity.  Denise Shull makes the valuable distinction between trying to figure out what others don't know versus figuring out what people are soon going to know.  In shorter-term trading particularly, we can anticipate how the crowd will respond to various scenarios and position ourselves to take advantage of that.  A good example is seeing short-term volume expand as we move to the edge of a range, setting up a valuable breakout trade.  We often can feel the momentum of such a move long before it's obvious on a chart.

We need a process for staying connected to what others are feeling.  That is called empathy.  

The challenge is that the ability to feel what others are going to do comes from long hours of observation and experience.  It is not unlike the psychologist's ability to sense an important issue from the stream of conversation with a client.  Access to that empathic intuition requires focus and the ability to absorb ourselves in the moment.  That openminded ability can be trained.  It's when we're filled with efforts to predict the market that we're most likely to fail to identify what the market is actually doing and fall prey to the emotions of frustration, fear, and greed.  

Further Reading:

How We Can Improve Our Access To Intuition

The Role of Intuition in Trading Decisions

Trading With Emotional Intelligence - Part One, Part Two


Tuesday, June 11, 2024

How We Become Successful


Success is not the result of motivation.

Success is not the result of positive thinking.

Success is not guaranteed by talent.

Success is built inductively, from the bottom up, by doing one thing after another successfully, day in and day out.  

We internalize what we consistently do.

When we do small things successfully and consistently, we internalize a sense of being successful.

When we do things greatly each day, we absorb a sense of greatness.

Small actions, planned and performed successfully and consistently:  This is how we learn to trade successfully.

Each activity in daily life, planned and performed successfully and consistently:  This is how we learn to live successfully.

We can be reactive, we can follow mindless routine, or we can act out of conscious values, goals, and plans. 

We become successful when we wire ourselves for success in our smallest activities.

All success springs from the expansion of free will and the consistent achievement of our aims.

Good trading begins with one good trade.  Profitable trading makes the one good trade consistent.  Great trading builds many one good trades across various markets.

Success is built inductively.   


Friday, June 07, 2024

Beyond Meditation: Using Biofeedback to Change Behavior Patterns

Very interesting research on neurofeedback (providing people with real time biofeedback readings of brain wave activity) suggests that when people can learn to control their brain waves, they can change even very difficult behavior problems, such as alcohol abuse, traumatic stress, and attention deficits.  Evidence suggests that neurofeedback builds our self-regulation.  Newer neurofeedback devices can be worn in everday life, including sleep, allowing for ongoing monitoring of our ability to operate "in the zone".  The very portable nature of these devices allows us to use them in performance situations (like trading!) to track and work on our self control in real time.   

Big questions:  Can real time feedback during trading help us build our self-control and capacity for sound decision making under conditions of stress and uncertainty?  If neurofeedback can help us control addictive patterns of drinking and chronic problems of anxiety, might it help us directly reprogram the triggers for our worst trading behaviors?

What I find most exciting about applications of neurofeedback is that they provide us with the data that tell us how we best operate in the zone.  The strategies that work for one person may not work for others.  Neurofeedback is a real time score card for self control.  Each person, getting live data in actual performance situations, can figure out how they are most able to maximize their performance mindset.  As a recent research review of over 3000 journal articles reports, neurofeedback is an example of "personalized medicine", where people, empowered with data, can figure out what works best for them.

I see that the FDA recently approved neurofeedback for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  If we can rewire ourselves even in conditions of trauma, surely we can rewire our reactions to financial markets!

I will be experimenting with the latest technology for use in trading and look forward to sharing my findings.  It may turn out that the most effective coaching is training in self control.  If we can discover the "personalized" strategies that uniquely maximize our performance, that could be a game changer--


Sunday, June 02, 2024

Coaching By Immersion: Surrounding Ourselves With Insight


This weekend has been special.  I have immersed myself in books about trading psychology from such authors as Tom Hougaard; Andrew Aziz and Mike Baehr; Steven Goldstein; Steve and Holly Burns; Mark Minervini; Anne-Marie Baiynd; Michael Lamothe; and Jared Tendler.  Next weekend will be a fresh crew of authors that I'll immerse myself in and share in a post.

For me, the key to immersion is reading multiple books simultaneously, focusing on overlapping topics.  When you have several experienced, insightful authors all addressing the unique emotional challenges of trading, it's like sitting in on a conversation and absorbing the unique perspectives and the areas of agreement.  That immersion brings the topics to life in ways that are difficult with ordinary reading.

All this preparation for my next book has had one unexpected impact:  It has absolutely renewed my interest in trading--and in being immersed in a community of dedicated and insightful traders.  As the quote suggests, what we surround ourselves with is what we become.  Perhaps I will be my best as a trading coach (and as a trader!) if I'm immersed in markets and the daily insights and inspirations of dedicated traders.

One lesson I've learned from these authors and experienced coaches:  Success in markets requires more than changing certain behavioral tendencies or emotional patterns.  We literally have to rewire ourselves to adapt to ever-changing markets and the shifting demands of risk/reward.  I love the subtitle of Tom Hougaard's text:  "Why normal thinking never wins the trading game".  Preparing for trading in normal ways and living a normal life cannot possibly wire us for supernormal success.  Making trading successful pushes us to remake ourselves.  

That is a noble challenge.

Further Reading:

Focusing on the Quality of Your Reps