Sunday, May 26, 2024

BRETT STEENBARGER'S TRADING PSYCHOLOGY RESOURCE CENTER


Below are resources to help traders become their own trading coaches, improve their trading processes, and develop a positive work-life balance.  All the TraderFeed posts also contain links to valuable resources and perspectives.  


RADICAL RENEWAL - Free blog book on trading, psychology, spirituality, and leading a fulfilling life

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The Three Minute Trading Coach Videos

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Forbes Articles:


My coaching work applies evidence-based psychological techniques (see my background and my book on the topic) to the improvement of productivity, quality of life, teamwork, leadership, hiring best practices, and creativity/idea generation.  An important part of the "solution-focused" approach that I write about is that we can often best grow by focusing on what we do well and how we do it--and then doing more of what works for us.  The key is to know our cognitive, interpersonal, and personality strengths and leverage those in the pursuit of performance. 


FURTHER RESOURCES




I wish you the best of luck in your development as a trader and in your personal evolution.  In the end, those are one and the same:  paths to becoming who we already are when we are at our best.

Brett
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You Are The Entrepreneur Of Your Life

 
You are the entrepreneur of your life.

From the moment you wake up, from the start of each week, you are in startup mode.

What is your mission?  What is your life's purpose?  (If I asked you, right here and now, to write your life's mission statement, could you do that?)

What is your business plan for achieving your mission?

Who is on your team that provides practical and emotional capital for your life's venture?  Whose ventures do you support, and how do those inspire and enlighten what you do?

What role does trading play in the enterprise of your life?  What incubator helps you grow your trading in ways that grow your life?

You are the entrepreneur of your life. 

Right now, this every day, how are you innovating?

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Video:

The Psychology of Growing Your Trading Business

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Monday, May 20, 2024

Focusing on the Quality of Your Reps

 
During my recent workouts at my gym, I've noticed how much more I get out of the weight machines if I take my time going through the reps.  I have a standard circuit that I go through, beginning with legs, then upper body, then flexibility.  When I slow down my pace at each of the stations--and especially when I take my time extending my body fully through each of the exercises--I get much more out of each set of reps.  On a bench press, for example, it's what I do at the very beginning of the press and at the full extension of my arms that makes the difference.  Taking my time at the most challenging points in the exercise provides a much better workout.

In trading, the reps we put in are our reviews of markets, what we did, and what we could/should have done.  When I worked with active traders in Chicago, I was impressed by the time they spent reviewing the past day's trade bar-by-bar in replay mode.  They didn't just go over charts and whiz through their reviews.  Rather, they slowed down the review, talked out loud what they were seeing bar by bar, and rehearsed making the right decisions.  As I learned from my workouts at the gym, the quality of the reps determined what they took away.  

A review of performance, to be effective, must be a workout.

We build our trading psychology in the course of performing and engaging in deliberate practice.  We can solicit advice from others, but ultimately it's the workouts that make the winners.  Jeff Holden of SMB Capital and I have been challenging developing traders to write up their daily takeaways to cement their learning.  Similarly, experienced traders at the firm put together daily report cards of their trading and monthly reviews.  Some of the writeups are nice summaries.  Others are workouts.

The time and effort we put into our reps determine our level of fitness.  Focusing on One Good Trade is what builds good trading.

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Further Reading:

What Makes an Expert Performer

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Monday, May 13, 2024

An Effective Technique for Mastering Trading Stress

A key to understanding trading psychology is the recognition that trading is a performance activity.  Like sports or performing arts, we practice and prepare and then comes the performance event.  It's natural to have some jitters before the big moment and sometimes in the middle of performing.  That is why this form of stress is known as performance anxiety.  There are medications that can be of assistance in extreme cases of performance anxiety, such as beta blockers, but the majority of people can benefit from a simple psychological technique known as stress inoculation.

Inoculation, of course, is when we inject ourselves with a weakened form of a virus and activate our body's immune system.  This then helps us fight active viruses.  In stress inoculation, we use guided imagery and cognitive therapy to anticipate stressful events before they occur--and then to imagine ourselves coping successfully with those.  So, for instance, before a big public speaking event, I might visualize my audience and mentally rehearse the beginning of my talk.  I might follow that visualization with a scenario where audience members seem uninterested in the topic or imagined situations where I lose my place in the talk.  With each stressful situation, I walk myself through how I would handle it.  Like with medical inoculation, this arouses our psychological defenses--our coping abilities--so that we're prepared for difficult situations in real time.

This technique requires regular practice, but can be a regular part of daily preparation for active traders.  We can imagine our position going against us and getting near our stop; we can visualize not getting filled at our desired level; we can imagine negative thoughts that might intrude during the trade; etc.  During each mental scenario, we vividly imagine how--specifically--we would handle the situation.  By the time trading actually begins, we've been there and done that.  It is difficult for frustrations to get the better of us if they cannot surprise us.

In my next post, I'll share how this technique--and other stress management methods--can be integrated into our ongoing development as traders.

Further Reading:

Three Causes of Trading Stress and What to Do About Them

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Wednesday, May 08, 2024

A Powerful Framework For Improving Your Trading

 

The most recent post pointed out that our trading psychology challenges evolve as we move from being rookie traders to consistently profitable ones.  Newbies wrestle with the challenges--and inevitable frustrations--of learning markets and weathering periods of risk and reward.  Experienced traders look to build businesses and find themselves tackling new learning curves as they branch out to different markets and strategies.  The reality of a trading career is that the progression from startup trader to experienced one is not a linear path.  Because markets are ever-changing, the winning methods that we discovered at one period may lose much of their edge over time.  I've worked with experienced hedge fund managers who have had to remake themselves as their old strategies became overcrowded.  The learning curve of traders is thus more of a spiral than a straight line.  We always go back to learning, but at higher and higher levels.  

Over time, those who can't evolve become extinct.

The really, really good traders I've worked with continually try new things.  They are like business startups and incubators, innovating and uncovering what works.  I found that a good question to ask traders during the hiring process is to ask them to lay out their pipeline of new ideas.  Just as I would want to invest in a company with a large and promising pipeline, so I look to hire traders that are continually developing.

The most powerful framework for improving your trading is to imitate those innovative traders:  Try lots of new things, see what works, and then build on success.  In psychology, this is known as a "solution-focused" framework.  Over time, identify and study what you are doing when you're not having trading problems and when you're not losing money, because the odds are good that--at those times--you're doing something well.  "Do more of what works" is the motto of the solution-focused psychologist.  Whether you're a developing trader or an established one, look for opportunity, try new things to capture that opportunity, and then focus on and do more of what works.  

Quite simply, this is a formula for evolution.  If you cultivate more and more "mutations" of your trading, inevitably you'll find some that are uniquely effective.  A powerful framework for improving your trading is to discover and then do more and more of what you do well.

Further Reading:

Solution-Focused Trading

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Developing a New Trading Psychology

 

It's not well appreciated, but trading psychology is a developmental psychology.  The issues we face as noobs are not the issues we face as experienced traders seeking to be consistently profitable, and those issues are not those we encounter after years of success.  We evolve and our challenges--emotionally and in trading--grow with us.

Yesterday I went through a list of the traders, portfolio managers, and analysts I've met with over the past month.  Almost all are part of teams at very successful hedge funds.  All are managing portfolios of hundreds of millions of dollars if not more.

None spoke to me about FOMO, emotional trading, or issues of discipline or mindset.

None.

Please hear me out:  It's not that those issues are unimportant.  Rather, they are not dominant issues for those who are well along their expertise curves.  For example, beginning medical students are quite nervous about interviewing patients and performing even simple procedures.  Their emotions can interfere with developing a good rapport with patients.  Experienced residents in medicine no longer deal with that kind of nervousness.  They struggle to sort out complex diagnoses and unexpected reactions to treatments.  As they move along the path to expertise, their issues are less about themselves and more about mastering their work.

So it is in trading.

Once we achieve a high degree of self-mastery, our next challenges involve market mastery.  We learn to sort out supply and demand, risk and reward, across different time frames.  We learn to use the movements of other markets to help us understand our market.  Most of all, we learn who we are and what we do best and we become better and better at applying our strengths to our trading.

As beginners, we struggle with the inevitable negative psychology that accompanies risk, reward, and frequent losses.  As experienced traders, we wrestle with our positive psychology and discover who we are and how we perform at our best.

That is why the book I'm writing is about positive trading psychology.  It's about finding our unique, distinctive strengths and applying them to how we process market information and find superior risk/reward opportunities.

Greatness is more than the absence of mediocrity.  

Success is more than the absence of mistakes.

Expertise is more than a positive mindset.

Our challenge is to uncover who we are at our best and leverage that in the marketplace.  As we grow, we move from a focus on negative psychology to one of positive psychology.

Further Reading:

Greatness in Life and Trading

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Friday, April 26, 2024

A Quick Trading Self-Assessment

 

Here's a checklist to guide your evaluation of yourself as a trader:

1)  What did I learn from today, and how--specifically--will I bring that lesson to tomorrow's trading?

2)  What do I see in markets that others don't see and what am I seeing uniquely in the market right now?

3)  When is not trading the right decision and how have I utilized my time when I'm not in the market?

4)  What is my pipeline of new trading approaches and ideas that I am developing for the future and how am I working on that today?

5)  What have I learned this week from others and what have I cemented by teaching others?

When we do positive things in trading, we grow a positive trading psychology.  When we do positive things in life, we grow a positive psychology.

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Monday, April 22, 2024

The Key To A Successful Life

 
Let's start with the conclusion:  The only path to a successful life is to live a success-full life.

I've been reading a number of books summarizing recent research in positive psychology and will sharing the major conclusions in my next book.

One conclusion especially stands out:  The various attitudes and activities that lead to a happy and fulfilling life--love and social connections; spirituality; gratitude; physical health; achievement; self-acceptance--all are developed by actively exercising them.

If we challenge ourselves in our work, relationships, mindset, and physical development, we can live a life that is successful, because it is success-full.

Living life consciously and intentionally takes a hell of a lot more than sitting for a few minutes and doing meditation exercises.

Living life purposefully means that we create challenges and goals in every area of life that matters to us.  

All of life is a gym.

One question matters:  What is today's workout?

Further Reading:

Building Our Emotional Fitness

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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Positive Trading Psychology - III: Framework

 

The first post in this three-part series on positive trading psychology emphasized the emotional and physical side of optimal performance, which has been called flourishing.  The second post looked at the cognitive side of trading success, including the development of focus and deeper, faster processing of information.  In this post, we'll examine the importance of developing a framework for understanding markets and creating our trading edge.

In any competitive endeavor, whether it is chess, basketball, or boxing, we have to understand who we are competing against.  Notice that in all these activities, we don't just prepare for success by building ourselves up.  We also study the opposition and their strengths and vulnerabilities.  An important part of preparation for the next game is watching film, studying the opponent, and then formulating strategies and plays that maximize our strengths and take advantage of our opponent's weaknesses.  Because the opposition is always changing, our game prep always varies.

Over the years, I've found that consistently successful traders possess a framework for understanding markets and opportunities.  That framework clarifies three vital components of strategy:  1) who they are making money from; 2) how those other players behave in particular market conditions; and 3) the types of trading that work in those different market environments.  We can think of a trader's framework as the essence of their business plan:  it guides decision-making under dynamic conditions of risk and reward.  As Michael Dell points out above, we need a dream to succeed, and it's our framework that helps us realize that dream in the real world.

Volume is always changing in markets, which means that market participants are always changing.  Volatility is always changing in markets, which means that market moves always vary in how they extend and reverse.  Correlations are always changing in markets, which means that what we are trading varies in its sensitivity to other markets.  Without a framework to make sense of the environment we are facing today, we are as unprepared for game time as the team that never studies its next opponent.  Can you imagine preparing for an outdoor football game without understanding the probable weather conditions at game time?  Without studying how the opponent varies its offensive and defensive alignments and strategies?

This is an important reason mentoring is vital to a trader's development.  When we are exposed to multiple mentors, we absorb different frameworks and ultimately synthesize those into our own.  We develop our own positive psychology when we broaden and deepen our understanding of what to do and why we are doing it.  Take a look at groups that are active in mentoring, such as SMB CapitalBearBull Traders; and My Investing Club.  All feature multiple mentors that enable a developing trader to internalize a framework for making decisions under dynamic conditions of uncertainty.  The result of all this mentoring, for a trader as well as a football quarterback, is what Mike Bellafiore calls a "playbook".

Trading psychology aids our performance, but having a framework for trading grounds our trading psychology.

Further Reading:

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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Broad Selling After A Broad Advance: What Happens Next?


On Friday, we saw something unusual.  After the day's steep drop, we finished the day with fewer than 10% of SPX stocks closing above their 3, 5, and 10-day moving averages.  At the same time, by Friday's close, we still saw more than 50% of those shares trading above their 100 and 200-day averages.  Since July of 2006, when I first began collecting these data (over 4400 days), this set of conditions has only occurred 20 times.  In other words, it's been unusual to get a broad short-term decline following a broad longer-term advance. 

While 20 instances is not enough for a robust statistical analysis, I do find it noteworthy that 18 of the occurrences finished higher 20 days later for an average gain of +2.66%, substantially above the average for the entire sample.  

I've found that such historical queries are useful tools for framing market hypotheses.  If I see evidence of buying going forward and then see that we cannot make fresh lows on subsequent selling pressure, the chances are good that I'll participate in the potential bounce.  This is particularly the case if several queries drawing upon different data point to similar conclusions.

The future does not always mirror the past and, in the present situation, it would just take a further escalation of the Middle East conflict to potentially move oil prices higher and stocks lower.  When the present varies greatly from historical patterns, that, too, can be information.

Further Reading:

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Positive Trading Psychology - II: Focus

 
The first post in this series on positive trading psychology took a look at flourishing and what we need to do in order to maximize our performance in life and markets.  When we establish flourishing as a personal and professional goal, we move past the preoccupation with our mistakes and instead learn to make the most out of what we do well.  

In this post, we explore an area of trading psychology that is underappreciated:  cognitive performanceResearch that I've conducted at multiple trading firms finds that our cognitive strengths--what we do best in processing information--are every bit as important to trading success as our personality strengths.  For example, one of the consistent qualities we see among very successful traders is intellectual curiosity.  Rarely, however, do we see traders actively working on growing the breadth and depth of their interests.  

There is much more to trading psychology than "mindset".

Especially important to our cognitive functioning is focus:  the degree to which we can intensify our concentration, processing individual things in great depth and also processing a wide range of things.  One of my first observations when I began my trading career was that I could often identify the best traders by observing their screens.  The best traders had more screens open with a broader range of information.  They had the unique ability to scan and quickly identify what was important and then focus their attention on those areas of opportunity.  This meant that they exhibited quick information processing as well as deep information processing.  During trading, they were laser focused on what was in front of them.  In the state of high focus, they simply saw more than other people and were more prepared to act on what they saw.

I see this among the best traders I currently work with.  By having only the most important information on their screens and focusing intensively on the most relevant news, markets, and price action, they minimize distractions.  This concentration enables them to quickly turn to what is important and act on what they see.  If you watch chess champions during matches, you can appreciate that intensity of focus.  They are not simply focused on winning; they are focused on making the right moves.  They exhibit the flow state, in which they are totally absorbed in their performance.

The capacity for focus is something we can develop.  Many traders make the mistake of performing "meditation" exercises--sitting still and quieting their minds--in hopes of improving their trading.  Quieting the mind is necessary for focus, but not sufficient.  We also need to train ourselves to intensify our concentration and hold that concentration for longer and longer times.  Attention is a kind of "muscle" that can grow with exercise.  A number of apps, such as Brain HQ, can be useful in expanding our capacity for focus.  Meditative exercises that require us to sustain attention for longer and longer times are also useful, particularly when they challenge us to maintain our focus while switching the objects of our concentration.

Yes, it's helpful to maintain our best mindset, but if we don't process information as broadly, deeply, and quickly as possible, we're going to miss opportunities and overreact to limited information.  What I learned early in my work with traders is that successful traders succeed in part because they see more and better than others.  

Cognitive strengths matter.

Further Reading:

Creativity in Analyzing Market Information

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