Discomfort is a human condition. From conception, our system continuously undergoes cell division and development of blood, bone, tissue, nerves, muscle, internal organs and brain cells that make life outside the womb and eventual survival possible. In the first few years the level of growth is exponential; in fact, normal infants will double their birth weight by about 5 months. At puberty, like a weed, teens will undergo massive changes in their bodies as growth surges and muscles begin to take permanent shape. This is not without physical and emotional discomfort as the teen adapts incrementally to the collective mental, emotional and physical modifications. These are examples of normal growth that happens in the course of developing into adulthood. However, it doesn’t stop there.
After natural development ceases, most individuals continue to intentionally challenge themselves through higher education and/or physical training for competition. This is where the test of physical and mental limits is exactly what causes the system to adapt and develop greater capacity for strength and endurance. Going further, if you have ever been injured or found yourself in the middle of recovery, you no doubt felt the intense discomfort associated with your body’s healing process. And just when you may have been wondering what all this has to do with trading, we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of your improvement as a trader.
Many of the challenges of mental and emotional training that have to do with trading involve limit testing; that is, testing “your” limits as you attempt to convince, cajole and/or threaten yourself to plan, manage and effectively execute the trade while maintaining rules and keeping commitments. It ain’t easy…is it? What is critically important is for you to accept that part of your training is learning to embrace discomfort as an ally. What will eventually happen, just like any other form of training, is that one trade at a time you’ll develop that capacity to endure. At that point, you will accept being uncomfortable in the service of your highest and best trading goals.
So, honing your ability to remain cool, calm and collected under what is often a barrage of issues in your trading is a prescription for becoming a consistently successful trader. And let’s face it, if you are trading that is the number one aim. It is not forthcoming to just anyone; but, the ability to remain patient and intentionally focused in the face of erratic stimuli is what will get you over the finish line. There are many who will continue to obfuscate, implode and crumble as they scramble to get back into the comfort zone.
In order to develop this skill, it is necessary to allow yourself to feel the fear, anxiety, anger, doubt and/or brain confusion and maintain the present course of action as it relates to appropriate follow-through. In other words, you must let the plan play out, the stop to be taken out, avoid prematurely exiting or any other first-line rule violation. Your comfort zone is breeched whenever you face the threat of loss, such as any situation that puts your money or your self-esteem in jeopardy (the fear of being wrong for example). When the threat of loss happens, negative emotions ramp up and you become uncomfortable with pain and/or anguish. At that point you glance around desperately for something to reduce the bad feelings. You reach for temporary relief in the form of a behavior that will help you feel better. However, soon after the temporary relief fades you are left with the realization that the rule violation did not effectively remove the threat. At this point you realize, for instance, that you are left with not only the consequence of doing something that was not in your best interests, but the realization that you have again let yourself down by violating your promise to keep your commitments.
What does this look like in real life? Let’s say that you are in a trade and you have placed a hard stop; and let’s say that the price action is inching toward that stop. As you look at the potential for disaster you say to yourself, “…I can’t lose because I will have three losses in a row and that means that I am a poor trader on my way to losing all of my money.” This internal dialogue, which may or may not be in your awareness, initiates negative emotions like fear and anxiety which are uncomfortable. The closer the price action gets to your stop the more intense the pain and anguish until it gets to a point where you begin to consider moving the stop.
The prospect of moving the stop is initially only an urge, but with time the urge becomes an overwhelming desire to reduce the pain by removing the “perceived” origin of the discomfort, the price action moving toward your stop. However, the real reason for the pain is your internal dialogue and the meaning that you have attached to this event. Then, at the point where the price action is just about to take out your stop, the urge becomes too much to contain and you move the stop. Now, the immediate internal reaction is a relief. You tell yourself that you have dodged the bullet. This relief only lasts until the realization that you have increased your risk, violated your rule and broken your promise. The ensuing emotions are debilitating with self-loathing, anger and depression. This reaction becomes especially acute if the price action does hit your stop.
The plain and oft missed point is that you must learn to tolerate the discomfort of allowing the market to prove your plan wrong or right. You must create consistency in your trade management to avoid giving into temporary relief but rather developing the capacity for emotional strength and endurance one trade at a time. By focusing on thinking, feeling and doing congruently, you will put yourself in a much better position to remain in the Now of the trade – on purpose, on task and on top of what-matters-most. You will be able to remain outside of your comfort zone in the service of your highest and best interests as you learn to execute with your A-Game.
Dr Woody Johnson can be contacted on this link: Dr Woody Johnson