Of everything in existence, the human mind is definitely the most fascinating thing out there.
It enables us to make plans, invent things, coordinate actions, analyze problems, learn from our experiences, share knowledge…. Not even mentioning how it’s able to do those things.
The chair you’re probably sitting on, the roof over your head, the clothes on your body, your computer, phone—none of these things would exist but for the ingenuity of the human mind.
The fact is, it gives us an enormous advantage as a species. It enables us to shape the environment around us and have them conform to our likings so that we can thrive even better.
But not surprisingly, this unprecedented ability to control our environment gives us high expectations of control in other areas as well.
Now, in the material world, control strategies generally work well.
If we don’t like something, we can usually figure out a way to avoid it, or even get rid of it altogether.
- A bear outside your door? You can chase it off by making loud noises, throwing spears or rocks at it; shooting it.
- Inconvenient weather conditions? Well, you can’t get rid of that, but you can avoid them by hiding under a shelter.
- Dry, unfertile ground? You can get rid of it by irrigation and fertilization. Or you can avoid it altogether by moving to a better location.
As you see, pretty straightforward…
But what about our internal environment?
Some people don’t even suspect that there is an internal environment, to begin with. For them, the world is all about what’s on the outside.
Thoughts, memories, emotions, urges, physical sensations, sometimes seem to have a life of their own. And we can’t we simply avoid or get rid of the ones we don’t like, just like we would in the outer world.
A little experiment
I want you to try this: As you keep reading this paragraph, try not to think about a pink elephant.
Don’t think about the color.
Don’t think about how big or small the elephant is.
And by all means, don’t even think about whether it’s the African type or the Asian one.
Take a couple of seconds and do this…
Now tell me… you couldn’t stop thinking about the elephant, could you? You certainly couldn’t stop it from appearing in your mind – that’s a thought right there.
Let’s try something else…
Recall something that happened to you. Any memory will do – let’s say a recent and particularly painful trading loss – and try to get rid of it for good.
How’d you do?
Try not to think for at least 60 seconds.
If you’ve done the experiment, you must get the point by now: thoughts and feelings are just not that easy to control.
It’s not that you have absolutely no control over these things because the reality is that you do have a certain degree of control, but it’s just that you have much less control than you might think you do.
Let’s face it, if those were that easy to control, wouldn’t we all just live in perpetual bliss?
What’s more, wouldn’t we all be successful traders, banking money at every turn?
Of course, there are a few self-help gurus who claim that it’s possible to live in such a state all the time. Such people often get really rich, their books sell by the million and they attract huge numbers of followers desperate for ‘T H E answer’.
I see that a lot in the trading world as well. Many are after T H E answer – which also has to be a quick and easy one. But that kind of answer doesn’t really work because it’s often not the right answer.
My guess is that if you’re a reader of this blog, you have already gone down that path and been sadly disappointed.
But then, why is this myth of emotional control so compelling?
Because the people around us seem happy. They seem to have their shit figured out. They seem to be in control of their thoughts and feelings, and of their destiny.
But ‘seem’ is the keyword. The fact is that most people are not open and honest about the struggles they go through with their own thoughts and feelings.
And especially not the “pro-traders” out there!
They put on a brave face and keep a stiff upper lip. They’re akin to the proverbial clown with some bright face paints and chirpy antics, which we all we see, but deep down inside, they’re crying…
Ok, so where does that leave us?
So, at last, we come to the practical part of this post.
Not being able to control your thoughts and emotions all the time isn’t a fatality. In fact, you can certainly reach your goals in trading and live a well balanced and perfectly happy life without exerting (or trying to exert) control over your thoughts and emotions.
You’ll just need to get into the habit of practicing the art of non-attachment.
Let’s give it a try in a controlled setting:
First, sit and comfortably and put aside a few minutes.
Have some difficult and uncomfortable feelings to deal with. If you’re a trader, I’m sure you must have that – a painful loss, something that’s currently a problem, something that worries, disturbs or stresses you.
Once you’ve brought that to the forefront of your mind, focus on it and let the uncomfortable feelings arise.
At this point you must be saying ‘What!’, ‘Is he crazy? I don’t want to feel that shit!’
Well, I don’t know anyone who likes to feel discomfort. But the idea here is acceptance – being willing to feel “that shit” while making sure you’re just a witness and not a participator.
Willingness simply means that you’re allowing it to arise as it is and not be entangled in judgments about how you don’t like it or how you’d like it to be.
Why develop such willingness? Because throughout your life, uncomfortable feelings will inevitably arise. If you keep trying to avoid them, you’ll simply perpetuate the cycle of blind reactivity; you’ll create additional discomfort, and you won’t be maximizing your trading performance (and your life).
By making room for your thoughts and feelings and willingly letting yourself feel them (even though you don’t want to), you’ll:
- Change your relationship with them.
- Discover their impersonal and impermanent nature.
- Develop wise-discernment so that you can keep and entertain the ones that are helpful and let go of the ones that aren’t.
In other words, the more we turn away from our demons (the harder we try not to look at them) the bigger and scarier they appear.
Accepting discomfort has only one purpose: to help you take your life forward in whichever direction you want.
But now, enough of the talk… It’s time to practice, and I sincerely hope you will remember to put into application this simple exercise in non-attachment whenever needed.
This technique is explored in an in-depth way in the Trading Psychology Mastery Course.
You can find more details below.