Trading addiction and its antidote

Traders

I have been running workshops couple of times in a quarter and get this question a lot – Is trading the markets an obsession/addiction? – Answer is both YES and NO.

Most of the books/articles/trading world luminaries dont talk about addiction a lot. This topic is shied away mostly. In my opinion, it is as real as it can get. So, let us delve deeper into it – embrace yourselves for a long post 🙂

Introduction

What is addiction actually? One of the definition says “Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance/activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was/is pleasurable and/or valuable.”

Let us look at it in trading perspective – When a person starts trading the markets, it is usually an harmless regular activity. When a trader opens the screen – he is welcomed with ticks moving every second and a possibility of making lacs every minute unfolds infront of him. Fair enough. But please read the last sentence again – “possibility of making’. This is what gets a trader hooked with the market instantly.

Trading and sleepless nights

Watching SGX nifty/DOW in the night (even though the trader knows that he cant do nothing when our markets are closed) is not just because of having positions more than they can handle. It is also due to the fact that the trader is addicted to watching everything related to markets. He just cant help it.

Many argue that only losing traders do this kind of watching activity. Not exactly – it is not about winning or losing. Typically, addicted traders absolutely have to be in the markets at all time – they feel that they have to assimilate all the information they could. They feel that they need to be trading every single day. No exceptions – it is like that wound that itches. You have to scratch it 🙂

Trading and stigma around money

Our brain acts differently when it ‘anticipates’ monetary reward. Behavioral psychology long ago demonstrated that the mind’s ability to choose rational thrills offering positive rewards over more intense thrills offering ridiculous, negative rewards is deplorable at best.

Usually addiction with alcohol/drugs or anything for that matter is a sickness but trading addiction is a bit different- the keyword separator here is ‘Money’. There is a social stigma around money albeit a big one. Folks will tell you everything about the most intimate details of their lives, but they will not tell you about their money – How much they have/How much they want/What they think about others who have more or less money than they do.

Actually, answers to these questions would reveal what they really think about money – What money really means to them? People have more feelings of shame, guilt, greed/lust around money than perhaps any other thing.

Trading and addict’s mindset

When the market opens, a typical addicted trader would feel like this – “Let me just put on a short trade as overnight DOW was red and Nifty has moved 50 points from the open. If I just chase it just this one time, it should be OK because it makes me feel so good when I see the price going down, and I am convinced that I can make a killing on this one. Why should I wait for the price to come to me? Waiting is for losers. Maybe the price wont pullback and I would have missed it all. There’s no fun in that – so, lets jump into the trade”

This feeling is supported by excess secretion of dopamine and the ‘feeling of high’ kicks in immediately. The possibility of making money is enough to kick dopamine – we dont have to actually make money. Well, it’s all good and wonderful until it isnt. Because the trader chased the trade, and market in its natural way of ebbing and flowing, comes down and the trader is in a loss right now.

Now, here comes the best part – the brain registers losses 5 times more intensely than it feels gains. A loss of 1 lac will feel like 5 lacs. Chasing caused pain, and now the pain is financial/physical and psychological. Immediately, dopamine shuts down and the fear begins to pop up in the brain. This leads to an emotional roller coaster in a traders mind – a feeling of high followed by low. Markets can bring this effect upon unseasoned/impatient traders very easily and things go south psychologically pretty fast.

It is important to understand that addicts dont know when to stop trading and when to not jump. This cycle keeps repeating. If you have experienced this before or know someone who has gone through this cycle, this is what is happening in the background.

Trading addiction and research

Two professors from University of California, San Diego (UCSD) did a research on stock market fall and the hospital admission rates. Their research says that if the market goes down 1.5%, there is a rise of patients in the hospitals by 0.28% on the same day (in the evening).

This research was mind-boggling, to say the least. So, the sickness can be physical not just psychological.

Full research paper here –

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4111/4bea0b59b220f6d3c3575b7a8a19729db88d.pdf

Antidote to trading addiction

In my opinion, ‘following a well structured plan’ is the best antidote to this issue. Faith in our plan brings patience and patience is a key ingredient in following a well-defined plan.

Create a rigid plan (well thought out one) that has no ambiguity and follow it to the T. This is the only way out of despair and addiction with trading. The trading plan must be part of you – based on your psychology. Otherwise, it will be sacrificed for whims and moments of weakness.

Here is a blogpost i wrote on trading plan –

Basic pillars of trading success

As long as you work your plan, the plan will work for you and you will reach your goals eventually. There is no “get rich quick” plan.

Happy trading all !!