Tag Archives: subconscious mind

Trading psychology Part two

Psychology

This is in continuation with the previous post on psychology and subconscious mind. There were some interesting messages in twitter after I posted the first blogpost on psychology. Here is the link to the previous post.

Trading psychology and the role of subconscious mind

In this blogpost, I would like to highlight the similarities between trading and other common psychological issues/observations. To make the concept richer, I will give it a try again on the same topic with a different flavor.

Trading and Sports

We all understand that to trade the markets, we need to learn how to trade. That is the baseline. If we believe that trading is a skill based competitive endeavor, then it follows that psychology may have a part.

Like any sporting endeavor, psychology can’t make up for us being crap in the first place. So, no point getting a sports psychologist to attend our first golf lesson. On the other hand, let’s say we have a 15 yard put on the 18th hole this shot and if we putt it right, we win the tournament (plus a cool 10 crores prize money). Fluff the shot and share 2nd place with five other folks. As we line up for that shot, our visits to a sports psychologist could make or break us.

Think about it – this is an easy shot we took a million times. But now there is so much riding on it, can we just saunter up to the ball and pop it in the hole? Or will we be deliberate, think things through too much, not rely on just letting our body do its thing in taking the shot (use of muscle memory). In short – will we f*** it up?

With any skill, our performance can degrade under pressure. We need skill before this will show up in my opinion but anyone that has played a sport competitively will know that feeling of pressure that mounts as the outcome becomes more important. This is our mind/psychology in full play.

Trading and primitive fight/flight response

When we trade the markets, lot of traders feel that that markets are there to prey on them. In fact, market does nothing to affect us individually but our brains are primordially built to handle adversarial situations. Hence, we do things like making “revenge trades”, which is treating the market like a contest between people. That is equivalent to curve fitting data so that it fits our trading idea, but we are fitting the market onto how our behavior and natural responses are designed to interact with people and predators.

Evolution has effectively given us a dumb brain and a smart brain. The smart brain runs the show unless a threat is present and then the dumb brain takes over, because the dumb brain is faster at making simple decisions. This avoids people taking a long time to arrive at a conclusive decision (whether to fight or flight) only to find that it is too late and they are in the jaws of a predator. This can create a problem in trading as our natural responses can be inappropriate and the way we view/assess information changes when the dumb brain takes over.

When we practice trading in a non-stressful situation (read it as ‘demo trading’), we evaluate our success based on how our smart brain handles the situation. Under stress, in real trading, we may find that we fail to notice things that are obvious when we look at the same information after the stress has passed. This is why demo trading is so deceiving.

Trading and owning up for our actions

Some people like to say psychology has no place. We are either a skilled trader or we aren’t. Maybe that is true if we are an Android or computer, but as a human, we have emotions. Our mind plays tricks on us. If we don’t believe that to be true, then we need to do some more research on how memories work with the human brain and it would be wise if we do some research on why wall street employs trading psychologists for millions of dollars to train hedge fund managers.

When we put all these things together, “the psychology of trading”, we come up with a collective of reasons that can explain away why we held on to that losing trade, even though our trading plan said to get rid of it. This is both a good and a bad thing.

For most, it is a good thing when we finally realize that our poor trading performance is a direct result of our own actions. Too many traders never get this far. They blame the market, indicators, vendors, platforms, data feeds, family, neighbor’s dog, phone calls and myriad number of reasons. But never themselves – Zero accountability.

When we finally realize that it was our own actions that caused us to mismanage a trade,that is progress. When we realize that it was our own actions which made as a ‘failure’ trader, that’s real progress as well. But why did we do it? We know we did it, but why?? I call this the psychology of trading. Why do we as humans want to be right? Why is it our memories fault us, convincing us of something in order for us to be right, when in reality we were wrong? This is a really important point to ponder.

Trading and stress/emotions

Am sure many of aware of backtesting a trading idea. But here is the question. When we all can see ourselves as multi-crorepatis in backtesting/demo trading, what happens in real trading? The moment that real capital is put at risk in trading, everything changes. Trading goes from a scholarly exercise where loss is theoretical/on-paper/not personal to a primordial experience where potential loss deranges the rational mind and primeval emotional responses take charge of the trading mind. After experiencing real losses, the emotional brain even starts anticipating potential losses (rather than gains) and hijacks the trading mind (and consequently, disabling it to take decisive actions) If one has dealt with fear of entering a trade or fear of pulling the trigger on a perfectly good set-up, he has experienced the incomprehensible power the emotions have over sane thought.

Others are primed for over trading when their desire to experience the feeling of winning big (and to feel that drop of dopamine creating euphoria in the brain – lot of research has been done on how the brain gets addicted to gambling) transforming the coherent trading mind into the gambler’s mind. All these inexplicable behavior during real trading can be termed as ‘trading psychology’ too.

Unless we have won the genetics lottery (to get to be in nirvana stage from age 2), the brain/mind we have brought to trading is simply not equipped to produce success in trading. It was not built to deal with uncertainty.

Final thoughts

In stock markets, riches are made in a matter of weeks and lost in a matter of minutes. This pattern recur itself as each new generation of traders hit the market. Most of us have been raised hearing (through our kith/kin or media) that rich people are immoral/unethical and downright dirty. Once we grew up and become a trader, whenever we reach that mental threshold in trading and we start feeling rich, our subconscious mind will start to help us to adjust that behavior. It pretty much helps us to push the button when we shouldn’t and so on. It is about that much-hyped (pun intended) self-image we carry inside of us. The outer world is mirroring back that to us. If we feel bad one day, our trades are going to be bad as well. This is so relevant to ‘discretionary traders’. Why? Simply because we’re actually not trading the markets really, we are trading ourselves. So, it is prudent for any trader to keep the mind and body sharp, in that aspect.

We can exercise our body (to keep both mind and body healthier) but only if we believe that mind is important in trading, we can exercise the mind as well.

Happy trading!!

Trading psychology and the role of subconscious mind

Psychology

How many times have we heard this word ‘psychology’ getting associated with trading profession? Innumerable times. To the uninitiated, it seems to be an over-rated (probably abused) word. I will make an attempt to give a different perspective about psychology’s part in trading as there are lot of literature that talks about cliched topics like ‘handling fear/greed and discipline issues’. We will not focus on those items in this blogpost.

To all the readers reading this post, have you ever faced any of the following issues?

1. Not taking a trade in your plan because you did not think it would work (after a couple of losses in a row)?
2. Taking a trade immediately after a loss that is not in your plan? And then after another loss, another trade not in your plan?
3. Chasing a price move because you are afraid it is going to run without you only to see it reverse after you jump in?
4. Averaging into a losing position because you just believe you are right and price will come back to where you bought?
5. Moving your stop further away from your original stop to give the trade more room or moving to breakeven too early?
6. Continuous counter trend trades because you feel price has moved too far and you expect a reversal?
7. Refusal to close out a losing trade and holding it until later in the day or the next day taking a bigger loss than your original stop?

If you haven’t had any of these issues, please stop reading this blogpost further – you are either a master/legendary trader or have never traded before!! Chances are if we have had several of these happen to us, we either have no trading plan or should not be trading or our mindset around trading needs some work. We can call it psychology, call it mindset, call it mental discipline, or whatever suits our fancy.

The difference between unsuccessful traders, net profitable traders, and big money making traders is smaller than we think. It usually boils down to a small but perceptible edge, and while it can be related to poor money management, inadequate funds, or a bad methodology, it is usually an internal factor – a lack of discipline, emotional control, patience, and especially an improper attitude about losing and risk. Mind you, all these factors collectively called as ‘trading psychology’. So, it does not matter what we call it, but the intrinsic difficulties are real and they reflect in our trading P&L.

But to understand this phenomenon more deeply, we need to understand how mind works and how it relates to trading profession. Let’s start by dividing the mind into three divisions – inner subconscious mind, the subconscious mind and the conscious mind. We’re not going to talk about the inner subconscious mind (its primary function is to run our organs automatically) and the conscious mind (as our emotions are not relevant to them). Our focus will be on the ‘sub-conscious mind’. On a daily basis, we spend about 1-5% in the conscious mind. The rest is spent in the subconscious mind. The conscious mind perceives about 40 bits of information per second and on the contrary, the subconscious mind about 20 million bits of information/second. As they say -“Your brain (subconscious mind) sees even when you don’t”. And it’s never dormant. In fact, it has been awake and recording since the time we were a fetus.

Subconscious mind and the way it works

Subconscious mind can be divided into 3 subsections –

1. The Memory Mind – It has recorded all our memories, all events, and actions, everything that ever happened in our life since the time we were a fetus. Think of it as a video camera with five senses. All of our memories (from brain’s inception) are there and they are present constantly in every moment of your life.

2. The Emotional Mind – It’s the part that contains all of our emotions. Whenever we act, react on an emotional basis, the subconscious mind is involved. Have you ever thought of that situation when we reacted so silly, and we asked ourselves later, why in the whole world did we react like that, or why did we say that? It’s because of the emotive information that’s stored in our subconscious mind. Remember, that conscious mind has no role here – analytical part of the brain (part of conscious mind) cannot even start processing the information yet.

3. The Protective Mind – It has the role of protecting us against what it perceives as dangerous.

How subconscious mind is built

The basis for sub-conscious mind is created from day zero of our life till the age of about 7. That’s because, our brain waves, in that period are in a kind of hypnotic state. They move very slowly, and our whole subconscious is very much completely open. During these years, we lack the critical factor –the analytical and rational mind. And that means that every little thing that’s put there (not that it stays there) creates the fundamentals of our character, and our outcomes in life.

Subconscious mind and need for security

We understood how the mind is built but who’s putting in the information? Well, most of it comes from our parents or the people who raise us up. They are the ones in charge of our lives. One of our primate need is the ‘need for security‘. As I have a 8 months old baby now, I can give an example w.r.t to a baby. Normally, when a baby starts crying, it is taken up by the mother, it continues to cry. The mother checks the diaper, changes it. The baby keeps on crying. The last step – the one that always works – is to bring the baby to the bosom and feed it with breast milk (or stick a bottle with milk in its mouth if one is not breastfeeding). That’s when the baby finally stops crying.

What’s actually happening? The need for security is fulfilled. Being brought up to the bosom, the baby feels the warmth/care from the mother and the need for security is fulfilled. The only problem, is that it creates an association. The brain creates that association to food. In other words, when I get food, then I’m secure. We grow up, and every time, we had a stressed day or we feel depressed, we find ourselves putting something in your mouth. If we start to abuse food, we give birth to obesity. But, remember it has to do with the need of fulfilling ones security. Other quick examples are classical as well. Just think of how many parents out there telling their children, things like “you’re not worthy”, “you can’t do that”, “you’re bad”, “you’ll never be able to” and so on and so forth. So, it is prudent for a parent to watch what they are really telling their kids as that information is shaping up our kid’s future (more so, when they are in their young/blossoming years).

The real us, is our subconscious mind, because we’re spending there about 95% of our daily lives. The subconscious mind is this device ‘playing on’ the program we got and it is put there by our parents and by society.

Subconscious mind and trading

Ok great!! But, what does all this has to do with trading then? Have you guys ever heard of, fear of success? We do want to make money, we love money, we love trading but we’re still losing money. What we’re experiencing here is a conflict between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. Remember, who the real you is! We’re actually the sum of all our programming. Funny thing right? So, being the sum of all our programs and given the fact that subconscious mind has the role of protecting us – Bingo, we got a great recipe!! It doesn’t allow us to make money. Because somewhere in the program, we’ve got a bad experience that has a negative charge and it keeps holding us back from getting hurt again.

See this innocuous looking statement – “In order to earn money, you have to work hard”. It has probably been put there, somewhere between the age of 0-7. Unfortunately, our parents became parents without getting any instruction manual on how to raise kids and we have the social construction as well in the picture. Nothing against the parents here but just wanted to put the facts across. Our parents inadvertently created ‘reward and punishment’ mechanism. They punish us when we’re not following their instruction and reward us when we do as we’re told. The kind of reward we get is, acceptance. When we get that acceptance, we then fulfill one of our basic needs – the need for security.

This creates a dogged association here –”In order to earn money, we have to work hard” which in turn equalizes to ‘safety’. We grow up, and start to work, and eventually we find out that, working hard equals earning money. And the safety need is fulfilled. Now, fast forward few years and you enter the arena of trading. We get into situations that can make us money easily, without having to work hard. BANG – That’s when we blow it!!

Dealing with the core issue

It is very difficult to buy this concept. I understand that. Personally, it took me a while before I finally had the courage to face it, and to understand that, it doesn’t matter how I take it or perceive it, by my conscious mind. The subconscious plays the lead here. And no matter how much I refused to accept that, it wasn’t that way. Any amount of self-talk and affirmations were not helping here and the subconscious mind just snickered back at me by decreasing my account. This was of course a very basic example but am sure you get the drift. There are various ways of overcoming this obstacle – NLP (Neuro-linguistics programming), Hypnosis and many more. I do not want to dwell in to those vast topics in this blogpost but I hope I have enabled the readers to think in that direction.

Bottom line, discounting psychology is the same as discounting your mental health. Psychology doesn’t mean seeing a shrink. It means being aware of your mind and its behaviors. Surely, we are not going to try and make an argument that mental health is unimportant. Skill is composed of more things than just physical prowess. There is also mental aptitude. And in order to exercise our mind, we must at least accept that psychology (and the subconscious mind) is not a “prank”.

Happy trading all !!