Sunday, October 25, 2009

Emotional Trading Alarms

How do you know you have downshifted to your limbic brain?

Everyone knows that emotional decisions can create havoc with trading profits. We understand this when we are calm and working from our neo-cortex (our rational brain). The problem is, as the emotions increase we go to our flight/fight response, receive a cocktail of hormones (adrenal dump) and we downshift from our neo-cortex to our emotional limbic brain. Our problem is that we don’t have a way to measure this change because our neo-cortex has been hijacked by our limbic brain and we lose calibration.

Until now?

Phillips and
ABN AMBRO are testing a concept device. The implications are staggering. The major political disasters have been caused by emotional reaction coupled with unbounded power. What if we couldn’t drive, vote, legislate or trade while under extreme stress?

Until this device arrives, you can still manage your own emotional state by building a new Mind Muscle™. This exercise could change your life.

By managing breathing, you can change your physiology during times of extreme stress. How you breathe paces the rest of your physiological response. Change your breathing and you change your physiological pattern. If truly mastered, you will be able to lower your blood pressure and counter most of the negative arousal effects and stress levels from the adrenal dump during a downshift to fight/flight.

Practice can be done on your own and works more effectively as it becomes automated. Ideally this exercise I call Upshift Breathing is most effective when practiced under actual stress. To begin, practice the mechanics of this breathing exercise through several cycles by yourself. Pace yourself so that each part takes the same amount of time as you slowly count to four during each part.

1. First inhale through your nose slowly to the count of four.
2. Hold your breath to the count of four.

3. Exhale through your mouth slowly to the count of four.

4. Let your lungs relax and stay empty to the count of four.

Start the cycle again.

Additionally, this visualization may help. When you inhale through your nose, do so with steady deliberation and imagine that you are drawing in the room around you. On the next inhale, take in your trading desk. On the next breath breathe in your computer screen, then the markets, then the whole economy. Hold the economy effortlessly in your lungs for the four second count. Then with a complete and relaxed exhale, experience the joy of returning the markets to their former state.

Once you have the mechanics down, take a private moment, become comfortable, and create an imaginary threatening situation. This situation can range anywhere from mildly stressful, such as an argument with a spouse, to a truly terrorizing fear you have carried for years. We recommend that you start with a visualization of an event that is mildly stressful and work your way up to your core fears.

Set an alarm for five minutes (you can adjust the time with experience) and start the fantasy. Imagine the peace you feel before you see signs of danger or stress. See, smell and hear the argument, stressful situation or danger. Visualize it in all its details with all of your senses as if it were a surround sound, 3D movie playing in your mind. Notice the effects on your body as the experience intensifies. Allow yourself to feel the full impact of the stress, anger or danger. Allow your body or voice to respond out loud.

When the five minute alarm goes off, notice what is going on in your body. Notice everything you can. Inventory your entire body: breathing rate, vision, hearing, muscle tension, stomach etc.

Now, start Upshift Breathing. Breathe slowly. Focus on your body. Notice the changes as you slow you breathing. Practice this breathing several times until you feel you have the cycle of fear and relaxation automated.

Then the next time you are staring at disbelief at your trading screen as you are stopped out of you sixth trade in a row, your boss yells at you or your spouse makes an accusation, start your Upshift Breathing cycle. Pay attention to your body at the start of the Upshift Breathing cycle. Then notice your state as you cycle through the breathing exercise. This real-time awareness is an important part of the experience. As this breathing becomes part of your life, it will happen automatically in the very real high stress trading situations where you really need it. Law enforcement officers who use this technique report that it has become automated when they feel threatened, helping them asses danger and save lives.

If you can automate this breathing response during trading, it will eliminate the majority of emotional trading mistakes. The challenge is that most of us have a resistance to deep breathing because we have contracted our bodies to protect ourselves over the course of a day, week, year and lifetime. Slow breathing not only takes you out of the fight/flight downshift to your limbic brain, but has the potential to open other life pains. So, be gentle with yourself. Notice if you intend to do this exercise but don’t. Your resistance is there to protect yourself, even if that protection is no longer necessary.

To learn more about building Mind Muscles™ and a free consultation please call.

Richard Friesen
(415) 259-0652

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Turning Your Uniqueness into Market Edge and a Trading Strategy

We are all wired differently. We all bring different skills to trading. We all have distinct dispositions. We also have our own unique mental baggage that we deal with day in and day out.

This is good news.

Because you are unique, you can build a trading process that works for you. The ultimate goal is to accept who you are, know your skills and limitations and find a way to turn you internal trad
ing machine into a statistical trading “edge.” Once you know your own “edge,” you can then create a trading strategy that emphasizes your edge and ameliorates your mental baggage.

Some traders need control. Others love excitement. Some traders want a clear system to execute. Others feel imprisoned by mechanical systems. We all have trading weakness that can be triggered in certain market conditions with certain positions.

A system that is built on who you are, your trading needs and ameliorates your emotional triggers can turn a volatile P&L into more consistent profits.

The first step is to determine what you really need. Not just what you say you need, but what is the underlying need. And don’t be shy here. It is ok to know that you need an adrenaline rush. There is no shame in this. It is fine to recognize a need to avoid being terrified.

Try this exercise to see if it reveals any deeper needs. Make a list of what you need out of trading. This will probably include money, but be sure to look for other needs as well…perhaps recognition, proof of your intelligence or escape.

Once you have written down all the benefits of trading, take the one that seems the most important. Then ask yourself, what you get out of this benefit. Write that down. Then ask again, what do you get out of that benefit? Write it down. Keep drilling down until there are no more underlying benefits. Then, go to the next most important trading benefit and drill down again.

For example, if you start with money as an important benefit, ask yourself, what benefit to I get out of money? The answer may be security. Then ask, what benefit do I get out of security? And keep drilling. The answers may surprise you.

You can also learn more about yourself by taking the MarketPsych Trader Personality Test gratis. It returns scoring on personality factors and biases.

The next step is to find out what your “edge” is. Edge is anything that gives you a statistical advantage for a trade. It might be pattern recognition, fearlessness in the face of market panic, discipline to follow a system, or an algorithm. What is your edge? How does it work? Why does the market not discount this edge? Why is the market going to give you profits? Make sure this edge is in sync with your skills, temperament and emotional baggage.

Once you have defined your “edge,” you can then create a system. The more clearly defined it is, the more it can be followed, tested and improved.

Understand who you are, use the best of yourself to create a statistical edge and build a system based on this foundation. The MarketPsych trader training coaching programs are built on this process. Please call if we can be of help.

Richard Friesen
(415) 259-0652

Monday, October 12, 2009

Profit When Market Patterns Shift

All trading systems work. All trading systems fail. It is difficult to find a trading system that DOESN’T work in some market at some time. It is also difficult to find a system that DOES make consistent returns in all market conditions.

Here is the really good news.

Independent traders have the luxury of picking and choosing their trades. They don’t have to trade all of the time. This is their edge. They can wait until the market patterns are working for them.

It is in the evolution and transition of trading patterns that a lot of money can be made and lost. Because trading patterns are driven by humans who trade repeatedly with the same behavioral responses the destruction and emergence of new patterns create profit opportunities.

The problem we have as traders is that if we have a system that is making money in one market pattern, we get attached to that system. We build our ego on the fact that 15 of our last 18 trades were winners. This rewards our dream that we have found the secret to trading.

It’s like one of those Zen puzzles…any belief you are attached to, the market will destroy. As a trader, it is your ability to see new trading patterns emerge that create the most profit potential. To do this, the mind needs to see the markets as they are without the prejudicial filters we all carry around. If our ego is attached to a trading system and its success, the ability to see new patterns emerging is difficult.

When I was an option floor trader, I would get a “sense” that a market pattern was about to change. This “sense” was built on years of experience. Even though I might not be able to articulate what was happening, I could feel it.

At these times I would go to the market to reduce my risk. It was expensive because I would have to trade with other market makers to change my positions quickly. More often than not, nothing had changed. I would have paid $10,000 or more for the insurance. However, a few times a new pattern would emerge and I could see it because I didn’t have positions based on the previous pattern. Other market makers, with large complex positions based on the previous pattern would need to believe that the current change was an aberration and that the markets would come back to their previous patterns. As the market continued the shift, it would get more and more expensive to realize the losses, and the more stubborn these market makers would get.

Here is the cool thing. Since I no longer had a risk position, a few times I was able to visualize the new patterns very early in the shift, reset my option volatility tables and start building a new position. I would often be trading with other market makers whose values were based on the previous patterns. Slowly, one by one, the other market makers would see what was happening and the options would come in line with the new pattern. With the new option values, I made a lot of money.

As a market maker, I had to be trading and make markets for incoming orders at all times and it was expensive to shift positions. But as an independent trader, you can pick and choose the times to trade. This is a powerful advantage. You can get out of a position with a click of the mouse when you sense a market pattern is changing.

Here are some potential indicators of changing market patterns:


-Unusual Emotions in yourself such as exuberance, fear or cockiness
-Emotions in other traders you talk to such as exuberance, fear or cockiness
-Overwhelming consensus of where the market is going
-Physiological changes in yourself such as stomach pain, tenseness, funny taste in your mouth, back ache etc.
-Emotions in the news and headlines

Market Indicators:

-Daily Range
-Volatility and implied volatility in options
-Size of trades or unusual large orders
-New chart patterns
-Unexpected price moves
-Time of day pattern shfits
-Opening market patterns changes
-Closing market pattern changes
-Changes in your ability to execute trades
-Changes in your P&L patterns
-Unusual price gaps
-Sudden quiet
-Shifts in how the market reacts to news
-Changing margin requirements

Remember, all trading systems work during certain market periods. All trading systems eventually fail. It’s the law. If you can free yourself from the belief in your system as the holy grail, you can see new patterns as they emerge and profit.

Easy to say, but how do you see new patterns? In my coaching practice we create a series of Mind Muscles™. These are neurological circuits that help us create new responses to market conditions. Creating concrete visualizations is one way of building new Mind Muscles™ and behavioral responses. If you want to create a Mind Muscle™ for new pattern recognition try this exercise.

First, get comfortable in a place that you won’t be interrupted. Take a moment do some deep breathing exercises. One exercise that works well is to slow count to three on your inhale through your nose. Hold the inhale for another count of three. Exhale through your mouth to a slow count of three and rest at full exhalation for another count of three. Repeat 10 times or until you feel your body settling in.

Then close your eyes and imagine a dog, a well trained bloodhound. He is sniffing the air, the ground and various objects. Imagine this hound dog in detail, his colors, movements and sounds. He is looking for some scent that is out of the ordinary. Spend some time with him as he sniffs his world. Now give him a name. Sniffer works great if nothing else comes to mind. Call the dog to your side. Pet him and give him some love. Then tell him to go and sniff out new patterns and to bay at the top of his voice when he finds one. Call him back, reward him with love, and send him out again.

Now, when you are trading and have a moment, visualize your new bloodhound. He represents a new behavior you have created in your brain. Call him by name. Give him some love. Tell him to go sniff out pattern changes. Watch him as he sniffs both psychological indicators and market metrics. And wait for the baying to begin.

For more on the how and why of creating Mind Muscles™ please call.

Richard Friesen

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Coaching Clients that Stay Stuck

When I am talking to a prospective coaching client, one of the questions that frequently comes up is about my success rate, or clients that don’t progress. A professional trader and potential client asked me this question today.

This is a great question because it has stimulated my own thinking.

As a trader, I am all about pattern recognition (by the way, neuroscience is finding out more about how pattern recognition works in the brain…my next blog?). What is the pattern of traders that never make it?

We all have deep core needs, some of which have never been met. Most of us compensate (I know I have) and live great lives. However, sometimes that deep unmet need is connected to a belief about ourselves, our world or the markets. This belief becomes a story and this story becomes our lifeline and hope for the future. We will protect our belief in this story like life itself.

As a result, we are unable to see the market for what it is when it doesn’t fit our story.

If we felt ignored in our early years, we might create a story that successful trading will bring us acclaim. If we were told we were stupid, successful trading might prove that we are smart. If we felt powerless, sucessful trading will give us the power we deserve. If we were abused as children, successful trading will release the anger we feel. If we feel unworthy, we may sabotage our results.

For example, a former exchange floor trader who worked for my trading firm was adopted and had always felt unworthy. He had overcome a number of problems in his life (like stuttering) but his lack of self-acceptance was a deep unacknowledged wound. Before I hired him, he had made a lot of money trading then blew out (He lost all his trading capital). After training, he followed our option trading system but had mediocre results.

I brought in a hypno-therapist to work with him. She gave him the tools to visualize and build a new relationship to himself, as someone who was worthy. After a few sessions, he became a tiger in the pit. In fact, he became so aggressive that he got into a fight on the floor. My firm was fined, and I was very happy to pay. He went on to become both profitable and consistent.

But what if he had kept the story that he was unworthy? Would new trading systems, new gurus, new algorithms make a difference? Probably not.

We all have unacknowledged stories. Most of them are benign. But occasionally, one story can be so attached to a core wound that at this time, we can’t let go, even with all the help in the world.

The first step to discovering our own story, is awareness. Here is an exercise that may be helpful in expanding your own self-awareness. When trading isn’t going well, set an alarm to ring in ten minutes or more. When it goes off, freeze! Now take an inventory of your thoughts. Are you telling yourself a story? If you are feeling badly, what drives that feeling? What story creates that feeling? If you find a story, write it down in a journal.

The story is your way of protecting yourself, so give it respect like a wise elder. If you want to take this experience further, see what the story is protecting. You might find a door to a new insight.

Richard Friesen
(415) 259-0652