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 RFriesen@MarketPsych.com

2 comments:

Tom Bailey said...

I love your blog. The breathing technique that you shared here has INCREDIBLE benefits. You have a VERY sophisticated well thought out blog. It is clear that you do this for a living. I love reading it KEEP IT UP!

I would appriciate if you commented on on my on what I am up to there when you update or do anything here.


Best regards

gigascanner said...

I love it. This exact thing used to happen to me, watching the ticks, sweating, heart racing - and I see my hand reach over and pick up the phone and execute a stock trade - as if it's another person was doing it! I lost a ton of money before I finally snapped out of it. Toward that end I built a tool to facilitate pure technical trading, based on computer-generated signals, completely devoid of all emotions. I would like to share it, it's all free, not trying to make money off it. I just hope people will find it useful. custom stock-screening tool Thank you.