I always say that if you truly want to understand something then start by trying to change it. Yes, change can be a challenge for some people, because people react and adjust to change differently. However, change becomes more accepted when the need for it is understood.
Let's say you've recognized a bad trading habit that you want to change. I will help you to see the ‘next step’ for the needed change enabling success to not only find you—but stick around.
1. Understand the benefit of change. First, ask yourself if you need to change. Then, ask yourself what you need to change. Identify your current habits and ponder the benefits of changing them. Perhaps while trading you are feeling negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, temptation, or frustration. And ultimately, these emotions cause you to make poor, impulsive and self-destructive decisions. Write down what would happen if you were no longer feeling such negative emotions. That is, what would happen if you were able to remain calm and clear-headed while trading?
2. Dissect the proposed change and benefits. Find as many holes in the prospective change as you can. Don’t just convince yourself that things will become better if you change. Make sure the grass actually is greener on the other side of the fence. Be clear about what you want to change and how you will go about it. Write down the benefits that will take place if you do indeed change.
3. Recognize the situation that triggers your self-destructive action. Write down those all-too-familiar conditions, or circumstances, that lend themselves to activating negativity within you (e.g., all the things done, or said, that push your buttons). Also, write down how you are going to consciously recognize them during the day as they happen. Now, next to each item, write down what systems and processes you will implement to avoid letting that situation become emotional.
4. Create new habits. Having recognized the situation(s) that trigger your bad habit(s), you now need to identify and implement the new actions, or habits. Think about what exactly this would be for you and write your answer next to each item. Example, your negative habit when trading is to worry about getting into the market quickly so as not to miss out on a great opportunity and yet, by being impatient and not waiting for the right set-up, you recognize that you may be rushing presumptuously into a bad trade. Knowing this, write down that when you recognize the rising emotion of stress or anxiety—feeling like you are missing out—that you will consciously remind yourself that there is no such thing as the trade of the century, that there are over a thousand trading opportunities in a day and this isn’t the only one.
5. Practice. Out with the old, in with the new. Rehearse these new habits over and over in your mind. Hypothetically play out what you will do when the situation arises. Apply the law of visualization. As you rehearse, envision yourself executing your new behaviour.
On a more personal note, I’ll never forget one Friday morning in high school gym class… the coach announced that everyone was going to run and jump on a springboard carefully placed before a gymnastics horse attempting to land in the saddle. And yes, we were going to be graded. After watching the first five people crash and burn with quite serious injuries, I went to the coach and said, “Coach, you know I am the high school’s track star and tomorrow we have a big meet. If I get hurt doing this dumb exercise, I may not be able to run tomorrow and I don’t want to let my team down.” He looked at me and said, “Martinez, everyone does it or you fail the class.” I thought to myself, “I am dead.” As I stood in the corner looking very concerned and feeling sorry for myself, the coach looked at me and yelled, “Martinez get over here!” He then said, “Look, here is what I am going to do. I am going to have one of the gymnasts do this three times in a row. You watch him closely all three times and then you close your eyes and envision yourself doing this over and over in your mind, step by step, until you are clear on how you are going to do this exercise. Once it becomes clear in your mind on how you are going to do it, tell me you are ready and I will have you do it.” Then he said, “Listen good, if you visualize it in your mind first, your body will respond accordingly. First the thought, then the action. You got it?” That day I learned something that would change my life forever. I learned that if I really take the time to think through and envision my success as well as the steps I need to take in my life, it will happen. I believe that’s why I have been able to accomplish so much in my life. First the thought, then the action. With that mindset the human life can accomplish just about anything. When I was clear in my head what I needed to do, I told the coach I was ready, and I ran down the lane, jumped on the spring board and executed a close to perfect gymnastic horse straddle.
When it comes to trading, rehearse your new thought processes, walking through the actions step by step in your mind. Do this over and over until your mind accepts and embraces it. And before you know it, it will be a routine action that you carry out with ease. It will become habit. Practice, practice, practice. Realize that the only way you are going to make that change stick is to practice. Even though you may regress from time to time toward your old way of thinking and behaving, never give up practising. And remember, practice doesn't make perfect—practice makes habit!
6. Commit openly that you are making a change. There is power in making a verbal commitment by saying it out loud. Declaring to the world what you are determining to do will create a greater personal commitment. It strengthens your resolve. Once you take a position with a new action and verbalize it, other people will participate by holding you accountable. They will act as a coach pushing you to do better, and as a cheerleader encouraging you as they cheer you on.
I would be remiss in not mentioning another important key to change: letting go of the fear that things may not be better after we change them. Always remember, things in life are what we make them. Some things are simply out of our control. For example, we cannot change our past. And, we cannot change the fact that some people are just going to act a certain way, or that a surprise situation is going to create some sort of ripple effect. However, what we can do is have control over ourselves. Changing the way we look at things as well as the way we respond to the unexpected.
If you find that something is not working in your life, or in your trading, then these six steps may really help you move from conscious incompetence to unconscious competence, or what I call a life of unconscious success.
Let us all become students of change.