Steven Berkoff (torturer): What is this?
John Rambo: Okay, okay, it’s the3500 road map.
Steven Berkoff: You haven’t followed it. You are pathetic, a weak soldier! You lack discipline. You must be punished!
A recent post by Globetrader on ’emotions in trading’ got me thinking about the trader’s journey of self-discovery, and the meaning of my road map. Personally, a large part of my journey is about using will power to condition myself to be a better trader, about killing off those behavioural gremlins that pop up every now and then and send me in to a vicious circle, where perspective is lost and losses mount. Actions I have taken include taking more breaks, eating and drinking correctly, and regular exercise. These activities have helped my discipline and general emotional balance. My road map also includes reminders of the the ugly side of trading (addictive trading, seeking instant gratification, challenging fate), as well as reminders of the positive characteristics to continue to develop (patience, discipline, being humble). The general aim is to nourish the positives and starve the negatives. What it boils down to is will power and an openness to change.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about whether I can speed up this development process. Some of the negative behavioural responses in my trading can be thought of as Pavlovian, in that they sometimes feel like predetermined natural reflexes to certain external stimuli that have been transposed on to my market behaviour. Whether these responses are hard wired or not, the point is that I should be pro-active in trying to modify my conditioning by promoting positive behaviours and punishing my negative behaviours. Previously, I wanted to use will power alone, reasoning that this would have represented the ultimate journey. However, what comes to mind is a comment that Brett Steenbarger made a while back, that trading should not be about seeking ‘validation’ as individuals. This is very important. Trading is about finding the best way of making money. Using the market as a testing ground for one’s will power is dangerous and reckless.
So, how can I condition myself using a carrot and stick approach?
A few days ago I was thinking of some pretty extreme solutions. These included self-harm such as cutting myself when I committed a behavioural foul; keeping a knife next to my PC would be a good reminder of the forthcoming pain. Instead of this extreme measure, I thought about ‘paper-cutting’ my finger (less blood, but more annoying, lingering pain). This could work a treat. At the very extreme, I envisioned myself hooked up to an electrode that sensed my brain pattern and electrocuted me with jolts of varying strength. The great thing about the last method is that I could be electrocuted before I even placed a trade. This ‘Minority Report’ style pre-crime punishment is not actually as far fetched as I thought – a few days ago, it was reported that:
A team of world-leading neuroscientists has developed a powerful technique that allows them to look deep inside a person’s brain and read their intentions before they act.
The team used high-resolution brain scans to identify patterns of activity before translating them into meaningful thoughts, revealing what a person planned to do in the near future. It is the first time scientists have succeeded in reading intentions in this way.
Professor Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientist and director of the Medical Research Council, said: “We shouldn’t go overboard about the power of these techniques at the moment, but what you can be absolutely sure of is that these will continue to roll out and we will have more and more ability to probe people’s intentions, minds, background thoughts, hopes and emotions.
Pretty cool, but back to reality. I have decided that if I continue to trade in the months ahead, I will ring fence a small portion of my profits for ‘treats’. On the punishments side of the equation, I am still not sure what is best. Actual self-harm is too extreme, but I need to have some kind of consistent punishment that sticks in my mind long after the event.