An excerpt from the book ‘Trading In The Zone’ by Mark Douglas
Now, if it’s possible for the boy to self-generate his own pain and terror and, at the same time, be firmly convinced that his negative experience was coming from the environment, is it also possible for traders to self-generate their own experiences of fear and emotional pain as they interact with market information and be thoroughly convinced that their pain and fear was completely justified by the circumstances? The underlining psychological dynamics work in exactly the same way. One of your basic objectives as a trader is to perceive the opportunities available, not the threat of pain. To learn how to stay focused on the opportunities, you need to know and understand in no uncertain terms the source of the threat. It’s not the market. The market generates information about its potential to move from a neutral perspective. At the same time, it provides you (the observer) with an unending stream of opportunities to do something on your own behalf. If what you perceive at any given moment causes you to feel fear, ask yourself this question: Is the information inherently threatening, or are you simply experiencing the effect of your own state of mind reflected back to you?
I know this is a difficult concept to accept, so I’ll give you another example to illustrate the point. Let’s set up a scenario, where your last two or three trades were losers. You are watching the market, and the variables you use to indicate that an opportunity exists are now present. Instead of immediately executing the trade, you hesitate. The trade feels very risky, so risky, in fact, that you start questioning whether this is “really” a signal. As a result, you start gathering information to support why this trade probably won’t work. This is information you normally wouldn’t consider or pay attention to, and it’s certainly not information that is part of your trading methodology. In the meantime, the market is moving. Unfortunately, it is moving away from your original entry point, the point at which you would have gotten into the trade if you hadn’t hesitated. Now you are conflicted, because you still want to get in; the thought of missing a winning trade is painful. At the same time, as the market moves away from your entry point, the dollar value of the risk to participate increases. The tug of war inside your mind intensifies. You don’t want to miss out, but you don’t want to get whipsawed either. In the end, you do nothing, because you are paralyzed by the conflict. You justify your state of immobility by telling yourself that it’s just too risky to chase the market, while you agonize over every tic the market moves in the direction of what would have been a nice winning trade.
If this scenario sounds familiar, I want you to ask yourself whether, at the moment you hesitated, were you perceiving what the market was making available, or perceiving what was in your mind reflected back to you? The market gave you a signal. But you didn’t perceive the signal from an objective or positive perspective. You didn’t see it as an opportunity to experience the positive feeling you would get from winning or making money, but that’s exactly what the market was making available to you. Think about this for a moment: If I change the scenario so that your last two or three trades were winners instead of losers, would you have perceived the signal any differently? Would you have perceived it more as an opportunity to win than you did in the first scenario? If you were coming off three winners in a row, would you have hesitated to put that trade on? Very unlikely! In fact, if you’re like most traders, you probably would have been giving very strong consideration to loading up (putting on a position much larger than your normal size). In each situation, the market generated the same signal. But your state of mind was negative and fear-based in the first scenario, and that caused you to focus on the possibility of failure, which in turn caused you to hesitate. In the second scenario, you hardly perceived any risk at all. You may even have thought the market was making a dream come true. That, in turn, would make it easy, if not compelling, to financially overcommit yourself. If you can accept the fact that the market doesn’t generate positively or negatively charged information as an inherent characteristic of the way it expresses itself, then the only other way information can take on a positive or negative charge is in your mind, and that is a function of the way the information is processed. In other words, the market doesn’t cause you to focus on failure and pain, or on winning and pleasure. What causes the information to take on a positive or negative quality is the same unconscious mental process that caused the boy to perceive the second dog as threatening and dangerous, when all the dog was offering was playfulness and friendship.
Our minds constantly associate what’s outside of us (information) with something that’s already in our mind (what we know), making it seem as if the outside circumstances and the memory, distinction, or belief these circumstances are associated with are exactly the same. As a result, in the first scenario, if you were coming off two or three losing trades, the next signal the market gives you that an opportunity was present will feel overly risky. Your mind is automatically and unconsciously linking the “now moment” with your most recent trading experiences. The link taps you into the pain of losing, creating a fearful state of mind and causing you to perceive the information you’re exposed to in that moment from a negative perspective. It seems as if the market is expressing threatening information, so, of course, your hesitation is justified. In the second scenario, the same process causes you to perceive the situation from an overly positive perspective, because you are coming off three winners in a row. The association between the “now moment” and the elation of the last three trades creates an overly positive or euphoric state of mind, making it seem as if the market is offering you a riskless opportunity. Of course, this justifies overcommitting yourself. In Chapter 1, I said that many of the mental patterns that cause traders to lose and make errors are so self-evident and deeply ingrained that it would never occur to us that the reason we aren’t consistently successful is because of the way we think. Understanding, becoming consciously aware of, and then learning how to circumvent the mind’s natural propensity to associate is a big part of achieving that consistency. Developing and maintaining a state of mind that perceives the opportunity flow of the market, without the threat of pain or the problems caused by overconfidence, will require that you take conscious control of the association process.