Using the Right Mental Model for Trading Markets
I read some of the work of Dr. Brett Steenbarger, who is a Ph.D. psychologist, who helps traders deal with and overcome their psychological trading problems.
This is a REALLY good idea. Probably 75% or more of trading success, hinges on having the right mental models. I speak from experience here. Here is one of Dr. Steenbarger's notes - and I like the fact he talks about his cats. He talks mostly about "gratitude" but he also talks about his rescue cats, and how he bonds with them. This is important. Trust me on this. It really is important.
I tried to post a "comment" to this note of his, but the blog-program he is using, would not let me.
So, I post it here, because it is a good comment, and I learned a bit, just writing it. (I had forgotten about my "horrible/awful/terrible" trade, until I started writing the comment...
---- My Comment Thanking Dr. Steenbarger, and confessing about my learnings ---
Hello Dr. Steenbarger;
I like your work. Well done, very helpful. Trading success is almost entirely a matter of psychology, and that is not something I would have expected - except I have lived it. I do AI and statistical research in markets, and run some small portfolios that have to make money (to keep the lights on!). My computer/predictive programs work actually quite well. The item that does not work well, is the human. (me!) I sometimes think I have made every mistake a human can make - but then I make a new one, and add to my list. This year I got stupid-stubborn, and nuked 25% of my best portfolio, holding a trade I should have closed. It's just a dopey, beginners error, but I just got stubborn - a silly, unwise approach to trading, we all know.
Psychological reality is - (and I say this as a programmer/engineer/economist/tech-hacker kind of guy, so this is a big admission for me) - honestly, the difference between success and failure in the markets.
This is profoundly not-obvious, when one begins to trade.
Your work is good and useful, and I am working thru your online book. I logged in here, just to offer my thanx to you, for doing this.
I have, honestly, really *struggled* with the psy-op side of trading. I get angry, I get stupid-stubborn, I get moody and disgusted - I get angry (did I mention that I get angry?) - and I *know* that this is wrong and unwise and foolish. But knowing and fixing are two different things.
So, just wanted to say, you are on to something. I trade because I need the darn money. I don't like it, and it does not make me feel good (since I have a type-A control-freak engineer's view of things - I don't like to be thwarted, of course..) - and the market is all about taking guys like me to the cleaners. My kind supply the capital to the game. (I could be a "Belgian Dentist", to use the old European term)
But I am not.
One idea-item I encountered years ago has helped me.
Instead of "fighting the war with the Market" it has helped me to remember that different algorithms are possible - different mental models can be used.
These make a big difference.
I was very impressed with your notes and comments on the cats. Cats are very sensitive and clever creatures - they have to be to hunt and eat successfully.
What I found - and you confirm - is this importance of the mental model we use for understanding.
I have found - rather than *fight* with the Market, it is possible to *dance* with the Market. You view it as a sensitive woman. Some days, no matter what you do, she is rude and abusive, regardless of your actions. Other days, she is happy to see you, full of joy at your arrival, and willing to offer you all her charms.
Your job is simply to determine which day it is.
Some days, she wants to dance. But most days, she does not want to dance at all.
You must be relaxed, and learn to see what day it is.
On those rare days (you can actually compute the probabilities with curious accuracy), when she wants to dance, then you enter into the Market dance, and see how it goes.
There are even some days, where she wants everything you have, and is willing to offer everything she has. These are very rare days, but they do exist. Learn to recognize them - but never try to force them to happen.
This algorithm sounds very sexist - and it is.
But it is truthful, and I offer it, because it is curiously helpful.
Stop fighting with the Market. She is a woman, and she is very, very fickle. Most days, just you dance for some small gains, and develop and nurture your sense of playfull flirtation.
But there *may* be those rare days, where you can establish one of those positions that just goes and goes - it goes all the way.
Men know about this model. It is inside their DNA, and they can access it without too much trouble or pain.
And like you mention in this writing of yours - gratitude and joy are the operational modalities - not *fighting* and *victory*. The market is *not* a battlefield. A battlefield is a battlefield.
A Market is much more like a dance-floor, with a wonderful collection of possible partners. This is a much better mental algorithm.
I share it here, because you have shared your wisdom about your cats - and their nature. That was really interesting and helpful. So many of us have been beaten bloody by the Markets, and we have sustained painful, soul-hurting losses.
But these losses truly do teach us what we must learn. Once, at the beginning of my serious trading, I lost half my stake - again in a really stupid, insane trade. I remember using a telephone booth to close the trade (which actually would have gone to zero - shares became worthless), and closing at the 50% loss was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. But at least I did not lose *all* my money (it was a lot of money, proceeds from a real-estate sale). I recall walking up Yonge Street (big main drag in my City), and I felt in a horrible daze of physical sick dizzy awfulness.. like in a nightmare - garish neon lights, laughing happy people. It just hurt so bad, in a way that I could not even process.
But it was a good teaching experience. It was really, really good, actually - but it didn't feel like that at the time.
So - psychology is *really* important - and I found your notes on "gratitude" really interesting... quite enlightening, actually.
See, because of my horrible/terrible loss - I did many things differently, and the different things I did, worked out really, really well.But I never would have done them, if I had not been hammered so hard.
So, curious as it sounds, I am honestly grateful for the stupid-awful trade I did, where I lost half my life-money.
Your note from Churchill is very true: "Success is not final, and Failure is not fatal. What matters is the courage to continue."
Thanx again, Dr. Steenbarger, for posting your work the way your have. It's a noble action.
And hey, I got Covid-19, and I didn't die! Life is really good. Every single day is better than a bag of gold & diamonds. I won the "you-get-to-live-longer" lottery! That really puts things in perspective...
----- 30 -----
(this "30" is what the old journalists used to write. At first, they would put "XXX" at the end of their articles, so the telegraph-sender would know it was the end. But some joker started putting "30" instead of "XXX", and the "30" just stuck, since it was an inside joke among reports & wire-writers.)