We talk a lot about getting into the right mindset for trading and making sure you are in a balanced emotional state where you will not go on tilt and make poor decisions. There is no way to ever completely clear your mental slate of the worries, fears, and frustrations you feel, but you never want to sit down to trade when you are totally distraught, either.
It is one thing to talk about it though, another to do it. If you struggle regularly with frustrations, you cannot just simply throw up your hands and decide never to trade, can you? But at the same time, you have to do something to clear your head. Here are a few concrete ideas for calming yourself down and getting yourself into the right mindset before you sit down at your computer to trade.
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1. Work out.
Exercise is a proven way to clear your mind and lighten your mood. When you work out, your body releases endorphins, which is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. Researchers who ran a study at Ohio State University actually found out that exercising while listening to music activates your frontal lobe as well. This is the part of your brain which is responsible for your higher functions. So exercising can lift your mood and also clarify your thinking and help you make new mental connections. That makes it the perfect start to your trading day.
There are numerous studies which demonstrate that meditating and cultivating mindfulness can help to improve cognitive function and mood. Meditating teaches you to identify the voices speaking in your head and the messages you are sending yourself. It extracts you from the stories you tell yourself, and gives you a chance to step back and really take a more objective look at them. This helps you to rise above those stories and clear your head of all that mental chatter.
3. Talk to someone.
Sometimes one of the best ways to clear your head is to let someone else give you perspective. When we keep our thoughts locked inside, they echo around and around in our heads with nowhere to go. Since we are lacking perspective on them, we cannot cast them in a brighter light. But if we talk to a friend, family member, or another trader, we can get perspective on our problems. This can help us to reframe our problems, come up with solutions, and generally feel less isolated and frustrated.
4. Write down your worries.
One of the best ways to clear your mind is to externalize your thoughts in writing. This is a great choice in lieu of talking to someone else. Put your thoughts down on paper or on your computer screen, and then just close the file. Save it or delete it: do whatever works for you. Sometimes just writing down the thoughts are enough to purge them. Other times, you might want to save those thoughts. Knowing they are secure allows you to let them go so you can focus on trading.
This is an especially good method for traders, because oftentimes those thoughts are useful, but not until you are calm and can think clearly about them. You can use your trading journal for this purpose!
5. Try deep breathing.
Another good technique for getting yourself calm and ready to trade is to try deep diaphragm breathing. Technically this is the way that you are always supposed to breathe, but most of us don’t really breathe the right way. We breathe from our chests instead of from our stomachs. Slow, deep breaths bring more oxygen to our brains, which helps us to think more clearly and feel more alert. By contrast, those shallower breaths we take from our chests bring less oxygen to our brains and also can make us feel anxious.
6. Get organized.
While your anxieties may have no solid basis—they could be tied to past negative experiences that are no longer applicable in the present, or they could be unrelated to trading—that is not always the case. Sometimes our anxieties are trying to tell us something, and that is that we have work to do.
Think about the reasons you are feeling off-center. Start writing things down. If some of your concerns do relate to trading, it may be time to get organized and come up with a plan for moving forward. If there are problems with your trading you need to fix, then write down a plan for fixing them. If they are likely to cost you money, then go back to demo mode until they are fixed.
If your system works and you just feel disorganized and distracted while you trade, create a codified checklist which simplifies your procedures and streamlines them so you can easily follow them each day. Practice with demo accounts first. This may be enough on its own to help you find your center and focus again.
For some people, a calm, clear head just comes naturally. For most of us, however, depression, anxiety, anger, confusion, and other mental states that are less than optimal are just a part of everyday life. The key to becoming a successful trader does not lie in learning how to free yourself from these states forever. That is simply not possible, and never will be for anyone. These states are not really negative; they only become that way when we let them get out of hand and out of perspective.
The key to successful trading comes from learning how to cultivate the right mindset when you need it and put your troubles in perspective. Sometimes that means solving a problem a problem related to your trading or another area of your life. Other times it just means breathing deep, taking a walk around the block, putting on a great song, talking to a friend, or taking a few minutes to just sit and meditate.