Welcome back to my series on Brett Steenbarger’s The Daily Trading Coach: 101 Lessons For Becoming Your Own Trading Psychologist. You can read the first post in the series here.

In the previous post we began with an introduction to the sort of change we want to make in ourselves through coaching, focusing on the importance of attaching emotional weight to our efforts, as a strong emotional reaction is the only true thing that can effect lasting change. In this post we’ll start looking at how your relationship with your coach (in this case, yourself) is vital to forming those emotions in a healthy and productive way.

This post is part of a series on Brett Steenbarger's The Daily Trading Coach
View all posts in the series here.

Lesson 2: Psychological Visibility and Your Relationship With Your Trading Coach

True self-reflection can be hard. It can also be painful, and for that reason a lot of people avoid it. High-functioning alcoholics can go years before hitting rock-bottom and finally accepting the reality of their addiction. If self-reflection were easy, there’d be no market for therapists and coaches, and no market for Dr. Brett’s book, or this blog.

While that sort of world might be nice to imagine (well, except for maybe the therapists and coaches), it’s not reality, and we do ourselves no favors pretending otherwise. Unless you are truly someone who can turn your eyes inward honestly and completely, you’re unlikely to be able do the necessary work by yourself. I know several people who say things like “I really did a lot of work on myself in my early twenties and I sorted out most of my issues,” but then behave in ways that make me very much doubt whether they did quite as much self-reflection as they think they did. They were not as truly visible to themselves as they imagined (or pretended) they were, and so the real work of self-reflection and improvement couldn’t truly succeed.

In order for a coach to be able to help us, they have to see us as we truly are, not some idealized version of ourselves. This is even more difficult when the coach is also us. There’s a desire to imagine ourselves as a better version, even if we recognize in our actions that we are not quite there. If we project this image even to ourselves, true coaching becomes almost impossible. We need to be open to our coach, and visible as we truly are so that together we can begin the hard work of self-improvement.

What does it mean to be open with ourselves? It means taking an honest look at how we spend our time and energy. Are we using those precious resources to move closer to our goals? Or, as Dr. Brett says, do we spend them “mired in routine, day in an day out, estranged from the things that matter most to us”? Very few of us, I imagine, live completely responsibility-free. We have families, jobs, mortgages, etc. to tend to. And while those things hopefully provide us with happiness and stability, perhaps they don’t represent, on some deeper level, our true dreams.

Visibility is a deliberate foregrounding of those dreams. Not to the detriment of your day-to-day work and relationships, certainly, but with the goal of making our full self apparent, both the things we have achieved and the things we still want to achieve. Only then can we truly see the distance between where we are and where we want to be, and only then can the work begin to move us closer.

Not only do you need to be visible to your coach, but you need that relationship to be a positive one. We’re not looking for a cheerleader; we have parents, spouses and friends to tell us we’re great and special and perfect. We need someone who can help us find the areas where we can improve, but can help us do it in a way that builds positive behaviors in reaction, not negative ones.

In any competitive endeavor (which trading is, despite the community I’ve found being very supportive of one another) we’re raised on a steady diet of tough love, often one that emphasizes the “tough” over the “love.” This isn’t entirely without merit. In a crowded pool, you need to work harder than everyone else to reach the top, and you need someone to keep you motivated through the tougher times. But, there has to be room for compassion as well, or else, even if we do succeed, we find ourselves defensive and scared, no longer feeling safe reaching out for something new. The markets change, and we need to be able to change with them, and we can’t do that if we don’t trust we’ll have support along the way.

This support is important in all relationships, but nowhere is it more important than in our relationship with ourself. All too often it’s far easier to be harder on ourselves than we would be on anyone else who came to us with the same struggle we are going through. I’ve spent a long time working on improving my relationship with myself through therapy, but there are still days where I catch myself reacting overly harshly to something I’ve done. If I talked to my friends the way I sometimes talk to myself, I wouldn’t have any friends left!

So far I’ve talked about your visibility to, and relationship with, your coach (yourself), without much explicit reference to trading. This is because I am a firm believer that what I’ve been talking about is important to us across all facets of life, and the work should be undertaken no matter what your goals. But Dr. Brett’s book is about becoming a trading coach, and this is a trading blog, so I’ll close this post by tying this all more directly to our goals as traders.

On some level the goal of anyone trying to become a successful trader is simple: financial independence. The motivations for this may vary — not having to report to a boss, the ability to work from anywhere, being able to support yourself and your family and also donate to causes important to you — but the same basic goal underpins them all. There are myriad ways to make this goal invisible: telling yourself it’s too risky, telling yourself you’re not smart enough, feeling embarrassed to tell friends and family you’ve begun trading, telling yourself you’ll put in the time “later”.

Building the necessary visibility is an important step towards being able to build the productive relationship with the coach side of yourself. Dr. Brett suggests a very simple first step to begin this process:

Identify a single trading strength to express as a goal for the coming day’s trading.

Rather than set a negative goal, like “don’t chase trades if they blow past your planned entry”, flip the script and concentrate on something you know you can do, like “wait to enter a trade until after the price closes above VWAP”. Above, I talked about how it’s all too easy to treat yourself more harshly than you would ever treat anyone else, and that factors in here. By working with our coach to identify things we can do, we build that relationship on positive emotion, rather than negative, and as we continue to identify and concentrate on our strengths, we’ll find more and more of them that eventually combine to turn us into a consistently profitable trader.

This isn’t to say that you’ll never have to confront yourself over a mistake. But if you follow this path to self-coaching, you will be able to work through those moments with a solid foundation of trust and confidence, which will allow you to take a real, useful, and hopefully lasting lesson away, instead of shaming and scaring yourself away from continuing to progress. That’s how we get 1% better every day.

A small postscript

In his book Dr. Brett focuses on visibility to oneself, and I have followed that focus through this post, but I want to expand on that very briefly to encompass the entire community of traders we are part of.

If you’ve found this blog via Twitter, it’s likely that we follow and interact with a similar group of folks on there. This past week has been an unusual one for the markets, and while plenty of people have been able to profit off of that, I’ve seen more than a handful of people who have lost big, in some cases even wiped out their accounts.

What I’ve also seen is the empathy they’ve received from others of us, either because we’ve experienced similarly devastating losses, or we can sense in the pit of our stomach what that must feel like. Trading can be a very lonely activity, just you and a computer all day long. To see people who are struggling reaching out to claim their visibility, and to see people let them know that they are seen, is a really lovely experience for someone just entering this world.

A final postscript

This post and the rest that will follow in this series are not meant to be a substitute for reading Dr. Brett’s book. As I said in the previous post, there are many lessons to take from each of his single lessons, and what speaks to me might not be the most important lesson for you. So, please, do yourself a favor and buy a copy for yourself, then join me on Twitter to let me know what lesson spoke most directly to you.

Thanks for reading!