The last two weeks have focused on lessons that turned our view outside of ourselves to how our environment impacts our success as a trader, and as a trading coach. These lessons resonated particularly strongly with me because, even in just these past two weeks, our environments have changed drastically, at least for those of us in the United States. All of a sudden, our house, which was, before only one part of our external environment, has become the entirety of it, and so it became suddenly vital for all of us to be able to manage those environments in order to stay productive and profitable.

This week, we’re switching from a window into our environments to a mirror into ourselves. We’ll be looking at how our perceived reflection of ourself is constructed, and how we can best polish that mirror to give ourselves the best and truest view of ourselves, as well as how we can continually work to improve the image we see reflected back at us.

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

Lesson 6: Find the Right Mirrors

The mirror is a simple metaphor for how we view ourselves, and much of that simplicity comes from the basic truth behind it. Because there is more to us than our outward appearance, we see ourselves reflected not only literal mirrors, but in nearly everything we do. We draw a strong sense of self from our accomplishments and how we effect others and the world around us. When the results we see are positive, our self-worth and confidence increase. When what’s reflected back to us is negative, the opposite occurs.

For many people, familial and professional relationships are the largest contributors to this. A parent, romantic partner, or colleague who respects us, who values us, and allows us to be ourselves will reflect back to us that respect, and show us what they value in us, allowing us in turn, to internalize that feeling of worthiness, strengthening our positive sense of self. Not only that, but being continually exposed to these positive voices will have a positive impact on our own self-talk (I’ve written before about how crucial managing your self-talk is to making the lasting, positive changes we need to make to become consistently profitable traders).

By contrast, a boss who doesn’t respect you, a childhood with an unsupportive parent, or a distant spouse, will have exactly the opposite effect. Your self-image will suffer because you don’t see yourself as valuable to those around you, and your self-talk will become harsher, matching the emotions being reflected back at you. And of course, this compounds. A troubled childhood can ingrain such a negative self-image that as an adult, that person seeks out partners and friends who validate that distorted image, rather than help them challenge it.

The same sort of effect occurs as regards the work we do. Working on something we enjoy, we progress quickly and effortlessly, and the accompanying feeling is one of success and achievement. On the other hand, saddled with work that we have no interest in, even the smallest amount of progress feels burdensome, and we come out of it discouraged and demotivated.

If everything is a potential mirror, then it becomes vitally important to think carefully about where we look; that is, what influences we want to invite in, and what we want to ignore.

We’ve talked before about the importance of keeping a trading journal. And how you should record everything, both when you’re trading well, and when you’re having a losing streak. The viewpoint of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is not your friend here. If all you record is how badly you messed up when you lose, you’re going to start to feel like a loser. Once you start to think that way, it becomes easier to be harsher with yourself, and the cycle continues. If instead you make sure to include your successes in your journal, and are more careful about how you describe your losses — recognize them as missed opportunities, a chance to learn and improve, or sometimes just bad luck — then your journal becomes a positive mirror reflecting back at you.

This is your role as your own trading coach. To help create these positive mirrors, by encouraging yourself to reflect on your successes, for motivation and confidence, and on your losses, but to frame them, as above, as opportunities to learn, rather than failures. By structuring your off days as lessons, and setting positive goals for yourself in internalizing those lessons, you create the positive relationship you need to have both with your trading coach and with yourself. You will have days when you lose money, whether through a misstep on your part, or the markets doing what they will despite your best plans. But by developing a positive mirror for yourself, you will be able to more easily approach those days, take your lesson, and move on to the next, without the negative emotions you might otherwise associate with those days, and, from there, with yourself.

Dr. Brett puts it quite well:

You cannot eliminate losing days, but there should never be days that leave you feeling like a loser.

In his lesson, Dr. Brett focuses on the relationship between you, the trader, and you, the trading coach. There is one more mirrored relationship I want to touch on briefly that has helped me along my journey. Creating a positive mirror to see yourself reflected in is an important step along the path to consistent trading, but when I first read just the title of this lesson, my mind immediately went somewhere else. As I said above, it’s not only about what you reflect back at yourself, but the reflection you see from and in other people that also makes up your trading psychology. In addition to having a clear image of yourself, it can be incredibly useful to have a clear image of who you want to be. This requires not a mirror made of glass, but a mirror that is another person.

In drama classes in elementary school, I remember playing the mirror game, where two kids sit face to face, and while one moves, the other tries to mirror their movements exactly. If you didn’t have this experience growing up, maybe you know the scene from the Marx Brothers’ Movie Duck Soup where Harpo breaks a mirror, and has to pretend to be Groucho’s mirror image. If you don’t know that scene, or even if you do, give it a quick watch:

I feel that the same idea applies to our trading journeys. We need that idealized image to aim for, a place to set our goals towards. In this sense, we’re looking for a mentor. And, like any of our other relationships, the kind of relationship we have with this mentor can be beneficial or disastrous for our self-image, confidence, and trading. The internet is flooded with ads for trading mentors promising to make you a millionaire. Some say it can happen overnight, and we can be pretty sure those mentors will never provide you the mirror you need. Instead, find the mentors who give you an honest reflection; the ones who tell you it’s hard work, that it won’t happen overnight, that show their trades and share their methods, not just the picks that you are supposed to follow blindly. Blindly doesn’t let you see the reflection. I have found wonderful mentors in Timothy Sykes via Pennystocking Silver and Tim Bohen via StocksToTrade Pro. Chances are you have heard of both of them, but even if you’re not ready to pay for their subscription services, they both have huge amounts of content for free on YouTube, every bit of it helpful to new and more experienced traders alike.

Reaching consistency is hard. I certainly haven’t made it, but if I had to go it alone, I’m sure I’d be even further back on the path. With legitimate mentors and the communities they foster, we can all help each other get that 1% better.