Lesson 8: Create Scripts For Life Change

In nearly everyone, if not every single one of us, there is a discrepancy between the person we are and the person we want to be. As I’ve written about previously, we are each of us the sum of our innate and learned responses to stimuli. How we react to and with the world around us has been scripted for us over the course of our lives, and often these patterns have become deeply ingrained. That’s what can make the gap between who we are and who we think we can be seem so insurmountable. The habits and behaviors built up over a lifetime are not easily changed or discarded.

It’s becoming a bit of a running theme in this blog, but only because of how true it is: if changing ourselves were easy, we wouldn’t need Dr. Brett’s book, or the field of coaching/therapy in general, in order to accomplish our goal of bridging that gap.

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

The difficulty is compounded when we want to learn to act as our own coach. First we have to learn the new behaviors needed to be that coach, and then we need to coach ourselves through the seemingly impossible process of rewiring our brains. Imagine a house that hasn’t been remodeled in any significant way since the middle of the 20th century. Sure, the electrical system is no longer knob-and-tube, but it’s certainly not the most modern, or safest, wiring behind the walls. If you want to redo one part of the house — say, put in a new kitchen — you may find yourself, before you can start on that smaller change, needing to make the fundamental change of rewiring the entire house in order to install a new kitchen safely.

We are not unlike this house (which is totally a made-up example and definitely not a situation my wife and I are currently discovering ourselves in…). To make a seemingly isolated change can ripple outwards. Say you want to start getting up earlier in the morning to revise your watchlist from the night before while watching the pre-market action. So you start setting your alarm for 7:30 instead of 8:30. The first few days you do great, but after a week you’re exhausted by noon every day, and all your watching and planning is for naught because you can’t stay focused enough to execute your trading plans. You think about it, and realize that although your wake-up time has shifted, you haven’t done anything about your night-owl tendencies, so you’re still going to sleep well after midnight. So you try to go to bed earlier, and you set an alarm for 11 every night to help you. But psychologically you find it nearly impossible to follow up on that alarm and actually go to bed. And maybe that’s because in college you didn’t need as much sleep, and became a night-owl because you felt most productive during those hours, and have carried that over into your adult life, even though maybe it’s not quite so true anymore. But there was a certain feeling of pride among your friends at being able to be so productive late at night, and that pride is something that still motivates you, even if you’re no longer friends with some of those people, and deep down you know that you’re not really getting anything done at 1 AM, no matter how hard you try. (Like the house example in the last paragraph, this one is also 100% percent hypothetical and not based on my reality at all…)

As you can see, often wanting to make one change will necessitate another change, and another, and down the psychological stack until you hit the real crux of the issue: that behavior or reaction that’s so ingrained that maybe you didn’t even fully understand why it seemed so hard to make a seemingly simple change like waking up earlier.

So how does this completely hypothetical person make this change and get it to stick? For me, the solution was to join StocksToTrade Pro. As part of the program, Tim Bohen runs a pre-market webinar every day the market is open, starting right at 9 AM. Because I have paid a not-inconsequential amount, and because I want to make the most of my time with the program, I have been able to use the structure of those morning webinars to enact this change. Because I want to be prepared for the webinar, and try to have questions, or even just know what’s going on, I need to be awake before it starts in order to prepare. Before quarantine, when I had to commute into the office, that meant I needed to be up at 6:30 in order to be at my desk by 8:30, so I could check my watchlist and see what was happening that morning before Tim’s webinar started. With quarantine, I no longer need to wake up so early, but I am still at my desk by 8:30 every morning.

The best part is, this has extended to my weekends. I used to be a stay-in-bed-until-10-at-least sort of guy on Saturdays and Sundays. But because I’ve started working on going to sleep earlier during the week, I’ve carried that over to the weekends as well, to help build the habit. So that means that I’m often awake and out of bed by 8:30 on the weekends as well, which means I have an extra two hours — or more — than I used to during the weekends, for studying, practicing guitar, or even just relaxing. That means I feel more relaxed when evening rolls around, and I no longer put so much stress on staying up late to be productive, because I’ve had my productive time during the day.

This has not been easy, and I slip up from time to time, but I give this example to show how you can move towards being the person you want to be, no matter how difficult it feels. In his lesson, Dr. Brett refers to our ingrained behavior as our “scripts”, and talks about this sort of change as “creating new scripts”. He lays out the goal of this lesson simply:

Identify the person you would like to be and then throw yourself into a structured social activity — a role — that requires you to enact those ideals.

This hearkens back to my post on Dr. Brett’s Lesson 6: Finding the Right Mirrors. By changing the role that you project outwards, you change the image of yourself that you see reflected back, and over time these reinforce each other until the script you are trying to live becomes not just a script, but a natural part of your behavior patterns. And, like I did, you may find that the new behaviors have unexpected positive consequences for your life as a whole, outside of that specific change.

Maybe the changes you want to make in your own trading aren’t as drastic as this, or maybe they’re even more ambitious. Either way, I hope this post has been helpful in showing that it can be done, but that it must be done deliberately and carefully, since, as we saw, the desire for a small change can result in a much more significant psychological realization which then must also be overcome to generate the new script. Nevertheless, it is possible, and the positive impacts can ripple out beyond even what we originally anticipated. However it happens, these sorts of significant changes do not happen easily, or overnight. So do not be discouraged if it takes some time for your script to materialize. We are here for the long-term, and just that small, incremental, 1% change will eventually snowball if you are committed to it.