The path to success is not a linear one. Instead, it’s the “one step forward, two steps back” kind of progress that is frustrating and tiring. Some of you may have seen this trampoline video that’s a great demonstration of what improving your mental game can look like. I’ve also provided, later in this blog, real examples of what mental game improvement looks like from traders in The Mental Game of Trading LIVE program.
And while I don’t want to get too “meta” or overcomplicated, there is definitely a mental game to the process of improvement. Practically speaking, that means your existing flaws can show up, or new ones can pop-up, and complicate your efforts to improve.
For instance, recent progress and good results leads you to get overconfident, which causes you to get too aggressive with your risk management or bankroll management decisions – which you only realize after some outsized losses. Naturally you’re very self-critical for being so blind/dumb, which leads to several more bad days in a row. That creates pessimism, and leaves you fearful and a bit stuck about what to do next.
Cleaning up a mess like this isn’t easy when you’re not prepared. But this reality is a common one, as overconfidence is the most common mistake made after making some progress with the original mental game problems that you started working on. The bigger problem is that overconfidence is hard to spot and so it naturally leads to more emotional ups and downs than is ideal. Your progress is slower, your performance is unstable, and you’re more unclear about what to do next.
To avoid all that, I want to outline for you what the improvement cycle can look like.
Stages of Mental Game Improvement
With so many ups and downs being part of the process, it’s important to focus on what improvement actually looks like so you can recognize it along the way. It’s also vital to appreciate your signs of progress so motivation remains intact and confidence stays high.
Here are the distinct phases you will go through with each particular problem you face:
Step 1: Greater awareness
Step 2: Uncovering the root cause
Step 3: Establishing command and correcting your emotions in real-time
Step 4: Resolution (meaning you have crossed the finish line for this particular problem and have graduated to the next set of challenges)
Step 1: Greater Awareness
While it may not feel like progress, being able to recognize the early signs that your emotions have been triggered, or that your mental state has dropped, is progress. When I start working with them, most clients are unable to recognize these triggers until after fear, anger, or boredom and distractions have become a big problem. Through data collection and mapping they gain the vision to see the early warning signs before costly mistakes are made. That does not mean they’re able to have firm command or control at all times though, so this stage can be particularly frustrating or confusing since losses and mistakes often continue to occur. Don’t let that deter you. You’re knocking on the door of taking that next step.
Step 2: Uncovering the Root
It’s hard to dig out the real cause of your mental game problems. This is the primary reason why clients hire me. When you’re able to put some pieces together and develop new insight, you should feel good about it. It’s a significant accomplishment. It means you will be able to trade or play poker with an understanding of what you’re truly battling against. With this new perspective, a strategy will emerge that will give you an ability to gain command in real-time so you can work towards long-term resolution. The biggest mistake I see at this stage is believing that simply uncovering the root will allow you to automatically win those battles and you don’t need to develop a strategy. That happens in less than 5% of the clients that I work with. Don’t gamble and assume you are in that category.
Step 3: Establishing Command and Correcting Your Emotions in Real Time
When you reach this stage there will continue to be ups and downs but, in general, there are far more ups than downs. There are many more days when you are winning the battle to keep your emotions from costing you. You see them early, disrupt momentum, Inject Logic, and are either able to avoid mistakes or make better decisions while facing them head on. Even the frequency with which you need to Inject Logic decreases as these problems show up less and less. The biggest mistake here is getting frustrated that you have to continue to battle. Stay patient. Achieving resolution takes much longer than many are prepared for.
Step 4: Resolution
You finally arrived! Now, automatically, what previously would have triggered FOMO, anger, lack of confidence, boredom, no longer does. This is the real power of my system – your mind is freed up to have the poise, presence, and energy to be at your best. The mistake that typically happens here is not seeing the opportunity created because these problems are gone. You can now take your A-game farther or address other C-game issues because your mental game has evolved.
To help you avoid mistakes and continue to improve, ask yourself these questions on a regular basis (daily/weekly/monthly):
- What progress did you make?
- How did you do it?
- What mistakes or lessons did you learn while establishing that progress?
Because examples are often helpful, here are some real examples (with slight edits) of progress from participants of The Mental Game of Trading LIVE:
What progress did you make? “I am way more calm and relaxed when trading. My results were also better in the last weeks. I am now able to let winning trades go to the target rather than cutting them short (I still have room for improvement, but I don’t chicken out anymore). Never made more than 2-3 R per winning trade before, now I have a few 5-10 R winners under my belt.”
How did you do it? “In a Mental Hand History I discovered the belief ‘I have to be profitable right now’ was flawed and unrealistic and I came up with a new one: ‘Now is the time to learn and deepen what I’ve already learnt, put it into practice and get better over time.’ I drastically reduced my risk per trade and suddenly 90% of my ‘bad emotions’ disappeared. I am now more focused on what’s happening in the market than on my emotions. I am also absolutely ok with losing trades now. Trading is way more fun with this new attitude.”
What mistakes or lessons did you learn while establishing that progress? “I have to do the work (in this case sitting down and writing a Mental Hand History) to change. Some more thoughts: I probably lost touch on this course because suddenly all my problems seemed to disappear. I know that this can not be true so I want to be part of the ‘Mental Game of Trading’ journey again. Am I overconfident now? I am not sure. But I am aware of the possibility and think that’s good because I can take action if overconfidence becomes a new problem for me.”
What progress did you make? “I still don’t have complete control over my emotions in real-time, but I am able to acknowledge them in the moment. Although I do think the severity of my emotions has begun to reduce naturally, without my having to step in, as a result of me filling in my technical knowledge gap.”
How did you do it? “Soooooooo many Mental Hand Histories. Writing down the thoughts and finding the flaws within those thoughts allowed me to process a lot of emotions, which in turn allowed me to create a map of my emotions. The map has helped me to diagnose my emotional state faster in real-time.”
What mistakes or lessons did you learn while establishing that progress? “That I just have to start. My first, second and third drafts will probably be sh*t, make 0 sense, and sound like a diary entry, but I just have to start. My real-time-strategies may have no effect on me and I may have to re-draft it several times, but I just have to start it!”
What progress did you make? “I’m more aware of the impact emotions have on my trading. There has been an improvement of my trading across the board and I’m trading better technically and emotionally. I’m no longer afraid of taking a loss and I’m not only focusing on my PnL but rather looking at how I performed on the given day.”
How did you do it? “Mental hand history and the perfectionism worksheet. I also read my A to C-game analysis every day before I start trading. The biggest change came from collecting the data and giving me a chance to understand when and why my emotions start to cause issues in my trading.”
What mistakes or lessons did you learn while establishing that progress? “I have to do the work and be willing to resolve the issues. No one else can or will do it for me. There is no magic pill and I need to work on understanding myself and my triggers – something I have struggled with from day 1 in trading.”
There’s no substitute for doing the work, which includes understanding and tracking your progress. It matters.
And for those curious about The Mental Game of Trading LIVE, stay tuned! The feedback from the successful beta test has been very positive and I learned a ton about how to create an experience that will work for you regardless of where you are in your trading journey. I’ll make an announcement in early September about what’s next! To get access to early registration, add your name and email here.