Many successful people, Traders and Non-Traders, consistently speak of the value of meditation. I’ve highlighted the benefits of meditation in a previous article and how it can help your trading. Despite the obvious benefits it can bring, it is true that many people simply struggle with regularly practicing meditation. So what can you do to help ease in to meditation if you have no experience of it?
What is the difference between the two?
It is very likely that you will have heard of the term “Mindfulness” at some point in the recent past. The popularity of practicing meditation and mindfulness is increasing greatly in an increasingly fast paced and pressure filled world. Much research has been done claiming that practicing meditation or mindfulness can have profound health benefits, especially for our mental health, which is coming increasingly under the microscope in the recent past. But what is the difference between the two?
The overall goal for most when practicing either, is to bring a sense of calm to your mind. Meditation is a more complex practice, and is the ‘large umbrella’ that mindfulness falls under. Mindfulness is essentially a form of meditation.
The ultimate goal of meditation is usually to achieve an optimal level of consciousness. You are attempting to find the peace within yourself. You are essentially setting time aside to do something positive for your own self, by dedicating energy to create a specific state or quality within yourself.
Mindfulness on the other hand, is simply the act of focusing on and being in the present moment. For example, as you are reading this article, are you truly reading it and taking it in, or are you half reading it, and half thinking about a Trade you have on, or what the latest sports story is, or whats for dinner today?
When you are in a mindful state, you are actively engaging all five senses. You are fully aware of what you doing, feeling and experiencing and this enables you to operate in a much more relaxed state, even for mindless tasks such as washing dishes or vacuuming your floors.
Why is Mindfulness important?
When you are not aware, when you are in a state of ‘mindlessness’, quite obviously all of your decisions and actions are effected. We’ve all had days when we mindlessly perform habitual actions, and sometimes we arrive in a place or situation with no idea how we got there – we were essentially on autopilot. The majority of our actions are performed in this way. When we eat, we don’t experience the sensation or the taste of the food, we usually stare at the TV screen. When we are travelling, we don’t experience our surroundings, but are glued to our phones/tablets thus letting the world pass us by. For how many of you, when you see something extraordinary, is the first thought to grab your phone and take a photo and/or ‘selfie’, rather than to truly experience and appreciate what you are seeing?
There is an obsession with doing things constantly, keeping busy, even doing multiple things at the same time in our time-constrained lives. We feel this is being efficient, but in most cases it is not. We are not fully focused on each stage of our experience, and thus we will not get the optimal output, result or feeling that we would have got had we completed the same task with our full focus.
So how does this relate to Trading?
When we are fully aware or engaged in an activity, it can make a situation much less stressful for us. We are present in the moment, not distracted by past experiences, and thus act accordingly, we are free from any judgement that may otherwise cloud our thinking and consequently our actions.
A Harvard study conducted a few years ago pointed out that on average people spend 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing. With the increase in technology, apps and gadgets, it is likely this figure has since increased. If we are not fully focused on something as potentially hazardous as Trading, there will undoubtedly only be one result over the long term. Conversely, if we are in a mindful state when we trade, we can focus purely on executing our strategy as it should be executed, regardless of past losses and emotional baggage that may otherwise cloud our judgement, perhaps resulting in us hesitating or trading fearfully.
Furthermore, when you are present in the situation you are fully aware of what is happening, and this makes it much easier to react in the proper manner. If a trade is not working out, if you have a clear and present mind it should be easy to cut the trade and move on. However if you are wrapped up in what happened earlier in the day, or the last trading session, or perhaps recent wins/losses you had, this will no doubt have a bearing on your judgement in relation to the present trade.
How can I start being more Mindful?
OK. So the first step is to understand what you are trying to achieve. You want to spend less time regretting the past, or worrying about the future, and more time focusing on just experiencing the present moment. When you look at this logically (especially in the context of Trading!), if you are able to consistently focus on the present moment, thus consequently behaving in an optimal manner for that present situation, the future will pretty much take care of itself, and past mistakes will seldom, if ever, be repeated.
Now, if you have never practiced mindfulness or any other form of meditation before, it is unlikely that you will be able to master this immediately. Like any practice, to become good at something requires time, effort and practice.
A good way to start is in the morning before you hit your trading desk, close your eyes, and take deep breaths, both in and out. Whilst you are doing this, just focus on the sensations that you are currently experiencing in your body when you breathe. Is the air cold or warm? Where do you feel the air more? In your nose, or your chest? Or perhaps you have more of a sensation in your stomach, as it expands and contracts. All you simply have to do is notice the feelings. Do not try to analyse and judge, but rather what you want to do is just notice them, and simply let them go, for each breath that you take. Practice this daily, simply starting out for just 1 minute a day.
As you settle in to the rhythm of it, you can increase the frequency of it to multiple times during the day, and perhaps even duration of each meditation. In fact, when I sense a Trade Setup is forming for me, I will take a minute to do this exercise just to pull myself into the present moment so I can make the trade in the best state of mind. Thus by the time the moment comes to pull the trigger, I have already mentally primed myself to focus on the present moment and optimise my actions for the task at hand.
It may feel initially like you are not getting much benefit from it. But like all good things, the results will take some time. But even if you start small, it will not take long before you start seeing positive results begin to grow.
After all, what do you have to lose…?
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God bless, and happy trading!