For those traders who watch the market closely, who are monitoring streaming quotes and rolling Level II screens on a regular basis, one of the more captivating aspects of trading is the experience of time.
The "now-it's-here-now-it's-gone" nature of quotes flickering from moment to moment on the monitor coaxes me to come into the vibrant present. Even when I'm not actively trading, I like to have quotes running on one monitor as a way to keep me centered on the present. The boxes of color constantly changing from red to green in a random pattern keep me on my temporal toes.
Ask any trader what brings him back day after day to his trading platform. The need to process a lot of information quickly can be quite intense, requiring focused concentration for prolonged periods. Between the interactive excitement with the trading platform stimuli and having money on the line, it's easy to see how traders, given sufficient capital and a modicum of success, thrive on the action.
I'm convinced that one of the more addictive qualities of trading is this edge of excitement, tinged with anxiety, that is the common experience for active traders. It is this excitement, along with actual rushes of adrenaline shooting through the body, that hooks active traders into coming back day after day.
Without these feelings of excitement that the mind and body enjoy, it's difficult to make sense of how traders can dedicate themselves on a daily basis to focusing their attention on flickering numbers.
The Here-and-Now Comes and Goes
Learning how to stay present with streaming quotes takes some practice. A lot of information is coming at once -- real-time charts, news and various other data. All of this makes it easy for the trader to end up on the edge between excitement and anxiety.
Most of us are not very comfortable staying in the present for very long. We tend to distract ourselves quickly from feeling the full weight of the here-and-now. The mind begins to wander, to want to interpret the data by jumping into the future.
One of the things that makes trading exciting is that we are often on the figurative (and sometimes literal) edge of our seats. We are always caught between the here-and-now and a subtle tension that nudges us into the future. I've described this by saying we're always
slouching into the future
Of course I'm talking not only about trading here but also about the larger template of our lives. But slouching into the future is especially poignant during trading, and it can be instructive for traders. It almost seems as if human nature is to want to
into the next moment. Watch your own mind move into the future during the trading day. Notice how often you're thinking about what's coming up next -- the next movement of the stock, of the market, of the news, of your own needs and daydreams from moment to moment.
The Meaning of 'Flow'
We think of one form of being comfortable with ourselves when we can make a smooth transition from what feels like the present moment into the next moment. We used to call this "going with the flow."
How does watching quotes affect you? How do you handle this leaning into the future that the passing quotes represent? Many investors can't stand it. They get too anxious watching quotes, because all they can see in the numbers is their money going up and down, and they don't like the anxiety that goes with it.
Others -- those who become serious traders -- love leaning into the future. For them, it's not anxiety but excitement that they experience. One way to know whether your personality can handle short-term trading is to monitor how you handle leaning into the future while watching the market. If anxiety is predominant, it's best for you to do very little trading or to have a professional do your trading so you don't have to deal with the discomfort.
Psychologically, we can think of it like this: Anything like trading that is based on speed is going to put us at least a little on the edge. This edge is where we find the intersection of anxiety and excitement. And each trader and investor decides whether that edge is experienced positively as excitement or negatively as anxiety.
Pay particular attention to your own experience of being on this edge of the present and the future. Notice how you mentally shape your own leaning into the future. How we shape this natural tendency colors our everyday experience of contentment or dissatisfaction with ourselves and our world and determines our sense of flow in the passing of our lives.
Steven J. Hendlin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Irvine, Calif. He has been in private practice for the last 26 years, investing for the last 20 years, and actively trading online as a position trader and long-term investor since 1996. He is the author of
The Disciplined Online Investor and maintains a site at www.hendlin.net. He is pleased to receive your comments and questions for publication in his public forum columns at
firstname.lastname@example.org , but please remember that he is unable to provide personal counseling or psychotherapy through the mail.
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