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In a two-part series of articles earlier this year on

tempering emotion, I offered an argument countering the commonly espoused belief by so many experienced traders that emotions can only be disruptive while trading.

I

gave examples of how strong emotions may be tempered to valuably assist trading. I argued that it was time for traders to go beyond the all-or-nothing thinking about emotion that is so widespread in the trading community.

Now I want to introduce a tool for neutralizing emotion, rather than tempering it.

For example, when fear leads you to pull back, or you have greedy thoughts leading you to take unreasonable risks while trading, there are ways you can neutralize both feelings and thoughts so they can't get the best of you. There's a time to respect fear and use it to be cautious, and there's a time to push past it.

Invoking a Trigger

This tool, called a

trigger

, works when greedy thoughts lead you to push too hard and make trades that are too risky. It's basically a self-regulation strategy for altering your mental state. The trigger is so named because it sets off a positive action that counters the negative emotion. The tool is a sense-related behavior designed to neutralize whatever emotion you want to pull away from. When you use a trigger, you're simply using a body-mind association to take you out of one state and help you enter another.

Let's say you're feeling fear of initiating a trade and you want to push past it. You can create a trigger that will remind you of a neutralizing thought that pulls you out of the fear.

The trigger may be to look at something in the room, to hear a sound, or to touch something. Sight and touch tend to be the best triggers for many people, as they're the most powerful primary sensory channels.

For example, the windows in my home office look out to a lush green garden and trees in my backyard. When I turn to my left, away from my monitors, and look out to the garden, I associate it with peace and tranquility.

The market rises and falls, but the garden is always quietly sitting there, unfazed by news or market gyrations. The garden helps ground me, making me less susceptible to the tides of emotion that may come and go in reaction to blips on the computer screen.

The triggers, then, are the visual stimulation of looking at the garden and slightly shifting my chair to be able to see it. Both visual and kinesthetic triggers (the physical movement of my body and turning my head to the left) take me away from any fear or anxiety to something calm, stable and balancing. Shifting toward the garden gives me a few moments to remember that there's more happening than just squiggly lines on my monitors.

The point is that

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a trigger becomes strongly associated with a specific mental shift, and invoking the trigger elicits the desired shift

.

While this trigger isn't a substitute for periodically getting up and going out into the garden to be completely away from the television and the streaming quotes, my writing, or whatever else I'm doing, it does gives me a moment of visual and mental refreshment and perspective.

It is easier to make the mental shift with an actual view to turn to, but it is not required. You can use a trigger to associate to a positive thought or to access an inner image that will serve the same purpose.

Accessing Inner Images

The trigger can be as simple as touching your left thumb to your left forefinger, signaling the inner search for a pacifying image that immediately neutralizes a fearful or greedy thought. Choose a trigger that is readily available and associate it with a neutralizing image that will work for you. As you experiment with this, you should notice that the association between your trigger and the positive thought or image becomes stronger.

Internal images that are effective in neutralizing emotion include scenes of tranquil places you have been to -- a seashore, mountains or a view across a deep valley. Any calming image will do the job, but experiment, because the stronger the image, the more effective it will be for you.

The reason the trigger works is that you are building a body-mind connection between your trigger and the positive thought or image. While it's certainly possible to simply shift from negative to positive without a trigger, using this tool makes the shift occur more quickly and intensely.

For those who want to

read more about using the body-mind connection to help neutralize thoughts and emotions, there is a body of literature under the therapeutic school known as

neurolinguistic programming

. These techniques have been applied since the mid-1970s in psychotherapy, sales, communication, education, athletic performance and trading.

When I talk about the psychology of the trader and working with your thoughts and emotions while trading, using a trigger is a good example of how you may change your state, independent of the data on the monitor. Next week I'll introduce the technique that accompanies the trigger.

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

steven.hendlin@thestreet.com, but please remember that he is unable to provide personal counseling or psychotherapy through the mail.

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