Cartoon picture of a lazy brain reclining on a couch

Trading Behaviors: How to Outwit a Lazy Brain

Why is it so hard to break old trading habits that no longer serve us? Why do we as traders wake up the next morning and regret making trading mistakes that are so persistent, that we repeat them over and over again?

Neurons are the building blocks of brain activity. Each neuron extends an arm, called a dendrite to “shake hands” with the receiving axon of another neuron at swellings call “boutons.” Each dendrite may “shake hands” with multiple axons before “deciding” which one to maintain a connection. It appears that the more popular a neuron, the more dendrites prefer them. (Just like high school!) The axons receiving the incoming dendrites after time shed extraneous connections and form longer lasting connections with a single dendrite. Thus the analogous “freeways” with inviting onramps are built in our brain.

Our everyday trading behaviors are automated by neurological structures in the brain. Each time we use the same sets of neurological connections, the electrical and chemical changes at each “junction” or synapse require less and less energy to complete the circuit. These connections expand to larger networks and neurological structures that work together to form complex trading behaviors. Complexity is possible because neurons that “fire together wire together.” This way the brain can gather a large number of experiences, concepts and behaviors from multiple parts of the brain to operative very efficiently without expanding a lot of energy.

However, to create a new trading behavior, we need to make new neural connections that normally, for the first few times, require a lot of energy. This expansion of energy is often experienced as frustration, irritation and difficulty. What this means is that when you try to let go of an old behavior and replace it with a more effective behavior, it feels like hacking your way through a jungle. Brand new neural connections need to be created! This feels like going from the comfortable to the uncomfortable. As a result, we tend to take the freeway to a place that no longer serves us rather than hack our way through the jungle and create a new path.

Introduction to Making Mind Muscles™ exercise:

One of the challenges of personal and behavioral change is that we don’t distinguish between the sensations of creating new neural connections (Mind Muscles™) and the new behavior we want to experience. As a result, the combined experience can feel overwhelming and negative much like Alisha’s scramble through the jungle.

This exercise is designed to give you the raw experience of creating new neural connections, building new neural structures and automating a new set of behaviors. Since this exercise doesn’t trigger any critical or sensitive behavioral change or negative history, it will give you the pure experience of building Mind Muscles™ alone. This exercise is one of the behavioral Mind Muscles™.

Mind Muscles Exercise: Making Mind Muscles™

What you need for this exercise: Quiet space, pen and paper. (no, not a computer)
Time to complete: 10 minutes
Goal: Experience the raw creation of new neural connections

What I want you to do is to pick up a pen and put it in your non-writing hand…for most of you this will switch the pen from the right hand to the left hand.

Write this phrase, “Making Mind Muscles” with the wrong hand.

After a few moments, stop and notice what you are feeling, thinking and any physiological response you are aware of. Take the pen in your normal writing hand and jot down a series of words or phrases that represent your experience. Put the pen in your non-writing hand again and repeat writing the phrase “Making Mind Muscles™”. After a few minutes, stop and jot down the words that represent your thoughts, feelings and/or physical responses.

After a couple of cycles or five minutes, notice the words that you wrote that represented your experience. Once you have reviewed your notes, scroll down.

Typically, what I hear from students and clients are words like:

Swimming in molasses
Out of control
Frustrating
Headache
Have to concentrate so hard
Stressful

Anger
Tension
Tight stomach
Feel stupid
Silly and giddy
Can’t concentrate

Your words may be similar or very different. The important point is to note your own experience. This is critical because what you just accomplished was the start of creating new neural circuits, or new Mind Muscles™.

Now, you can take a breath and feel the pride of starting to create a new neural circuit. If you continued this exercise or you temporarily lost the use of your writing hand, you would soon be able to write the phrase “Making Mind Muscles™” with the same ease that you now experience using your normal writing hand.

Meta Mind integration:

Imagine you went to the gym and you didn’t understand that the muscle fatigue was how you built new muscle fiber? What if you didn’t understand that the soreness you felt the next day was part of the process getting stronger? Would you return to the gym? NO!

Normally, when we want to create a new trading behavior that serves us better than our current trading behavior, our experience is conflicted. We may experience a mix of general anxiety, fear of loss, possible survival threats, negative feedback from those we care about AND the experience the frustration of building a new neural circuit. The combination of these experiences seems daunting and what has made changes in your past feel so difficult. As you continue to build Mind Muscles™ you will become more aware of these distinctions and be able to separate the experience of creating new neural circuits from the other real world challenges.

My goal is to give you the experience of separating the sensations of building new neural pathways from the behavior itself. This way you can feel proud of yourself, just like you feel proud of yourself when you feel those sore muscles after exercise, knowing that you are building a more successful body. And with Mind Muscles™, you are building a more successful life for yourself.

As much as possible, we want to create simulations and experiences that give instant and positive rewards, so the new behavior just simply feels better than the old one. The simulation itself creates the new neural connections without the effort of discipline and internal brute force.

For example, to start this Mind Muscles™ website, I needed to learn the WordPress application. Nothing worked like I wanted it to! All my prior experience learning new applications led me down the wrong paths. I began to interpret my raw experience as frustration. But the experience of frustration was my negative interpretation of a neutral raw experience. But really, I was simply building new neural circuits! Having the experience of this initial frustration turn into a new and desirable skill or behavior a dozen times before, I could re-frame the frustration into the understanding that I was “building Mind Muscles.” The more we are able to distinguish the raw experience of building new neural circuits from our hard-wired experience of frustration, the easier it becomes to build the next Mind Muscle.

Awareness of the experience of creating new neural connections and structures opens a new door to following through on new trading behaviors that feel better, are in integrity with who we are, and get us to where we want to go.

Mind Muscles™ training creates simulations that are targeted directly to develop a more productive decision process for you and/or your team. Take the Trader Test to help define the where you are now and where you want to be. We work with our students and clients to create the fastest way to success.

About the Author Rich Friesen

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