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(2012-05-26 17:55:52)







分类: 天天读经典

第02章 交易的诱惑(和危险)

In January 1994, I was asked to speak at a trading conference in Chicago, sponsored by Futures Magazine. At one of the luncheons I happened to be sitting next to an editor for one of the major publishers of books about trading. We were having a lively conversation about why so few people become successful at trading, even people who are otherwise very accomplished. At one point, the editor asked me if a possible explanation for this phenomenon might be that people were getting into trading for the wrong reasons.




I had to pause for a moment to think about this. I agree that many of the typical reasons people are motivated to trade - the action, euphoria, desire to be a hero, the attention one can draw to himself by winning, or the self-pity that comes from losing - create problems that will ultimately detract from a trader’s performance and overall success. But the true underlying attraction to trading is far more fundamental and universal. Trading is an activity that offers the individual unlimited freedom of creative expression, a freedom of expression that has been denied most of us for most of our lives.


Of course, the editor asked me what I meant by this. I explained that in the trading environment, we make almost all of the rules. This means there are very few restrictions or boundaries on how we can choose to express ourselves. Of course there are some formalities such as having to become a member of an exchange to be a floor trader, or meeting the minimum financial requirements to open a brokerage account if you’re an off-the-floor trader. But otherwise, once you are in a position to start trading, the possibilities that exist for how you go about doing it are virtually limitless.


I went on to give him an example from a seminar I attended several years ago. Someone had calculated that, if you combined bond futures, bond options, and the cash bond markets, there would be over eight billion possible spread combinations. Now add the timing considerations based on how you read the prevailing market conditions, and the various ways to trade become virtually limitless.


The editor paused for a moment and asked, “But why would having access to such an unrestricted environment result in fairly consistent failure?” I answered, “Because unlimited possibilities coupled with the unlimited freedom to take advantage of those possibilities present the individual with unique and specialized psychological challenges, challenges that very few people are properly equipped to deal with, or have any awareness of for that matter, and people can’t exactly work on overcoming something if they don’t even know its a problem.”


The freedom is great. All of us seem to naturally want it, strive for it, even crave it. But that doesn’t mean that we have the appropriate psychological resources to operate effectively in an environment that has few, if any, boundaries and where the potential to do enormous damage to ourselves exists. Almost everyone needs to make some mental adjustments, regardless of their educational background, intelligence or how successful they’ve been in other endeavors.


The kind of adjustments I’m talking about have to do with creating an internal mental structure that provides the trader with the greatest degree of balance between the freedom to do anything and the potential that exists to experience both the financial and psychological damage that can be a direct result of that freedom.


Creating a mental structure can be difficult enough, especially if what you want to instill is in conflict with what you already believe. But for those of us who want to be traders, the difficulty of creating the appropriate structure is invariably compounded by a backlog of mental resistance that starts developing at the very earliest stages of our lives.


All of us are born into some sort of social environment. A social environment (or society), whether it’s a family, city, state, or country, implies the existence of structure. Social structures consist of rules, restrictions, boundaries, and a set of beliefs that become a code of behavior that limits the ways in which individuals within that social structure can or cannot express themselves. Furthermore, most of the limitations of social structure were established before we are born. In other words, by the time any of us get here, most of the social structure governing our individual expression is in place and well entrenched.


It’s easy to see why a society’s need for structure and the individual’s need for self-expression can conflict. Every person who wants to master the art of trading faces just such a fundamental conflict.


I’d like you to ask yourself what one characteristic (a form of personal expression) is common to every child born on this planet, regardless of the location, culture, or social situation the child is born into. The answer is curiosity. Every child is curious. Every child is eager to learn. They can be described as little learning machines.


Consider the nature of curiosity. At its most fundamental level, it is a force. More specifically, it is an inner-directed force, which means there’s no necessity to motivate a child to learn something. Left on their own, children will naturally explore their surroundings. What is more, this inner-directed force also seems to have its own agenda; in other words, even though all children are curious, not all children are naturally curious about the same things.


There’s something inside each of us that directs our awareness. Even infants seem to know what they want and don’t want. When adults encounter this unique display of individuality expressed by an infant, they’re usually surprised. They assume that infants have nothing inside of them that makes them uniquely who they are. How else would infants express their individuality than by what in their environment attracts or repels them? I call this inner-directed guidance the force of natural attractions.


Natural attractions are simply those things about which we feel a natural or passionate interest. Ours is a big and diverse world, and it offers each of us a great deal to learn about and experience. But that doesn’t mean each of us has a natural or passionate interest in learning about or experiencing all there is. There’s some internal mechanism that makes us “naturally selective.”


If you think about it, I’m sure you could list many things to do or be that you have absolutely no interest in. I know I could. You could also make another list of the things you are only marginally interested in. Finally, you could list everything you have a passionate interest in. Of course, the lists get smaller as the interest levels rise.


Where does passionate interest come from? My personal view is that it comes from the deepest level of our being - at the level of our true identity. It comes from the part of us that exists beyond the characteristics and personality traits we acquire as a result of our social upbringing.




It is at the deepest level of our being that the potential for conflict exists. The social structure that we’re born into may or may not be sensitive to these inner-directed needs and interests. For example, you may have been born into a family of extremely competitive athletes, but feel a passionate interest in classical music or art. You may even have natural athletic ability, but no real interest in participating in athletic events. Is there any potential for conflict here?


In a typical family, most members would put a great deal of pressure on you to follow in the footsteps of your brothers, sisters, or parents. They do everything possible to teach you their ways and how to get the most out of your athletic ability. They discourage you from seriously pursuing any other interests. You go along with what they want, because you don’t want to be ostracized, but at the same time, doing what they want you to do just doesn’t feel right, although everything you’ve learned and been taught argues in favor of becoming an athlete. The problem is, it doesn’t feel like who you are.


The conflicts that result from what we’re taught about who we’re supposed to be and the feeling that resonates at the deepest levels of our being is not at all uncommon. I would say that many, if not most people, grow up in a family and cultural environment that gives little, if any, objective, nonjudgmental support to the unique ways in which we feel compelled to express ourselves.


This lack of support is not simply an absence of encouragement. It can be as deep as the outright denial of some particular way in which we want to express ourselves. For example, let’s look at a common situation: A toddler, who for the first time in his life, notices “this thing,” which we call a vase, on the coffee table. He is curious, which means there’s an inner force that’s compelling him to experience this object. In a sense, it’s as if this force creates a vacuum in his mind that has to be filled with the object of his interest. So, he focuses on the vase, and, with deliberate intent, crawls across the vast expanse of the living room floor to the coffee table. When he gets there, he reaches up to the edge of the table to pull himself to his feet. With one hand firmly on the table to maintain his balance, his other hand reaches out to touch this thing he has never experienced. Just at that moment, he hears a scream from across the room, “NO! DON’T TOUCH THAT!”


Startled, the child falls back on his butt, and begins to cry. Obviously, this is a very common occurrence and one that is completely unavoidable. Children have absolutely no concept of how they can injure themselves or how valuable something like a vase can be. In fact, learning what is safe and what isn’t and the value of things are important lessons the child must learn. However, there are some extremely important psychological dynamics at work here that have a direct effect on our ability to create the kind of discipline and focus necessary to trade effectively later in life.


What happens when we’re denied the opportunity to express ourselves in the way we want to, or we’re forced to express ourselves in a way that doesn’t correspond with the natural selection process? The experience creates an upset. Being “up-set” implies an imbalance. But what exactly is out of balance? For something to be out of balance, there has to be something that’s in balance or in equal proportion in the first place. That something is the relative degree of correspondence that exists between our inner, mental environment and the exterior environment where we experience our lives.


In other words, our needs and desires are generated in our mental environment, and they are fulfilled in the exterior environment. If these two environments are in correspondence with one another, we’re in a state of inner balance and we feel a sense of satisfaction or happiness. If these environments are not in correspondence, we experience dissatisfaction, anger, and frustration, or what is commonly referred to as emotional pain.


Now, why would not getting what we want or being denied the freedom to express ourselves in some particular way cause us to experience emotional pain? My personal theory is that needs and desires create mental vacuums. The universe in which we live has a natural tendency to not tolerate a vacuum and moves to fill it, whenever one exists. (The philosopher Spinoza observed centuries ago that, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”)


Suck the air out of a bottle and your tongue and lips will stick to the mouth of the bottle, because you have created an imbalance (a vacuum), which now must be filled. What are the dynamics behind the expression “Necessity is the mother of all invention”? The recognition that a need creates a mental vacuum that the universe will fill with inspiring thoughts (if your mind is receptive). The thoughts, in turn, can inspire movement and expression that result in the fulfillment of that need.


In this respect, I think our mental environment works like the universe at large. Once we recognize a need or desire, we move to fill the vacuum with an experience in the exterior environment. If we are denied the opportunity to pursue the object of this need or desire, it literally feels as if we are not whole, or that something is missing, which puts us into a state of imbalance or emotional pain. (Do our minds also abhor a vacuum, once one has been created?)


Take a toy away from a child who is not finished playing with it (regardless of how good your reasons may be for doing so) and the universal response will be emotional pain.


By the time we’re 18 years old, we’ve been on Earth approximately 6,570 days. On average, how many times per day does the typical child hear statements like:


“No, no, you can’t do that.”


“You can’t do it that way. You have to do it this way.”


“Not now; let me think about it.”


“I’ll let you know.”


“It can’t be done.”


“What makes you think you can do it?”


“You have to do it. You have no choice.”


These are just a few of the relatively nice ways in which all of us are denied individual expression as we grow up. Even if we only heard such statements once or twice a day, that still adds up to several thousand denials by the time we reach adulthood.


I call these lands of experiences “denied impulses” to learn - impulses that are based on an inner need, originating from the deeper part of our identity, from the natural selection process.


What happens to all of these impulses that have been denied and left unfulfilled? Do they just go away? They can, if they are reconciled in some way: if we do something, or someone else does something, to put our mental environment back into balance. What can put our mental environment back into balance? There are a number of techniques. The most natural one, especially for a child, is simply to cry.


Crying is a natural mechanism (nature’s way) for reconciling these denied, unfulfilled impulses. Scientific researchers have found tears to be composed of negatively charged ions. If allowed to take its natural course, crying will expel the negatively charged energy in our minds and bring us back to a state of balance, even though the original impulse was never fulfilled.


The problem is that, most of the time, events are not allowed to take their natural course and the denied impulses are never reconciled (at least, not while we’re still children). There are many reasons why adults don’t like it when their children (especially boys) cry, and do everything they can to discourage this behavior. There are just as many reasons why adults will not bother to explain to children why they are being forced to do something they don’t want to do. Even if adults do try, there are no assurances that they will be effective enough to reconcile the imbalance. What happens if these impulses aren’t reconciled?


They accumulate and usually end up manifesting themselves in any number of addictive and compulsive behavior patterns. A very loose rule of thumb is: Whatever we believe we were deprived of as children can easily become addictions in adulthood. For example, many people are addicted to attention. I am referring to people who will do most anything to draw attention to themselves. The most common reason for this is that they believe they either didn’t get enough attention when they were young or didn’t get it when it was important to them. In any case, the deprivation becomes unresolved emotional energy that compels them to behave in ways that will satisfy the addiction. What’s important for us to understand about these unreconciled, denied impulses (that exist in all of us) is how they affect our ability to stay focused and take a disciplined, consistent approach to our trading.




To operate effectively in the trading environment, we need rules and boundaries to guide our behavior. It is a simple fact of trading that the potential exists to do enormous damage to ourselves - damage that can be way out of proportion to what we may think is possible. There are many kinds of trades in which the risk of loss is unlimited. To prevent the possibility of exposing ourselves to damage, we need to create an internal structure in the form of specialized mental discipline and a perspective that guides our behavior so that we always act in our own best interests. This structure has to exist within each of us, because unlike society, the market doesn’t provide it.


The markets provide structure in the form of behavior patterns that indicate when an opportunity to buy or sell exists. But that’s where the structure ends - with a simple indication. Otherwise, from each individual’s perspective, there are no formalized rules to guide your behavior. There aren’t even any beginnings, middles, or endings as there are in virtually every other activity we participate in.


This is an extremely important distinction with profound psychological implications. The market is like a stream that is in constant motion. It doesn’t start, stop, or wait. Even when the markets are closed, prices are still in motion. There is no rule that the opening price on any day must be the same as the closing price the day before. Nothing we do in society properly prepares us to function effectively in such a “boundary-less” environment.


Even gambling games have built-in structures that make them much different from trading, and a lot less dangerous. For example, if we decide to play blackjack, the first thing we have to do is decide how much we are going to wager or risk. This is a choice we are forced to make by the rules of the game. If we don’t make the choice, we don’t get to play.


In trading, no one (except yourself) is going to force you to decide in advance what your risk is. In fact, what we have is a limitless environment, where virtually anything can happen at any moment and only the consistent winners define their risk in advance of putting on a trade. For everyone else, defining the risk in advance would force you to confront the reality that each trade has a probable outcome, meaning that it could be a loser. Consistent losers do almost anything to avoid accepting the reality that, no matter how good a trade looks, it could lose. Without the presence of an external structure forcing the typical trader to think otherwise, he is susceptible to any number of justifications, rationalizations, and the kind of distorted logic that will allow him to get into a trade believing that it can’t lose, which makes determining the risk in advance irrelevant.


All gambling games have specified beginnings, middles, and endings, based on a sequence of events that determine the outcome of the game. Once you decide you are going to participate, you can’t change your mind - you’re in for the duration. That’s not true of trading. In trading, prices are in constant motion, nothing begins until you decide it should, it lasts as long as you want, and it doesn’t end until you want it to be over. Regardless of what you may have planned or wanted to do, any number of psychological factors can come into play, causing you to become distracted, change your mind, become scared or overconfident: in other words, causing you to behave in ways that are erratic and unintended.


Because gambling games have a formal ending, they force the participant to be an active loser. If you’re on a losing streak, you can’t keep on losing without making a conscious decision to do so. The end of each game causes the beginning of a new game, and you have to actively subject more of your assets to further risk by reaching into your wallet or pushing some chips to the center of the table.


Trading has no formal ending. The market will not take you out of a trade. Unless you have the appropriate mental structure to end a trade in a manner that is always in your best interest, you can become a passive loser. This means that, once you’re in a losing trade, you don’t have to do anything to keep on losing. You don’t even have to watch. You can just ignore the situation, and the market will take everything you own - and more.


One of the many contradictions of trading is that it offers a gift and a curse at the same time. The gift is that, perhaps for the first time in our lives, we’re in complete control of everything we do. The curse is that there are no external rules or boundaries to guide or structure our behavior. The unlimited characteristics of the trading environment require that we act with some degree of restraint and self-control, at least if we want to create some measure of consistent success. The structure we need to guide our behavior has to originate in your mind, as a conscious act of free will. This is where the many problems begin.


PROBLEM: The unwillingness to Create Rules


I have not yet encountered a person interested in trading who didn’t resist the notion of creating a set of rules. The resistance isn’t always overt. Quite the contrary, it’s usually very subtle. We agree on the one hand that rules make sense, but we really have no intention of doing whatever is being suggested. This resistance can be intense, and it has a logical source.


Most of the structure in our minds was given to us as a result of our social upbringing and based on choices made by other people. In other words, it was instilled in our minds, but did not originate in our minds. This is a very important distinction. In the process of instilling structure, many of our natural impulses to move, express, and learn about the nature of our existence through our own direct experience were denied. Many of these denied impulses were never reconciled and still exist inside of us as frustration, anger, disappointment, guilt, or even hatred. The accumulation of these negative feelings acts as a force inside our mental environment causing us to resist anything that denies us the freedom to do and be whatever we want, when we want.


In other words, the very reason we are attracted to trading in the first place - the unlimited freedom of creative expression - is the same reason we feel a natural resistance to creating the kinds of rules and boundaries that can appropriately guide our behavior. It’s as if we have found a Utopia in which there is complete freedom, and then someone taps us on the shoulder and says, “Hey, you have to create rules, and not only that, you also have to have the discipline to abide by them.”


The need for rules may make perfect sense, but it can be difficult to generate the motivation to create these rules when we’ve been trying to break free of them most of our lives. It usually takes a great deal of pain and suffering to break down the source of our resistance to establishing and abiding by a trading regime that is organized, consistent, and reflects prudent money-management guidelines.


Now, I’m not implying that you have to reconcile all of your past frustrations and disappointments to become a successful trader, because that’s not the case. And you certainly don’t have to suffer. I’ve worked with many traders who have achieved their objectives of consistency and haven’t done anything to reconcile their backlog of denied impulses. However, I am implying that you can’t take for granted how much effort and focus you may have to put into building the kind of mental structure that compensates for the negative effect denied impulses can have on your ability to establish the skills that will assure your success as a trader.


PROBLEM: Failure to Take Responsibility


Trading can be characterized as a pure, unencumbered personal choice with an immediate outcome. Remember, nothing happens until we decide to start; it lasts as long as we want; and it doesn’t end until we decide to stop. All of these beginnings, middles, and endings are the result of our interpretation of the information available and how we choose to act on our interpretation. Now, we may want the freedom to make choices, but that doesn’t mean we are ready and willing to accept the responsibility for the outcomes. Traders who are not ready to accept responsibility for the outcomes of their interpretations and actions will find themselves in a dilemma: How does one participate in an activity that allows complete freedom of choice, and at the same time avoid taking responsibility if the outcome of one’s choices are unexpected and not to one’s liking?


The hard reality of trading is that, if you want to create consistency, you have to start from the premise that no matter what the outcome, you are completely responsible. This is a level of responsibility few people have aspired to before they decide to become traders. The way to avoid responsibility is to adopt a trading style that is, to all intents and purposes, random. I define random trading as poorly-planned trades or trades that are not planned at all. It is an unorganized approach that takes into consideration an unlimited set of market variables, which do not allow you to find out what works on a consistent basis and what does not.


Randomness is unstructured freedom without responsibility. When we trade without well-defined plans and with an unlimited set of variables, it’s very easy to take credit for the trades that turn out to our liking (because there was “some” method present). At the same time, it’s very easy to avoid taking responsibility for the trades that didn’t turn out the way we wanted (because there’s always some variable we didn’t know about and therefore couldn’t take into consideration beforehand).


If the markets behavior were truly random, then it would be difficult if not impossible to create consistency. If it’s impossible to be consistent, then we really don’t have to take responsibility. The problem with this logic is that our direct experience of the markets tells us something different. The same behavior patterns present themselves over and over again. Even though the outcome of each individual pattern is random, the outcome of a series of patterns is consistent (statistically reliable). This is a paradox, but one that is easily resolved with a disciplined, organized, and consistent approach.


I’ve worked with countless traders who would spend hours doing market analysis and planning trades for the next day. Then, instead of putting on the trades they planned, they did something else. The trades they did put on were usually ideas from friends or tips from brokers. I probably don’t have to tell you that the trades they originally planned, but didn’t act on, were usually the big winners of the day. This is a classic example of how we become susceptible to unstructured, random trading - because we want to avoid responsibility.


When we act on our own ideas, we put our creative abilities on the line and we get instant feedback on how well our ideas worked. It’s very difficult to rationalize away any unsatisfactory results. On the other hand, when we enter an unplanned, random trade, it’s much easier to shift the responsibility by blaming the friend or the broker for their bad ideas.


There’s something else about the nature of trading that makes it easy to escape the responsibility that comes with creating structure in favor of trading randomly: It is the fact that any trade has the potential to be a winner, even a big winner. That big winning trade can come your way whether you are a great analyst or a lousy one; whether you do or don’t take responsibility. It takes effort to create the kind of disciplined approach that is necessary to become a consistent winner. But, as you can see, it’s very easy to avoid this kind of mental work in favor of trading with an undisciplined, random approach.


PROBLEM: Addiction to Random Rewards


Several studies have been done on the psychological effects of random rewards on monkeys. For example, if you teach a monkey to do a task and consistently reward it every time the task is done, the monkey quickly learns to associate a specific outcome with the efforts. If you stop rewarding it for doing the task, within a very short period of time the monkey will simply stop doing the task. It won’t waste its energy doing something that it has now learned it won’t be rewarded for.


However, the monkey’s response to being cut off from the reward is very different if you start out on a purely random schedule, instead of a consistent one. When you stop offering the reward, there’s no way the monkey can know that it will never be rewarded again for doing that task. Every time it was rewarded in the past, the reward came as a surprise. As a result, from the monkey’s perspective, there’s no reason to quit doing the task. The monkey keeps on doing the task, even without being rewarded for doing it. Some will continue indefinitely.


I’m not sure why we’re susceptible to becoming addicted to random rewards. If I had to guess, I would say that it probably has something to do with the euphoria - inducing chemicals that are released in our brains when we experience an unexpected, pleasant surprise. If a reward is random, we never know for sure if and when we might receive it, so expending energy and resources in the hope of experiencing that wonderful feeling of surprise again isn’t difficult. In fact, for many people it can be very addicting. On the other hand, when we expect a particular outcome and it doesn’t come about, we’re disappointed and feel bad. If we do it again and get the same disappointing outcome, it isn’t likely that we will keep doing something we know will cause us emotional pain.


The problem with any addiction is that it leaves us in a state of “choicelessness.” To whatever degree the addiction dominates our state of mind, to that same degree our focus and efforts will be geared toward fulfilling the object of that addiction. Other possibilities that exist in any given moment to fulfill other needs (like the need to trust ourselves and not to subject too many of our assets to risk) are either ignored or dismissed. We feel powerless to act in any other way than to satisfy the addiction. An addiction to random rewards is particularly troublesome for traders, because it is another source of resistance to creating the kind of mental structure that produces consistency.


PROBLEM: External versus Internal Control


Our upbringing has programmed us to function in a social environment, which means we’ve acquired certain thinking strategies for fulfilling our needs, wants and desires that are geared toward social interaction. Not only have we learned to depend on each other to fulfill the needs, wants and desires we cannot fulfill completely on our own, but in the process we’ve acquired many socially-based controlling and manipulating techniques for assuring that other people behave in a manner that is consistent with what we want.


The markets may seem like a social endeavor because there are so many people involved, but they’re not. If, in today’s modern society, we have learned to depend on each other to fulfill basic needs, then the market environment (even though it exists in the midst of modern society) can be characterized as a psychological wilderness, where it’s truly every man or woman for himself or herself.


Not only can we not depend on the market to do anything for us, but it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to manipulate or control anything that the market does. Now, if we’ve become effective at fulfilling our needs, wants and desires by learning how to control and manipulate our environment, but suddenly find ourselves, as traders, in an environment that does not know, care, or respond to anything that is important to us, where does that leave us? You’re right if you said up the proverbial creek without a paddle.


One of the principal reasons so many successful people have failed miserably at trading is that their success is partly attributable to their superior ability to manipulate and control the social environment, to respond to what they want. To some degree, all of us have learned or developed techniques to make the external environment conform to our mental (interior) environment. The problem is that none of these techniques work with the market. The market doesn’t respond to control and manipulation (unless you’re a very large trader).


However, we can control our perception and interpretation of market information, as well as our own behavior. Instead of controlling our surroundings so they conform to our idea of the way things should be, we can learn to control ourselves. Then we can perceive information from the most objective perspective possible, and structure our mental environment so that we always behave in a manner that is in our own best interest.



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