Photo by D Sharon Pruitt
By Rande Howell
Jack was gripped with indecision. His stomach was in knots. Uncertainty pulsed through his veins. A decision had to be made! Now! He could feel the opportunity slipping away. The opportunity of this trade was about to expire. “Do I pull the trigger or not?” came the question in his mind. As a futures trader, he was watching his computer screen trying to make a decision about a trade – to risk or to stay safe. And he had fallen into the one trap that no trader can allow to take over his state of mind – fear of failure.
Thoughts raced through his mind at breakneck speed, “Do it. Do it now! What are you – chicken? How do you expect to make a living if you don’t act?”
Another voice in his mind screamed, “What if it’s wrong? You’re going to lose your retirement. Then what are you going to tell your wife?” The battle raged back and forth in his mind. He pushed it away and tried to pretend he was calm and emotionless. Then the battle in his mind surged into his awareness again.
He could feel the impulse to act swell in him like a tidal wave. “I’ve got to stop this insanity from sweeping me away. Stuff like this didn’t happen before I started trading,” he thought, “How do I stop it?”
There was a pause and Jack acted on impulse. He “pulled the trigger” – in trader’s language, he hit the key that committed him to the trade. Immediately relief flowed into his body as his mind calmed back down. “Whew,” he thought to himself, “Why does trading have to be such a mind game?”
No matter how well trained Jack had become in the process of his trading, he still had a hard time with the psychology of trading. And unfortunately for Jack, futures trading had no wiggle room. You either won or lost. All the stories he previously used to deflect responsibility, blame, procrastination, rationalizing, or lying to himself for most of his life simply did not work in the world of trading. Trading forced Jack to cut to the core of his insecurities, and he was not well prepared for that.
What Futures and Day Trading Can Teach You About Your Challenges of Change
Jack, until his company went bust and he started futures trading as a second career, had created elaborate stories that allowed him not to step up and face his life. He always had a ready excuse, quite rational, about why he and his business had drifted through 25 years of mediocrity. He even created a story that distanced him from its decline.
The truth is that he avoided an internal war going on within himself. It was that same war (the one you read about going on in Jack’s mind as he was trading) that could not be avoided in the world of trading. In trading, there are no excuses. Once you learn a process to trade with, the major part of trading is psychological. This is the part that Jack (and most of us) did not understand and did not know how to deal with.
Let’s take a look at that war within the self.
Life is Struggle, Suffering is Optional
First, notice the unquestioned belief many of us hold that (if we are living properly) we should not experience conflict. As an illustration of this, consider a common occurrence in my relationship counseling practice. A man and woman will come in because their relationship is in distress. When I ask them how conflict was managed in their families as they were growing up, one partner will acknowledge that conflict was high and rarely resolved effectively. The other partner will declare that their family never experienced conflict – never saw their parents fight. It was all Ozzie and Harriet and they had a perfect family in which to grow up.
When I comment back to him or her, I am sorry they grew up in such a home that they pretended conflict did not exist and were never taught how to effectively deal with conflict – they are shocked. They grew up in a situation that did not teach them how to effectively deal with the world.
If you look at the world (from the politics of humans to dynamics of relationship to the natural world), you find fierce conflict. You will find moments of lull between the storms of conflict, but conflict is inescapable.
It is how we deal with conflict that opens and closes the possibilities of what our lives can be. This is where Jack, and many of us, has a problem. We avoid conflict, rather than embrace it as part of our growth in life. It is out of conflict that new possibilities for our lives emerge. When we avoid or attack the source of our conflict, we may lessen the angst in the short term, but, by resisting its resolution, we find that the conflict is played out again and again into our future. It becomes a self fulfilling prophesy and a prediction of our future.
Why is this?
Your Brain Adapts You to Survive, Not Thrive
Long before you could think, your brain was adapting you to the world to which you were born. Its goal for you was to survive in the moment. So it created patterns of response so that you could negotiate environmental survival. The brain as a pattern-making machine is also built around the emotional mother of survival – fear.
It is much easier for the brain to avoid conflict than to confront it. And this is all happening long before you can think and reason. By the time thinking comes on line, the brain has created a comfort zone (also known as a perceptual map) that locks us into a constricted understanding of our world. The brain wants you to stay in the familiar pattern of the comfort zone. And if you attempt to push beyond the comfort zone, you are triggered to avoid the conflict caused by interrupting established patterns of perception and behavior.
Let’s put a human face on this. It is exactly what has happened to Jack. Remember him? Jack had successfully avoided conflict for most of his life. He had been able to turn a blind eye toward the decline of his business and create a fiction that allowed him to not take responsibility for changes he really needed to make in his life. He avoided the internal conflict in his life because it was uncomfortable. It was much easier to stay in the “same old, same old” of the prison of his comfort zone than to risk change.
Then he started futures trading. His historical story, to which his brain adapted him, of avoiding conflict and change is being challenged. He is forced out of his comfort zone. He either wins or loses – the excuses do not convince the futures market to give him a break. He suddenly has to face a different reality. He has to face the challenge of change. To do this, Jack will first need to learn how to calm the body down so he can manage the biology of fear. Then he will need to learn how to un-tether the mind from psychological discomfort. Until this happens, the power of his biology and brain will simply overwhelm his mind. But to calm the body and mind down opens the door to a radically different way of working with conflict. This is exactly what Jack did.
The Internal Dialogue: You and Your Thoughts Are Different
Jack, with training, learned how to regulate his fear of conflict. Beneath that, Jack discovered he was driven to avoid conflict by a deep seated fear of failure that he had avoided dealing with for most of his life. Now he had developed skills and tools allowing him to push through the door of fear that had kept him imprisoned in his comfort zone and had predicated his continued failure.
In fact, he discovered that the fear that had seized him was composed of two voices within him that created a dance of doom. Because of the avoidance of his fear, he had never been able to still his mind enough to hear them. Now he could.
He learned that these voices together are called the Internal Dialogue. The Internal Dialogue is part of the unseen forces that had created his life without his consent and beyond his conscious awareness. They had taken control of his thinking, and left unchecked, had constricted the possibility of who he was and who he could be.
Go back and read the initial vignette about Jack’s fear and see if you can spot the participant voices in Jack’s internal dialogue – all taking place in his mind.
He was onto them now. One he called the Shadow. And it whispered critical and judgmental thoughts into his mind that stirred accusations of inadequacy in his thoughts. Until Jack learned how to separate his identity from his thoughts, he believed this voice without questioning it. A second part of the dance that went on in his mind he named the Doom Kid. This voice always anticipated negative outcome without question. As he improved his skills of separating his sense of identity from his thoughts, Jack came to understand that these two voices had controlled his perception and states of mind since childhood. There was a third voice in his mind that he named the Saboteur. This was the impulsive part of Jack’s inner world. It jumped to a decision without thinking through things – a bad habit to have when trading.
They were not who he was. What Jack came to understand was that this was simply the current organization of Jack’s internal dialogue. Jack’s “aha! moment” came when he realized it was not who he was. There was so much more, once he learned to calm down the body and mind.
Learning to Observe the Internal Dialogue: The Door of Transformation
Discovering the Shadow, the Doomed Kid, and the Saboteur required that Jack begin to develop the capacity to stand back from himself and see his mind as a place where conversations occurred. Some were historical – they had been going on for a long time. And these had been flying underneath Jack’s radar of awareness. Bringing them into awareness so that he could observe them, rather than be swept away by them, freed him from the tyranny of his thoughts.
Jack realized there was more. As he developed the Observing Self – that’s the part of the self that witnesses inward thoughts dispassionately – he was also directed to look for voices within the self that had been pushed out of his active awareness. This is where he began to develop the trader’s mind.
First, with help, he uncovered a Courageous part of the self. Mostly Jack avoided conflict, but there had been several times in his life that he had stood up in the face of conflict and had acted courageously. As he developed the capacity to “re-member” this part of his forgotten self, the Courageous One (which he called the Bengal Tiger) began to appear more and more. And from this voice, he invoked the courage to challenge the fear mongering of the Shadow and the Doom Kid.
Next, he discovered another buried part of the self – the Wise One. The Wise one was calm, level headed, and made calculated decisions. With the Tiger and the Wise One incorporated into his Internal Dialogue, Jack’s trading changed. Over time as he practiced calming the body and mind and invoking the Tiger and the Wise One into his awareness, Jack increased his success in trading.
The hard truth of trading is that it cuts excuses and blame out of the conversation of success. In trading, Jack either won or last. There was no escape from the internal conflict that had eaten at Jack’s potential for all these years. In his powerful motivation to succeed at trading for the sake of his family, Jack had finally been forced to confront his demons. And when he did, he found that there was far more to him than he had imagined. By pushing through the fear with a good coach to help him, he found more that financial success. He found a new human being that could be brought forth from the depths of the self.
It required work and discipline, rather than his historical avoidance. But by taking the courage to confront his own internal struggle with conflict, Jack found fulfillment as a human being that he had been seeking for his entire life.
Stepping Up to the Challenge of Internal Change
How do Jack’s lessons apply to you…particularly in your relationship with conflict – (and you do have one)? To answer that, explore these questions:
- What is the pattern that seems to keep happening in my life?
- What is the role of avoidance and fear of staying stuck in your pattern?
- What is your internal dialogue about conflict? How does the Inner Critic interact with you? Does it judge, criticize, tempt, or deceive you?
- Who are the inner Champions that live within you? How do you find courage, confidence, vision, and wisdom? How do you access them?
- What becomes possible for you as you begin to live your life from the empowered voices within the self rather than the constrictive voices within the self?
Please share your thoughts on this article in the comments below. I would enjoy hearing from you.