Andrew Aziz (PhD, PEng) is a best-selling author, trader, and founder of Bear Bull Traders, a worldwide community of independent traders.
We all have seen people who cannot get their lives back on track following a death in the family, job loss, or the end of a romantic relationship. Why is it that some people can rise from the ashes like a phoenix and start afresh when others cannot?
How is it that when Dave Mustaine was fired from Metallica, he took all of his anger and ambition and started Megadeth, an amazing band every bit as good — but when Pete Best was fired from The Beatles, he fell into a downward spiral and never could get his career back to superstar status?
The answer is resilience, which is a measure of one’s mental toughness.
Some people are born resilient. The environment a person grows up in can also have a profound effect on mental toughness. Nevertheless, researchers have demonstrated that resilience is more than just genetics. It is also a skill that can be learned.
In my field of financial market trading, mental resilience is extremely important. A trade will fail more often than it will succeed, and a trader needs a positive mindset to keep going. Traders must learn how to stay mentally fit if they want to survive.
In this article, I’m going to share with you how I train my mind to stay tough and resilient no matter what.
Resilience Is Hindsight
I first began day trading after I was unexpectedly laid off from my job. Unemployed and feeling embarrassed in front of my friends and family, I proceeded to lose all of my savings and severance package to the market.
I did not give up, even though I lost over $10,000 in the first few months. I was forced to find another job to pay the rent. But I did not stop trading. I kept waking up at 5 a.m. so I could trade from 6:30 to 8 before leaving for work. Did I know what was driving me at the time? Not really. Resilience is something you realize you have after the fact.
Resilience Is Preparedness
Soon after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, some firms working in symbolic centers of the U.S. financial industry realized their companies could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Many launched resilience and preparedness programs.
Resilience Is Unlearning Helplessness
To build resilience, we must be able to recognize its opposite: helplessness. Helplessness is the belief that nothing can be done to improve a bad situation.
American psychologist Martin Seligman conducted a series of experiments in the 1960s in which he exposed a group of animals to a sudden noise. Without a way to stop the noise, they became helpless. They did not try to protect themselves in subsequent distressing situations, such as when they were administered a shock, even if there was a way to avoid the shock.
Animals that were given a button to stop the noise or who were never exposed to the behavior at all showed the complete opposite behavior. Next time they were exposed to a noise, they tried to stop it. Their successful past experience in stopping the noise made them more capable of stopping it again.
Like most beliefs or habits, helplessness is learned. The important thing to know is that helplessness can also be unlearned.
Resilience Is Mediation And Awareness
The first step to unlearning helplessness is to be aware of it. While severe helplessness can be a serious anxiety disorder and require professional help from a psychologist, most of our day-to-day feelings of helplessness can be controlled by our own mind. I have found mindfulness and meditation to be a powerful tool to recognize my own feelings of helplessness.
Hanging on the wall of my office is a good-sized picture of two empty circles. The big circle represents what I have no control over. The small circle represents what I can change. Whenever a situation makes me feel helpless, I pause and meditate in front of that picture. Is there anything I can do in my small circle to change the situation? If yes, I do it. If not, then I look at the larger circle and acknowledge I cannot change the particular situation. With that acknowledgement, I find acceptance, and that gives me the hope I need to start over.
Resilience Is Group Support
I have come to realize that in order to build a resilient personality, it is crucial to be part of a supportive community. Why? One reason is that when you fall (and everyone falls), you have people to look up to and receive support from. It is no surprise that many successful entrepreneurs are part of mastermind groups. That is why I founded Bear Bull Traders, an online community of traders. Occasionally, we are on the opposite side of each other’s trades and in direct competition with each other, but during hard times, the desire to genuinely help one another outshines any sense of competition in the community.
In one of my interviews with Dr. Brett Steenbarger, the world-renowned author and trading psychologist, he said that to become an Olympic swimmer, you can either practice in your backyard pool or you can join a swimming club with other competitive swimmers. Which one gives you a better chance for success?
Being around like-minded people, even if they are your competitors, can help you grow. Together we go further, but alone we may go only faster.
Resilience Is A Healthy Body And A Healthy Mind
Staying active and healthy enables me to keep a balanced mind that remains resilient. After a bad trading day, a run under the sun with the ocean breeze in Vancouver helps me clear my mind and get back on track faster. Whenever I turn to alcohol to relieve my stress, my spirit ends up feeling even more impending doom. Your brain is an organ, and it needs the health of your entire body to perform at peak capacity.