How to stay focused while trading

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Trading - staying focused and in the flow

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Staying focused and being in the flow is in my opinion crucial for success in trading. Such a state of mind allows us to be in sync with the markets and be able to see opportunities, as well as danger zones, which otherwise would be out of sight. Over the years, I discovered that limiting external stimuli while trading is the best policy you can implement, and it has a great influence on trading results. Of course, everyone is different and these are just my personal feelings and experiences, but giving them at least a thought will not harm, even if you disagree at first. So, what are the factors which knocked me out of focus?

1. It might be a very unpopular statement these days, but the number one disturbing factor for my trading, was my phone. And it was not only about the phone ringing at the very moment I was making an entry and literally making me jump up, thus breaking the flow I was in. It was also about the overall disruption and emotional impact of phone calls, apps with their notifications, and even text messages. Anything, from your friend calling for a piece of advice, your bank with a new offer, your accountant with whatever she or he needs to consult with you to an annoying telemarketer, can have an impact on your emotions and determine whether you are focused and in sync with the market or not. Simply speaking, any conversation (or message) during your trading time, even one that does not seem particularly serious or meaningful can cause stress. And even the slightest stress, anger, irritation, frustration or any other emotion can be transferred to the market or alter your perception, which is something you definitely don’t want. Putting the phone on mute did not help, since I noticed, after some time, that I was looking at it nervously and checking if someone didn’t call… In the end I followed my wife’s advice and agreed to turn my mobile off completely and put it into a drawer in our living room for the time I was trading. And you know what? People learned very quickly that I didn’t answer their phones and started e-mailing me instead. And after I explained that I have to keep my phone off during my working hours, they sort of naturally started e-mailing me with things, instead of calling. Now I’m checking my e-mail once a day, AFTER trading and it usually does not take me much time to answer everyone. Saying all that – if your phone needs to be on so that your children’s school or your elderly parents can reach you in case of an emergency, just get a separate phone with a new number and use it only for this purpose. This will eliminate any distracting and potentially stressful calls or messages that are actually not necessary, and as you cans see, can well be avoided.

2. E-mails and messages – e-mails and messages can distract you and cause stress, as well as destroy your emotional balance almost as effectively as phone calls. Not to mention that they distract your attention from trading. Does checking your e-mails or communicators every 15 minutes to see if no one wrote you sound familiar? Well, you have to realize that you are a trader, not a call center or support center. Your job is to trade, not to read and answer e-mails or messages. I check my e-mails and messages after trading, NOT before trading or during a break, to avoid the risk of being kicked out from my emotional peace and balance. Of course, I use e-mail or chat if I need to contact a broker during my trading hours. I also receive newsletters or alerts related to trading, but I have a separate e-mail address only for this. This one has notifications enabled all the time. 

3. Trading Discord or Facebook groups, forums, Twitter, etc. It is nice to be in a community – we humans are social beings after all. Also, especially at the beginning of our adventure with trading, groups and forums can enhance the learning process and provide access to knowledge from more experienced traders. But there is a trap here, too. I remember myself running from one system to another and from a pair to pair, just because someone posted some great trading idea. EURMXN – EURMXN is so great. It has big swaps when shorted. And those moves! Scalping 2 pips is so cool – you are trading all the time, instead of getting bored while waiting for a setup in your primary system. Oh, and those great jokes on Discord, and the feeling that you are a part the community… I remember the day on which my wife, who is currently my trading coach, came into my office to ask me about something and looked at my Discord. “I can see you are having great fun here,” she said. “But this is not trading… If you want to have fun, it’s okey, but if you want to trade, I guess you shouldn’t be so distracted all the time.” That made me think. I analyzed the ways I was using all the groups and forums I subscribed to (BTW their number increased over time from one to five or six), weighted all pros and cons, and I quit all of them! I realized that I needed just one symbol that I knew, understood, and felt, as well as just one system I mastered, to make money. I also realized how damaging for my time and focus those constant interactions were, and that learning and experience sharing were just excuses. It was great fun, but it also had consequences.

4. Market commentaries – let’s make it clear: any market commentary, prediction or opinion is valid only at the moment of writing, because the market environment may change literally within seconds. Another thing is that we may see the market differently and have an eye on a different opportunity window, than the people writing the commentaries. We should also keep in mind that the authors of the market commentaries are paid for their writing, not for their trading results, so just this alone makes them be different market participants than we, traders, are. How does this all affect trading? Well, it was just too often when I changed my view and traded in a different direction than I originally had planned, or not traded at all, just due to market commentaries I read. Most of the time it was a mistake. But it was my mistake because I was the one who followed the suggestion, instead of sticking to my original view… When I analyzed these situations, I came to the conclusion, that I changed my mind because the commentaries were so convincing and made so much sense… I was more confident in somebody else’s view than my own. “The author for sure understands the situation on the market better than me,” I thought. “After all, he or she is an analyst working for a bank.” Obviously I was wrong here, but confidence-building is a story for another article, and this is the topic that required quite a lot of work with my wife, who patiently helped me build it. The good news here is that as I could decide to read and follow the commentaries, I could also decide not to read them, and thus avoid the risk of doubting myself. And my judgement. Now I do my own analysis and rely on my own views only. Sure, I make mistakes, but when I make them I can at least recall my thinking process and find the error which led to wrong conclusions or assumptions.

5. The news and info sites – following the news and headlines is part of our work as traders. Unfortunately, while doing that one is exposed to several potentially disturbing factors. News sites and services are full of different content with loud graphics and photos covering information which sell best, that is scandals and tragedies. Any normal person will get disturbed by such content, which is not good, since we aim to stay calm, focused, and in the flow. Sites and services for traders on the other hand are full of commentaries, which I have already mentioned, and above all adds. Disturbing stuff again. To solve thit problem I created my own trading desktop which includes all the things I look at during my trading day. Here’s the link – if you like it, please feel free to use it 🙂 . I also configured my own RSS feeds reader, which downloads a digest of headlines and excerpts from main media outlets to one, text-only site. This way I can screen the headlines without disturbing add-ons on just one page. You can see it on your own here. As with my Trading Desktop, feel free to use it any time you want.

6. Anything said above is valid also for YouTube – both for trading and non-trading content. I just want to add that both the scary and the funny content affect your focus and emotional state. Laughter and fun can be as distracting as negative emotions. Staying calm is our objective. Cam means at peace with our emotions.

So, what do I do while waiting for a setup? Well, I currently have a few accounts and strategies I use, so there is quite a bit of analysis and management to be done on daily basis. I also read books about the economy and markets. This is emotion-neutral literature for me and reading it is in line with trading. Besides, I can learn more things and as everything, trading also requires constant learning.

As you can see, I’ve undergone quite a transformation here since my early trading days. I hope you’ll find these insights useful. However, I’m also aware that reading about somebody’s experiences is one thing and learning through experience is another, especially if you get your ass kicked on the way 😉 Well, let’s hope not to much though 🙂


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