Monday, August 31, 2026

Radical Renewal: Tools for Leading a Meaningful Life

Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D.
Teaching Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
SUNY Upstate Medical University
Syracuse, NY

This is a book that covers a unique topic in trading psychology:  trading and spirituality.  It is written on a blog platform, with each chapter structured as a separate post.  To navigate the book, you simply click the links for the next page/chapter, or you can click the link for the table of contents and connect to any chapter.  

Next Page: Table of Contents


Saturday, August 29, 2026

Radical Renewal: Foreword and Dedication

This book, my fifth in the area of trading psychology, is grounded in an important insight:

A majority of the performance challenges that we face in navigating financial markets reflect ways in which our egos interfere with sound decision-making.  

Consider some of the classic mistakes of trading psychology:

*  Overtrading to make more and more money.  
*  Overconfidence and poor risk control after strings of winning trades.
*  Impulsive decision making and fear of missing moves.
*  Focus on P/L at the expense of sound trading process.  
*  Staying glued to screens, hanging on every tick of profit and loss, and then overreacting to random moves.
*  Becoming fearful of taking losses and holding onto losing trades.
*  Becoming fearful of losing gains and taking profits prematurely.
*  Focusing on trading bigger and getting locked into (losing) market views.
*  Allowing our feelings about ourselves to rise and fall with our P/L.

For the most part, these are not the result of psychological disorders.  They are the result of our inability to separate our egos from our trading and investing.

After all, we operate within one of the world's most materialistic professions.  In many careers, we can accept not making much money if we perceive that we're helping others and performing worthwhile work.  Trading, however, is all about making money.  How can we possibly not be attached to our profits and losses?!

This is one of the greatest challenges in trading psychology:  At one level, making money is our priority.  At another level, if all we focus upon are profits and losses, we lay the groundwork for our egos to intrude on our decisions and sabotage our success.  

Please consider the following carefully:

If we tackle the emotions of trading without addressing their source in our ego-attachments, we cannot truly master ourselves--and that means we cannot master our trading.

There is a way out from this dilemma, and that's what this book is all about.  The wisdom and practices from the world's great spiritual traditions provide us with time-tested resources for taming the ego and renewing our lives.  These not only help us make wise and insightful decisions; they enable us live lives that are deeply meaningful and fulfilling.

In a very important sense, returns from markets depend on the soul, not the ego.

In the pages that follow, we will explore spirituality and how we can radically renew all areas of life, including our trading.  There is so much more to us than our momentary needs and desires!  Let's discover how we can become more soul-full in all our endeavors.


Dedication:  This book is dedicated to the two women in my life who inspired me to pursue a meaningful life path:  my wife, Margie Steenbarger, and my mother, Constance Steenbarger.  We begin life as large, but uncut diamonds.  The relationships and activities of our lives help define our facets.  If there is any aspect of my life that even remotely approaches "flawless", it is entirely due to the soulful influence of these two very special people.


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Friday, August 28, 2026

Introduction To Renewal: Where Are You Going?

Each of us is on a journey called life.  This book is about finding your map.

Without a coherent life map, there can be no effective trading maps.  It is the life map that provides us with the resources necessary for open-mindedness, insight, and resilience.  Our trading psychology can be no better than our life psychology.

Most of us, at points in time, have stepped back and thought about the meaning and purpose of life.  During those moments of reflection, we suspend daily routines and tap into a larger reality: a sense of what life can be.

Too soon, however, we return to days and weeks saturated by projects, to-do lists, career demands, markets, and family obligations and we lose that larger perspective.  We fail to develop our map to the life that could be.  And so we wander in our narrow places, exiled from life's broader possibilities. 

Much of applied psychology boils down to a single insight:  Life problems occur when we become trapped in repetitive patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior.  We may be consciously aware of these patterns, yet they stubbornly stay with us:  the same conflicts with spouses; the same harsh, self-critical thoughts; the same fears and frustrations; the same trading mistakes; the same attachments and addictions to things that bring no lasting fulfillment.  

Most of us don't have dozens of problems in life, though it sometimes feels that way.  We have one overarching problem with multiple manifestations, and that problem boils down to an impairment of free will.  When our patterns control us, we are no longer fully self-determining.  Pushed to and fro by life's winds and waves, we craft no coherent journey and reach no meaningful destination.  Much of psychology--and especially the world's great spiritual traditions--are gateways to becoming more conscious, more aware, more intentional.  

This book is about cultivating your intentionality:  your capacity for free willWe cannot succeed in life--or in financial markets--if our capacity for free choice is repeatedly hijacked by moment-to-moment ego desires and demands.  When we expand our will, the result is a renewal of life.  When that expansion becomes part of our lifestyle, the result is a radical renewal.

The irony is that each of us already has a path to meaningful life renewal--some of us through artistry, some through career achievement, some through family and relationships, some through service, many through combinations of these.  Our path is there; we recognize it during those moments of clarity when we step back from routine.  We feel that path when we are immersed in what we do well--what matters to us--and when we operate in "the zone".  The challenge is keeping that path visible and staying our course.

The problem is not that we lack free will.  The problem is that we operate with a partial will.

When repetitive patterns take the form of problems--obsessive thoughts, periodic temper outbursts, anxious moods, self-doubts, etc.--we can perceive them clearly.  When life itself becomes a repetitive pattern--when we are consumed by routine--we are all too likely to lose our larger life perspective.  Fish cannot understand water: it is all around, all the time.  So it is with our routines:  once we're immersed in them, we perceive little else and no longer clearly perceive our meaningful life path.  

Traditional psychology offers powerful tools for changing  maladaptive patterns:  behavioral methods, cognitive techniques, interpersonal modalities, psychodynamic approaches, and many more.  There is solid evidence that these methods are useful.  We can indeed change self-defeating patterns of thought, feeling, and action, often in a surprisingly short period of time.

What happens, however, when life itself is an endless loop of routine, a pattern that fails to bring fulfillment?  At that point, self-help techniques are not what is needed.  We need to move beyond our narrow selves and beyond those routines.  This is the essence of radical renewal:  not improving the ego--the narrow self--but transcending it Not traveling the same path better, but finding what Castaneda called "the path with heart".  Our path.  

This is the path we must navigate to exit the loops of our trading problems.

Think of it this way:  in traditional counseling, therapy, and self-help, we seek to change ourselves.  In renewal, we seek a change of our selves.  It's an important difference.  Traditional methods can help us lead better lives.  Through renewal, we truly lead new lives.  With expanding self-determination--a freer will--we become better leaders of our lives.  Renewal is about freeing the will and becoming more of who we actually are in those moments when we are at our best, traveling our paths with heart. 

In the pages that follow, we will explore a wealth of practical resources in psychology, religion, and spirituality that can help us lead our lives and re-new our selves.  We will explore three specific paths to renewal and how these can move our lives--and our trading--forward.

You can see that the book is written in blog format, with each post representing a fresh chapter.  The format makes the book accessible to anyone anywhere with an online connection.  The blog format also allows a seamless integration of links, graphics, and resources within the text.

At a personal level, this book is a radical renewal of my writing.  For a while, I found myself procrastinating over authoring yet another text.  Only when I fully embraced the flaw of my procrastination did it come to me to write an online book.  Immediately I felt excitement.  The blog format, I recognized, means that the text is free of charge.  In writing a free book, I think of the project differently--as a gift. Suddenly writing becomes an act of generosity and gratitude.  It's an opportunity to give a gift to people I've never met, all around the world!  How cool and wonderful is that?!  But it's even more:  Every graphic and link to works that have inspired me becomes a thank you to those who have influenced me, resources I'm privileged to share with others.

Equally exciting is the fact that the blog format allows for comments by readers, my responses to comments, and frequent updating of the text.  As our learning and understanding grow, yours and mine, the book can grow.  When readers contribute insights and I respond, the online book becomes a dialogue, a set of conversations:  a way in which, together, we expand our understanding.  I have written the book but, going forward, I hope that we will continually rewrite it.

In short, renewal--whether in writing a book or crafting our trading--changes what we do and how we do it, turning the commonplace and routine into the dynamic and meaningful.

There was a time we were new--as children--and everything seemed interesting and exciting.  There was no lack of energy and interest.  When we are re-newed, life once again gives us energy.  I can be pumped writing these pages, because the writing isn't work:  it's wrapping gifts.  

What if all of life can be that way?  What if your trading can be that way?  What if your path to fulfillment is already laid out for you, dormant, waiting to be uncovered and discovered?

I look forward to your comments, observations, and questions.  We're all on a life journey.  Let's make it a voyage worth taking.


Back to Table of Contents

Thursday, August 27, 2026

Chapter One: Shifting Our Viewing

Why is it that great trades come from the soul and not the ego?  

When we generate a trading idea from the ego, we become attached to it.  It becomes our view.  We naturally look for evidence that supports our view, allowing confirmation biases to blind us to contradictory information.  In an important sense, when we trade from the ego, we no longer trade to make money.  We trade to be right.  

When we trade from the soul, on the other hand, ideas come to us.  They are the product of creative insight and inspiration.  Trading from the soul requires an open mind, not a mind that is already made up.  If our heads are filled with our ideas and our needs, what room is left for processing evolving market information?

Moving beyond our narrow selves to access the soul is the essence of spirituality.  This typically requires a radical shift in our viewing.  Seeing ourselves (and markets) differently refreshes our perspectives and opens the door to new opportunities.  The essence of trading is a search for meaningful patterns.  If we were to look for meaningful patterns in our conversations with a loved one, we would clear our minds, focus our attention, and truly listen.  We would open our selves up.  

That happens in good trading as well.  

Let's explore how.

The Parable of the House

Imagine you have just purchased a large new home to impress your friends.  You want to make the home as lavish and attractive as possible.  Wouldn't it be great, you think, if you could create a stunning effect for guests entering the front door?  You paint the living area dramatically and purchase expensive rugs and furniture.  You find the most color coordinated wall hangings and spend hours positioning each perfectly.  

The time finally comes to invite your friends and bask in their wow! reaction.

They like it, but no one is stunned.  Their praise is polite, but not effusive.  One comments that the living room looks like a hotel lobby.  Somehow you get the feeling that wasn't said as a compliment.

Chagrined, you search for yet other wall coverings, furnishings, statues, and collector pieces--rare pieces, exotic works--and arrange these with care.  Surely now your space looks distinctive and mansion-worthy!

So you invite more friends.

Again people politely compliment your home, but no one's breath is taken away.  What's worse, something seems different.  Some of the visitors to your home seem distinctly unimpressed.  They no longer perceive beauty.  

They see clutter.   

Moreover, it appears that your friends and neighbors now view you differently:  no longer as a discerning collector and decorator, but as a hoarder.  They feel sorry for you.  They feel awkward.  Before long, no one wants to visit.  The new place starts to feel like a house, not a home.  You're alone in your large space, surrounded by clutter.  You feel despondent.  Still, a nagging voice in the back of your mind beckons:  if only you obtained a better couch, more dramatic lighting, rarer antiques...

By now you've probably figured out our little parable.  We so wish to prove our merit, succeed in life, and advance our station that we add one responsibility to another; one activity after another.  Eventually we get to the point where our lives are so cluttered with things to do that we barely have time to enjoy life.  Nearly 60% of working adults with a child report that they experience stress frequently and lack the time to get things done.  A recent study found that 40% of adults look back and regret their life choices.  What starts as a desire for a full and successful life too often yields chaos, clutter, and an utter lack of fulfillment.

How can we change such a situation?  Our living rooms don't need more adornments.  They need a new vision, a new purpose.  But how can we re-new our saturated lives?

One Unexpected Starting Point:  Repentance

This may sound strange:  
Many times, change does not begin with inspiration.

Rather, change starts with horror, disgust, and guilt.  

In other words, the first step in doing better is feeling worse

By nature, we don't like to feel bad, so we seek comfort.  We yield to the familiar voice that says we can just buy one more piece of furniture, one more wall hanging.  Routine is comfortable.  Comfort keeps us in our routines.  A great deal of being stuck in life (and trading) consists of staying comfortable.

Emotional pain propels us out of comfort and routine.  We usually don't change because we want to.  We change once we recognize--powerfully and emotionally--that we need to.

Let's return to our parable and explore this.

Suppose our despondent homeowner views the situation with fresh eyes, notices the cluttered walls and shelves, and cries out, "How could I have gotten to this point?"  The realization hits:  "I can't live this way any more.  I'm doing more and more of the same things and getting further and further from happiness.  The more I try to impress people and attract friends, the more I end up being alone.  I'm spending way too much money and all it buys me is misery!"

Radical change often begins with painful self-appraisal and the uncomfortable recognition of being on the wrong path.  An important gateway to change is becoming so disgusted with our patterns that we desire nothing more than to exit our fruitless loops.

Consider the alcoholic.  He continues drinking as long as he's in denial.  He drinks, he loses jobs and friends, he feels guilty temporarily, and then he drinks again to feel better.  The addiction is an endless loop.  How does he change?  He hits bottom.  He loses everything and becomes so disgusted with the mess he has made of his life that he comes to AA meetings, takes a fearless inventory of what he has done in life, and shares this with others.  Horrified by the opportunities he's lost, the people he's hurt, and the financial consequences of his drinking, he becomes willing to make amends and commit to a life of sobriety.

Perspective:  Alcoholics Anonymous

It is no coincidence that AA is grounded in a belief in a Higher Power.  AA tackles the ego's resistance to change by connecting us with something larger than the ego.  For the religious person, it's a connection to a Higher Power, but even for the secular participant, there is an attachment to the larger group: the recovering community.

Participation in AA begins with the frank acknowledgement that, "I am powerless against alcohol."  It then proceeds to that "fearless moral inventory" and efforts to make amends to all damaged by the addiction.  Think about it:  every step in AA is a move away from ego and a humbling acknowledgement that we have lacked control and we will always lack control.

It is the giving up of control/ego that opens us to the love of community and the support of the Higher Power.  How ironic is this?  It's when we most relinquish control that we begin to regain control of our lives!  This is why the AA handbook refers to the goal of the process as "spiritual awakening."

What brings a person to a psychologist?  What leads a person to go to church and seek salvation from sin?  Why would someone refrain from eating and spend a day of penance at a synagogue?  It is when we feel the discomfort of the gap between real and ideal--between the person we are and we person we know we can be--that we are roused to action. Discomfort thus becomes a powerful gateway to renewal.

Take a look at most traders' journals and reviews.  They may express frustration or desire for improvement, but rarely do they reflect pain.  When we enter a state of repentance, change becomes an imperative, not a mere desire.  As with the house owner in our parable, traders are most likely to make radical changes when they recognize--deeply and emotionally--that they cannot continue on their present course. 

From this perspective, the problem is not that traders let their emotions interfere with their trading.  Rather, the problem is the absence of pain!  We make one mistake after another, lose one opportunity after another, take one outsized loss after another--and somehow we go forward, willing somehow, some way that we'll do better.  But it's like an empty New Year's resolution: there's no urgency behind it.  It's the pain of seeing what we can be and realizing how far we're falling short of this potential that arouses us to meaningful action.  

Usually, it takes unusually painful consequences to get us to the point of experiencing humbling repentance and the need for change.  But what if we can accelerate this process before we do permanent damage to ourselves and others?  What if we can sort through the clutter of our ego-saturated trading before we blow up our accounts and dash our dreams?

Shifting Viewing by Altering Construing

When two colleagues and I reviewed evidence-based approaches to counseling and psychotherapy for an academic text, a mind-blowing conclusion stood out:  

Every major approach to psychology  changes how we view self, others, and world by introducing new experiences under heightened states of consciousness.

In other words, there is no expansion of life without mind expansion:  Renewal begins with new viewing.

Good therapists help people heighten their awareness and--in that new state--experience and understand themselves differently.  The apt term introduced by Alexander and French is "corrective emotional experience."  Successful approaches to helping create powerful emotional experiences that open the mind to fresh possibilities.

We change our doing by shifting our viewing.  And we shift our viewing by altering our construing.  When our homeowner hits the point of despair and realizes that change is imperative, new energy enters the system and fuels a novel life direction.

This is a key to lasting change.  What, on the surface, seems like despair and negativity actually represents a complete reorganization of perspective.  It is that new viewing that provides the gateway to fresh doing.  Hitting bottom energizes us to find new solutions.  Later in the book we will learn two other paths to radical change:  the paths of joy and quiet.  The common ingredient to all of these is a major shift in our states of awareness.

The Repentance of a Market Wizard

Jack Schwager's Market Wizards series of books provide an interesting human window on the lives of successful traders.  One of those Wizards experienced success during the first several years of his trading career and started managing money for investors.  This led to a "macho-type" trade in the futures market that went against him in a dramatic way.  His accounts lost much more than half their money in that single trade.

As Schwager recounts, that ego-driven trader was one of the most famous of all Wizards:  Paul Tudor Jones.  He felt "totally demoralized" and said, "I was so depressed that I nearly quit."

He didn't quit, however.  Instead he said to himself, "Mr. Stupid, why risk everything on one trade?  Why not make your life a pursuit of happiness rather than pain?" (p. 123).  Out of that "cathartic" realization, he fully embraced discipline and money management.

After many subsequent years of success, Schwager asked Jones if he now felt more confident than in his early years.  Jones' answer was illuminating:  he indicated that he was now more "scared" than ever, because he knows how "ephemeral" success can be in markets.  "I know that to be successful," he shared, "I have to be frightened." (p. 126).

This was not a simple change from one trading strategy to another.  This was a change of a spiritual nature, from the ego to the soul.  In ego mode, the young trader can be overconfident and risk-seeking.  In soul mode, the wiser trader focuses on having a life that is "a pursuit of happiness."  What makes Jones a Wizard is not simply a P/L number, but his ability to turn crisis into self-renewal.

Repentance is only one way of shifting our viewing by altering our construing.  Here's a very different example.  A metaphor found in many spiritual traditions is that life is a classroom.  Recurring challenges are lessons we're meant to master in our unique curriculum.  Life's difficulties are thus not roadblocks to our development, but actual paths to our development.

When I embraced this framework, something interesting happened.  During moments of challenge and frustration, I found myself slowing down, invoking the Teacher of my classroom, and saying simply, quietly, "Thank you."  From this perspective, problems are gifts!  They are opportunities to advance our growth.

The Jewish tradition describes Rabbi Nahum, who lived a difficult life beset with poverty and illness.  His response to adversity was to proclaim Gam Zu L'Tovah:  This, too, is for the good!  What he meant was:  The  challenge I'm now experiencing is here for a reason.  It is here to improve me.  What a special opportunity!!

With such a perspective, frustration readily gives way to gratitude.  I can actually look forward to situations that throw me for a loop.  As a good student in life's classroom, I eagerly await my next lesson.  It is difficult to overreact to mistakes and setbacks when we embrace them with appreciation, as valuable life lessons.

This is quite relevant to the trading world, where taking losses is central to our success.  How many good trade ideas have I had where the market did not move as expected?  Gam Zu L'Tovah!  The inability of the market to do the expected provides information.  Sometimes the losing trade enlightens me about my trading and what I need to do to better structure risk/reward bets.  Sometimes the losing trade tells me something important about the market itself.  In those situations, if I keep an open mind, a trading opportunity frequently appears in the opposite direction.  That's a trade from the soul, not the ego.

A key step in this shift of perspective is a slowing down--a refocus of attention.  Instead of stoking fight-or-flight arousal, the challenging situation leads to a heavenward turn of attention--and that places us in a zone.  It's a zone I recognize well from self-hypnosis and meditation:  profound calm, heightened focus.  Once in that zone, we can process events differently and evoke the warmth of joy and thanks.  Immersed in a sense of gratitude, we bypass the old loop of frustrated, reactive behavior and approach the situation constructively, with a newly opened mind.

Repentance takes us to a new place by so immersing us in our flaws and their costs that we find fresh motivation to make radical changes.  Gratitude takes us to a new place by so immersing us in the positives of our lives that we become inspired to live up to our best selves.  Radical pain can bring radical change; radical joy can do the same.  When we shift our viewing, we become able to shift our doing.



Here are 20 selected videos on gratitude from the Positive Psychology Program site.  Note a common theme among the talks:  happiness doesn't make us grateful; it's gratitude that brings happiness.  Instead of seeking happiness in the future, we can benefit by finding gratitude for all we've been given to this point.

A common intervention in positive psychology research is the keeping of a gratitude journal, prompting us to identify things we're grateful for each day.  An interesting experiment would be the construction of a gratitude-base trading journal.  Many trading journals are filled with accounts of everything that went wrong in trading.  In a sense, they become anti-gratitude exercises.  How could your trading journal contribute to your ongoing happiness?  By highlighting opportunity?  By highlighting what we have done well and wish to continue doing?  

Here's an interesting framework from a Christian perspective that links repentance to positive emotional experiences of hope, forgiveness, and gratitude.  We shall explore this later in the book:  from the deep anguish of self-evaluation can emerge energizing positive states.  There is a significant difference between repenting and beating oneself up.  True repentance is a release, not a punishment.

A fascinating research summary from Scott Barry Kaufman finds that emotionally extreme experiences--positive and negative--tend to be the ones we judge to be most meaningful.  In part, this is the case because powerful experiences trigger contemplation.  We tend to look at life (and ourselves) differently after emotionally impactful events. 

In this book we explore the paths of joy and repentance as ways we can access new energy and break our routines.  Yet another path, we shall see, is the path of radical peace.  Our inner chatter is our ego.  When we learn to still our minds and bodies and cease the inner chatter, we find, within our quiet: the soul underneath.  Here are five ways of achieving quiet from Thich Nhat Hanh's work.  The goal of these is to completely ground us in the present moment, so that we're not swayed by the pain of our past or our desires for the future.  Useful resources for meditation are offered by Nhat Hanh's foundation.  Note that prayer, conducted properly, is yet another pathway to quiet and fresh perspective.  

Changing Our State Of Consciousness

The insight that changes in our states of mind and body can spark radical shifts in perspective (and action) helps to explain the power of repentance, quiet, and gratitude. Once we enter a unique state of consciousness, we gain fresh energy combined with fresh awareness.  That fresh energy and awareness are what renewal is all about.

This is also why routine is so dangerous.  It is safe.  It is secure.  For those reasons it keeps us operating in old modes of awareness.  We never gain fresh perspectives when we are bound by habit.  In routine, we lose access to the storehouses of energy that connect us to our distinctive strengths.  (See this article for a discussion of this important idea.)

There's an important takeaway from all of this:

If you are going to make real changes in your trading, reviewing your trading needs to involve a true re-viewing of your trading.  

If we process our trading in the same states of mind and body that characterize our daily lives, then we will see the same things, think the same things, and ultimately do the same things that we've always done.  We can't be in the same old mindset and expect to do great new things.

Suppose, however, you review markets in the spirit of a treasure hunt:  you embark on an adventure to uncover opportunities you hadn't noticed before.  Or suppose you reviewed your trading in the spirit of making amends and asking for forgiveness.  What fresh motivations and perspectives might you unleash?

For many of us, our trading accounts are our cluttered homesWhat we desperately need is to find our inner quiet; review our trades and trading statistics in detail and truly experience the horror of betraying our potential; and fully appreciate what we do well and embrace it with gratitude.  Out of that energized awareness, we can replace the clutter with what is meaningful.

Our great enemy is routine.  Many times, we know what we're doing wrong, but we keep making the same mistakes. Indeed, that is the way of life's curriculum.  If we fail to learn from the first lesson, we get a second and a third and a fourth:  one painful opportunity after another to commit to a different path.  Is that failure, or is that something to be grateful for:  a curriculum that is trying, trying, trying to teach us the lessons we need to learn to be successful?

Fresh construing creates new viewing and that can lead to new doing. Change begins with corrective emotional experience.  Renewal becomes possible when we turn from the old in an enhanced state:  enhanced focus, enhanced emotion, enhanced drive.  Old ways keep the ego intact.  Fresh experience is our pathway to soul, and that is our path to renewed trading.

Perspective:  Emotional Creativity

As traders, we generally think of creativity as the ability to generate new ideas.  Creativity, however, operates in all life domains.  Artists display creative perception.  We can also achieve emotional creativity.  

Emotional creativity is the ability to respond to familiar situations with new and different feelings.  Indeed, there is reason to believe that much of our ability to think more creatively is grounded in our ability to feel creatively.

When we move past the ego and respond with the soul, we access different feelings.  Spirituality is a pathway to emotional creativity, which in turn opens us to creative life options.  This, perhaps, the is most important takeaway of all: There can be no transformation without emotional transformation.  Before we can create new life paths, we have to create new experience.  

Think about it:  the ego doesn't want to change.  The ego wants to be right.  We don't change because we want to; we change when we perceive, from the depth of our souls, that we need to, that we must, that what is ahead of us is so much better than what we've been experiencing.  Does your trading process reinforce ego or does it bring you in contact with soul?  When we are soul-full, we are inspired.  All great shifts of viewing and doing are ultimately paths toward the energizing impacts of inspiration.  In the coming chapters, we will explore those paths.

KEY TAKEAWAY:  Our emotional experience determines what we process and how deeply we process it.  We need routines to make our trading as reliable as possible, but when we want to make changes in our trading, we have to exit routine and generate empowering emotional experience from learning and understanding.  When we view markets, we want an open mind, quieting the chatter of our ego needs.  When we re-view our trading, we want an energized, inspired mindset.  We cannot change if we remain in the same physical, cognitive, and emotional states that led to our mistakes.

PRACTICAL EXERCISE:  When you review your trading, visualize your mistakes as your enemies, summoning your competitive instinct to battle those.  Visualize your successes and your best trading as your inspirations, summoning your gratitude and appreciation.  Before you start trading the next day, review your review, reactivating those emotions and carrying them forward into your day, giving emotional force to your goals for the day.  Goals without emotional force are merely good intentions.



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Wednesday, August 26, 2026

Chapter Two: From Doing to Viewing

Chapter One pointed out that we cannot change our thoughts and behaviors--and certainly cannot renew our lives--unless we shift our views of self and world.  That requires a radical change in our state of awareness:  one that liberates us from daily habits, routines, and ego concerns.  

But how can we make the transition from old patterns to new possibilities?  Can we reverse the process, so that doing new things actually changes our perspectives of ourselves and markets?  That brings us to a very different gateway to the soul, where our actions shape who we become.

How Doing Transforms Viewing

The cognitive tradition in psychology suggests that we change behavior by altering our thoughts about ourselves and the world.  For example, if I can stop talking to myself in critical ways, I can feel less stress and perform better in life.  

Less well appreciated is that doing also transforms viewing.  We can change our experience of our self by behaving in new ways.

This is worth exploring.

At one time, I was nervous about sharing my writing with others.  I finally decided to take a leap by submitting an article to a regional academic journal.  It was published and the feedback was positive.  This was followed by other articles, giving me the confidence to take a larger step and submit a manuscript to a well-known national journal.  The article was neither accepted nor rejected.  It was returned, covered with cross-outs, corrections, and suggestions for change.  Blue pencil filled every page.

Discouraged, I called the editor and asked why the reviewers didn't like what I had written.  He was stunned.  "Of course they liked it!", he exclaimed, "That's why they put so much time into revising it.  Make the changes soon, so we can publish it right away!"  It was my turn to be shocked.  Like a hurt child reprimanded by a teacher or parent, I hadn't considered that the corrections and guidance were signs of caring.

Fast forward and I published that article followed by several more.  Then I was asked to be a reviewer myself and a little while later I was elected to the editorial board.  By that time, I truly felt like a writer and enjoyed giving feedback and helping other writers develop.  Never again did I feel nervous in submitting a manuscript; not even when I wrote my first book.

So what happened?  

A transformation occurred:  In writing and receiving ongoing feedback about my work, I internalized the sense of being a writer.  The doing changed my experience.  In taking a new role, I cultivated a new identity.

George Kelly developed an entire approach to psychological change--fixed role therapy--based precisely on this notion.  He believed that all of us operate with constructs:  belief systems that define who we are and how we interact with the world.  He described the taking on of a new role as "a rousing, construct-shaking experience."  In other words, the right roles are corrective emotional experiences.

The key to making changes is that the new role must be truly new, providing a fresh mirror for experiencing ourselves.  Too often, we operate with broken mirrors, caught in roles that provide fragmented views of our selves.  The best roles are intact mirrors, reflecting something of our soul, our essence.

Let's go back to the example of the alcoholic joining A.A.  Initially, he experiences a state of regret and repentance.  He feels that he has ruined his life and the lives of others.  When he attends meetings, he gradually assumes a new role: that of a recovering person.  As someone in recovery, he not only receives help from others (mirroring the experience of being worthy of receiving help); he also provides help to others (mirroring the experience of being of value).  In the heightened state of shame and disgust, the alcoholic internalizes these new roles deeply.

Entirely new patterns of thought and behavior spring from the fresh role.  That is renewal.  New mirrors enable us to perceive ourselves differently, catalyzing innovative patterns of thought and action.

How Our Goals Can Transform Us

I recently wrote a Forbes article about how physical activity can greatly impact our psychology.  In that article, I cited two noteworthy examples:  Emilia Lahti and David Goggins.  Both were not distance runners and yet decided to tackle very difficult long-distance runs.  This forced them to train in ways that redefined their limits.  In doing so, they found that acting on these outrageous goals increased their mental toughness--and their capacity to tackle other life goals.  

Lahti and Goggins are clear that it's not the goals themselves that transform us, but our actions in pursuing those goals.  We experience ourselves differently when we tackle and overcome one limitation after another.  Big goals provide us with new roles, and those serve as mirrors that shift our self-perception.

When I entered college, I was socially shy and not especially confident around others.  I took on the role of social chairperson for our dormitory, which forced me to interact with peers and make sure that our parties were a success.  Similarly, in graduate school, I wasn't especially comfortable speaking in front of groups.  Through my academic department, I took on the task of teaching an introductory psychology course to an auditorium full of undergrads.  By the time the semester was over, I actually thought of myself as a public speaker!

In undertaking challenges that push us to do more than we think is possible, we learn--first hand--that we can transcend our self-limiting assumptions.  Most of all, we cultivate what Lahti identifies as sisu:  the ability to access hidden energy and persevere in the face of daunting odds.  It is through the pursuit of great goals we become able to experience ourselves greatly.

Here's a unique example.  When our Siamese cat Naomi came to us as a kitten, she had been neglected and quite possibly abused.  She was so frightened in our presence that she cowered under the bed, shaking violently.  When the usual cajoling didn't work, we enticed her with food and placed her in the bathroom, where she couldn't find hiding places.  Gradually we brought her treats into the bathroom and moved closer and closer to her.  Eventually we were able to pet her and place her on the bed, where she kept a wary distance.

The breakthrough occurred when Margie and I placed our hands under the bed covers and moved them around.  Naomi's eyes widened and she pounced on our hands.  We played the game and, for the moment, Naomi forgot to be afraid.  Play became a new role, allowing us to hold her, pet her, and comfort her.  With repetition, the new role took hold.  To this day, she remains playful and affectionate, sleeping on Margie's pillow at night. What was once threatening became a safe haven.

Notice how the new role brought out a hidden facet of Naomi's personality, allowing her to be a normal, curious kitten.  Through the medium of play, she experienced us as sources of fun, no longer as threats.  The doing--the play--changed her viewing and gave her access to her hidden kitten strengths.  Forever.

That is radical renewal.

The Power of Not Doing

Notice something subtle but profound in Naomi's development.  Before we got to the stage of play--the new role--we had to place her in a setting where she could not fully act upon the old role.  In the bedroom, she could hide.  As long as she hid, she could never experience safety with us.  By placing her in the bathroom, we took away her hiding places.  She could not fully enact the role of scaredy-cat.  This gave us the opportunity to create initial experiences of safety--feeding her, petting her--that set up the new play role in the bed.

Not-doing preceded doing.

Abandoning the old role shook up the system enough to pave the way for the new role.

One of my teachers recently explained that we cannot go from yesh to yesh without ayin in between.  To translate the Hebrew, this means that we cannot go from one level of being to another level without a period of nothingness between the two.  Before I can take on a new role as a recovering person in AA, I have to stop drinking.  Before I can become a physically fit human being in the gym, I have to stop lounging in front of the TV in my free time.  

We stop the old, create a bit of discomfort and arousal, and that prepares us for the new.  It is the way of all change.  So often, the ability to change is a function of the courage to face the nothingness between our old and new ways.

Tapping Into the Power of Roles

No doubt, we could have helped Naomi become less fearful simply by feeding her, cajoling her, and providing a safe environment.  That would have been normal psychological change.

What occurred with play, however, was transformational.  In an important sense, she became a different kitten.  This gets at the heart of renewal and how it differs from usual, incremental psychological change.  

Why was Naomi's change so dramatic?  It was because she was able to tap into a source of motivation greater than her fear.  By themselves, new roles do not necessarily lead to transformation.  If we took the alcoholic and gave him a new role as a sales clerk, for example, nothing positive would necessarily be mirrored by this new experience.  In A.A., however, the alcoholic finds an affirming mirror that taps a fresh, powerful source of motivation:  the motivation to be valued--and to provide value to others.

Naomi wasn't so traumatized that she couldn't be a kitten.  She just needed a new role--a new set of activities--to tap into her hidden strengths.  As a hurt cat, she could not trust.  As a kitten, she could play.  Similarly, my fresh experience of the review and editing process helped me tap into a drive for self-expression that overcame the initial fears of editorial rejection.

When our daughter Devon was a student in middle school, she found it difficult to complete her school work.  She  procrastinated--and didn't like herself for procrastinating.  She felt like a failure and more than once cried over the agony of doing homework.  Prodding her to get her work done or threatening disciplinary consequences only made the problem worse, keeping her in the "failure" mode.

The breakthrough occurred when I thought of the medical students I worked with and how they studied in groups at Wegmans in the local grocery cafe.  What if I treated Devon as a medical student and not as a lazy, struggling sixth grader?  We went to the cafe amidst the medical students and formed our own two-person study group, accompanied by drinks and snacks.  The studying suddenly became fun!  Dev liked the idea of being a medical student, so we began a tradition of working together.  That collaboration lasted through high school and even into college.  By college, however, she had joined a sorority and found new friends who became fun study partners.  The student who felt like a failure graduated college on time with a respectable grade point average--not because she became such a phenomenal student, but because she found social roles that enabled her to tap into her hidden academic abilities.

Like Naomi, Devon underwent a radical change.  In the new role, she was no longer a self-doubting procrastinator.  She found a (social) motivation greater than her self-doubt.  That opened the door to new experiences and a renewed sense of self.

To sum up:  New roles are powerful when they provide fresh mirrors that elicit hidden strengths, values, and interests.  This is the essence of the corrective emotional experience:  the right roles allow us to internalize new identities.  Our egos are wrapped up in old roles, old identities.  The experience from fresh social roles bypasses the ego and serves as a gateway to the soul, to our strengths.  Between the old role and the new one is the nothingness of setting ego aside.  We embrace new roles out of humility, not egotism.  We empty the self before filling it anew.

Constructing Our Selves

The role of roles in change suggests that radical renewal is fundamentally a social process.  Who we are is continually constructed--and potentially reconstructed--in the roles we assume, from romantic relationships to careers and beyond.  When we assume roles that provide new experiences of ourselves, our doing changes our viewing.  It is no coincidence that the workout areas of health clubs are walled with mirrors.  Those enable us to see ourselves becoming stronger, fitter.  With enough mirroring, we actually experience ourselves as buff and healthy--and that becomes part of our ongoing identity and motivation.

If life itself is a gym, where we either use or lose our strengths, social roles are our mirrors.  We don't change by motivating ourselves or journaling ever more New Year's resolutions.  Like Naomi, like Devon, we change by doing new things--and by doing old things in new ways--that draw upon powerful but dormant strengths.  But this means that, in life's gym, change depends upon our willingness to break a sweat.  We cannot grow if we do not push beyond routine, beyond comfort.

So how does this relate to trading??

In my early years of trading, I viewed the market as one big puzzle.  My role was to analyze the pieces and figure out that puzzle.  I tested many indicators and patterns, looking for the predictive information that could provide me with an edge.  

That approach, for the most part, was interesting and challenging, but provided only limited benefit, limited edge.

My turnaround, captured in my first trading psychology book, came when I viewed market price action as communication.  I literally took the stance that the market was talking to me and my job was to understand what it was saying.  Well, that was a familiar role!  As a psychologist, my job is not to predict or figure out anything.  My role is to listen and understand and then find the right moment to intervene with helpful methods.  If my client is talking and I can't figure out his or her issues, no problem at all.  I simply ask different questions and evoke different conversation.  Eventually things will make sense and I'll know how to help.  The key is empathy.  If I don't feel what that other person is going through, there is no way I will respond helpfully.

In viewing the market as a set of communications, I changed my trading role.  The focus was no longer on prediction, but on understanding.  For example, in recent trading, the overall stock index (ES futures) moved to a new high, but stocks in several sectors (financial, housing) lagged significantly.  Small caps also couldn't make new highs, and the day's advance-decline line lagged.  I watched and watched and felt that this was not a trending move.  Stocks were labored; many were rolling over.  The idea came to me that bulls were trapped and we would test the morning lows.  That turned out to be a successful trade.

What was powerful about that trade was that it wasn't about me whatsoever.  In the role of market predictor/analyst, my ego was caught up in the calls I made.  Making money on trades was a reflection of my analytical and predictive prowess.  Once I viewed the market as a client and me as a therapist, I knew how to sit back and wait for things to make sense.  I wasn't afraid of missing opportunities or getting something wrong.  I just needed to be in a receptive mindset:  one in which I'm open-minded so that I can make sense of an ongoing flow of communications.

Even though I was trading solo, I found a new social role for my trading, one that drew upon my greatest strengths.  Predictions were from the ego and ultimately frustrated me.  Understanding comes from the soul, and that is the essence of who I am and what I do.  I renewed my trading by entering into a different relationship with the market.

The implications are monumental:  We cannot radically renew our lives (and our trading) as long as we remain stuck in roles that do not tap into our souls:  our core motivations and strengths.  If no one plays with us--and indeed neglects us--we cannot develop into playful kittens.  If we structure study as a socially isolating process, we will fail to reach our potential as students.  Expanding our social roles in ways that bring out the best in us creates new mirrors in life's gym.  Through those fresh roles, our doing revolutionizes our viewing--and completely changes our identities as traders.


One of the powerful developments of the past few years has been the explosion of online trading communities that provide mentoring, education, and support.  These communities also provide forums for social interaction among traders.  It turns out that one of the unappreciated benefits of being part of such a community is the opportunity to create new social roles by teaching others and learning from others.  The philosophy of "each one teach one" makes everyone a valuable participant--even when they are not making money.  Among the online groups I'm most familiar with are Bear Bull Traders; Edge Trading Group;; Investors Underground; and My Investing Club.  There are many other communities and forums associated with particular trading platforms and products.  This is a powerful way to develop new mirrors as a trader.

One of the common pieces of wisdom we hear in the trading world is that traders should find the market patterns that fit their personalities and trade those.  In my work with successful daytraders at SMB Capital, I've been struck by the precise opposite:  the consistently profitable traders talk about each stock having its own personality.  Good trading means adapting our actions to the personality of the stock, not imposing our personality preferences onto the market.  This is a great example of moving past ego.  It's also a great example of how doing can change our viewing.  When we approach each stock as having its own personality (just as we approach each person we meet), we place ourselves in an open-minded mode, enabling us to see what makes each instrument unique.

Some of the current research in psychology that I find most fascinating is being conducted by David Bryce Yaden at the University of Pennsylvania. He describes his work as a "21st century update to to William James' Varieties of Religious Experience."  His research site provides valuable insights into self-transcendence and the psychological experience of awe.  When we cultivate religious and spiritual experience and actually do spiritual things, such as pray, celebrate, and meditate, we experience ourselves in new ways and cultivate a new identity.

By the way, when you find an interesting writer or researcher like David Bryce Yaden, it's worth checking out their Twitter accounts.  Very often, you'll discover not only new insights, but also new people worth linking to.  Also check out videos from these interesting people, such as this one of David's that discusses the role of mindfulness in the science of spirituality and this course in positive psychology.  There are online communities devoted to growth and spirituality that, like the trading communities mentioned above, provide opportunities to learn, share, and generate new experiences.  For example, check out the Thich Nhat Hanh foundation, which develops communities devoted to mindful living.

Here's a worthwhile perspective on training the mind for transcendence that cites the practice of the Dalai Lama.  This concept is largely absent in traditional psychology, which focuses on training our thought and behavior patterns, not our capacities for self-renewal.  A great example of using our actions to change our selves is loving kindness meditation.


How entwined is your ego in your trading?  If you entered a romantic relationship focused on your ego needs, how lasting and satisfying would that relationship be?  Why should your relationship with markets be any different?  In drawing upon roles that provide access to our strengths, we can create different trading experiences--and healthier results.  Our actions in markets should mirror a self that inspires and energizes us.  How we trade, day after day after day, ultimately helps shape who we become.  That doing changes our viewing: sometimes for the better, sometimes not.


KEY TAKEAWAYS:  What we do shapes who we become.  If we want to become more disciplined, inspired, or insightful traders, then we must exercise those functions throughout our lives in our various roles as family members, workers, friends, etc.  The right trading makes us better as people; the wrong trading makes us more self-absorbed and ego-filled.  Our experience of ourselves during our trading will impact our future trading.

PRACTICAL EXERCISE:  Create four columns on a piece of paper.  In the first column, list the various roles that fill your life:  roles as a spouse, as a parent, as an employee or manager, as a community member, etc.  In the second and third columns write down your most positive and negative experiences in each of those roles over the past year.  In the fourth column, write down the single improvement that you could make in each role to maximize the positives and address the negatives.  These become your goals in each of your major life activities that will filter into your trading.  A great way to work on your trading is to identify the changes you'd like to make and then pursue those in all the other areas of your life.  The idea is to consistently be the change we want to see.



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