Updated from its original posting on 2012-05-11
I’m pretty sure that most of you know what it feels like to be “in the zone.” Whether it’s in trading, sports, or in a contest wherein you have to come up with the best pick-up lines, it feels as though the stars align and the whole universe conspires to make you succeed.
Of course, there’s more to it than just chance or fate. Being “in the zone” is more commonly referred to as “flow”, which Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (try saying that out loud 3 times!) described as the state in which a person feels completely involved and fully focused on a particular task.
More often than not, we overlook concentration as the primary factor behind this feeling and instead, associate it with superstition or rituals. This is particularly common among athletes who think that there’s a causal relationship between a particular circumstance and an outcome. For example, some of you may know that Michael Jordan used to wear his blue University of North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform for good luck.
But actually, it really just comes down to how well you can maintain focus and pure concentration. In this mental state, you zone everything out and focus on nothing but the activity at hand. You don’t even think or feel what you’re doing – to borrow from our friends at Nike, you “Just Do It.”
Now the question is: How can you stay in the trading zone? Here are three ways that may help you:
1. Keep it cool!
Just like your cholesterol levels, you gotta focus on keeping your stress levels in check as well.
Take note that I didn’t tell you to eliminate stress. As I have said in the past, it can be good for you. Stress in the form of excitement can make you view trading as something not as a job or chore but more of an adventure. Consequently, it makes you more involved and focused in trading.
But of course, you can’t let your stress levels get too high either because it will most likely have detrimental effects on your trading. If you let stress get the best of you, you may get trading paralysis as the fear of the unknown and anxiety cause you to second-guess your analysis.
2. Stay confident.
One problem with many traders is that they give in to recency bias, especially when they are losing. They allow these losses to affect their confidence on their new trades, letting fear sink in and preventing them from taking trades, even if they have solid setups.
However, you should know that the best traders know how to focus on the brighter side of their trading which consequently help them manage their confidence (and egos). They understand that they must trust their trading plans and have confidence that over the long run, they can and will prevail.
Of course, I understand that being confident can’t just happen overnight. It is a skill that must be learned and developed. There are some techniques you can implement to develop your confidence. In my experience, focusing on the process, maintaining deliberate practice, and being optimistic usually does the trick!
3. Be prepared.
Lastly, you have to put in the time, work, and effort in the preparation of your trading plan. Your trading plan will give you an edge in your trading and increase the odds in your favor. The most successful traders aren’t only successful because of what they do during market hours but what they do before and after market hours are long closed.
Moreover, being prepared breeds a calm atmosphere which allows you to keep your focus when the market does something unexpected, or doesn’t go your way. If you’ve already planned out what to do in times of unexpected volatility, you’re not likely to freak out. Instead, you’ll be calm, collected, and confident!
Don’t get me wrong, there’s no fault in having your own set of rituals when trading. However, as I have discussed before, you have to be responsible for you own actions and not blame chance or fate. Wouldn’t you say that it’s much easier to stay in the zone when you know what you’re doing right instead of using your lucky polka-dot socks to explain your winning streak?