Monday, March 2, 2009

Psychological Protectionism

Your mind is not always your best friend. It can mislead you, deceive you, and trick you into making mistakes. Sometimes your mind can convince you beyond any doubt that a specific action is right... when it clearly isn't.

Every successful trader knows this, and is constantly on guard against it. Read Dr. Brett Steenbarger's books and blog posts on trader psychology and you will be struck by how much work you need to do to get to be friends with your mind. Link here.

Why would your mind turn on you? Why would it lead you astray? Is it a perverse and wicked genie whose purpose is to make you look like a fool? Or is it just looking out for your best interests?

In psychological theory this question involves the way the mind processes trauma.

When a man has been traumatized his mind instinctively works to ensure that it never happen again. The mind learns from experience. Trauma cause it to shift into pain avoidance mode.

However well-intentioned your mind will now start causing problems. Think about it in terms of job loss. Getting fired is a trauma. If it is an especially painful experience, the mind might decide that it must at all costs protect you from a repetition.

There are three ways to achieve this goal. If you never get rehired, you will never again be fired. That much is guaranteed. If the mind fails at keeping you out of the job market, it will revert to plan B. If you got a job and fear getting fired, you can avoid that outcome by quitting. The third, and riskiest option, is to get a job and work hard at it, thus reducing the chances that you will be fired.

The trauma-avoidant mind will find this the least desirable of the alternatives.

Also, if you are fired, the mind has other ways to mitigate the pain. First, it can tell you that you were too good for the job, or that the gods have conspired to reward you with a much-deserved vacation.

In all cases, the trauma-avoidant mind has adopted protectionist policies. It may protect you from any repetition of the trauma or it may try to protect you from feeling the real pain of the trauma.

What happens when another mind starts telling you that you need to work and that you want to succeed.

You will be of two minds... about how and whether to start looking for a job, about what kind of jobs you should be pursuing, and about whether or not to accept an offer in Louisville.

One mind will be pushing you to get a new job; another will be warning you of the potential dangers. Which one is your real mind?

How do you know which one to follow? Both are looking out for your best interests. They simply have different ideas of what that is and how to achieve it.

How can you get your bearings? Easy... by taking advice. If you can find someone you can trust, try following his or her advice.

Of course, when you are still reeling from a trauma, one of your minds will tell you that you cannot trust anyone. That notion gives the game away. The mind that tells you not to trust anyone is the mind you must ignore.

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