Trading requires getting in the zone; it’s a flow experience. When seasoned traders place their trades, all their attention is focused on the trade. Their experiences are heightened and everything seems to click. Unless you are a seasoned trader who has experienced trading as a flow experience, getting a clear grasp of a flow experience is difficult. Fortunately, you’ve probably experienced many flow experiences in your everyday life, and you can use these prior experiences as a basis for understanding the unique aspects of trading as a flow experience.
Driving a car is an activity that commonly produces a flow experience. Well… Sometimes, it’s a flow experience, but sometimes it isn’t. A flow experience is an optimal experience in that it is a challenge that does not exceed one’s skills or resources. For an experienced driver, the task of driving is far from a flow experience. For example, driving in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic for 30 minutes doesn’t take much skill at all. It’s quite boring. Indeed, it’s possible to do other tasks while driving; many drivers can easily listen to a book on tape and increase their knowledge of a subject matter or learn a language as they drive. Although driving can be just plain boring at times, some driving experiences are very similar to trading in the zone.
Consider driving at high speed down a long and winding road, like the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s exciting to drive on this road. One minute you are driving a few miles away from the coast along a relatively straight passage through fields and farmland, while the next, you are driving along a winding 200-foot precipice on the edge of the ocean. If you make a mistake, you literally can plunge to your death. If one were to drive the road at the suggested speed limit, one can move in and out of a flow experience. Driving along the relatively straight passage can be like driving in rush hour traffic; it doesn’t take much skill and it isn’t a challenge.
It can be quite boring and your mind can wander. On the other hand, driving too fast along the winding coastal passages is very dangerous. It’s clearly a flow experience. All your attention must be focused on making each turn at a speed that keeps your car on the road. If you drive too fast, you may miss the turn and fall to your death. You’ve got to anticipate each curve: Is there a truck in front of me? Can I cross over into the other lane if I need to? Is there oncoming traffic? Just how good is the car I’m driving? Just as with trading the markets, one needs to anticipate what can go wrong and be ready to take decisive action. As you drive through dangerous curves, it would not be wise to lose confidence. You’ve got to decide quickly what to do without much contemplation.
When you are trying to make a turn at a high speed, you have to quickly make one of two choices: (a) decide that the turn exceeds your driving skills, hit the brakes, and take the curve at a slower speed or (b) decide the curve is within your skills, accelerate into the curve and make it. As you are making the decision, it would be a big mistake to second-guess yourself, hesitate, and avoid taking decisive action. Your attention needs to be focused on what you are doing. Second-guessing breaks your train of thought; it interferes with your concentration. You’ve got to stay focused. The same holds for trading.
There may be a tendency to become easily bored. At those times, you may fail to see the dangerous curves up ahead, or in trading, the potentially adverse conditions that may turn the trade against you. You may also want to “slow down” at times and take the trading setups that don’t exceed your skills. Make trading a flow experience. Find a happy medium between boredom and extreme challenge. If you can create a flow experience, you will see your profits grow.