It’s easy to falter while trading. Suddenly, you get distracted, panic, and make a trading error. When trading with an optimal mindset, in contrast, the winning trader is focused on his or her immediate experience, the market action here and now. The best rule a trader can follow is to focus on the action, not the prize. Many are attracted to trading for the rewarding profits that can be made. Profits can often buy possessions that produce feelings of self-worth or admiration from family and friends. Just like the lyrics of a popular country hit, by gaining success, one can tell all his or her skeptics from the past, “How do you like me now?” Many are attracted to trading for the prizes, the status, and the glory.

These can all be strong motivators, but the irony is that if you focus on the prizes too much, you can’t trade profitability or consistently. Just like the athlete who is the favorite to win a competition, when the pressure is on, one usually chokes. Expectations run high and it’s hard to just focus on what needs to get done. When you get your hopes up, you’ve already decided that you’ve earned the prize, and the mere thought that you may lose it is devastating. Losing no longer is a possibility. The only option is to win, and when one works under that assumption, one is usually easily distracted to the point of making a myriad of mistakes that produce losses rather than profits. It is vital that you learn to focus all your attention on your immediate experience, not on the potential rewards.

The famous psychotherapist Fritz Perls once said that fear and anxiety happens when we mull over the past and worry about what might happen in the future. If we can focus on the hear-and-now, instead, we’ll enjoy our ongoing experience and live in the moment. The minute we start worrying about what might happen in the future, our focus shifts away from what we’re doing. We lose concentration, and at critical moments of a trade, a lack of focus can spell disaster.

The most common reason for losing focus is thinking about the big prize at the end. If you start thinking, “I can’t wait to make a profit and bask in the glory of success,” you’ll lose focus. You may even start thinking, “I must win on this trade.” That kind of thinking is unproductive in the end. In all likelihood, you’ll start to panic and make a trading error. The more you can focus on the intellectual challenge of trading as you make a trade, the more likely you’ll execute your trading plan effortlessly and trade profitably and consistently.

That said, it is fun to think of the big prize occasionally, but not during trading hours, and not very often. It may be motivating during off-hours to think about the potential long term rewards trading may bring, the big picture. But there is a difference between feeling you “must” have the prize and merely thinking, “it would be nice” to have the prize. The thought may even cross your mind during the trading day, but it is essential not to dwell on it. If you are only motivated by the potential rewards, it is important to acknowledge that your primary motivation for trading may be the prizes you may win.

If you truly believe this and try to block out of your consciousness, it will creep in and influence you, usually negatively. If you study this assumption closely, however, and truly convince yourself that it isn’t a good reason to pursue trading, you’ll neutralize the belief. Traders who are motivated by prizes don’t end up trading very long. In the end, you must trade for the love of the endeavor. Trading offers it’s own reward, regardless of whether you win or lose. In the end, if you can focus on the ongoing experience of trading, you will feel more fulfilled as a trader, you will trade more effortlessly, and you will trade more profitably.

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