Metaphors for Trading

Creation of empowering metaphors is one more tool you can use to enhance your trading.  The metaphors you use regarding your trading have a direct impact on your approach to trading and consequently on your profitability.

Usually we don’t choose metaphors consciously and yet they’re in the back of our minds guiding our interpretation of what’s happening and our expectations of what will occur.  Sometimes they support us and sometimes they don’t.  A metaphor is a comparison of one thing to another.  “My love is a red, red rose.” wrote the poet.  Well, his love was not actually a red, red rose but he likened her to a red, red rose with it’s beauty, it’s fragrance, it’s vulnerability, and so forth.

Life’s a bowl of cherries, say some.  Life’s the pits, say others.  Life’s a bitch and then you die.  Or, life’s a bitch and then you marry her.  It’s a jungle out there.  Life’s a ball, a delicious smorgasbord, a picnic, a contest.  Life’s a game.

The Myth of Sisyphus tells the story of an extended life metaphor. Sisyphus was condemned for eternity to push a giant rock up a mountain and watch it roll down. Only to push it back up again. Try that as a metaphor for your life or your trading and notice how you feel. Now try saying that life or your trading is a sacred gift. And notice what that feels like.

Metaphors are symbols and as such carry mythic power. They liken one thing to another and in so doing cause us to assume – quite unconsciously — that what is true of one part of the comparison is also true of the other. Now, of course, if we addressed it logically and consciously we might say it wasn’t so.

A metaphor can bring instant beneficial power and can also bring nagging and persistent limitation. A limiting metaphor can be toxic to your life or trading. On the other hand, an enabling metaphor can work wonders for you even while you sleep. Metaphors are subtle and as such, they can have a profound effect upon how we view ourselves, our lives, our trading, our work, and our relationships with others.

A metaphor is a symbolic representation of a belief and like a belief it’s usually selected without conscious awareness. Sometimes a metaphor is simply part of the culture. It may or may not support us, so it’s important to consciously review and consciously choose and use only helpful metaphors. These metaphors will be your behind the scenes nurturing guides.

Think about the metaphors you use to describe living in general. Do you have one prevailing reference, in other words a primary or dominant metaphor for life? Or do you have a bunch of them? If so, are they all pretty much the same? These metaphors could be organizing your life, so ask yourself, “Do these thoughts support me?” If not, choose others.

Let’s look at some metaphors that traders and the trading culture as a whole use to depict and explain trading.

Common metaphors for trading involve sports and warfare. Trading is perceived as a contest between two sides. I win. You lose. You win. I lose.

Combat metaphors are rife. Think about how many times you have read or heard traders referring to trading as a battle. If thinking of trading as a combat enables you to trade more effectively, all well and good. But warfare demands that you bring up all of your resources. It’s an all or nothing affair, involving ambush, pillage, rape, scorched ground, wounding, life and death, victory and defeat. A trader goes out each day to do battle with the market. He is at war with the market. No wonder he or she is exhausted at the end of a trading day or week!

Exhaustion is the least of the difficulties. Thinking of trading as warfare could cause you to overtrade or under trade. Attack and retreat. Such a metaphor could cause you to lose money trading.

If you are at war, who is the enemy? Are you at war with other traders? Are you fighting the market? Is the enemy yourself? Or is it a nameless, faceless enemy? If you are at war with the market, you have an unequal contest. The market is much bigger than you are. The market has more battle intelligence in the sense of information and certainly more forces. No matter how big a trader you are, you’re puny compared to the market. Even if you’re George Soros! Same thing if the enemy is the other traders. You against all the other traders? I hope not.

Some market gurus urge the trader to take a Samurai approach to trading. I think that’s great, but it still presupposes that trading is war. I read one article where the author urged the trader to approach trading as the samurai releasing fears and trading in an egoless state having made peace with a future outcome—so far so good, but he went on to say—because you are willing to die. Willing to die? I thought. Isn’t this conceding the possibility of total wipeout? And speaking of total wipeout, how many times have you said to yourself, “I got killed in the market.” Or, “If I do that, I’ll get killed!”

These things are subtle and even if the conscious mind can make sense of it, please remember that the unconscious mind interprets whatever you say literally. To illustrate this, let me tell you a story. A woman came to see a hypnotist colleague of mine because she continually ran a low grade fever. Medical doctors could find no cause for it, and she was literally burning herself up. In trance they discovered that after surgery, she had been in the recovery room when a nurse said, “Keep her warm or she’ll catch her death.” Fortunately, together they were able to resolve the problem. He gave the unconscious new instructions.

When you say you’ll get killed or you’re willing to die, what does your literal unconscious mind think? No wonder so many traders hesitate before entering the market and jump out of trades well before they should.

Now I’m well aware that I am a woman in a male dominated field, so for a long time I never challenged the metaphors of war. Your trader is a hunter-warrior. A good friend of mine, Julian Snyder, wrote a book for traders called The Way of the Hunter Warrior. Recently I asked him about the use of such a metaphor for trading, and he conceded that it’s total nonsense in the light of what he now knows. “You have to trade without ego, and any contest elevates ego,” he said.

I’m more of a nurturer gatherer. Trading to me is more like harvesting. Researching and preparing to trade are more like tilling the ground and planting the seeds. Over the years as I’ve worked with traders, I find myself shifting their metaphors away from warfare, life and death struggle, to something more cooperative, less intense, and it works for them. They become more comfortable in the market, less fearful, less overly aggressive.

I tell my clients to think of the market as a river of opportunities, constantly flowing. Also I tell them to think of trading itself as an arena as abundant with wealth as the ocean is with water. Sure there are waves and tides and you can ride these, but you always know the low tide will be followed by the high tide and back again, and that there will continue to be wave after wave after wave. I also say the ocean doesn’t care whether you go to it with a bucket or a teaspoon. There’s just so much.

“Try thinking of the market as a friend or a business partner.” I say. If the market is your partner, you can work together. You can want what the market wants. You are in a win-win situation with the market. If the market is your partner, it will show you what it’s doing. It will tell you what it’s doing. You’ll feel it’s direction. You’ll have agreements on how to succeed. Clients tell me it’s much easier to trade thinking of the market this way.

Sometimes I suggest that traders think of trading as a dance. Together you’re responding to the beat of the music. I also suggest that they let the market do the leading in this dance.

One very successful trader I work with describes the market as a friend he drifts in and out of contact with. He also thinks of the market as a many forked river that flows, while he drifts down, looking at the eddies and the rocks, exploring for interesting forks he can take. He also looks at trading as an abstract painting that he doesn’t know just how it will look when he’s finished, but he knows it will come out all right. His metaphors manifest his confidence and ease in his relationship with the market, and support him in his trading.

If you like sports metaphors, think of trading as a game you’re good at, a game you like to play. Don’t think of it as an all important contest that you’re afraid you’ll lose! Think of it as fun! Think of it as sport. Think of it as play.

If you like basketball, you can think of each trade as but one point in a game, and each trading day as but one game in a series. If you like tennis, for goodness sake don’t think of each trade as match point. In other words, realize that your trading is truly a series of probabilities, a string of events, no one trade makes or breaks you.

If you like golf, think of yourself focusing on a tight target as you imagine the ball arching up gracefully to go to your target, or seeing the ball roll along a path on the green to drop into the cup as you hear it drop, and then imagine your trades going in the direction of the probabilities right to your target as you pick up the phone and place the order.

If you like baseball think of yourself swinging at each high probability trade forcefully and easily, always keeping your eye on the ball.

Some people think of trading as hunting. The hunter goes out knowing exactly what he’s hunting whether it’s big game, or rabbits, or pheasant. He goes where the game is. He’s got the right equipment. He quietly and patiently waits for his prey. When he sees the prey, carefully he lifts his gun and shoots. No hesitation. Just like a cat waiting for hours until the moment is right and then pouncing on it’s prey.

Others think of trading as fishing. Here you manifest patience. Or you go searching for the fish, looking for the birds, and casting into schools of jumping fish.

I like to think of trading as sailing. Here you harness the forces that are there. You take into account the wind direction and velocity, the currents, and your destination. You’ve got your charts to guide you and you constantly adjust to nature’s forces, sometimes pointing into the wind, sometimes running before the wind, sometimes tacking, but always in partnership with your boat, your crew, the wind, and the currents. Sure, storms can come up, but you can always let down the sail and anchor and wait out the storm. You work with the forces that are there, the forces that are much bigger than you, but you enjoy the journey, the day, the sport, and you’re confident you can get to your destination, your port, your safe harbor.

Try out different metaphors and experience which ones feel the best. Maybe you are aggressive and like to work in a treacherous arena. Then by all means keep the combat metaphors. Or maybe you’d rather just go fishing. It’s purely personal and certainly up to you. How do you install a new metaphor? Simply by thinking about it. It’s that easy.