Questions Are the Heart of the Matter

“Since we basically walk the paths in life prescribed by our questions, it makes sense to ask those which can take us where we want to go.” Marilee C. Goldberg, Ph.D.

If you’re not making money through your trading, you are probably not asking the right questions. The reason questions are so important is that they direct your thinking and your energy and ultimately your actions. Answers give you an assemblage of facts, but questions set up the groundwork for those facts. Questions create the architecture of your thinking and establish your direction. They direct the vital focus of your mind.

There are questions that empower and questions that are toxic in life and in trading. Some questions keep you stuck in the past and some move you forward. For example, “Why do I always lose?” presumes that if you have lost in the past, you will lose now, and in the future. Furthermore, it establishes your identity as a loser. On the other had, “How can I increase the probabilities of winning?” assumes that you can create an edge to change your trading in the future. It creates a potential for becoming a winner and identifying yourself as a winner.

Some questions are virtually unanswerable. “Why am I such a loser?” is a simple condemnation and is not answerable. “How can I change this? How can I begin to win?” implies possibility and calls for an answer. The first question focused on the problem and would remain stuck in the problem. The second and third questions, focused on the solution and presumed that there is a way out of the dilemma.

Some people tend to stay away from asking questions because they are not comfortable with not knowing. People who become anxious about not knowing have a very difficult time trading because trading is nothing but uncertainty. Courage lies at the heart of creative questioning (and trading) because it requires the willingness to ask questions that might have no answer or might challenge your current position or way of thinking and perceiving. Other people have a vibrant and easy curiosity and automatically ask questions when confronted with a situation.

The interesting thing about a question is that it not only presupposes an answer. It also presupposes the authenticity of the question. The question sets up a gestalt that ultimately engineers an answer. Wrong question: wrong answer. And the answer seems believable.

Sometimes we’re not even aware of the questions we’re asking. A simple statement or thought often has a silent or implicit question behind it. A person who stays frozen and can’t pull the trigger to enter a trade might well be unwittingly asking himself, “How can I be sure this trade will be a winner?” The unspoken question causes him to wait for confirmation, and by the time clear confirmation comes the trade has passed him by.Opportunity passes like a cloud.

In my book, “Exceptional Trading: The Mind Game”, I write about positive and negative worry. Worry starts with a simple question: “What if. . .?” “What if, I’m wrong?” What if, I lose?” “What if, I lose all my trading capital?” The person doesn’t say, “Now, I’m going to think about all the terrible things that could happen to my trading and make myself feel bad and maybe bring it to pass.” No. She simply quietly thinks “what if” and soon she’s off visualizing disastrous results. Strangely, thought mixed with emotion tends to attract that which we think about.

Positive worry is just the opposite. You start with the same simple question: “What if. . .?” Only this time you ask for what you want. “What if, this trade is a big winner?” “What if, I become a really good trader?” The process is the same. You begin to imagine what you want and soon you’re feeling good about it. Once again thought mixed with emotion acts as a magnet for what you’re thinking.

You can use positive worry as a shield or a sword. If you catch yourself doing negative worry, flip it immediately with the opposite “What if. . .?” “What if, I can’t do this?” “What if, I get really good at this?” That would be using positive worry as a shield from the negative worry. You can also use it as a sword: simply begin with what you want to happen and precede it with the “what if” question. “What if, I relax and just accept what the market offers me?” “What if, I really can view my trading as a series of probabilities?”

At any time when your trading is not going well, ask yourself, “What questions am I asking myself? Am I asking the right questions? What is the question I need to ask right now?” Questions are the answer. They lead us out of a morass. They lead us where we want to go.

It’s important to make a distinction between the questions that are helpful to ask while researching and the questions to ask while trading. Trading and research are two quite distinct activities and roles. Researching involves thinking and exploring and checking and rechecking, creating methods and verifying them. Trading involves doing: perceiving and acting in a timely manner. Trading is simply applying your methods to the market. Because these two aspects are so different, they require a different type of attitude and questioning.

Some helpful questions to ask while researching might include the following:

  • How can I make my trading better?
  • How can I put the probabilities in my favor?
  • Where is my edge?
  • What else could I do?
  • What possibilities exist that I haven’t thought of yet?
  • What assumptions am I making, that could get in my way?
  • What is the simplest solution?
  • Have I verified that this method works?
  • Do I have a sound money management policy?
  • What else could I do in terms of position sizing?

Some unhelpful questions to ask while researching could be:

  • How can I develop a perfect system? (There is none. Trading is not about perfection.)
  • What filters can I put on so I never lose? (It’s not possible to trade and never lose.)

Some helpful questions to ask in trading would be the following:

  • What is the market telling me now?
  • What does the market want?
  • What are the probabilities?
  • How much can I make?
  • What is my risk?
  • Where am I wrong?
  • Where is my target?
  • Is this a valid signal?
  • Am I following my rules?
  • Am I following good trading principles?
  • Has anything changed?
  • What would I think if I wasn’t in this trade?
  • Is there anything I’m not seeing?

Some unhelpful questions to ask while trading would include the following:

  • What if I lose?
  • What if I’m wrong?
  • What if I can’t succeed as a trader?
  • What will my broker–my wife–my boss think?
  • Why is it always so hard?
  • How can I make this trade work out? (You’re already wrong. Get out.)

Remember, there are questions that illuminate; and there are questions that destroy or confuse and stagnate. You have the power to construct the questions that will move your trading forward. Whenever you’re in a quandary or things aren’t going well, ask yourself, “What is the question I need to ask now?” What if, you could learn to ask yourself questions that will make you a winner over time?