Is There Power in Negative Thinking?

Mar 29th, 2013 | By | Category: General Comments
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Is it productive to think negatively as a trader? Bobby Knight, National Collegiate Hall of Fame coach, thinks so.

Coach Bobby Knight says that when he first started coaching one of the worst things he would hear was “It will be O.K.” Not only that, Knight says, as he did in a recent New York Times interview, that “the worst word in the English language is ‘hope.” Clearly, Knight is bucking the trend of positive thinking. Why? And what does Knight say that offers value to traders? Plenty, in fact, and it all stems from his new book called The Power of Negative Thinking.

In an interview on WYNC’s The Leonard Lopate Show, Knight says positive thinking can be detrimental to achieving top performance in any field. How so? Knight’s reasoning is straightforward: positive bromides are useless if they aren’t backed up hard work. Just thinking you are going to make money as a trader tomorrow without improving your skill will not work.

Here are a number of common expressions that Knight doesn’t like: look on the bright side; there’s no shame in defeat; in the end everything works out for the best; time heals all wounds. One that sticks most in his craw is: “Things will be better tomorrow”—to which Knights asks, “Why are they going to be better tomorrow?” Knight says that we all have the will to win. After all, who wants to lose? But a will to win is of no help unless you have the will to prepare to win. At SMBU we often say how you do today is determined by how hard you prepared.

Two of his ten commandments of negative thinking: “Don’t accept the status quo” and “Always worry”. That second one may be startling, but Knight says “worry has won a lot more games than confidence has.” If you’re not paying attention to what your opponent is doing or might do, complacency will set in, and in Knight’s view complacency is always going to lose.

Here’s a prime example of how negative thinking can achieve a positive result. He said that when he was preparing for a game he’d always ask himself a question: “What can they do to beat us?” And then he would ask himself, “What can we do to beat them?” You can see a great analogy for trading: “What will the market do to kick me out of the game?” And then you need to ask yourself, “What kind of preparation can I do so that I can stay in the game?”

Let me leave you with a final thought from the Lopate interview: “If you play not to lose, you’re going to lose a lot.” And how would we translate that for trading? That’s easy: If you trade to not lose money, you’re going to lose money.

So stay negative—but only as a way to get you to positive results!

See a related post: How Happy Should You Be?

You can be better tomorrow than you are today!

Mike Bellafiore

The PlayBook

One Good Trade


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  • Jocelyn

    Thanks for sharing this, I found this blog post especially insightful. Just to add, I think in addition to thinking “What will the market do to kick me out of the game?”, I also always keep in mind “What will I do to kick myself out of the game?”. Although I am only taking my baby steps in trading, I find it is unique in that unlike most competitive sports, the responsibility for the entire trade is really 100% my own. So what I found helpful so far was trying to keep a balance between the positives that help to keep the motivation up, and the negatives to help to learn where to work on. In essence for me personally, Tomorrow ‘should’ be better than today.

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