Making Your Visualizations Better

bruce.bowerBruce Bower, Trader Development, Trading Lesson, Trading PsychologyLeave a Comment

Making Your Visualizations Better

Visualization is a key tool for peak performers everywhere. When used properly, it can program your brain for success and help you to feel more confident and focused on your journey. I have practiced visualization often over the years and found it to be enormously valuable in my journey in the markets. I wanted to the share these tools with other people and wrote up a huge resource page on it.

Readers have embraced these tools and are using them in their daily trading and investing routine.  As inevitably happens, they have questions. Actually, they have some excellent questions which raise some valid questions. I wanted to address these questions and touch on some other topics related to visualization. (For the rest of this article, I will assume that you have some familiarity with the other material on visualization.

The first thing I want to underscore is that visualization is a generic term which describes a technique. Visualization is a mental tool where you use images and imagination to achieve certain goals. However, there are many ways of using that technique. The substance of those images (and certain other things), will change depending on your purpose. Some people just want to have mental walkthrough of good day, while others want to set goals. This is a non-exhaustive list of the various ways that you can use visualization:

  1. Relaxation
  2. Mental practice [as reinforcement]
  3. Mental practice [as suggestion]
  4. Goal setting
  5. Managing emotions
  6. Cleanup

I have laid out different visualization techniques that you would use depending on your goal. You could do different exercises on different days; or you could do a relaxation exercise every day and then mix in different things to suit. Just keep in mind that there are different kinds of visualization and that they are not all created equal.

  • Questions About Relaxation

The first question is about relaxation. Specifically, what kind of relaxation should we use? The reader has used the deep, progressive relaxation technique used by Ari Kiev in Hedge Fund Masters and other books. He wants to know which technique he should use—this one or the one that I describe?

I use relaxation as a way of preparing for the visualization work. You need to settle and calm your mind before you can do any kind of work like this. Otherwise, it’s impossible. Can you imagine reading a good detective novel while running laps or in the midst of a good rock concert? Of course. You need to be relaxed for certain activities and your mood needs to match that. For visualization, your state needs to be calm and collected. Relaxation is the glue that helps the visualization exercise to stick better.

The relaxation exercises that I like are designed to prepare you for visualization work. They will take you out of whatever state you are in and get you into calm and relaxed quickly. Then you can get on with doing your visualization work. With practice, you should be able to relax in just a few minutes and to get ready.

By contrast, the Ari Kiev relaxation method is a great technique for getting very deeply relaxed. But this may be overkill for visualization exercises. You want to be relaxed enough that you can block out distractions and really pay attention to your breathing and your images.  But you don’t need to be completely relaxed like you would before you went to sleep. If you are too relaxed, then you can’t actually perform a successful visualization. Think of when you have had a long day and sit down on the couch to read the paper, only to instantly nod off! This illustrates the dangers of being too relaxed.

Also, the key thing to mind with any relaxation exercise is your breathing. As long you can massage your breathing into a steady pattern of slow, deep breathing, then you are fulfilling the biggest prerequisite for visualization. Focus on breathing slowly and more deeply and you will get the relaxed state that you need.

Here is a good resource on getting your breathing ready:

-“Three Breathing Exercises”

2) Problems

The second question was about problems that come up in the course of doing visualization. The reader was undertaking an intensive routine of visualization and thought that it was hurting his performance. It is possible—you can definitely tire yourself out by doing visualization exercise intensively, just like anything that requires a lot of mental horsepower.

The reader noticed that he was fatigued more quickly at work after doing visualization exercises. The problem is that by being tired, he was jeopardizing his work performance. As we like to discuss here, human beings have limited amounts of concentration and willpower that they can expend during the day before they get tired. Once we burn through those reserves of strength, then our ability to make good decisions drops precipitously. The question is obvious— how do we use visualization in a way that it can boost our overall performance without detracting from it?

The reader’s email offers a question but also a couple of clues:

In beginning to practice visualization, I had been practicing it early before my pre-market process begins but have found myself mentally fatigued much quicker following the visualization. I am guessing that it is like anything where the more you practice the quicker you mind can recover but wanted to ask about the specifics of the visualization progression. Currently I am practicing the optimal trading day 2x per week, goal setting and achieved that goal 1x per week and 1x per week where I visualize my optimal state. 
I almost feel like it is too much but also not enough if that makes sense. Would you recommend focusing on one type of visualization at a time until I really get comfortable with it (say just optimal trading day 5x per week or just goal setting and achievement 5x per week)? 

I have a couple of ideas. The first is that starts his day with visualization. This a great discipline to keep, but only if it’s boosting his overall performance. A similar example would be exercise. A lot of people find that exercising for 30 or 45 minutes before work gives them a boost throughout the whole day. However, if you exercised for three to four hours every day before work, then your work performance would suffer because you are too tired. Just like exercise, you want to have visualization as a helpful part of your overall routine.

The reader asks if he could just practice until it becomes much less taxing. He could do that, but I think that there are more constructive approaches. First of all, visualizing every morning is proving taxing, so he should slow it down a bit. One idea would be to visualize intensively three times per week. That would give him two days of “rest”, where he should have more energy. A second idea would be to visualize every day, but to take down the intensity. He could devote less time to visualization activities and shift it to “reinforcement” work, whereby he’s doing a retreat of previous visualization work. Lastly, he could shift his visualization work to the evening, when this won’t detract from his day’s performance in the market. He should test out different approaches to all of them and see what works for him.

One of the other points I’ll make is that he could follow a different routine. The routine that he’s following might be a bit of overkill. It is important to visualize often, but there are some things that need more constant reinforcement than others. Mental practice is the most important because you want to be reinforcing the right practices as often as possible—both the ones that you are already doing and also the ones that you want to do. A lot of mental practice is suggestive, where you are thinking about how you would like something to happen and then practicing that. For instance, you could be practicing having perfect discipline in your positions or maintaining an emotional even keel all day. Those would both be game-changers for your trading so you want to practice and suggest this reality as much as possible, even if you are not there quite yet. You want to constantly do mental practice, because it can almost the same impact as real practice or experience.

You can do other visualizations less frequently, such as goal setting. The idea is to implant a goal into your mind, such that the suggestion “sticks”. Given the nature of most goals, it will be months or longer before your goal will be achieved. More importantly, if you are doing everything else right, then you should manage to achieve your goal. Thus, you just need to come up with a goal and set it in motion at first. Then it acquires its own momentum. It would really help if that goal is emotionally compelling, as that will enliven it in your mind. You will think about it fairly often and it will stick in your mind, even if you are not “practicing” it every day. At that point, you just have to reinforce that goal once in a while, but it doesn’t have to be that frequent. It could be just once every two weeks. Thus, my advice would be to do goal setting and “visualizing your optimal state” less frequently and to stay concentrated on the mental practice.

  • Why Bother?

At some level, we know that the mental game is the key to achieving the best performance possible. We have seen the top performers in many fields who thrive when the pressure is greatest, instead of choking. We know that we want to perform like that—so why are we using visualization?

The first reason is visualization works. As top researchers have shown repeatedly, visualization is a powerful tool which suggests certain outcomes to our brain. These suggestions are processed in much the same way as real activities. There is the famous study that showed that the mental practice of free throws is as effective as actually shooting free throws.  Done properly, visualization can literally change the structure of our brain and lead to long-lasting changes. The changes that we seek become hard-wired and automatic. The peak performance that we long for becomes automatic.  This is the main reason to bother with visualization and mental practice: it’s one of the best ways to improve your overall performance in the markets.

There are other benefits as well. People who use visualization and mental practice frequently, or similar relaxation-inducing activities also report better overall health markers. This is both because the body literally feels better when we can tame stress and also because we practice feeling better. This leads to benefits in the markets, but also all throughout our lives. We will have better health, enjoy life more, and sleep better. This is similar to the benefits from mindfulness, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Both mindfulness and visualization emphasize controlling our breathing and state and directing our attention. No matter what you call it, the benefits are clear. The cumulative effect of improved well-being will lead to better overall outcomes in the markets.

I have answered a few questions about how to improve your visualization experiences, but I am always to happy more. Feel free to email me on bruce [at] howoftrading [dot] com and ask if you have any more questions that are related to visualization. And stay tuned for new articles, in which I reveal new techniques that I have been using and experimenting with.

No relevant positions

By Bruce Bower | E-mail: Bruce [at] howoftrading [dot] com

Blog: | Twitter: @HowOfTrading






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