Successful Trading in Any Investment Venue Requires Emotional Control

May 12th, 2011

by Tom Cleveland

It is Sunday on the PGA Tour.  A solitary golfer is studying his fifteen-foot putt on the eighteenth green.  If he makes it, he wins the tournament, making this putt worth thousands of dollars and prestige for a lifetime, more pressure than most anyone should endure.  He proceeds to follow a routine that he has repeated on every hole before this final one.  Checks his line, looks down at his putter, at the line once more, then down again, and then he putts the ball in the hole for a well-deserved win.

We admire professional athletes in any sport for their prowess under pressure and their ability to block out all around them in order to perform.  Anyone that has a stressful job that requires performance can learn from this simple example.  Active traders, whether in the field of securities, commodities, or currencies, can easily identify with our professional golfer, and the successful ones actually follow a similar process to record consistent gains, take decisive action, and act with confidence in a profession where there is a fine line between success and failure.

Knowledge and experience, or technique and talent, will get you just so far in a pressure-packed arena.  Emotional control is the proverbial “third-leg-of-the-stool”, which, if ignored, will undermine all attempts to achieve at a higher level.  Studies in the psychology of investing have continually confirmed this fact that your subconscious mind will often be your worst enemy, deliberately working against your best interests, but only acting out the hidden reservoirs of fear and self-doubt that lay in the darker corners of our minds.

Psychological factors are more pronounced when the trading action is swift and volatile, the basic framework that faces a day trader in the world of forex trading.  Initiating a trade may be a problem for a few, but it is generally an affirmative action, full of hope and the possibility of material gain.  If the trader has difficulty closing the position or pulling the trigger, so to speak, then he has subjected himself to mental speculation.  He remembers his last loss or the fact that he cut off a winner too soon.  He hesitates, or worse yet, he procrastinates, almost freezing before his screen, unable to make a key decision that will either limit a loss or permit a winner to run.  Tests show that losses unduly influence our future choices.  We loathe judgment and accountability situations.

Professional athletes practice a routine, step-by-step, in order to block their minds and allow their muscles to act as trained.  Forex brokers provide free demo accounts for traders to gain experience while practicing with virtual cash and real-time quotes, but a trader must have a stepwise plan that guides his decision-making before, during, and after a position is ever opened and closed.

Practicing a trading plan until it is “rote” is the only time-honored solution for blocking out the negative influences of the mind.  Follow this advice if success is your goal!

Risk Disclaimer: Trading foreign exchange on margin carries a high level of risk, and may not be suitable for all investors. The high degree of leverage can work against you as well as for you. Before deciding to invest in foreign exchange you should carefully consider your investment objectives, level of experience, and risk appetite.

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More author insights on “Mood Matters”

November 5th, 2010

A new interview with John Casti is now available at  The author shares how the book was first conceived, and reveals additional experiences from his twenty years as a writer of scientific books.

Interview with John Casti at

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Polarities of Social Mood

July 3rd, 2010

Background: Page 176 of MM shows the following table of polarities of social mood:

Positive Mood (+) Negative Mood (-)
Unifying Divisive
Liberating Restricting
Adventurous Protectionist
Togetherness Separation
Supportive Opposing
Open Closed
Happy Sad
Hard-Working Lazy
Manic Depressive
Tolerant Bigoted/xenophobic

The Fundamental Working Hypothesis stated on p. 170 is that there will be an accelerating shift from the positive to the negative polarities in this table. The Blog section adopts this hypothesis, and consists of micro reports from the media illustrating it in various aspects of everyday life.

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GE CEO Immelt Deplores “A Terrible National Mood”

July 3rd, 2010

At a dinner recently with top Italian executives in Rome, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt blasted the Chinese government saying they were hostile to foreign multinationals, and becoming increasingly protectionist. Immelt went on to say that GE was looking at other countries as potentially better bets for GE’s products. He declared that resource-rich countries don’t want to be “colonized by the Chinese. They want to develop themselves.”

In his remarks at the dinner, GE’s chief executive also launched some barbs at President Barack Obama, saying that there was a “terrible” national mood, stating “People are really in a bad mood [in the US]. We are a pathetic exporter.” Immelt claimed that  business didn’t like Obama and Obama didn’t like business, praising German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to defend German industry.

This diatribe about national mood, protectionist policies and the like is familiar ground for readers of Mood Matters, as it is exactly what one would expect to see in a period of increasingly negative social mood. In such times, the operative words describing the sorts of geopolitical and global economics events that one can expect to see are “separating”, “localizing”, “fragmenting” as opposed to their opposites “joining”, “globalizing” and “linking” that characterize times when a society is welcoming rather than fearing the future.

Chapters One and Four of Mood Matters discusses this point in the context of globalization. Additional evidence mounts as each day goes by. For example, in the recent primary elections in the U.S., a headline in the Washington Post states,  GOP’s Utah and Maine Conventions Show a Party Coming Unglued. The story then opens with the sentence, “Future historians tracing the crack up of the Republican Party may well look to May 8, 2010, as an inflection point.” Similar headlines from the primaries echo this fragmenting sentiment: If You Think the Center is Lonely Now, Just Wait (The Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2010), Primaries from California to SC Measure Voter Anger (Associated Press, June 5, 2010), Confidence Waning in Obama (The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2010).

These are all straws in the wind of a huge storm brewing that will ultimately change the face of the global, not just American, political landscape. And the driving force behind all of it is the progressive rolling over of the positive social mood that began in the mid-1970s to its negative counterpart that started around the year 2000, a process that has a long, long way to go

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Skirt Lengths and Social Mood

June 30th, 2010

Since publication of Mood Matters, several Internet sites have run articles on what the book calls The Skirt Length Indicator, which argues that as social mood rises so do the skirt lengths (as measured from the ground!). The told in the book is that it is the social mood that biases whether skirt lengths move up (as optimism about the future increases) or down (as people start fearing  the future rather than welcoming it). Unfortunately, in some of the articles posted the author seems not to have assimilated this point, claiming instead that I’m saying exactly the opposite: that skirt lengths serve to “predict how markets will perform”, as a piece in the June 24, 2010 issue of the British tabloid Daily Express phrased it. Similar statements appear in an article on the web site, where in a June 28 posting the author asks, “Can uplifted hemlines really change someone’s mood?”, going on to answer “Sure they can.”

While it’s gratifying to have Mood Matters cited as an authority in such august circles, I’m compelled to quote the following passage from the book itself:

“. . . one might even encourage fashion designers to contribute to saving the economy by having fashionable ladies wear shorter and shorter skirts. As that well-known fan of short skirts, JFK, put it, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country!” Unfortunately, such a line of argument flies in the face of our Central Hypothesis, since it would suggest that an action (wearing short skirts) can contribute to formation of a view of the future (the social mood).”

Yet one more nail in the coffin of event causation!

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It’s Getting Lonely in the Center

May 25th, 2010

The May 18 US congressional primary elections illustrate perfectly two of the polar opposites arising from an accelerated negative social mood, separation as opposed to togetherness, opposing in contrast to supportive, the political center where compromises are forged took it on the chin. Candidates hand-picked by national leaders and incumbents from both parties were thrown out by voters hungry for a change, any change it seems, to give somebody else a chance. As voter Edith Cornelius, 69, of Arkansas said after casting her vote the Democratic nomination for governor, “I’d like to see a change and let someone else have a try.” She wasn’t the only one.

Even prior to the elections, the Republican party convention in Utah kicked out conservative Senator Robert Bennett for not being conservative enough in favoring rightist positions in the Senate “just” 84 percent of the time. On the same day on the other side of the country, the state Republican Party in Maine dumped its mix of free economics and conservation in favor of a platform abolishing the Federal Reserve, terming global warming a “myth”, closing the US borders and “fighting efforts to create one world government.” How’s that for “opposing” in contrast to “supporting”.

And the US isn’t the only part of the world where such sentiments are being expressed at the ballot box.

In early May, voters in Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, resoundingly spoke out against the incumbent Christian Democratic Party (CDP) of Chancellor Angela Merkel in a backlash against her reluctance to take any potentially unpopular decision on German participation in the bailout of Greece in the run-up to the election. As a result, the GDP received about ten percent less votes than in the previous election in 2005, resulting in their loss of a coalition they led with the Free Democratic Party.

As another even more striking example of negative social mood in the political arena, in early April the center-Right Fidesz Party in Hungary took nearly 53 percent of the vote in a blow to the Socialist government, while the far-Right Jobbik Party received over 16 percent. By way of contrast, the ruling Socialist Party managed to garner a scant 19 percent. Ominously, the country’s largest Jewish organization warned that the vote was “the first occasion that a movement pursuing openly anti-Semitic policies” has taken a step to power since the Nazi era.

All these cases illustrate the point made in the opening chapter of Mood Matters that when voters are frustrated (i.e., in a negative mood), that frustration has to find an outlet somewhere. And “somewhere” in this context almost invariably means the incumbent or his/her party takes it on the chin.

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Xenophobia Makes a Comeback

May 22nd, 2010

Here are three recent headlines from the mainline media:
US Rep Backs Deport of Illegal Immigrants’ US KidsAssociated Press, April 29, 2010
Of Values, Veils and Mistresses - International Herald Tribune, April 30-May 2, 2010
Anger over Ariz. Immigration Law Drives US RalliesAssociated Press, May 2, 2010
Each of these articles underscores the pronounced movement from tolerance of “the stranger” in western industrialized society to its polar opposite, bigotry and xenophobia. The second piece is especially interesting, as it is a column by Alan Cowell addressing the social divisions in France stemming from an incident involving a 31-year-old woman wearing a niqab, a form of headdress with only a narrow slit for the eyes. French police officers levied a 22-Euro fine on the woman for driving while wearing a veil, presumably because they were worried about safety on the highway. But the action sparked off a huge debate in France over what it means to be French and what it means to be French and Muslim.
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“Recovery” of the Art Market?

May 22nd, 2010

“Signs Emerge of Recovery for Art Sales” shouted a headline in the April 20, 2010 issue of the International Herald Tribune. By way of contrast, pages 70-72 of Mood Matters argue that art sales will be a big-time loser as the overall global social mood deepens. Since this story seems to undermine that claim, it’s worth digging into it a bit deeper to see what is really going on.

After quoting sources like Philip Hoffman, head of the Fine Art Group Fund, and the head of Castlestone Management, a fund that specializes in art investment for well-heeled clients about the prospects for the art market (which is tantamount to asking the foxes if they thought chickens were a good investment), the article slips-in the very revealing quote from Castlestone that “equities is considered to be a key indicator when analyzing trends in the art market.” A socionomist would read this as: The art market can be expected to rise as the social mood increases, and then decline as people start fearing the future again.

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Michael’s Back!

May 22nd, 2010

In mid-April 2010, professional basketball’s most marketable and iconic player, Michael Jordan, purchased majority interest in the Charlotte Bobcats for $275 million. It’s often said that timing is everything in life. So in view of Jordan’s exquisite ability to move in and out of the NBA as both a player and owner at pivotal turning points in the overall social mood (i.e., major turning points in the financial markets) as discussed on p. 85 of MM (and depicted in the graphic below, which was not used in the book), we wait with bated breath to see if Jordan has or has not lost his golden touch (or perhaps we should say “fool’s golden” touch). If the Jordan’s past is prologue to the future of the social mood, a prudent investor might start accumulating a fistful of call options on the S&P500 right now.

Michael Jordan Graph

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