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Five steps to being fully present in the moment

peaceful-442070_640What you think you see is not what you see. What you think is happening is not what is happening. Everything we experience is filtered through our inner dialog and inner experience. We can think of simple examples: three people watching a person on a subway train with a dog will likely have three very different experiences—maybe one thinks fondly of an old pet, another has a phobia, and we can imagine many more perspectives. What is clear is that pretty much no one is “just seeing a dog”—the dog brings up memories, associations, and past experiences.

Too many writers treat the “normal” human experience as something that is bad or something we need to change, but we’ve survived long enough as a species that it can’t really be all that bad! In many ways, it is actually very good because it increases the connections we have between datapoints in our brain. This way of experiencing the world, frankly, makes us smart, but it also keeps us closed off from experience. There’s a way to achieve a radically different perspective, and to bring different strengths of your analytical tools to every situation.

This different way of being and experiencing might be called “being in the moment.” (Be careful with the word “mindfulness”—it’s often applied to this type of work, but it really means something else. It’s a specific set of meditation techniques, not a way to sit at your desk and answer emails.) For traders in financial markets, being in the moment can be a powerful perspective: you can see with clarity. You are free from emotional baggage and past mistakes. You are free to be your most powerful and successful self.

Achieving this state takes two things: first, you have to want to do it. You have to have a clear intent to be more in the moment. Second, it requires attention and a gentle patience to bring your attention back to the work when it wanders. In some ways, this is a framework for extending meditation to your everyday life, and here are some ways to do it.

  1. Work with intent. Too often, we are robots. I find that I focus much better if I declare an intent—for the day, for a specific task, or for an entire venture. Simply working with intent will focus the power of your will, and you’ll get things done that might seem impossible.
  2. Use a list. Use two lists! One of the best pieces of time management advice is to start each day by writing a list of the three to five things you must do that day. When something goes on that list, you get it done, no matter what. Putting something on the list declares a clear intent for the day. (Nice when things are coherent, isn’t it?) You also might have a longer-term list of projects and things you are working on that will require days, weeks, or months to accomplish, but start with the daily list. If you do nothing else, do this.
  3. Create ritual and structure. I wrote a post on this recently, but I think there is great power in the little rituals of everyday life. Do it when you sit at your desk. Do it when you leave the house and when you return. Do it when you eat—there’s power in conscious eating—take a few moments to extend gratitude to the fish, animal, or plant that is no longer what it was so that you can eat. This might sound touchy-feely, but it’s also an invitation to really understand where we fall in the dance that is life.
  4. Be careful of “I am ____” language. I am afraid. I am nervous. I am angry. No… you are not. You are feeling afraid, nervous, or angry, but you are not these emotions. Particularly for traders, the flood of emotions can be overwhelming. Simply being aware of the self talk and natural tendency to think “I am ____”, and then to gently contradict that—this is one way to achieve powerful clarity and perspective.
  5. Spend a few moments paying attention to your breathing. Do this right now. Read this paragraph, then close your eyes and bring all of your attention to your breathing… in… and out… for the next three breaths you take. That’s it—very simple and it will only take maybe half a minute to do that. Don’t alter your breathing pattern and don’t try to think anything; just focus on your breathing. Do this a few times a day, and you’ll begin to interrupt the “normality” of our everyday experience.

We could go on and on with these ideas, but I think these will get you started. The key concept is that we want to shake things up just enough that we can achieve a new perspective. Simple things work. Simple things are powerful.

If you like the ideas you’ve read here, you might also like to explore meditation deeper. A good place to start is the 22 day meditation experience I’ve created for you here.

AdamHGrimes

Adam Grimes has over two decades of experience in the industry as a trader, analyst and system developer. The author of a best-selling trading book, he has traded for his own account, for a top prop firm, and spent several years at the New York Mercantile Exchange. He focuses on the intersection of quantitative analysis and discretionary trading, and has a talent for teaching and helping traders find their own way in the market.
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