How I Maintain Focus

EMAIL QUESTION:

My question is, "how does one stay focused while watching charts waiting for trade setups?"

Lance, my mind wanders while staring at charts waiting for setups. If I could take to the bank the number of trades I missed while NOT paying attention to the charts, I would be making a healthy income.

I've missed many trades wandering off. We all hear often about trader focus; but how does one achieve this??

REPLY:

Hi Marco,

Exceptional question. I wish I had a decent answer for you. This is without doubt one of the greatest challenges I still face in my own trading. I miss trades daily due to my mind wandering elsewhere.

Over the years I tried fighting it with willpower and every tool and method I could think of. Alarms each minute to remind me to look at the screen, checklists to keep my mind working hard on price action and structure analysis, constant logging or running commentary of what is happening, elastic band to snap on my wrist and cause pain upon discovering a wandering mind. Nothing works perfectly.

My plan now is to embrace this all-too-human problem; accept it as reality and try to work with it as best I can.

I now accept it's not something that can be ever removed from trading. We are human. Our mind needs other stimulation. We WILL be distracted. And when we need to focus, it is only possible for a limited amount of time.

So it's a matter now of several things:

(a) Putting myself in the best physical and mental state possible pre-session… eating well, keeping hydrated, relaxing when possible, and most importantly managing fatigue.

(b) Water at my trading desk. And some "brain food" for during session… barley sugars, blueberries and a couple of squares of dark chocolate (not too much!!!).

(c) Removing the worst distracters which can trap my attention and keep it trapped for extended periods without awareness of this occurring. This means no internet or email or facebook for me.

(d) Ensuring regular breaks from the screen. If the price action shows that I've likely got no opportunity for the next 5 to 10 minutes, I'll get up to do something else. Exercise is best – a short, fast, high-intensity session is great for clearing out the cobwebs from the mind and body. But really it can be anything – go and sit in your garden for two minutes! The intent here is that I schedule my own distractions at times I want to have them, so that I (hopefully) have a renewed capacity to focus when I return to the screen.

(e) And when I can't leave the screen for long durations… well I haven't found a great solution yet. But my current plan is to make use of a small section of one screen for a game. Something unrelated to trading. Something which is interesting while also being not too challenging. If you don't have anything then I think most computers come with some basic ones such as minesweeper or solitaire. By doing this on the same screen as your charts, you'll allow your brain some degree of rest and distraction from the charts, while still having price within your peripheral vision in the event of significant movement.

We seem to have limited attentional resources. So they must be managed and conserved in order to be available at the times when we need them the most. My plan is to try to work with my lack of focus, rather than fighting it, through providing myself with distractions at a time and place which are largely of my choosing. It's an improvement, but still not perfect.

Hope that helps. If you ever come across anything which works better, please let me know.

Cheers,

Lance Beggs

PS. There is one other that I used quite effectively for a while, but don't use now. Raise your desk (or raise your computer higher upon your desk) such that you have to stand at your screen. It's much easier to "drift away elsewhere" when slouched comfortably on your chair. Standing takes away that "comfort" and keeps you slightly more alert. It also facilitates exercise as you're half way there already.


How I Maintain Focus – Update: 9th November 2012

It's been several months since the original article and I've made a few changes to how I maintain focus as I'm trading.

There are two major changes.

First up, writing the original article prompted me to again try the "standing desk" and I can confirm that it is a vast improvement. I'd tried it previously and only stopped due to a soccer injury that made it difficult to stand for long periods of time. I'm not sure why I didn't revert back to a standing desk once my leg had healed! But in any case it's done now and I'm very happy with the result. If you haven't ever tried it then give it a go. You can buy a raised desk if you like… but I find it's easy enough to just place a box beneath the monitor and keyboard to get them up to standing height.

The second change provides a solution to my continuing tendency during slow, boring price action to start surfing the internet, or answering emails. And naturally this distraction leads to missed opportunity. I'd tried many "discipline and willpower" methods of fixing this before; all with minimal effect. And so I'm incredibly surprised at how obvious the solution is. Actually, I can't believe it's taken me so many years to think of such a simple solution.

That is… move back from the desk about one metre, out of reach of the keyboard or mouse!

LOL!

So simple… but so incredibly effective.

If you use a standing desk then step back one metre. If you sit at your desk then move your chair back one metre.

To summarise my approach to maintaining focus then…

(a) Putting myself in the best physical and mental state possible pre-session… eating well, keeping hydrated, relaxing when possible, and most importantly managing fatigue.

(b) Water at my trading desk. And some "brain food" for during session… barley sugars, blueberries and a couple of squares of dark chocolate (not too much!!!). Actually… chewing gum can be effective as well, in helping to reduce any anxiety.

(c) Removing the worst distracters which can trap my attention and keep it trapped for extended periods without awareness of this occurring.

(d) Ensuring regular breaks from the screen. If the price action shows that I've likely got no opportunity for the next 5 to 10 minutes, I'll get up to do something else. Exercise is best – a short, fast, high-intensity session is great for clearing out the cobwebs from the mind and body. But really it can be anything – go and sit in your garden for two minutes! The intent here is that I schedule my own distractions at times I want to have them, so that I (hopefully) have a renewed capacity to focus when I return to the screen.

 (e) And while trading, I'm either standing at the desk if in a trade or price is showing a potential trade in the near future, or I'm back about one metre where I'm well clear of access to the keyboard, mouse or any other distractions. Just price action on the screen. (If I can't maintain continual focus from this position then it's a sign of potentially unacceptable levels of fatigue, and time for a break as mentioned in (d) above.)


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