Continuing with our series about psychological pitfalls in trading and life (read my previous article: You are responsible for everything that happens to you), today we are going to talk about one of my favorite topics: values, self-perception, and self-sabotage. This is a very delicate topic because many of you will feel personally attacked when your values are attacked. After all, our values are what makes up our identity, how we perceive ourselves. You, too, will maybe get angry at me, it is not unlikely. But I urge you to stay open-minded and keep an objective attitude. Here we go.
Most people don’t even know what their values are. For them, life is one hell of a confusing trip. They are probably hovering in between “I want to be rich and famous because everyone on TV is rich and famous” and “shit, I am never going to be rich and famous!”, so they feel pain all of the time. This is called cognitive dissonance, a rupture between what you are and what you want to be, and you don’t know how to close the gap/probably do not even know that there is a gap and where the pain is coming from. You are just unhappy with everything, all the time. This is how the majority of people go through life, really, because their values are not something they carefully chose but were imposed upon them by society, their parents, the media, and so on. Their mental well-being will always be a playball of external factors like “how popular am I?” and thus, they are miserable if they can’t have that awesome pair of shoes or that awesome-looking watch those funky people with chiseled abs on TV are wearing. This may come as a surprise to you, but living with those values is a nightmare, even if most don’t realize it.
Anyway, let’s assume you are self-reflected enough and have read enough books in your life to be able to choose your own values, that still doesn’t mean you won’t be confused as hell. When I was young I quickly realized there was an incredible shallowness to all the mainstream bling and was looking for something to do with my life far, far away from all the brainwashed zombies that were visiting my high school. I dived deep into several subcultures ranging from the Heavy Metal scene to philosophy to professional video gaming to martial arts to writing to drawing to self-taught web design, and ultimately, gambling. And 10 years later, I am still a gambler. I was looking for an independent lifestyle – location independent, people independent. And I did not want to kiss anyone’s butt in order to make a living. I made it, and I am still growing each and every day. But it was one hell of a trip and I wish I hadn’t had all those conflicting values inside of me when I started out playing Poker because I could have made progress much faster. But such is life.
See, being a gambler means a lot but it certainly does not mean being lazy. There are all these stories out there of prodigies like Stu Ungar, Bobby Fischer, Chip Reese, and so on. They went from $10 to $10.000.000 without ever studying the game. And if they ever went broke, they would end up ahead anyway because they borrowed money from another ridiculous gambler and then run their accounts back up and blow it all on hookers and cocaine and so on, rubbing the cash on their t… Awesome.
You know, it might even be true that these people never had to work hard – they just had a natural gift. But they were also obsessed with what they were doing, they had ZERO conflicting values stopping them. I will get to this point in a bit. The other thing is that yes, of course, we only hear the stories of the prodigies because they are the stories that sell the tickets. No one wants to hear about a guy like me that worked hard for years, 18 hours straight every day until it finally paid off and I am now seeing the interest on my investments. That’s just boring. We want to hear the borderline rollercoaster stories, the top 1%. And then we think we have to be like that, too. I said this before, but when you look at the social media, that is the top 5% of people’s lives. The rest is as shitty and normal as yours. But you think their life is party hard all the time and then you freak out because yours is so standard.
This creates a false sense of reality and if we measure OUR success with the snapshots of lives of other people, we will always be unhappy. You need to have realistic values for measuring your success. Change your perspective. For me, success means showing up in the morning to start working. When I fall into bed at night, happy and tired, that is success to me. And I am now happier than ever. But it was not always like that.
When I first turned my $50 into $10.000 in Poker, I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t proud. I felt like a failure because it had taken me a year. My heroes did it in a couple of months or weeks even. What was wrong with me? And when I turned those $10.000 into $50.000 I still felt like a failure because there was always someone with a bigger bankroll. See, comparing yourself to other people and their achievements will make you miserable. Measuring your success in money (especially as a gambler) will make you miserable. And, most importantly, setting monetary goals will make you even more miserable. Because what if you reach that goal? Emptiness, total emptiness. Goals and values should be defined as processes. My number 1 goal in life is to work hard and never stop. See, I reach that goal every day and I feel fucking great every day. What can possibly happen to me? Ambition is priceless.
Your values can make or break you. They control your life. A priest following the true values of the Catholic church will never be rich. A gangster following the cliché of being a street thug will never read a book in his life. A gambler like me will never have a normal job. It is against our very nature. The values we choose for ourselves steer our actions, everything we do. How we perceive ourselves is our ultimate destiny. As an extreme example, take a look at an Indian person born into a lowly caste. They will never leave that caste in their life. Why? Because, as they were taught by their parents and society, if you are born into a certain caste, it is because of the actions in your previous life, and thus this life you are going to stay where you are and suffer for your sins (which, unfortunately, you can’t really remember doing). In this case, you perceive yourself as a religious person, as a person born into a lowly caste, and all your values are based on living a quiet, religious life. This is your destiny. It would never appear to you to say “I CALL BULLSHIT ON THIS!”, I can make my own destiny. Well, too bad for you. Now, this is an extreme example, but the same happens in other cultures, where people born into certain social layers simply can’t escape their destiny of high school, university, job, wife, kids, retirement, death, or other pre-made blueprints for life.
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Now I had a huge clusterfuck of values before I broke down my whole identity to rebuild it and rise like Phoenix from the ashes. Coming from a middle-class family, having money was important. But having too much money was something we just “didn’t do” in our family. Working hard was a value, but working hard as a gambler – not so much. Being sporty – not a value at all. Then I dove into certain subcultures. Heavy Metal, drinking all day long and playing the guitar, becoming a rock star, that was cool. Working hard was not so cool. First conflicting set of values there, my parents wanted me to work hard in school. I didn’t want to, I criticized the educational system back then and I still do today, it is a shitshow and I was forced to be a part of it for 13 years. I started MMA, but because I had the value from my family that being sporty was kind of a thing for idiots that don’t read books, I was never able to push myself to the limits. Also, being competitive wasn’t something my parents would endorse at all. Then Poker came around. I wanted to be cool, play for millions, be a world class gambler. But I didn’t want to work hard for it because that wasn’t cool in my value set. Also, having a lot of money AS A GAMBLER went against my family values of being an honest, hardworking, middle-class guy. Taking risks was not a great trait in my family, either. Always playing it safe, following the blueprint, that was the greater good. And so on, you can see where I’m going with this. Growing up, I soaked up a lot of different values, and they were now all conflicting with my real-life goals.
Imagine a young guy, he has two conflicting values: he values security and excitement! Now there are two girls, both like him, and he likes both of them. One is wild and freaky, the other one is more like his mom. They both can give him what he needs, so he can’t decide which one to choose and eventually loses both. This is what will happen to you in life if you can’t figure out what conflicting values are stuck in your brain, sabotaging you from achieving anything at all.
This is especially true for trading where conflicting values will destroy you so fast you won’t even know what happened to you. If being rich is a problem for your values, but your life goal is to become rich through trading, do you know what is going to happen? Yes, you will end up broke and broken. Now look at the “obsessed” guys, someone like a Conor McGregor in MMA or a Bobby Fischer in Chess. Do you know why these people seem so obsessed? Because they have zero conflicting values and they set their goals right. There is NOTHING stopping them. NOTHING. Their whole life is focused – without any exception – on one thing, their chosen craft. They are dedicated to their art. Their values, their goals, their brains, their bodies, their souls, everything is going in the same direction. They seem crazy and obsessed to “normal” people, while actually they really reached enlightenment, Nirvana. They are the normal ones. Their one purpose in life is to fucking smash the competition at whatever they are doing. Bang-Boom-Boing. Zero self-doubts.
I always had a lot of interests and resulting from that, a lot of values, a lot of conflicts, and so on. What would my parents think of me if I became a professional gambler? What would my peers think of me? Would my friends hate me for who being successful? Can I be a lazy metalhead and at the same time a rich trader? And what about those corporation slaves in suits that feel so good about themselves? I hate them so much, If I work hard, will I be like them? And so on.
I had a few conflicts I was aware of and a lot of conflicts I was not aware of. To truly get rid of them I had to dissolve my personality. This is painful, like pouring acid over a part of your body and watching it dissolve. Everything you stood for so far, everything you thought was right, is going to hell when you choose new values. It is hard, and you are going to hate yourself. But then it will get better. And better. And eventually, you will come out stronger, and most importantly, with maximum focus.
Because conflicting values can also lead you to pursue different objectives in life – you will never get good at something if you don’t focus on a few things for decade after decade. That can be crafts and sports but also relationships. Values and a resulting self-perception that go hand in hand with your goals, that will lead you to true success. No more self-sabotage. No more busting your account after a winning streak because subconsciously, your values are telling you that having money is bad. No more fear of success because actually reaching that success would attack the very values you stand for. No more tears and pain. Only you, and your purpose, and your way to fulfilling that purpose. Everything else will follow, the money, the fame, whatever you want, they are just byproducts of you finding your personal enlightenment and aligning yourself as a person with what you want to achieve.
And don’t say you don’t have conflicting values. Everyone does. If you think you don’t, then you are in deep trouble, my friend, and there is a long way ahead of you.
What my values, goals, and self-perception now are, you might ask? Let me give you a few examples.
- Be a hard-working man. It is really as easy as that. Whereas before I had monetary goals, now my goals are process-oriented and based on good values. Hard-working is a good value.
- Be a critical thinker. Question everyone and everything, and make up your own mind.
- Be honest.
- Be active. Again, notice that my goal is not “get a six-pack this summer”. My measure of success is being active, showing up. Go to the gym, do your shit. Results will follow. Reaching a goal will fill you with emptiness and then you will stop doing what you were doing so well. If your goal is a process, it can be active your whole life.
And so on, you get the point. Do I still have conflicting values? No, not really. I know exactly what I am doing, and why I am doing it. I don’t worry anymore that I might miss something by giving up certain activities which I sacrifice for becoming a great trader. I also don’t care what other people say, think, or do. It does not affect me. I do my thing. If I become the best gambler in the world, so be it, but it is not on my list of goals. Doing the best job I possibly can, that is on my goals list. That is my purpose in life.
Now that is a bitter pill to swallow if you truly understood what I wrote in this article. You will have to work out the conflict with yourself before you can become a truly great trader, that is a simple truth. And these conflicts are different for everyone.
P.S.: Do read a book once in a while. Feed your brain some thoughts. And find someone that is smarter than you, then start picking his brain until you become as smart as him. Then look for the next smarter guy/girl. For most of us, this is hard to do in real life, so read. Read, read, read, read. Most people read books they already understand. This is useless, boring, a waste of time, and stroking your ego. Read something you DON’T understand, maybe a book about biology. Your brain will create new connections and that will help you with all the other endeavors you are involved in. Just a side note :).