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Bulkowski's Conquering Loneliness

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Written by and copyright © 2005-2019 by Thomas N. Bulkowski. All rights reserved. Disclaimer: You alone are responsible for your investment decisions. See Privacy/Disclaimer for more information. Some pattern names are the registered trademarks of their respective owners.

Traders often lead solitary lives, dictated by working out of their homes and only having contact with other people through electronics. However, even traders that work beside others can become lonely. This article discusses how it happens and how you can banish the feeling after it appears.


The Problem

Question: What Causes Trader Loneliness? Answer: Draw downs.

I was surprised by that. My guess would have been the isolation inherent in trading for a living, especially if you do it out of your home like I do. But loneliness happens to floor traders and successful traders surrounded by other traders.

Basket Case Bob is an example. You might recall that Bob met a girl and turned into a happy camper again in the last episode. He married the girl, had a slew of rug rats (kids), is active in the community and in professional organizations. But he is lonely. Why? Because Bob is a trader.

Like a skilled surgeon having a patient die on the operating room table, a trader will have to face a series of losses. Those losses cause confidence to wane, especially when they last beyond the maximum draw down period experienced by a system. As the losses continue, the trader has no one to turn to, no one to confide in, especially if they are successful and other traders look up to them. It's lonely at the top.

You don't have to be a top trader to feel lonely when trade after trade goes bad. You question your methods and your prior success. Was it just luck? Remember the saying that anyone can make money in a bull market. Maybe you have lost the knack for making money, and it's time to find a new line of work.

Pressure at home adds to the burden. Your wife has a birthday coming and she wants anything so long as it's made of gold and peppered with carbon crystals. How are you going to tell her you can't afford diamonds?


You're A Great Trader

When a series of losses has cut your confidence, being told by your significant other that you are a wonderful trader -- the best in the world -- doesn't help. You don't need meaningless words to prop up your sagging self-image. Instead, you need someone to say, "It's going to be fine" or "I know how to fix that." Those words relieve you of the feeling of hopelessness. The person you confide in takes on the responsibility for creating a positive outcome.

I remember when I was a senior software engineer working on a print redirector. The print redirector was a program that worked in the background and when you tried to print, it would send your request not to your local desktop printer, but to another printer on the network. An entire organization could share one printer. Every time I made a call to the operating system, it would vector off into the weeds and crash the system.

I spend three weeks searching for the bug in my code, and there was no one in research and development that could help me (or so I thought). I felt very much alone and under stress with management wondering why it was taking so long.

I found out that the bug wasn't in my code at all. It was an undocumented "feature" of the Microsoft operating system that you had to make a different operating system call so it could swap internal stacks before making the call I needed.


Three Problems, Not One

There are three problems to overcome to cure the feeling of isolation.

1. Can You Hear Me Now?

Sometimes what makes a trader successful is not one that makes them the life of the party. They hide their feelings. An emotionless trader, one that can push a button without worrying about how much money they are making or losing, is a prized quality. So, traders may have difficulty communicating emotions with others. And when they do, it might not be successful. How can a brain surgeon explain to his wife/girlfriend/mistress (perhaps all three) the exact cause of the patient's death and be understood?

How can a trader explain that the MACD oscillator was showing bearish divergence but he missed it? Or that stochastics said sell but was wrong. Again.

The emotionless trader may have difficulty expressing his emotions because he hasn't done so before, or because he is afraid to do so, especially to his peers, who may point, snicker, and laugh.

2. Stoic

Traders are taught to repress their emotions so that they don't get too excited when they win nor too bummed out when they lose. Similarly, they repress or deny emotions such as loneliness so it doesn't affect their trading.

These repressed emotions are time bombs waiting to explode. And when they explode, they take a trader down with them. A trader begins to lose, and lose often. He torpedoes his own trades.


3. Incurable

A trader in a negative mood may make excuses to avoid solutions that would snap them out of those moods.


Here are some suggestions to handle loneliness.

1. What's bothering you?

Sometimes traders feel ashamed to express what's bothering them or have psychological blocks from doing so. Sometimes, they just don't know what to say. Write down your concerns. Doing so removes any hindrance a person-to-person discussion might have, and it gives you an opportunity to learn more about yourself.

2. Read what you wrote.

Like boiling the fat away from meat, remove any duplications or exaggerations. Refine your list to a core group of concerns.

3. What should another do?

If another trader gave you the same list of concerns and asked for your opinion about it, what would you say? Often you know the best way to cure yourself. Write down your solutions.


4. Write down your solutions.

The list of solutions will become a "to-do" list, a course of action you can take. Once you begin to take the steps to fix your problem, you will be back in control and feel better about your situation.

The next series of steps helps those who have difficulty sharing their feelings with others. This reminds me of a neighbor who was abused as a child. Instead of talking about it, he is drinking himself to death.


A picture of my dog peering over the Lay-Z-Boy.

5. Watch a sad movie.

I'm not kidding. My personal favorites are "A Message from Holly," "Permanent Record," "Brian's Song," or even "Up Close & Personal" and "Phenomenon."

I'll load up the VCR/DVD and grab some popcorn, maybe have tissues handy. Since I'm watching them with my dog, who is only interested in snatching stray popcorn, you may also wish to view your movies in private. That way, you can express your feelings however you wish.

A sad book will work as well.

6. Watch a happy movie.

This gives you another opportunity to vent your emotions. You can combine these two and watch "The World According to Garp," which is funny until the ending. For a happy flick, I like "What About Bob?" Others that might do in a pinch are, "Grumpy Old Men," "Grumpier Old Men," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "EDtv," and "Ghostbusters."

The point of these two exercises is not to add calories to your waistline, but to get you to express those pent-up emotions. That helps relieve stress. It provides an outlet where you can be as emotional as you like without worrying about what the gossip mill is saying about you.


7. Hotlines

Call an organization, such as a church or other group that has hotlines staffed by people trained to listen to whatever you need to talk about. This reminds me of an episode from, "To the Manor Born," where Penelope Keith makes appointments with tradesmen to visit her cottage and discuss improvements, just for the company, with no intention of buying their products or services.

A picture of a lizard.

Tell the trained listener that you just want them to listen even though they may not understand everything you are saying. Once you are done expressing yourself, and before they can give any advice, thank them for listening and hang up.

8. Help others.

Each year I go to a health fair where they suck your blood for testing and do other fine stuff for free.

This year, I talked with two people from an organization that were looking for drivers to pick up individuals and drive them to doctor appointments and such. It's a variation of "Meals on Wheels."

In other words, contribute your time to helping others less fortunate than you. Doing so puts your life in perspective. It gets you out of the house to meet new people.

9. Network.

Look for groups that have nothing to do with trading, so you can learn how to express your emotions and thoughts. You can find those groups in the calendar section of your newspaper.

I enjoy going to the grocery store and talking to myself: "You're charging $5 for 8 ounces of chips?!! Are you NUTS?"


See Also

-- Thomas Bulkowski

Written by and copyright © 2005-2019 by Thomas N. Bulkowski. All rights reserved. Disclaimer: You alone are responsible for your investment decisions. See Privacy/Disclaimer for more information. Some pattern names are the registered trademarks of their respective owners. Computer programmers do it byte by byte.