Think Like A Trader Blog

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Does Visualisation Help?

Reading Time - 4 Minutes

Hello Traders.

Visualisation… and I can hear you already…

‘Here we go with this pseudoscience rubbish!’

‘What next? Join in a circle, dance around a tree trunk and chant mantras?’

Well, if that’s what you like to do on a summer afternoon after a few too many liquid refreshments, then I am not here to judge. But for this post I want to stick to visualisation.

Visualisation interests me and I have found over the years that people either agree with the benefits and have things like ‘dream boards’ on their bedroom wall, or else they nonchalantly brush it off as nonsense. There never seems to be anyone in the middle who isn’t quite sure either way.

In this post, I want to look at the ways in which I approach visualisation and the reasons I find it beneficial. I also want to look at certain challenges and when visualisation tends to be pushed aside (hint – it’s usually at the exact time you should be using visualisation!) Hopefully I can convince some of you to at least consider it.

I don’t need to go too much into the ‘what’ of visualisation. I am sure all of you have come across it at one time or another: Using your imagination to project yourself into the position of having already achieved your goals; setting reminders around your daily life to remind you of what you’re aiming for; and even simply telling yourself over and over again that you will in fact achieve whatever it is that you want to do.

The problem I find is that a lot of people take visualisation as some sort of attempt at black magic. The misguided understanding is there that if you visualise something, the universe folds itself over neatly, brushes all of the big issues out of the way for a moment and instead works tirelessly on making sure you get that new car you’ve always wanted.

An even bigger problem than this being taken as a reason to ignore visualisation  is that a lot of people who eagerly approach visualisation hold the exact same belief! Unfortunately, a lot of the books and videos out there on visualisation seem to encourage this.

That is basically the lazy approach to visualisation – 'What? I just need to think about it and like magic I can have it? It says right here in this book that someone visualised winning the lottery and then they won! That’s exactly what I’ll do!'

Sound a little bit familiar to the trading world? ‘I make thousands a day! You just need to buy this course and you can do the same!’

Visualisation, for me, is simply another tool. It is a very beneficial one, sure, but by itself it won’t do anything to push you toward achieving your goal. You’ll still be sitting in your rocking chair at 60, imagining that car as you gaze off into the distance with a disjointed look on your face, eyes glazed and a little drool drying on your wrinkled chin.

So, it’s a tool. And for me it helps in one particular way:

-       Keeping me motivated

There have been lots of studies done on the human brain and it has been shown that for a large portion of the time, the mind can’t differentiate between the imagining of something and the living of it. For example, if you’re scared of spiders and you sit and imagine a spider crawling up your arm, the same parts of your brain begin to fire as would happen if a spider was really there on your arm.

The technique of visualisation is well used by sports stars to help them get ready for an event, to train the mind as they continually train their body.

Now, by visualising myself in the future having achieved a goal I have set myself, I look at it as though I am training my mind to accept that I am already there. I try and live it and experience it. I do it when I am bored sometimes – just sit and imagine myself already where it is I want to be a few years in the future. It’s a great way to pass the time!

I do not expect that by doing so I will magically achieve my goals. Far from it! As I have mentioned, I look at visualisation as merely a tool.

Instead, by getting my mind to fire up and enjoy living in that future projection, I get to feel what it might be like. I get to remember why it is that I am doing what I am doing. And the hope is that by doing so, when I am feeling tired and deflated and want to give up, my mind will chirp up from somewhere deep in my subconscious and give me a prod to keep going. It will be like calling on subconscious energy stores.

Let’s face it – most of the time we can’t be bothered putting in the work. It must be part of the human condition that the lazy option always seems like the best option. Just think back to the last time you gave up on something or someone close to you did… I bet you don’t need to think very hard to remember.

So, when we set out to achieve a goal, staying motivated is just as important as our preparation and hard work. In fact, without that motivation, you are almost guaranteed to give up. Because of that, we need to do everything that we possibly can to make sure we stay motivated for the very simple reason that it will likely keep us chipping away at the goal we set. Visualisation is one of the tools I use to help me with that. Because I have imagined how good it would feel to get to the finish line, I want to keep pushing and working to make sure that I get to experience it and live it.

The funny thing is that visualisation becomes most difficult when the going gets tough. Let’s bring this back to trading –

It is easy to sit and imagine yourself as a successful trader. You can make a dream board of all the things you would do and how you will feel when you get there. You dedicate ten minutes every morning to just sitting and imagining. It feels great and your motivation is at an all-time high.

And then you suffer a tough patch. Maybe you have a run of losses. Perhaps you succumb to emotional trading and severely damage your account. Suddenly you feel low and sitting at your desk and visualising seems childish and pointless. It isn’t helping you and besides, you just can’t be bothered with that nonsense any more.

The funny thing is, it is at those times you should be visualising. That is when it is most beneficial. Because you need to refocus your mind on the goal. You must refresh the feelings and understanding of why you are doing it. Because during the bad patches, it is the motivation that gets drained! Think of motivation like a fuel and at your lowest, your tank is nearly dry. Visualisation is like stopping off at the garage and filling up again. But unfortunately, you are more akin to an electric car rather than a petrol one and that means your recharge will take time. There are no quick fixes on the hard road of achieving your goals.

Stick to it. Build the motivation back up. Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. You are not going to quit. You are determined. This is what you want. You know you can get there.

And the more you visualise, the more resolute you will become. It’s like strapping another battery to that electric car. You can keep going longer and farther as you train your mind and really come to understand what it is that you want. Because the mind can be trained and you must focus on training and strengthening it in the correct way.

So there, in a rambling blog post, is why I visualise and why I suggest you give it serious consideration also.

I hope you’ve all had a great trading week!

James Orr


  1. I was once asked if I believed in visualisation and I replied 'yes'. I was then asked how long I had been visualising myself as a short, fat bald man. Christmas went downhill from there.