Specialty Skills

Courage and Vulnerability: Two Keys That Can Help You Trade Your Best

Dr. Woody Johnson

Brene’ Brown, PhD, a Sociologist and Researcher gave a TED talk, (Technology, Entertainment and Design) which garnered over 8 million viewers and of those about 2.5 million on YouTube.  Her talk was about vulnerability and shame.  She has been studying and writing about these topics for many years.  She gave an inspiring speech that led me to share some thoughts designed to help your trading.

I often talk about courage and the need for courage in your trading.  But what is courage?  Often, people think that “bravery” is courage, and of course acts of bravery can involve courage; the firefighter who runs into the blaze on the momentum of her training; the police officer who stops criminals in the act just doing his job; the soldier who fights for his country… these are examples of bravery.   But, courage is something that can potentially happen to each one of us every day.  In other words, the person who is shaking in her boots in her church, synagogue or mosque to give a welcoming speech and feels terrified, but does it anyway; courage is the nerd at a mixer who is standing in the corner, sees an attractive woman and despite his feelings of social inadequacy goes over and introduces himself; courage is saying I love you first.  And, courage is the trader who despite his strong desire to give in to the urge to move a stop, chase or prematurely exit the trade, but, instead takes a deep breath and remains invested in learning and keeping his commitments.  Courage is standing up for something important and feeling fearful to the point of immobility but doing that thing despite the fear.  Courage is also embracing ambiguity in the service of curiosity, growth, vulnerability, risk and exposure.  What greater example of the risk to self-esteem, ego-involvement, the need to be right, the fear of being wrong and the shame quotient than trading.  It’s about “daring greatly” and its inextricable connection to successful trading and life.  You’ve got to be clear about your intention setting, uncovering your limiting beliefs and clarifying your values which must be brought into the mix if you are going to muster the strength to be willing to fail.

Courage to tradeBut, how do you muster that courage?  How do you move into the face of potential failure and the subsequent shame?  It’s through the willingness to be vulnerable.  And, to be vulnerable is to be courageous.  They work hand-in-hand.  Identify what matters most in your life and put it in the service of what matters most in the trade.  Stand up to the possibility of ego involved disaster and the  catastrophe of loss due to the uncertainty and remain “connected” to the roots of your passion; that is, your family, your friends and/or a community cause that captures your imagination and your heart.  The connection is where the rubber hits the road for us as human beings.  Whenever we stay connected and remain cognizant of the importance of that connection; that is, the connection to your spiritual beauty, connection to your loved ones, your connection to life we then are embodying our true selves, we are then developing the capacity for courage.  Brown says that we must “get into the arena” be willing to embrace the uncertainty and the possibility of failure, in order to be able to experience the exhilaration of success.  The interesting thing about success is that it is very expensive.  I’m not talking about the expense of hard work, or determination to keep practicing, or the investment of time and energy in the preparation.  No, the cost that I am speaking of is the cost of putting it all on the line and accepting the risk in the heat of battle and that you may fall on your face and…fail.  This is the cost that so many are unwilling or unable to accept.  This is the cost that immobilizes the trader in the face of their plan, strategy and set-up where they fail to pull the trigger and stand back in the sidelines and watch the price-action hit what would have been their target.  This is the cost that keeps you from letting your winners run, or allowing the market to prove your plan right or wrong.  This is the cost that sustains mediocrity and robs you of those moments when after venturing into the arena, scared to death, you throw caution to the wind, fight your hardest, remain steadfast to your rules in the trade, and…”win.”

Yes, vulnerability is very scary and uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, most people will use blame to assuage their shame at not following through.  They blame the dog, the spouse, the kids, the markets, the news feeds; everything and everybody but themselves.  They are unwilling to take responsibility and be accountable for “their” actions or lack thereof.  What they don’t realize is that they are using blame, as a way to discharge the pain and discomfort that comes from the shame.  In other words… “it’s not my fault.” But, know that even though it does not feel like it at the time, vulnerability is not a weakness; it is powerful.  Actually, emotional risk and uncertainty are the most accurate measures of courage.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change.  Consider for a moment how hard change is.  One of the reasons is that in order to change you must be willing to venture into the uncertainty of trying something different; that is, something that could be a bust and at that moment the ego is saying…”You’re going to do WHAT?  Are you kidding?”  So, we maintain the status quo and keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.  And, even further in the back of their minds are the limiting beliefs of, …”I’m not good enough and/or who do you think you are?”

Brown shares that shame breaks down along gender lines.  For women, they must be organized, do it all, do it perfectly and do it now.  On the other hand, men must not be seen as weak, so of course vulnerability is out of the question much of the time since it is interpreted as a weakness.  Also, we can see it in how guilt and shame is approached in the language.  With guilt we say “I’m sorry I made a mistake.”  With shame the underlying often unspoken comment is, “I’m sorry, I AM a mistake.”  One way to counteract shame is through authentic connection and empathy.  In fact, Brown says that empathy is the antidote to shame and when we are in the struggle of the arena the two most powerful words that someone can say are…”Me too.”  There again, it is the critical importance of connection that is operative.

Over and over again, fear, doubt and anxiety while trading are driven by the false evidence appearing real.  It is when our stories about what it means to lose and the mythology that swirls deep in our ego entrenched beliefs about ourselves cause us to interpret events in ways that have us running to the hills in order to dodge the shame of failing.  At those times we are deathly afraid of the very thing that will help us to eventually learn, grow, and thrive in our trading and that is our ability to be vulnerable and embrace the risk of failure.  At that fork in the road we have a choice, to either go to the left, give into the fear and attempt to sidestep the shame (which cannot be avoided with that choice) or go to the right and choose to be open and embrace the risk, to be vulnerable and with that also embrace the potential for victory; a victory that can only be experienced through that choice.  So, my challenge to you and to us is to pledge to be accountable in that moment and be courageous through the power of being vulnerable…be willing to be uncomfortable in the service of your highest and best trading goals and keep your A-game at the platform.  So as Brown says “dare greatly.”  The most terrifying is joy… because you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.  When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability,  joy becomes foreboding.  We try to beat vulnerability to the punch, so many put off joy because they are dress rehearsing tragedy, we become afraid to experience the joy because of our fear that it may be taken away.  The antidote is to practice gratitude.  Be grateful and thankful in and for this moment … and every moment…this trade and every trade.  These and other concepts are what we share in the “Mastering the Mental Game” Online and On-location courses.  Ask your Online Trading Academy representative for more information and also get my book “From Pain to Profit: Secrets of the Peak Performance Trader.”

Happy Trading,
Dr. Woody Johnson


This newsletter is written for educational purposes only. By no means do any of its contents recommend, advocate or urge the buying, selling or holding of any financial instrument whatsoever. Trading and Investing involves high levels of risk. The author expresses personal opinions and will not assume any responsibility whatsoever for the actions of the reader. The author may or may not have positions in Financial Instruments discussed in this newsletter. Future results can be dramatically different from the opinions expressed herein. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Reprints allowed for private reading only, for all else, please obtain permission.