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A profitable calm: Meditation for investors and traders

What if someone stood next to you as you traded or made investment decisions, saying terrible things to you? "What if you lose money?" "You've failed before and you'll fail again." "What makes you think you can do this?" "Another big loss and you'll be devastated and alone." Wouldn't you throw that person out? Wouldn't you take control of what people say to you as you work? Would you be able to listen to any positive message or even just concentrate on your work? No, you'd be too busy reacting to the negativity from that person. How about the opposite? A good mentor like in our trading room, a friend who says, "Don't worry, you'll get it next time," and "Never give up," and "It's just money. You're bigger than any profit or loss you might experience." If you had such a friend, wouldn't you keep her nearby, tell her to keep whispering in your ear?[pullquote]

How to meditate:

1. Repeat one action: breathing in and out, repeating a word or phrase

2. Any time another thought comes, just say, "Oh, that's just my mind, thinking thoughts." Let the thought float past.

3. Return your mind to just repeating the one action: another breath, the word again.

4. Continue bringing your mind back every time a thought floats by until you reach the time you committed to.

That's it. Every form of meditation new or ancient is a version of this. There is no other.[/pullquote]

Now what if that person were you, yourself? We all face this inner struggle to remain confident and focused. It's your highest priority--not your trading platform or which indicator or system or trading room you choose. Your thoughts and emotions are Job #1. You can't control the markets or the Fed or other people. The only thing you can control is your own mind. As more people realize this truth, meditation is fast becoming a standard part of business training and practice. Top business schools are including meditation courses, and meditation rooms and workshops are a routine part of company cultures. Investors and traders, whose business is buying and selling risk, benefit from meditation in ways that can transform not only their profitability, but their ability to enjoy their work and the life it makes possible. Here are just a few reasons to incorporate meditation into your daily trading and work routine.

All the cool kids do it

Many successful people credit their success to meditation (and its religious cousin, prayer). Bond trading master Bill Gross of PIMCO leaves the trading floor every day to do yoga and meditate; Ray Dalio, founder of the $130 billion hedge fund Bridgewater, says meditation helps him manage the chaos that comes with his job. He also says it just feels good, which it does. The list of successful people who rely on meditation is long, and includes Tiger Woods, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Russell Simmons and Tony Robbins. You don't meditate just so you can be in a meditative mood while trading. Not everyone wants to be. The same way you don't do pushups so you can do pushups while trading. Although a surprising number of traders do. You meditate to make your mind ready for the slings and arrows of the rest of the day.

Meditating feels great

Remember, people didn't invent meditation because they were trying to be spiritual. They did it because it felt good, because it helped them think better and manage stress. All the dressing up and terminology came later. Working across from the Board of Trade, you see plenty of people trying various mood-altering remedies, to deal with the ups and downs, the losses and gains. Bars have customers even before the close of trading. And some closed offices emit incense smoke and it's a safe bet they are not devout Hindus or Buddhists inside. It's not only the downs of our financial and personal lives that are stressful. Our systems are wired for something called homeostasis. It's like an internal thermostat that keeps our emotional temperature constant. This is why a wedding or lottery win can be as stressful as an illness or death in the family. My first big profit, an option trade in which I took 12,000 to over 100,000 in a couple of months, was so disconcerting that when I saw an ad for One.org, an organization committed to fighting poverty, I just gave them the whole thing. Damn Bono. Many of us meditate just because it feels so pleasurable, like a massage from the inside out. It can be hard at first. Some compare it to trying to harness wild horses. but after 10 good minutes of meditation, your body and mind undergo a chemical change. It's the opposite of the fight-or-flight response, something Harvard Medical School researchers call the relaxation response. Your body reduces stress hormones and increases happiness chemicals like serotonin. Another benefit is increased neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change in the face of changed circumstances. In the post-credit crisis economy, nothing is more vital. Other clinically proven benefits: better blood pressure control than hypertension drugs, better sleep, better skin.

Meditation leads to unshakable self-confidence


That one action that you repeat can be almost anything that isn't harmful: running, walking, giving a massage, sex. I once got to secretly watch a great meditation master practicing. You know who he is. He used to live here in Chicago. He still had his hair back then. I had just finished PE class and found the main gym closed. Someone told me the Bulls had reserved the Rice gym for practice before they faced the Rockets. No one was watching, so I snuck in. He was alone, shooting free throws. I quietly sat in the bleachers, wondering when I'd get caught. He had the same pattern every time: bounce twice, pause, a little dip in the knees and then...swoosh. Then he would walk (not run) to get the ball. He only had one ball. Then he repeated the process. He rarely missed, but when he did, he didn't react. When he touched the rim, he didn't react. When it was nothin' but net, he didn't react. He just went and got the ball, dribbled it back, and then: bounce twice, pause, dip, shoot. He started a run of successful shots, ten, eleven. But instead of feeling my heart racing, I felt wonderfully calm, as though Michael's detachment from the result had infected me. If I close my eyes, I can still remember the feeling. Somewhere around 17, I think, he bounced off the rim. He got the ball and came back. Now I don't know if he just noticed me then, or if he'd known I was there the whole time. He bounced twice, held the ball, then turned to me, smiled, and winked. Then he sank the shot. I took that as a sign to leave. There was no more to see. A year after that, I was in Japan, studying aikido. In my three years there I meditated with great martial artists, kendo masters, Zen priests, even ninjas. Yep, actual ninjas. I have never seen a more powerful meditation than those ten minutes I spent with Michael Jordan. Meditation is a way of proving to the only person you need to prove anything to, yourself, that you are the master of your thoughts and emotions. To do this is a great statement of self-worth, which may be why it's so helpful in increasing your net worth.