The Freedom to Choose

“Between stimulus and response is our freedom to choose.” This is the famous quote from business author Steven Covey.

We often think of freedom as liberating and expansive. In trading however, this freedom is what kills most traders.

Freedom in a boundless environment like the markets is dangerous. We are taught from birth that boundaries are necessary for our personal safety, growth and development. It is no surprise that when we experience a setting that has no boundaries, we tend to test; to discover where the new lines are or might be drawn.

We soon find out that the market punishes our indiscretions and makes us pay, literally, with our financial resources.

How is it that when we make a mistake, or we are careless in our trading, even though we usually know it instantly, that we repeat these costly behaviors – knowing we will be punished as we have been in the past? The fact is we are not ready for the freedom the markets afford. We are not ready to take total personal responsibility. “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” -Sigmund Freud

We have grown up to be blamers. We may momentarily take responsibility – “Oh I know better!” But we really don’t. We will find anything and anyone to blame. “This system sucks” or “That guy lied to me about . . .” We will do everything except look in the mirror and critique the person we see.

I learned from a good friend and professional trader that there is only one reason why I was struggling early on – it’s my fault. That’s it. Where you are today in your trading and in your life is your fault.

We all make choices, and with those choices come accountability. We can blame things and others, but that is a waste of time. The only way to overcome this plague is to first recognize it’s your fault. Then we can move forward to fix it. You need to forgive yourself and start fresh – with new purpose and resolve. The beauty of life is that it’s never too late to change. That is the revelation of the freedom to choose. We can always learn and always improve.

I have been fortunate to have had several successes in my life – from business, to family to friendships. So when I take a personal inventory, I feel privileged.

I have made mistakes, but I have paid for them and learned from them. My mission is to always find someone smarter than I am or better at something than I am and emulate them – shortening my learning curve and getting the highest return on my time investment. It took me a while to formulate this mission – only about 25 years. Now I listen more than talk, act more than procrastinate and study more than goof off. I have a good ear and mind to filter nonsense and do my best to avoid being careless and too impulsive.

When I listen to people try to convince me of something, I look at where they are in life and I ask this question – If I listen to everything they say and do everything they’ve done, the best I can do is get what they have. On the other hand, if they listen to me and do everything I’ve done, they can have what I have. Who should be listening to whom? If I desire what they have, be it success, abilities, or attitude, I shut up and listen. If not, I do not invest any time or energy.

The point here is that you have the freedom to choose, to change, and to be successful. The freedom to choose transcends trading. We know by now that to be successful in trading takes commitment, discipline and a sound plan. Your life is no different.

How can you expect to be successful in trading if your life is in disarray? They both require the same amount of attention and determination. Forgive yourself, get organized and get focused.

But, even freedom has limits. The fact is what we perceive as true freedom is really not. There will always be rules. All we are free to choose is which rules to follow and which to ignore. That is why we fail. We tend to ignore the rules that require work, responsibility and accountability; the path of least resistance – even though those are typically the rules in our society that afford us the greatest reward. The same is true of the market.

As many of us have discovered, if we have chosen to ignore the rules, life and the market will impose them – and often at a great cost. Our true freedom comes from self-reliance, resolution and diligence, and the opportunities they create. What are you doing to create or be prepared to take advantage of such opportunities?

In life and in trading opportunties abound. We have the freedom to choose – to be prepared or not, to miss or to take advantage.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” -Viktor E. Frankl


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