Learn to Dissociate By, Van K. Tharp, Ph.D.

van tharp bkA note to readers: While Dr. Tharp’s content is timeless, this article is from our newsletter archive and may contain outdated information, missing links or images.

If you wanted to know what peak performance trading looks like, you could examine a market genius and study how that person approaches her craft. You also could look at a genius in some other area and notice if some of his behavior could be applied to trading. In that regard, I’ve been thinking about how Einstein would think about the modern markets. I learned that one of the things Einstein did well was to dissociate. He used imagery to step out of his body and assume another perspective.
Try the following exercise for yourself. During each part of the imaginary adventure that follows, notice what your thoughts are and what your experience is like.
Here is the first imaginary scene. See yourself (your whole body) on a movie screen getting ready to go skydiving. Watch the movie of you with your parachute attached in the airplane getting ready to jump. After you jump, see yourself free-falling for about 10 seconds and then pulling the rip cord. Notice what happens when you pull the rip cord; it’s as if the parachute pulled your body up in the air. Now watch yourself float under the parachute gently down to the ground. That’s called being dissociated.
Repeat the same scenario, but this time, see the event out of your own eyes. Imagine that you are actually in the plane prior to the jump. Notice your hands and feet as you are waiting for the signal to go. Now move over to the door, get yourself ready, and then jump out. Notice how the plane moves away rapidly as you free-fall through the air. After about 10 seconds, feel your hand reach to pull the rip cord and notice the experience of your parachute opening and slowing your fall. Now feel yourself floating down gently as the ground gets closer and closer. That is called being associated.
Note that the scene was the same for both experiences—you were jumping out of an airplane. Yet the images, both of which were imagined, were quite different.
We live most of our lives in an associated state. As a result, everything seems real. Our feelings seem real. Our beliefs seem like reality. Yet that is the case simply because we seem to be part of it. What we are thinking seems to be all there is.
As soon as you assume another position—dissociated—your experience changes dramatically. Your thoughts are different. Your experiences are different. Yet is this dissociated experience any more or less real? It’s neither; it’s just another experience.
This quality of assuming other perspectives, especially this dissociated perspective, is common to many great people in many fields. Einstein is just one example. Great quarterbacks have claimed to have the perspective of being above the entire football field (even while they are playing) so that they can see the entire field in a detached manner.
Imagine the perspective that would bring for anyone who could do it.
Michael Jordan claimed to be able to imagine floating over the basketball court and from that perspective being able to see everything that was going on. Perhaps that explains why he seemed to know where everyone was on the court. Again, think of the advantage such a skill would give you.
I did two interviews with the former fund manager Tom Basso some years ago. Jack Schwager interviewed him in The New Market Wizards and gave him the nickname “Mr. Serenity.” In my interview with Tom, he revealed that his ability to dissociate was one of the secrets of his success. Here’s a little of what he said:
In situations in which I felt I needed improvement or in which I wanted to improve my interactions with other people, I would just play key events back in my head—figuring out how others had handled the situation… I’ve always thought of it as some Tom Basso up in the corner of the room watching Tom Basso here talking to you in this room. The funny thing about this secondary observer was that as time went on, I found the observer showing up a lot more. It wasn’t just at the end of the day anymore. As I got into stressful situations, as I started trading, doing more interacting with a lot of people, getting our business off the ground, dealing with clients, and so on, I found that this observer was there to help me through it. If I felt awkward or uneasy, then I was able to watch myself do it. Now, I have this observer there all the time.—Excerpt, Course Update #9
A fundamental presupposition of NLP is that if one person can do something, everyone else can do it too. Since being able to move to another perceptual position is one of the critical aspects of genius and greatness, it’s important to start practicing it.
Here’s an exercise. At the end of the day, replay the day in your mind, especially critical junctures in the day. Do it from a disassociated point of view in that you watch yourself going through the day. Once you’ve completed the exercise, write down what you notice about yourself.
How can you apply this to your trading? Here is a simple exercise for when you feel that you are not trading well. Simply stand up, walk to a different part of the room and imagine observing yourself trading in that moment. Notice what you looked like sitting there in the state you were just in. What did you do with your body? How did you hold yourself? What did your face look like? What was your breathing like?
After you’ve observed all those things, notice how you feel now as the observer. You are no longer in that body in the chair. Instead, you are watching yourself from a dissociated perspective. All the previous feelings and emotions should be gone. If they are not, make sure you are watching yourself.
Now ask yourself some questions: What resources do I need to be able to handle this situation like a Super Trader? Do I need confidence? Do I need the courage to get out? Do I need some perspective? If I had those resources, how would I look sitting in that chair?
Next, see yourself sitting over there full of those resources and notice how different the situation becomes when you bring those resources to the table. Chances are that things are quite different.
Now we’ll find out the real power of this exercise. Actually go and sit down in your chair (become associated again) bringing with you the new resources. Become how you just imagined yourself being. Now, what is that like? Chances are that you have an entirely different perspective on the situation and that you are performing at a totally different level.
That’s the power of dissociation. Practice this technique at least once a day for the next week. The more you do it, the easier it will become.
Excerpted from Super Trader, 2nd Edition, (New York, McGraw Hill, 2011) .65

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top