Resistance to Issues 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 Tharp’s content is timeless, this article is from our newsletter archive and may contain outdated information, missing links or images.

When Jack Schwager visited Ed Seykota to interview him for his book Market Wizards, Jack found that he was the person being interviewed, not Ed. Jack would start to say things and Ed would indicate how the assumptions behind Jack’s questions revealed his psychological issues. As a result, Jack returned to New York with no interview. Instead, he mailed a set of questions to Ed to answer. Again, Ed turned the questions around to focus on Jack’s issues. However, once they’d done this process about five times, the result was one of the best interviews in Market Wizards.

Ed’s approach is full of danger as a teaching tool. Socrates was well known for turning questions back on people (now called the Socratic method of teaching) and he was sentenced to death. Socrates was poisoned even though he didn’t usually enter into the most dangerous of areas — asking questions about the psychological assumptions behind what people do. Most people don’t want to know their issues. Indeed, they interpret anything designed to get you to look inward as a real threat.

Let me give you an example.

Consider the following exchange with a trader —

How do I develop a system in which can win on at least 60% of the trades?

Van: Why do you seem to have a fascination with being right?

What do you mean? I just asked a reasonable question can’t you answer it.

Van: What if you could make money being right 40% of the time? Would that be acceptable?

You’re not answering my question. I want to know how to develop a system that’s designed to be right 60% of the time. But I will answer the last question—no I want to win 60% of the time or better.

Van: I was looking at the assumption under your question. You seem to have a strong need to be right. You’d probably be a much better trader if you didn’t have that need. What would happen if you were wrong? How would you feel if you were wrong?

How can I learn anything? Why are you asking all of these silly questions? I’m not interested in being wrong, I’m interested in being right. Understood? You want to turn everything into a psychological issue. Not everything is psychological. It’s really hard to learn anything from you when you are always throwing out all of this psychological stuff. Can’t you just answer a simple question?

That trader provides an example of resistance to the issue and the exchange doesn’t go anywhere. But what if the conversation went a little differently?

How do I develop a system in which can win on at least 60% of the trades?

Van: You seem to have a fascination with being right?

Well, I do like to be right, naturally, doesn’t everybody?

Van: Why do you want to be right?

Well, I’ve always worked to do a good job, to get good grades, and be successful. To accomplish that, you have to be right.

Van: Do you? What if you could be right 20% of the time and make huge profits – just because you cut your losses short and let your profits run? If you had eight 1R losses and two 10 R wins, you’d only be right 20% of the time, but you’d be ahead by 12R…that’s pretty good.

I never thought about it that way.

Van: So what if you just accepted losses when you got them, allowing them to be small losses and let your profits run when you have a good trade? Don’t you think that might be a good idea? And you’ll have trouble doing that if you want to be right all the time. For example, if you had nine 1-R gains and one 10R loss, you’d be right 90% of the time and still lose money.

Again, I never thought about it that way.

Van: So why don’t you just play around with the idea that you can be wrong and still be successful. Being right or wrong is a meaningless invention of your mind. Instead, what if you just developed a good system and practiced following it? A loss has nothing to do with being wrong. Instead, a loss has everything to do with following your system and not making a mistake. Doesn’t that put losses in a different framework?

When you start looking at yourself, you’ll find that there are lots of things that come up for you. You’ll start noticing the patterns that you repeat over and over again. And that’s one of the most valuable lessons you could ever learn.

So, let me ask you a simple question: How do you respond when someone turns what you say into a question about your psychological assumptions? Here are a few more examples to help you observe your reactions:

Q: What do you consider good performance in a system? How does my system compare?

Response: Why haven’t you set objectives? Do you have a need to be the best?

Q: I am considering purchasing a system. Do you have a recommendation for one that works and that allows me to see code?

Response: What you really mean is that you don’t feel comfortable developing your own system. Why not?

Q: Here’s my strategy. What do you think of it?

Response: You appear to need other people’s approval to determine if your strategy is any good. Why? How about testing it and live trading it to see if meets your objectives?


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