Meditation 101 - What It Is, What It's Not, and Why Traders Should Care

Meditation 101 - What It Is, What It's Not, and Why Traders Should Care

Meditation. Maybe you’ve heard a little about it, you saw characters on Billions do it, or read about Ray Dalio and want to learn more. Maybe you’ve meditated before and enjoyed it but stalled out. Or you think its crap and would never meditate, so you’re reading this to find holes in the subject and bore in. Whatever it is, you’re here.

Why would meditating be good for you, a day trader?

Having spoken to plenty of traders – friends, family, acquaintances - and surrounded by innumerable successful business leaders, I am confident it can help you. At the very least, meditation is a tool to manage stress, and control your reactions to stressful situations.

As a trader, you have to truly know your strengths, weaknesses, biases, and habits. That entails looking inward, observing, listening, and releasing the causes of those. You have to be aware of your emotions as they arise to circumstances.

I’m not an expert on trading. I’m an “expert” on meditation*. I can’t be 100% sure that meditating will help traders make better trades, but I would certainly bet that it does.

You have to know you have true conviction in your decisions to trade, which is rooted in self-awareness. You have to be calm and have a clear mind to make those decisions. And you have to be able to maintain emotional detachment from large swings in a trade. Your concentration and focus is heightened all day. Just like our bodies need a rest, your mind needs a rest too. Meditation gives you that rest, and you can be calmer, focused and productive, in trading, or in your relationships or just everyday life (important too!).

Trading Meditation

A continuous meditation practice requires and creates discipline – yes, you meditated yet again, and that catalyzes discipline in other aspects of your life. You need that for trading and, maybe better, knowing when not to trade!

As I like to say to ambitious, successful folks like yourself, meditation does not take away your edge; it sharpens it.

Let’s back up a moment, and define what meditation is.

Here’s the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition:

A practice where an individual uses a technique, such as focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity, to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.

That seems about right, but, in my opinion, it’s slightly misleading. Meditation, in my words, is:

A mental and physical practice of concentrating awareness on a point to still the chaos and undulations of the mind.

You don’t achieve anything, you don’t really focus on a thought; on the contrary, you observe your thoughts, release them, and return your awareness to a focal point, most often your breath.

Well, when would be the best time to start or at least try?  Now is as good time as any. And right now is good timing, because the holidays may be the best time, like starting  a business right before a recession and making it out the other side.

It’s almost cliché: life gets crazier and more stressful during the holiday season. End of the year market moves, family, money, travel, food & drink - these heightened demands all at the same time definitely bear down on us. The season is the perfect time to punch someone around us, or to find a way to deal with the stress in a healthy, harmless way, take it on face-first and come out feeling calm and in control.  Anyway, there’s no other time than now, which you’ll understand better the more you meditate.

Thought Observation

Stress is the first concern. What about being more focused trading and more understanding in relationships? What about a focused, calm mind where you can detach emotionally from important decisions, so you make better decisions? What’s an action can you take?

Well… one in particular, which is essentially, the opposite of action. Meditate. Sit there and do nothing but breathe and observe your thoughts.

I’ll be honest, as I write, it’s a slight challenge for me to remember what it’s like to lead a life without meditation. I’ve been meditating (nearly) every day for over ten years. Not EVERY day, to be sure, but it’s rare that I don’t sit in the morning. Needless to say, I’m not a “beginner”, (though I do re-start every morning) so what do I say that will resonate with you, as you’re getting started?

For those of you who are already done with reading about meditation, but want to know more, and want to cut to the chase to getting started, there’s a YouTube audio blog that includes a first guided meditation, and instructions, and with explanation as to how long and how often.

You can always come back here and read more details.

What Meditation Is

Meditation is the act and practice of focusing your awareness on the present moment. It effectively can take place anytime and begins with just a single intentional breath. At its most basic, meditation effectively reduces stress. Practiced with consistency and over time, you build mental resolve, and deeper calm.

Specific benefits of meditation have been shown to include:

Benefits of Meditation

When you practice seated meditation, sitting still and quietly, focusing your awareness on your breath, you observe your thoughts. Using the breath as an anchor to concentrate on, you cease deliberating on those thoughts and release them. Your focused breathing increases awareness which leads to quiet, calmness, and non-judgement. The practice improves and increases awareness of the present throughout the waking day. Over time, meditation cultivates self-awareness, discipline, perseverance, and creativity.

Meditation, and bringing concentrated awareness to your breath and thoughts at any moment (mindfulness), allows you to recognize emotions as they arise, and keep those, like anger and jealousy, which lead to poor decisions, under control. When life is hectic, messy, and most stressful, meditation allows you to stay calm, and focused.

Meditation can, and often does, lead to transformation. As your meditation practice becomes more regular and enjoyable, you observe your thoughts in greater detail, begin to recognize negative habits and patterns, let those go, and begin to discover a more compelling and effective self.

Meditate regularly with consistency and you will experience:

  • Reduction of stress
  • Mental clarity and acuity
  • Recognition & understanding of perspectives of those you interact with.
  • An increased ability to remain calm amidst turmoil
  • Emotional detachment from turbulent events
  • Increased creativity
  • Better positive decisions

What Meditation is Not

I don’t know what you’ve heard about meditation but let me explain what meditation is not.

Meditation is not relaxing (verb) as we generally understand relaxing. Meditation is not sitting at a pool with a cocktail laughing with friends and ignoring work (though this sounds beneficial to your mental health too!). Meditation is not laying on your bed, listening to music, flipping through a magazine (though this sounds beneficial to your health too!). Meditation is not running, swimming, or lifting weights and getting into the “Zone.” (although there can be elements of heightened awareness therein, which is meditative).

Meditation is not about New Age spirituality of “opening up to the Universe” (unless you want it to, but that’s up to you).

meditation myths

Meditating is relaxing (adjective) though. You will feel more at ease and calmer, immediately afterward, and in general overall, as your practice takes root.

Meditating IS bringing awareness to the present moment, releasing thoughts of the past and future, whether seated or at any point of slowing and quieting down, throughout the day. If you are doing that, it is meditation. If you’re not doing that, it’s not meditation.

How to Get Started Meditating

There are all sorts of ways to start meditating but starting doesn’t just mean doing it once or twice and stopping. It means doing it once or twice, then keep doing it.

You can find a class near you, maybe at a yoga studio, or perhaps a community center or library. You’ll find one. Another good way to get started is to go to a blog you trust, respect, and enjoy, read a post on meditation, and take some instructions to heart.

Start right after finishing reading this post and listen to the video. Or start right now.  Start with six minutes and may be that’s all you do for life, but really, it only takes six minutes. 

Start meditating like this:

  1. Sit cross legged on a block, pillow, or cushion. Or sit in a chair (not too cushy), with your feet on the ground. Lengthen your spine, the top of your head drawn upward. Put your hands on your thighs, face up or down, or in your lap. Gently close your eyes, close your mouth, relax your jaw, and drop your tongue off the roof of your mouth.
  2. Set a timer for six or seven minutes. Not five. Not ten. You’re just starting but challenge yourself a bit. After all, you are up for the challenge of trading equities and options.
  3. Sit there, start the timer, close your eyes, breath slowly, concentrate your awareness on your breathing, open your eyes several minutes later.

meditation process

There are different ways to do this:

  1. Count from one to ten, each inhale and exhale is one, two, etc.; start over after 10
  2. Mentally repeat something over and over and when your thoughts start to distract you, go back to that saying (“inhaling, I am calm, exhaling, I am focused”)
  3. Just breathe.

Do it again tomorrow or the next day.

Is beginning to meditate difficult? Watch what happens if you tell a four-year-old to sit still and close his eyes and concentrate on his breathing. And for six minutes. You’re that four-year-old, plus thirty (or forty, or twenty, or whatever) more years of running around, chasing, mental distractions, emotions, successes, stumbles, fears, etcetera, etcetera.

It’s not easy. But meditation is not complicated, and you’re not a four-year-old. You at least have a level of self-awareness that desires to learn more about meditation.

Video Explanation & Walkthrough

I made the following video to explain this post further and walk you through your first meditation session.

Additional Tips to Make the Most of Meditation

Don’t beat yourself up if you “can’t do it.” Keep trying. Keep trying. “They” say that calming and stilling the mind is like training a puppy to sit. It’s not going to happen in the first week or month, but you have to keep teaching the puppy to sit, you don’t give up. Lo and behold, the dog sits when you tell it to.

Different ‘Styles’ of Meditation

There are all sorts of types (or styles, traditions) of meditation. This isn’t the right place to get into all the details of the “kinds.” You can find out more on your own; here are links to the more “well-known” traditions:

I definitely wouldn’t say that one has more benefits than any other, they’re just different traditions. I like to think of meditation like music: there are countless styles, backgrounds, traditions, and instruments, but it’s all music. You find what resonates with you and go with that. All those styles above, it’s all meditation. Which one will be best for you? That’s for you to find out.

But be wary of any teacher or tradition that says, “this is the only way, you must follow me and my way.” So, let me state, I don’t have all the answers about meditation, and go out and find what works best for you. You are your best and truest teacher.

Frequent Questions/Statements & My Response

Will meditation really help me or is it bullshit?

It will help you, especially if you practice regularly with a level of discipline. At least, it does for me, and has made everything I (and millions of others, both important and not so important) say, happen.

Let’s reverse roles. How do you know your trade will make you money? You don’t, until to enter it and let it play. You have an idea, you have what you think is evidence to support your idea, you have conviction, you’re using the tools that make a trader a great trader, and you’re listening to people who have done what you want to do. So you decide to make the trade. How do you know if your trade will work unless you do it? You can’t. Same with meditation. I can only tell you about it, give you instruction and guidance, you can read this, and research more. Meditation will only help you when you do it, and it will help you however you want it to. As you will learn the more you meditate, the more you understand that reality begins in our minds, and every circumstance is colored by our perception.

“My mind is too all over the place to meditate, it wouldn’t work for me.”

Guess what, I’m the same way, which is why I’ve been meditating for over ten years, and I still do it every day. You are exactly who meditation is good for. Nearly everyone’s mind is all over the place, and they have a ton going on, and they’re trying to keep it all straight. You know what you might benefit from? A calm, clear, strong mind, that doesn’t react to every distraction, and can stay focused during turmoil. Want to know how to build that? Meditate.

“Do I have to meditate in the morning, or at the same time every day?”

No and no. I meditate as soon as I wake up (feet planted, bathroom, water, stretch out a bit, meditation cushion) because that’s what works for me. I like starting my day calm, focused and energetic. But it’s good and helpful any time of the day. Sometimes, during a very stressful, fearful, day, I’ll find ten minutes to sit and breath sitting in a chair. Before bed can be amazing too, especially if you have a difficult time falling or staying asleep.

“I tried meditating. My mind was all over the place, it was really difficult, I’m just not the type to meditate, so I stopped.”

Really? No kidding. Keep trying. Start over. Did you ever fall off a bike? Get back on.

“How long should I meditate for? How often?

To start, set a timer for six minutes. Not five. Add just a little challenge to the obvious, but don’t force ten or 15 just to say you can. The point is to build upon this and build consistency (like consistently making good, smart trades, I suppose). Even though meditation is rest for your mind, you’re actually strengthening it - just like any muscle that actually is growing during recover. So consider getting started meditating like getting started exercising after being really out of shape. Six minutes at a time, three days a week. For a month. Then build from there, both in frequency and duration. Eight minutes. Then ten. Three times a week, then four. Then five. Then ten days in a row. You get the idea. This could take a year. Just don’t quit completely. Keep going.

“I like to meditate, but when I sit, I space out and my mind wanders.”

Yep. You’re doing it just fine. Return your awareness to your inhale and exhale, observe your thoughts flowing, and when you get caught on them, release them, return awareness to your breath. You’re building awareness of the present moment, which strengthens upon itself. You’re training your mind and building awareness of the root of your thoughts.

Should I follow a teacher or group?

It’s like anything you do for yourself that’s new, that is a skill and technique. A teacher or community can certainly be beneficial, but you should only do what feels right for you. My suggestion is you find an instructor or group that can explain, instruct, and guide you. They can be very helpful, for a beginner to long-time practitioner (there is no expert*) and it’s nice having a group to support you through the experience for insight, guidance, commiseration, etc. (similar to, say, Investors Underground). I got my start through meditation classes at yoga studios and a zen temple. I now teach privately and semi-privately, but there all sorts of groups and resources you can find, which is easy to do.

But as I said above, be wary of any teacher or tradition that says, “this is the only way, you must only follow me and my way.” Back away, don’t give up on meditation, silently wish that “teacher” well, and find something else. Or don’t. Find the teacher or group that feels right for you.

Additional Reading

https://hbr.org/2015/12/how-meditation-benefits-ceos

https://www.insead.edu/news/2014-insead-wharton-meditation

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11942320/Mindfulness-backlash-Meditation-bad-for-your-health.html

About Jonathan Leuchs

Jonathan LeuchsI am the Founder & CMO (Chief Meditation Officer) of AlphaWave Meditation for Leadership out of New York City.  I am biased: I’m certain that meditating provides numerous benefits to mental and emotional health. I teach a technique and how it pertains to behavior and perspective on living. I am not a MD, psychologist, or therapist. My expertise is cultivating awareness of the present moment and sharing that knowledge and experience in a clear, accessible and enjoyable manner. I enjoy seeing others be their most effective, most resilient, most focused selves. Read more about me HERE (www.alphawavemeditation.co) .

 

alpha wave

 

4 Comments

  1. Val

    Loved this! I am an artist but I am inclined to try meditating. I am sure it can help with my creativity. Thanks

    Reply
  2. Greg

    Good stuff, very informative!

    Reply
  3. Aashish

    Great Jonathan Leuchs. Your attempt is very clear & understandable. I am sure if followed your way, we all can have the benefits of meditation & specially for stock market traders it seems it's a wonder pill.

    Reply

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