Traditionally trading psychology advice regarding giving money back has focused on being disciplined and staying focused. Yet traders of all stripes complain to me that while they intend to be disciplined and to stay focused, they find themselves in trades they didn’t intend.

It’s almost like (they say) someone else was in their body making these trades. It can happen after a great morning, after a good run or often right before the end of the day, week or month when a monetary goal is in sight. Something or “someone” puts the trader on a different track.

Massive frustration ensues. The trader had worked hard to make money. They had done many things rights and then seemingly almost out of nowhere, that work and its profits had vanished.

In reality, the problem lies with the psychological advice. Discipline and focus are not states you just invoke with the snap of a finger. They are the end-result of understanding and/or creating certain mental states. Many attempt this creation through the intellect and with tools like visualization. Yet, for many traders, these tools don’t really do much. (A second problem occurs at that point when the trader feels bad about themselves because the tools don’t work. These negative feelings tend to exacerbate the “giveback”).

The problem is with the understanding of the challenge and the tools. Background affect – or what the average trader would call feelings – plays an outsized role. This is the way the brain is built. As Colin Camerer and his neuroeconomic, game theoretic colleagues said in their meta-analysis, “it is not enough to know what should be done, one must also feel it“.

Conversely, if one is feeling something, it is likely the person will “do” that feeling. But alas, it doesn’t have to be that way. One can have and analyze feelings and then make choices about which feelings – experiential learning or impulse – to act on. Doing this kind of analytical work. Learning to know and interpret feelings is the key to keeping money.

Begin with vowing to know your ambient (from other situations) feelings, your trading feelings (like fear of missing out) and your fractal feelings (expectations and explanations you carry that emerged while you were growing up). Each set can exacerbate or even create a “giveback”. Research is now showing that recognizing and verbalizing all feelings is the way to NOT act on any particular one. Most importantly, using a strategy such as this is the path to what in retrospect will look like discipline. That path is decidedly not a purely intellectual one.