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Willpower: It's All In How You Look At It

One of the biggest challenges of novice traders is sticking with their trading plans. Rather than show self-control, many traders abandon trading plans prematurely. There are various factors that may influence traders' abilities to remain disciplined, but one set of factors concerns beliefs and attitudes about willpower.

What are your beliefs about willpower? Do you believe that a person's ability to show self-control is limited or do you believe it's possible to increase your ability to show greater self-control when necessary? In other words, do you believe that willpower is fixed and limited or malleable and unlimited? A recent study by researchers Anirban Mukhopadhyay and Gita Johar (2005) illustrates that beliefs about willpower influence people's ability to follow through on their plans.

Study participants were classified as believing that willpower was either malleable or limited. Participants made plans for achieving a specific goal, and researchers followed them over time to see if they actually stuck with their plans and achieved their goals. Results of the study suggested that people's beliefs about willpower predicted whether or not they stuck with their plans. People who believed that willpower was changeable and unlimited tended to stick with their plans and achieved their goals. People who believed that willpower was something that people were born with, limited, and unchangeable tended to give up on their plans. An interesting aspect of this study concerned people's beliefs in their abilities. People who believed that they had a high level of ability, in that they thought they could easily achieve their goals, tended to stick with their plans until they gained success, regardless of whether they believed that willpower was malleable or fixed. This finding suggests that it doesn't matter what you believe regarding your willpower if the goal you're striving for is easy to achieve.

These findings have a direct bearing on novice traders' ability to stick with their trading plans. Novice traders who believe that their ability to exhibit self-control is limited, and question their general trading ability, will abandon their trading plans. Novice traders who believe that their ability to exhibit willpower is endless will stick with their plans, even though they may question their trading ability. So, if you are a novice trader, it is essential that you monitor your beliefs about your willpower. If you believe that you can't show willpower and self-control, and that it is something you are born with that you can't possibly change, then it will be difficult to stay disciplined.

Although it may be difficult to maintain discipline, it may be easier than you think it is. If you can change your beliefs about your ability to stay disciplined, you'll increase your odds of sticking with your trading plan. Don't underestimate your ability to stay disciplined. You can stay disciplined if you try, and when you stay disciplined, you'll trade decisively and profitably.