The agony of waiting

We hate waiting. We hate waiting for the train. We hate waiting at the DMV. We hate waiting for a trade to come around.

Alex Stone in the New York Times recently had an interesting article up on the psychology of waiting in line. He notes how Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in line and how it exacts a psychological toll on all of us. Traders are in a very real sense waiting in line for trades that meet their criteria for valid setups. It should not be surprising then that traders have a tendency to jump the gun looking for things to do to relieve the stress of waiting for viable trades. Stone writes why it is we as consumers are vulnerable to distractions from our waits:

The drudgery of unoccupied time also accounts in large measure for the popularity of impulse-buy items, which earn supermarkets about $5.5 billion annually. The tabloids and packs of gum offer relief from the agony of waiting.

Our expectations further affect how we feel about lines. Uncertainty magnifies the stress of waiting, while feedback in the form of expected wait times and explanations for delays improves the tenor of the experience.

Unfortunately traders don’t know what the “expected wait times” will be for their next trade. The ongoing challenge for traders is to avoid impulsive actions that don’t fit with established trading checklists. Brett Steenbarger in a vintage post from TraderFeed walks through an example of how he was jumping ahead of certain trades and paying the price for them. He was able to turn things around but he notes how even experienced traders are still a work in progress.

It is a bit of cliche to say that traders need have patience and discipline. A better understanding of the psychology of waiting can help keep traders a bit more grounded while they wait for better opportunities down the road. As for your wait at the DMV that is a whole other issue entirely.

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  • Tadas ViskantaAbnormal Returns has over its seven-year life become a fixture in the financial blogosphere. Over thousands of posts we have striven to bring the best of the financial blogosphere to readers. In that time the idea of a “forecast-free investment blog” remains as useful as it did six years ago. More »

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