Following your gut to win a mind game
Financial Times; Aug 09, 2002
Investors who have expressed regrets about
past decisions by saying "I had a feeling I shouldn't have
done that" may be interested in a technique that separates
body twinges that don't say much from physical feelings one should
act on. The technique, which identifies these distinct bodily sensations
and puts them into words, has been adopted by many psychologists
The technique, termed Focusing, was developed by
Eugene Gendlin, a philosopher at the University of Chicago who was
the first non-psychologist to receive an outstanding psychologist
award from the American Psychological Association in 1970 for his
Very early in his career Mr Gendlin wondered why
psychotherapy was helpful for some people, but not others.
He discovered that all the people helped by psychotherapy
had vague, body-felt senses about their problems. He further found
that paying attention to these gut feelings in specific ways was
a key component of successful psychological change.
"I first encountered Focusing at a lecture
given by Gendlin in 1976," says Joan Klagsbrun, a practising
psychologist in Watertown, Massachusetts.
By the lecture's end, she concluded that Mr Gendlin
had figured out how people could identify and name what he called
"felt senses" to effect behavioural changes.
"I have used it in my practice for the
last 25 years," she says.
Focusing is now a psychotherapeutic tool known all
over the world. Described in Mr Gendlin's book Focusing, the technique
is learned easily. "There are six steps to identifying a felt
sense in one's body," Mr Gendlin says. And Focusing can be
applied to any human endeavour in which thinking is involved, including
One of Mr Gendlin's collaborators, Flavia Cymbalista,
who earned a doctorate in financial economics from the Berlin Free
University in 1997, now teaches Focusing to traders and investors
in New York. Described in greater detail on www.marketfocusing.com,
the technique does not clear away all uncertainties but it does
quantify feelings, which leads to new questions.
"Many people making investment decisions
experience bodily twinges they would investigate if they knew how,"
Ms Cymbalista says.
Last spring, virtually all investors were concerned
about what stocks might do next. Take the case of WorldCom, which
had reached highs of $60 a share in 1999 but fell to $16 to $20
a share in 2001. In 2002, the stock fell to low of 5 cents a share,
then ceased trading late last month.
Almost anyone who bought WorldCom in 2001 because
it seemed cheap relative to its earlier highs would have felt some
twinge of concern.
Could Focusing have kept investors from buying WorldCom
last year? "Perhaps not, but using Focusing, these investors
could have identified any of their misgivings and put them into
words," Ms Cymbalista says.
The first step is clearing your mind of concerns
using a rudimentary exercise. "If any concerns intrude when
doing this, you stand back, putting a space between you and these
concerns as they come up," Ms Cymbalista explains.
The second step is to select an intruding concern
but continue to stand back from it. The third step is to name this
concern. "Let a descriptive word, phrase or image come up from
the bodily-felt sense itself," Ms Cymbalista recommends, "until
you find something that fits this concern all but perfectly."
The fourth step is to compare your felt sense with
this word or phrase to see if the gut feeling and the word resonate
with or match each other. You do this by noting changes in your
body, which might include twinges in the stomach, chest or hands.
Any change from the state achieved in step one counts.
The fifth step is asking what is causing this twinge.
"An accurate answer brings another shift or a slight change
somewhere in your body," Ms Cymbalista says.
The last step is to accept these bodily shifts willingly
because they might have led to new questions about WorldCom. The
new questions suggest you compare the company's debt with that of
similar companies or ask an analyst about the communications sector
as a whole.
"As you articulate these felt senses,
you separate them from emotions that often interfere with rational
decision-making," says Ms Cymbalista. Focusing should clear
one's thinking about investments, which, in turn, should improve
Most of us ignore "felt senses" because
we cannot easily express them using language. Focusing lays open
these gut reactions to specific descriptions not previously enunciated.
Because investment success represents survival in
an indifferent or hostile financial world, any strategy or tool
that can help achieve this success is worth investigating. firstname.lastname@example.org