How Our Experiences and Expectations Can Wire Our Emotions The Wrong Way?


Do you remember the last time you visited your favourite restaurant? You like it so much that, before you even arrive at the place, you know what you wanted to order and you know what to expect without even looking the menu? As soon as you reach the restaurant, just by seeing/hearing the buzz of the place is enough to put a smile on your face because it reminded you of the experience. At the end of the meal, there is just a sense of satisfaction and contentment inside you.

You can agree with me on the experience, can’t you? 

Well, that is precisely how your mind works. With sufficient experiences (assuming you visit your favourite restaurant regularly), you will have the right expectations. With the expectations being met, that wires your emotions to feel satisfied and content. 

With that, I hope to break down and share the relationship between (1) having the experience and knowing what to expect from the experience. Then the relationship between (2) knowing what to expect and having feelings and emotions that are generated from those expectations. More importantly, I hope to illustrate this important relationship in the trading career.

Shaping The Expectations

Experience Expectations and EmotionsEvery individual becomes who and what they are now because of their personal history and experiences. Those histories and experiences are the source of a trader’s beliefs, values, assumptions, and, to a certain extent, their biological sensory systems (common biological sensory systems include vision, auditory (hearing), kinaesthetic (feeling), gustatory (taste), olfaction (smell)).

As you would realise, as you build those experiences (in any specific areas), your beliefs, values, assumptions and sensories (towards that experience) will increase as well. You might feel anxious or excited initially but after repeating the same thing several times, those emotions fade away because you already know what to expect. More often, than not, those expectations are met.

For example, since you have been to your favourite restaurant for a millionth time by now, you strongly believe that restaurant has the friendliest waiter or the tastiest pie. However, you also know that it is worth visiting even if there was the longest wait list ever. But it’s all ok because your value and beliefs know that the food is good enough that you’re fine with the wait.

So here’s the first relationship – like it or not, repeated experiences will shape your expectation.

Your Emotional Driver

Now that those experiences in your favourite restaurant is fully integrated into your unconscious mind, you will often use that experience as a benchmark. While it may occasionally go against you, it is how the human mind works because you are familiar with and it is what makes you comfortable. Does that sound familiar?

Now that your expectations has been installed, let’s flip the story around.

Say you were visiting a completely new restaurant and there is nothing similar about it to other restaurants. As soon as you enter the restaurant you noticed a very long queue or wait list. Using your benchmark, that is quite a normal experience for you. In fact, you automatically assume that its fine and you would equate a long wait to relatively good food – that’s because it’s normal in your favourite restaurant. Unfortunately, as soon as the food arrived, it was not what you had expected. However, just because the food was different, you assumed it was not-as-good.

Here’s the unfortunate truth, even though you’ve never been to that restaurant, you have already set an expectation and once your expectations were not met, you automatically feel unhappy. Some might even get frustrated because they felt like they wasted an hour waiting for a meal that was not worth the wait.

And that is the second relationship – your expectations will consciously or unconsciously drive your emotions.

In the end, the restaurant turned out to be an unforgettable one, not because it was the worst in town, but because it was different from your past experience and that created a below par expectation. Hence, it caused some unfavourable emotions (or feelings).

Apply that To Trading

Ok, enough of food and restaurants. If you think that the bad experience of the new restaurant is not too unusual, then, let’s see what you make out of this.

standoutYou learnt that traders can make a living just by trading the financial market. However, like every conventional job, you try to look for any form of certainty because that is how you benchmark any normal career (though you probably do it unconsciously). You are looking for something you are familiar with and something that makes you feel comfortable. Unfortunately, retail trading is not exactly your usual 9-5 career.

If you can’t get that, you would at least want to see some income after working on trading development for a period of time (whatever that timeline may be). Regrettably, you don’t see it and you don’t know when you’ll get there because you there is no fast and hard rule in trading that shows when someone can start making money. In fact, the harder you work towards the financial rewards, the more you distant yourself from it.

Traders who manage to become successful will probably have no issues with their emotions. That’s mainly because the results are inline with their expectations. The real problem starts for those who are still struggling to see profits. Since their expectations were not met, they started to feel uncomfortable, they get frustrated and/or annoyed. While some decide to stop trading, others move into what we recognise as self-sabotage or they may even inherit certain stress related problems.

Here’s What Went Wrong

As you can see, your past experiences in jobs as well as in live have shaped you expectations and you have created you own world view of trading. You have unconsciously used your past job experiences even though it may not be relevant because you have no relevant experiences to support your trading expectations.

Since those expectations were from the wrong experience to start with, more often than not, they are not met. Once that happens, the second relationship kicks in and your emotions go haywire. For example, you know consciously that you should not expect to win all the time but deep inside you, you secretly expect to see some positive results. Unfortunately, this is how negative emotions are created.


Everyone’s history and experiences are different, which lead to different expectations. With different (or wrong) expectations, your emotions go the wrong way fairly quickly.

With that, the main point that I really want to share today is this – if you truly want to learn to control your emotions, you really need to learn to manage your expectations. In order to work on your expectations, you should disconnect the relationship between your past experiences and your trading expectations. Then, you will, by default, resolve your emotional issues.

Meanwhile, work on getting the correct experiences. Keep trading either on a demo or a small account until you are comfortable and until your emotions fade away. When that happens, you know you are ready.

Thank you for reading and please share your comments below.


  • Frank Page

    October 25, 2013

    After becoming a consistently profitable forex trader myself I would say one has to have strong confidence in their own trading decisions and abilities. I call this having a “strong mental winning attitude:.Once gained this it is absolutely to maintain this attitude at all times, Even when things are going “tits up” which can happen on a regular basis. Doing this has helped me immensely in winning at trading. I know I will win thro if I keep to my plan. The thing is tho that to reach this state requires one to be totally confident in their own abilites. This can only be ever by continued hard work and practise. Once you have total confidence that you are a winner , emotions can be thrown out of the window! You know whatever happens you will ultimately make money.

    • Alwin Ng

      October 25, 2013

      Very well said Frank. Thank you for sharing your experience !!

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