The Benefits of Written Expression

December 10, 2012
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“In a series of important experiments from the 1980s to the 2000s, scientists showed that writing about trauma produced clear immune benefits. Although most of this writing was done in English, the same effect holds for Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Japanese, that is, broadly. In one set of experiments, people were asked to imagine the most traumatic event in their lives. They were then split into two groups – those who spent twenty minutes each day for four consecutive days writing in a private diary about their trauma and those who wrote for twenty minutes each day on superficial topics (for example, what they had done that day). Blood was drawn before the experiment began, after the last day of writing, and six weeks later. Although those writing on their trauma said they felt worse at the end of the writing than those who wrote on innocuous topics, their immune system already showed improvement, which was still detectable six weeks later, at which time they also reported feeling better (than those who had not written about their traumas)…

“One striking effect of writing about recent trauma is not immunological but still important: writing about job loss improves one’s chance of reemployment. This sort of writing appears to be cathartic — people immediately feel better. More striking, at least in one study, is a sharply increased chance of getting a new job. After six months, 53 percent of writers had found a new job, compared with only 18 percent of nonwriters. One effect of writing is that it helps you work through your anger so it is not displaced onto a new, prospective employer or, indeed, revealed to the employer in any form…”

- Robert Trivers, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life

JS Comment:

The body’s immune system is incredibly expensive (in terms of energy consumed to fend off bacteria and parasites). One of the key reasons we need sleep, as evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers reports, is to give the body time to repair itself and shift load-balanced resources to the immune system (along with brain-based sleep functions like memory consolidation).

Trivers further reports that self deceit and self suppression both have surprising costs. In other words, if you lie to yourself or bottle up a harsh experience and don’t talk about it, there is a measurable negative impact on health.

This is relevant to trading because, as all traders know, markets deliver unsettling experiences from time to time. Writing about these experiences — expressing one’s self in a journal, even if only briefly — is a form of psychological release for body and mind.

There were already extensive benefits to writing about (journalizing) one’s trading experiences for the sake of objective improvement (what’s measured gets managed, what’s managed gets better). This is yet another reason to do it…

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