Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Can I Trade for a Living? The Quest for Trading Success

A reader who has tried for years, without success, to trade for a living consulted with a trading coach. After reading one of my articles, the reader is now questioning the coach's advice. The reader asks:

"Am I deluding myself by following his assertion that successful trading is predominantly based on mindset--and that this is the key--this is all that has been missing from my previous trading ventures? I have spent years and thousands of $'s trying to educate myself as to trading systems, books, and methods. I thought that all I really needed to do was find a trading method that suited me - (my psychological makeup), something I could follow with a degree of self-confidence...Is there any hope that this might become a possibility?"

My heart goes out to those who struggle with trading, and I cannot express the depth of my contempt for "coaches" who pander to those hopes with psychological snake oil.

Let's try an experiment: Read the first two paragraphs of this post again, but this time substitute the words "play chess" for trade and "chess playing" for trading. Now read the paragraphs again and substitute the words "play golf" for trade and "golf playing" for trading. Do it yet again, imagining that our writer is an aspiring Broadway star, and substitute the words "act" and "acting".

Of course, the re-readings sound ludicrous: we know that there is far more to success in chess, golf, and acting than "mindset" and prefab "systems, books, and methods". The missing element? Skill development. Training. A systematic program of learning that emphasizes pattern recognition, an understanding of market movement across time frames, intermarket relationships, sound execution of trade ideas, and risk management.

Mindset is critical in sustaining motivation, interest, and focus during the learning curve, and mindset is crucial in the consistent application of one's skills. The wrong frame of mind and emotional/cognitive/physical state can disrupt the best of skills, but the best of mental outlooks cannot substitute for developed skills. No positive mindframe and "method that suited me" can provide competencies--in any performance field.

So is there hope for our reader? As long as he is searching for a perfectly harmonious method that he can "follow with a degree of self-confidence", he won't be immersed in a learning curve and won't succeed as a discretionary trader. His best bet is to shop for an actual trading system that has been adequately developed and backtested and have it executed mechanically by a participating broker.

Alternatively, he could start from the ground up with observing markets and patterns, testing out trading ideas and skills in simulation mode, and making note of the markets, time frames, and patterns that come most easily and provide the greatest interest, as outlined in my trader performance book. Observing experienced traders apply their skills in online trading rooms or joining a proprietary trading firm that features sound training can also be worthwhile toward this end.

Most of all, our reader should find coaches and mentors that are more interested in guiding a career than making a sale. There are good ones out there that will shoot straight; note, for example, John Forman's recent series of questions that he answers for developing traders and the sophisticated observations of Ray Barros re: emotions and trading.

The bottom line is that the answer to successful trading cannot be found in any coach, book, or system. Success is something that is cultivated over time, with directed effort. There is hope for our reader if he can identify his strengths and systematically learn to apply them to markets that capture his interest and motivation.