Sunday, January 23, 2022

BRETT STEENBARGER'S TRADING PSYCHOLOGY RESOURCE CENTER


Contact For Trading Firms and Media:  steenbab at aol dot com

My Twitter Feed:  @steenbab

RADICAL RENEWAL - Free blog book on trading, psychology, spirituality, and leading a fulfilling life

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The Three Minute Trading Coach Videos

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Forbes Articles:


My coaching work applies evidence-based psychological techniques (see my background and my book on the topic) to the improvement of productivity, quality of life, teamwork, leadership, hiring best practices, and creativity/idea generation.  Trading firms, teams, and portfolio managers interested in performance coaching and help with hiring processes can email me at steenbab at aol dot com.  Please note that my work is limited to trading and investment firms, so I cannot provide online advice or coaching services to individual, independent traders


FURTHER RESOURCES




I wish you the best of luck in your development as a trader and in your personal evolution.  In the end, those are one and the same:  paths to becoming who we already are when we are at our best.

Brett
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Why Am I Losing Money In The Market?

 

I have had a record number of people reach out to me asking for coaching help.  Why?  The majority have developed their trading in a bull market and have learned to buy market dips.  And so they have bought, and bought, and bought--and they have lost a lot of money in the past month.  In my view, this is not a problem of psychology.  It is a problem of not knowing how markets behave under different conditions of volatility, correlation, and monetary/fiscal environment.

As you may have noticed from my recent post, I am quite the optimist and believe in the power of making fresh starts--in life and in markets.  To continue risk taking without knowing what you are doing, however, is not a formula for optimism.  We have to learn from our experience before we can benefit from it.

So let's begin with two basic concepts of financial returns:  the average return over a period of time and the variability of those returns over that same period.  Too often, traders focus on the first and neglect the second.

Here's a current example from my database:

As of Friday's close, we had fewer than 20% of all stocks in the SPX close above their 3, 5, 10, and 20-day moving averages.  That is unusually weak short- and medium-term breadth.  Indeed, since the start of my database in 2006 (approximately 3900 trading days), only 179 days have met those criteria.  In other words, the market is not only broadly oversold, but more oversold than on 95% of all occasions.  Right away, that tells us that this is not just a normal market pullback, but something more extreme.  But of course we only know that if we make the effort or invest the resources to create such a database.  There is certainly no guarantee that the future will mirror the past, but pursuing the future with ignorance of the past is not a winning proposition in any field.

So let's take a look at the 179 occasions when we've been broadly oversold at these intervals and see what the SPX has done afterward.  Sure enough, we find that the market, on average has been up +.75% compared to an average gain of only +.18% for the remainder of all occasions.  Surely, therefore, we are due for a bounce and should be long going into next week!  That is what I've been hearing from traders of late.

If we look a bit deeper, we find that the market rises after such oversold conditions 64% of the time, compared with 60% of the time for the other occasions.  That doesn't look like such a great edge.  When we look at the variability of returns, however, we see that the standard deviation of next five-day returns for the oversold occasions is more than twice that than for the rest of the sample (4.81 vs. 2.32).  What does this mean?  It means that, following such oversold markets, we have had significantly more volatile returns going forward.  So, for example, in August of 2011, we would have made well over 7% over the next five trading days.  In November of 2008, we would have made over 19%; in March of 2020, we would have made over 16%.  But in October of 2008, we would have lost almost 19% over that next five-day period.  In early March of 2020, we would have lost over 13%; in early August of 2011, we would have lost over 13%.  

The important point here is that we have to be aware of the range of possible returns and not just the average return if we are to place intelligent bets.

Suppose I told you that I would make you a bet where you had 80% odds of winning $10,000.  Would you take that bet?  A not-so-smart trader would say, "Sign me up!"  The risk-savvy trader would ask, "What happens the other 20% of the time?".  Well, in this case, the bet is to go to an interstate highway at 2 AM and cross all lanes blindfolded with earplugs.  At that time of the morning, you'd have an 80% chance of reaching the other side free and clear.  The other times, you'd be hit by an oncoming vehicle and either crippled or killed.

Not such a great bet after all.

"We're due for a bounce" is not a substitute for a rational assessment of markets and their possible outcomes.  No amount of trading psychology techniques can substitute for knowing what you're doing when you put capital at risk.  People who tout their "passion for trading" most often need to trade and that leads them to take undue risk.  Far better to have a passion for good bets.  If you know that broadly oversold markets move a lot on average, the smart bet is to shorten your time frame, reduce the volatility of your returns, and find short-term bets that pay well without a scary downside.

Further Reading:


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Friday, January 14, 2022

Making a Fresh Start: Lessons From Molly Ruth

 

Well, it's been about a three-month break from blogging and social media, and I have to say it's been rejuvenating.  In any life activity that is important, there is a time for stepping back, taking a good look at what you're doing, and making a fresh start.  When we make a fresh start, we can make major life changes, because we've broken old patterns and are now ready to build new, positive ones.

Above we can see a picture of our newest rescue cat, Molly Ruth, who is a khao manee, a relatively rare breed of cat.  We found her in a shelter, afraid of people and cowering in a corner.  Her time in our home has been a fresh start for Molly and she has come out of her shell.  We can now play with her, and she has grown fond of the other three cats.  What she needed was new experience:  she needed to be safe and feel safe and just explore her environment.  As that has happened, her personality has blossomed.

Sometimes traders become overwhelmed too, and sometimes they take losses that rock their sense of safety.  Sometimes, after hard work, markets change and it seems as though all their progress has disappeared for good.  It's tempting to push forward and push forward, but often that compounds the problem.  The better strategy is stepping back, finding new edges in markets, and then--like Molly--making a fresh start.

I'll be making a fresh start with this blog, taking advantage of the break, and hope that the new slant will be helpful to traders.  As long as we can make fresh starts, we can always stay fresh--in trading, in relationships, and in our work.  

Further Reading:


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Monday, October 11, 2021

Taking A Break From Blogging And Social Media

 
Thanks for all the interest in TraderFeed, my books, and the Three Minute Trading Coach videos.  There's quite a library of material available there, and a lot more on performance psychology through the Forbes articles and the spirituality of trading, via the online book Radical Renewal.  

I'm working on a big new book project and have decided to focus all my efforts there.  I'll continue to Tweet every so often, but will be taking time off from writing about markets and trading psychology otherwise.  

I appreciate all the support and look forward to very interesting markets going forward!

Brett

Monday, October 04, 2021

Stages In A Trader's Development

 
A beginning trader starts with eagerness and passion and focuses on winning.  The beginner's great fear is to miss opportunity and so the beginner overtrades and eventually takes significant losses.  Many traders never move beyond this stage.

With experience, the beginning trader recognizes that the goal is not simply making money, but making more money on winning trades than losing ones.  Instead of focusing solely on winning, the more experienced trader also focuses on not losing and containing risk.  The goal is thus consistency of trading and profitability and, above all, staying in the game.  This is when the beginning trader becomes a good trader.

Now, however, the good trader faces a new stage of development:  growing that consistency of trading.  The good trader grows laterally, expanding their expertise and skills and finding a broader range of opportunity.  The good trader also develops depth in their trading, finding superior ways to manage positions and their ever-evolving risk/reward.  The good trader becomes a great trader by exercising skills and experience in different market environments and finding a balance between assertively seeking opportunity and mindfully managing risk.

Good traders become better and better at playing the game.  Great traders find new and promising games to play.  

I recently spent an intensive period of time studying the stock market on a daily basis from 2014 to present.  I tracked cycles in a new way and explored ways of taking best advantage of phases of those cycles.  Instead of regularity of time, I looked for regularity of structure in defining the cycles.  That has led to new trade ideas.  Early days, early days.  But we always have the power to innovate and develop what is good into what is great.

Further Reading:

Trading Psychology 2.0 and the role of creativity in our development as traders

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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Trading With Clarity

 

It has become clear to me that clarity underlies my best trading.

If I sit and sit and watch and watch and process and process what the market is doing, eventually it will become clear what is going on.  I can see that sellers are active and cannot push price lower; I can see that fresh market participants have entered the market at price levels making it unlikely we will return to those prices.  I can see a rotational trade between market sectors; I can see when volume and volatility are so low that sustained directional moves are unlikely.

It isn't just patience; it's immersing myself in the market information I understand and letting the market tell its story.  It's the same thing I do as a psychologist.  When I first meet a person, I have no clue what they're going through, so I listen and listen and ask questions and eventually clarity hits.  Success as a psychologist requires comfort with that initial cluelessness.  

For the curious, there is joy in discovery.  For the incurious, there are confirmation biases and attempts to impose "conviction" on markets.  Clarity allows ideas to come to us.  No ego-based needs to project our views onto markets can yield clarity or understanding.  It wouldn't work for me as a psychologist and, for the same reason, it fails in trading.

Further Resources:

How We Can Improve Our Access To Intuition

Awareness and Acceptance in Trading

Three Minute Trading Coach Video:  Creating Purpose In Our Trading

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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Two Great Questions To Ask During A Trade

 
What we think about before we put on a trade helps determine our mindset during the life of the trade.  When I am trading well, my thinking before the trade focuses on two topics:

1)  What will tell me the trade is wrong?  - Knowing *exactly* what will tell me I'm wrong and where I would exit is essential to sound risk management of the position.  I am constantly updating my views on what would tell me I'm wrong.  For example, on Friday I put on a trade where I bought the ES futures early in the morning and the position quickly went in my favor.  I immediately told myself that, if I'm right, we should not see a reversal to the prior low.  We did indeed reverse and I got out with a small loss.  That experience helped me see that the market could not sustain buying and was one of the data points that got me into a nicely profitable short position a little later.  Because I am mentally rehearsing being wrong, I am accepting the possibility of loss and taking the psychological threat out of that possibility.  My best trading is not with confidence and optimism.  My best trading is with open-mindedness to the possibility of being wrong. 

2)  What will tell me the trade is working out? - If I'm trading well, I am open to the intuition that this trade is working.  Perhaps I see volume coming into my direction; perhaps I'm seeing a move triggered by a catalyst; perhaps I'm seeing a breakout of a key level.  At some point, I get the sense, "This is working".  My best trading occurs when I'm prepared for that possibility and can add to the trade, particularly when I've identified the trade as a medium-term opportunity.  In Friday's trade, we broke to new lows in the NYSE TICK, which told me fresh institutional selling  was coming into the market.  Using the next bounce in TICK to add to the position helped me make the most of the opportunity.

The combination of knowing where you're wrong and identifying when you're right allows you to keep losses small and maximize gains.  Notice that both questions keep a trader market-focused and not focused on previous wins, losses, P/L, fear of missing, etc.  The right trading psychology is not positive or negative; it's focused.

Further Reading:



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Sunday, September 12, 2021

A Different Way Of Viewing Your Trading Problems

 
Think about the important relationships in your life.

What are the greatest challenges and problems you experience in your relationships?  What are your greatest weaknesses in your relationships?

Those are what you will repeat in your relationships with markets, and those are what will undermine your success.

What are your greatest relationship strengths and your most fulfilling relationship experiences?

Those are what will show up in your relationships with markets, and those are what will underpin your success.

Great things come from loving relationships; problems in relationships occur when we place our own egos and needs ahead of our love for our partners.  

Ayn Rand pointed out that, before we can say "I love you", we have to be able to have an "I".  No relationship can provide self-esteem where it is lacking in ourselves.

How would you trade if you had loving relationships with markets?  

How would you trade if you expected relationships to provide you with your self-esteem?

How well would your relationships work out if you approached them the way you approach markets?

Knowledge is necessary for trading success, but it's wisdom that unlocks that knowledge.  Love is the key that unlocks.

Further Reading:

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Monday, September 06, 2021

How We Can Improve Our Access To Intuition

 

The heart of discretionary trading is pattern recognition.  Some traders track patterns in fundamental data; some follow price and volume behavior; some attempt to quantify patterns in sentiment and breadth data; some focus on patterns that follow events, such as earnings releases.  When we have experienced many examples of patterns, we internalize them and develop a "feel" for their occurrence.  It is that feel that we call intuition.

In the Radical Renewal blog book, I raise the issue of how our egos impact our trading.  What is ego?  It is our self-talk.  Whenever we focus on hopes, fears, frustrations, and needs, we end up talking to our selves about ourselves.  Such self-talk can be useful in planning and thinking through issues.  We need our egos to navigate the world and accomplish things.

The problem occurs when our self-talk becomes so loud that it drowns out our intuition, our feel for patterns.  There is no way we can be sensitive to patterns in what a market is doing if we're raging to ourselves about the need to make money, the fear of losing, or the fear of missing out.  If intuition is the whisper of the soul, self-talk is the shout of the ego.  Often, we lose our feel for what we're doing as we become most self-focused.  This happens in all areas of life, not just trading.  

Many self-help and coaching techniques simply substitute one kind of self-talk for another.  Filling our minds with positive talk might feel better than burying ourselves in worries, but both lead to clutter that drowns out the whisper of intuition.  What we need is a quiet and open mind so that we can amplify the whisper into a clear and consistent voice.  This is why many traders find meditation helpful:  in controlling and quieting the body, we can focus the mind and let patterns speak to us. 

One exercise that I have found remarkably effective in quieting the mind and improving access to intuitive knowing is simply to take a brisk walk very early in the morning.  The streets where I live are completely quiet and the air is often cool and refreshing.  During the walk, I focus my attention on all that I see and look for the beauty in my surroundings:  an attractive house, colorful flowers, a cute squirrel, the morning sky.  My mindset is one of appreciation and gratitude, focusing on all that I am privileged to be surrounded by.  I don't think about my work and the day ahead; I don't think about what happened the day before.  The mindset is entirely focused on the present.

Think about how many trading problems occur because we are not simply present in the present.  We are caught up in what just happened and we become focused on what might happen.  We talk, talk, talk to ourselves and never reach the quiet state where we can simply listen.  We become masters of intuition when we can operate continuously with a focused, open mind.  This is a strength that can be exercised and developed:  the simplest walk can help us turn the soul's whisper into a reliable voice. 

Further Reading:


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Monday, August 30, 2021

Two Hallmarks Of Quality Trading

 
I recently wrote an important article on the topic of how the ways in which we trade impact our psychology.  We commonly assume that working on our heads will improve our trading.  Less often do we recognize that the best way to maintain a positive trading psychology is to trade well.

What does it mean to trade well?  Here are two key hallmarks of quality trading:

1)  Quality trading is planned, not reactive - Planned trading means that we begin with an idea that we have researched and then identify good risk/reward points for participating in the idea and proper sizing for the trades, so that we can easily survive being wrong.  Planning means that we clearly identify what needs to happen for us to exit and/or modify our positions.  When we overtrade or take positions out of a fear of missing moves, those trades are reactive.  In reactive trading, we make decisions for psycho-logical reasons, not logical ones.

2)  Quality trading is open-minded, not biased - Sometimes we see traders who trade with a fixed idea and/or a persistent directional bias.  They look for evidence to support their views and discount evidence that might lead them to question their positions (confirmation bias).  Open-minded trading  means that we can express ideas in multiple ways and that we can trade multiple, independent ideas.  We are not wedded to one side of the market or one trade idea.

A very simple way to evaluate our trading is to rate each trade on the two criteria above and sum up those ratings.  If we're developing as traders, we will become more planned and more open-minded in what we do.  We will develop processes that keep us planned and open-minded.  The goal is to trade well, not to simply make money.  If we trade well, we inevitably maintain a focused mindset and place ourselves in the best possible position to succeed.

Further Reading:

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Sunday, August 22, 2021

Awareness and Acceptance in Trading

 

I had two interesting experiences recently.  The first occurred on Friday morning.  The stock market was short-term oversold and displaying early signs of strength before the NY open.  Prior to the decline, we had been seeing unusually low volume and volatility.  I had a string of losing trades during that period.  Each time I recognized the poor environment for what it was and limited my losses.  That awareness, I've found, has been essential in managing risk and maintaining a sound trading psychology.  It was not a great environment for my trading, and that accepting that allowed me to take the losses with equanimity.  Once the market showed strength on Friday, my research suggested the possibility of a short-covering rally.  I bought several positions early on and then other research kicked in shortly after the open suggesting that we could see a trend day.  Now the awareness was of a positive opportunity set.  I added to the positions and the resulting gains more than erased the prior losses.  It was awareness and acceptance of the environment--and the rapid updating of these--that allowed for good decision making.

The second conversation was with a trader who insisted that his goal for trading was to maintain a consistent high level of calm and confidence.  He wanted to be positive in his outlook (and aggressive in his risk-taking) no matter what was occurring in his trading and in markets.  I explained to him that feelings of doubt and uncertainty can represent information and are not necessarily things to brush aside.  My recent market experience was a case in point.  It was the loss of "conviction" that helped me limit losses and stand aside until opportunity presented itself.  Open-mindedness was the key from my perspective, not optimism.  The trader was surprised by what I had to say.  He had not considered that a state of doubt and uncertainty could be a wonderful guide for actions (and inaction!) in markets.

Awareness of the environment we're in and acceptance of the opportunity sets in front of us is essential to making sound trading decisions.  It's when our needs for profits and our desire for risk-taking drive our decision-making that we lose self-awareness, lose market awareness, and overtrade.  If markets were perfectly consistent, it would make sense for us to pursue a totally consistent mindset.  When opportunity sets vary over time, it makes sense for us to accept reality and adjust accordingly.  The weather might look overcast and windy, with a forecast for rain.  Staying "positive" and leaving the umbrella at home is no virtue.

Further Reading:



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