Sunday, January 14, 2007

Letting Profits Run: A Guide to Becoming Your Own Trading Coach

My most recent post emphasized many of the basics that enable people to become their own trading coaches. For this last post in the series, let's apply those basics to one of the most common trading problems that people describe to me: the difficulty of letting profits run.

From the previous post, it should be clear why this is such a difficulty: We set our profit targets and trade strategy while we are in one state of mind but then, as the trade progresses, we enter an entirely new state. That new state very often involves worried thoughts about losing unrealized profits or having gains turn into losses. It generally brings an elevated heart rate, increased muscle tension, and more rapid and shallow breathing. As we become aware of the nervous feelings, that helps to perpetuate the negative thoughts and altered physical state, which in turn can amplify the anxiety. Very often, cutting positions short before profits can run is simply a coping device to manage this anxious state. We exit the position for emotional relief, not for reasons of sound strategy and money management.

The solution focused approach calls on us to review those occasions in which we have been able, in some measure, to let profits run--even just a bit. What did we do differently on those occasions? Those exceptions from our problem patterns are what we have to build upon: they are our potential solutions.

In my case as a trader, there are several things I've done differently when I've been successful in letting profits run:

* I have planned the trade well in advance with research; it is not a spontaneous trade, so I've had time to think clearly about what I want to do.

* I have a clear profit target in mind based on research and refuse to waver from that target unless the market takes me out with a predefined stop. I consider myself a person of integrity, so I tell myself that I have to show integrity and loyalty to my trade idea and target;

* I don't follow the position tick for tick. Either the trade will hit my target or it will hit my stop. I make a conscious effort to let go and not micromanage the trade;

* I keep myself calm and clearly focused by purposely getting up from my chair, doing some stretches, breathing deeply, and getting away from the screen. I keep myself in a state that is incompatible with anxiety;

* I rehearse constructive self-talk during the trade. I tell myself that I've done my preparation and established my edge. Any individual trade can go against me, but if I take all the good trades I can, eventually I'll benefit from good odds and a good risk-reward ratio. If I lose money on the trade, I'll figure out why and what that might be telling me about the current market.

All of these steps, taken together, form a template for how I manage to hold onto positions to maximize profits. Now the key is to turn this template into a habit pattern. I want it to become automatic--an internalized part of me.

To accomplish this, I wear my heart monitor and go out for a morning jog prior to the market open. I use the monitor to ensure that I maintain an elevated heart rate and a good jogging pace. While I'm running, I'm mentally rehearsing each aspect of my template. I'm imagining my trades, and I'm imagining what I'll do if they move in my favor. I rehearse the proper self-talk, and I imagine getting away from the screen and staying loose. I also imagine, with plenty of emotion, how happy I'll be sticking to my ideas and reaping enhanced profits. In short, I'm getting physically *and* emotionally pumped up during the jog.

This becomes a routine every morning. Repetition and powerful emotion are the keys to turning patterns into routines and setting new spots on our radio dial of consciousness. After a while, those thoughts, images, and feelings from my jogs begin to appear on their own, as they increasingly become familiar parts of me. Then, during my break from the screen while I'm letting a trade run, I go on my treadmill for a few minutes or simply jog in place. I get myself back into the pumped up state and recruit everything I've rehearsed. Instead of feeling anxious while riding the trade, I'm feeling energized.

Again and again, during each trading day.

Notice that you could substitute any desired behavior for the holding onto trades and make this technique work for you. It does take practice and repetition, but once you have a positive habit pattern, you have it potentially for life. The key is focusing on your strengths and turning those into patterns that can be triggered when you enter into associated states of mind and body. In my example, I used jogging to create the unique state. I could have just as easily chosen meditation or self-hypnosis.

Once you grasp this method and become good at it, there are many positive patterns you can program--in your work, relationships, and trading. There is no need to become bogged down in problems when you can build upon your own solutions.