Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Few Trading Psychology Observations

* From working with developing traders, I'd say that 90% don't/can't sustain the process of keeping a substantive journal. Among the group that does journal, well over 90% of the entries are about themselves and their P/L. I almost never see journal entries devoted to figuring out markets.

* A sizable proportion of traders who have been having problems are trading methods and patterns that used to work, but are no longer operative. The inability to change with changing markets affects traders intraday (when volume/volatility/trend patterns shift) and over longer time frames (when intermarket patterns shift).

* It's a common observation that traders fail because they don't stick to their plans. My experience is different. Traders develop plans and trade patterns that simply don't work; they're based on randomness. When the patterns don't work, traders become frustrated and abandon their plans. So it looks like lack of discipline causes trading failure. But planning doesn't create success; sound planning does. Sticking to plans based on randomness is no virtue.

* I mentioned in my book an important law of performance: In every performance field of note--from Olympic athletics to Broadway--performers spend more time in practice than in formal performance. That is how expertise develops. The ratio of "practice" time (time spent on markets outside of trading) to trading time is a worthwhile indicator of a trader's prospective success.

* Among the predictors of trading success, a "passion for trading" is grossly overrated. The successful traders have a passion for markets, which is very different from a passion for trading. Indeed, a passion for trading in the absence of passion for markets is a fair definition of addiction.

* Some traders habitually look for tops in a rising market and bottoms in a falling one. There's much to be said for countertrend methods, but not when the need to be right exceeds the need to make money.

* An underrated element in trading success is mental flexibility: the ability to shift views and perceptions as new data enter the marketplace. It takes a certain lack of ego to form a strong view and then modify it in the face of new evidence.

* A trader I spoke with recently told me he was going to trade more aggressively by putting on more trades. Trading more frequently is not necessarily trading more aggressively, and it certainly isn't necessarily trading prudently. Trading more aggressively means allocating more risk capital to particular (sound) trade ideas. A considerable portion of traders would benefit from trading less frequently *and* more aggressively.

* Nice litmus test for any website devoted to trading education, coaching, and the like: If the site spends more time promoting the person than promoting ideas, you have a good sense for the site's priorities. Caveat emptor.

* Many traders fail because they're focused on what the market *should* be doing, rather than on what it *is* doing. The stock market leads, not follows, economic fundamentals. Some of the best investment opportunities occur when markets are looking past news, positive or negative.

* Success in trading requires the capacity for personal investment. Too many traders close out their efforts, along with their positions, at the end of the day.


What Trading Teaches Us About Life

Three Steps Toward Trading Improvement