Wednesday, March 06, 2019

The Perils of Trading Your Plan

We commonly hear the advice that traders should "stick to their plans" and that planning and remaining true to plans is the epitome of discipline and the key to success.

It ain't necessarily so.

Let's take an analogy:

If I meet with a person for the first time in a counseling session, I don't go into the session with a treatment plan.  That would be crazy.  Rather, I listen to what the person says, look for patterns in the issues they present, and then come up with an idea of what might be going on.  I'll run that by the individual and, together, we'll develop a plan for addressing those problems.  Very often the plan will be grounded in the kind of helping that research has found to be useful for the issues presented.

If I were to start the session with a plan for intervention, the therapy would be doomed from the outset.  I would be imposing my views and understandings on this other person without listening to what is actually going on.

Surprisingly, many traders go into a day or week with their plans firmly cemented.  They don't wait to listen to the market and detect themes.  They decide that the next move will be up or down and they place trades accordingly.  

Folks, that is not trading a plan.  It is trading a bias.  If you don't listen to the market and instead impose your own view of what *should* happen in price action, you are not sticking to a plan.  You're sticking to your bias.

A true plan, whether for medical patients, counseling clients, or markets, outlines different possibilities for different presenting challenges.  It's really a decision tree, which you navigate by collecting information.  A treatment plan comes from a thorough history taking and diagnosis.  A trading plan similarly comes from an examination of history and a "diagnosis" of how buyers and sellers are behaving in the here and now.

The key skill is listening with an open mind.  When we focus on formulating our plan, we're consulting ourselves, not the market.  There's a lot to be said for coming into the trading day or week with hypotheses, not conclusions.

Further Reading: