Sunday, July 25, 2021

Intentionality: Expanding Free Will


The central problem of psychology is what Freud called the "repetition compulsion".  We repeat patterns of thought, feeling, and/or behavior even though those repetitions interfere with our happiness and success.  We can be fully aware of our maladaptive patterns at certain times and unwittingly repeat them a short while later.  Because our intentionality--our capacity for free will--is limited, our ability to act upon our goals and ideals is also limited.  Every problem of trading psychology ultimately boils down to a restriction of our ability to act upon our best plans and intentions.  The evidence-based approaches to psychology are a collection of techniques that help us become aware of our repetitions, so that we can write new endings to old stories.  At root, good psychology expands our intentionality:  our capacity for free will.

We can develop our capacity for intentional activity by sustaining intentional activity.  One routine that I like on the treadmill is to run with an uphill incline until I become tired and feel like quitting.  Then I decide upon how much further to run.  In other words, I sustain effort beyond the point of discomfort.  That usually means breaking a good sweat.

The problem for most of us is that we rarely break a sweat--in trading or in other areas of life.  We stay in our comfort zones and sustain an action until it becomes uncomfortable.  So, for example, when writing my book I'll eventually become fatigued and feel like taking a break.  That is when I most need to push further and write several more pages.

Similarly, I recently placed a few trades in the morning and got chopped up.  I felt discouraged and decided it was best to pack it in.  On reflection, however, I could tell that this was just discouragement talking; that, in fact, I was now seeing the market clearly.  I pushed forward, redoubled my analysis, hit a point of clarity, placed one more trade, and profited nicely.

Now here's the interesting thing:  When I push further and write a few more pages or do another lap on the treadmill, I break through my fatigue and often can do much more.  After the winning trade, I was not deflated and discouraged at all and felt energized for the rest of my day.  When we push past our comfort levels, we eventually tap into our second wind--a fresh source of energy and enthusiasm.  When we continually make efforts to push past our comfort zones, we become increasingly capable of drawing upon that second wind of consciousness.  

Every effort to sustain activity beyond our comfort zone is an exercise of will.  We are energized when we tap our intentionality.  We lose energy when we remain static, within what is familiar and comfortable.  A great best practice--in trading and in life--is to break a sweat every day by sustaining effort beyond the comfort zone.  As on the treadmill, we find that, over time, that comfort zone expands:  what once took significant effort now comes readily.  Note carefully:  Every part of our trading processes--from our preparation to our reviews--can become opportunities to expand our capacity for effort when we push beyond our comfort zones.

That is the expansion of free will, and it underlies all success--in markets, and in life.

Further Resources:

Trading and Training the Will

Radical Renewal:  Spirituality and Trading

Planned Trading and Intentionality


Friday, July 16, 2021

A Simple Strategy For Making Your Trading Better

Here is a simple scheme for making yourself better as a trader month by month:

1)  Review your trading for the month.  Keeping statistics on your trading is an excellent way of doing this.  How many winning and losing trades did you have?  What were the average sizes of your winning and losing trades?  How did your largest winning trades compare with your largest losers?  What ideas were responsible for the winning and losing trades?  

2)  Identify the one thing you did best during the month and identify the one thing from the month that you most need to improve.  That means comparing your best and worst trades and/or your best and worst trading days.

3)  In the spirit of FIGS--focused, intensive, goal setting--identify the one thing you'll do each day to do more of what you did best and correct the thing you did worst.  This has to be a daily plan that you will tackle each trading session and that will involve building on your strength and addressing your weakness.

4)  Keep a daily report card of how well you accomplished the two goals set for the week and how you can extend your progress the next day.

5)  Repeat this process, setting new goals, each month.

You are most likely to become consistent in your trading if you are consistent in working on your trading.  The consistency and intensity of your work on yourself will shape your rate of progression.

Further Resources:


Saturday, July 10, 2021

Learning From Our Best Trades


Please note:  I will be discussing this topic in greater length during my Sunday evening podcast with Better System Trader live.  You can use the link to sign up; the session will be held on Sunday, July 11th at 8 PM ET / 7 PM Central.

Since the writing of Trading Psychology 2.0, I have emphasized the importance of studying our best trades to identify "best practices" that are unique to our success.  It is in combining these best practices that we become able to develop "best processes" that make us consistent in our performance.  It's a great example of how our trading psychology follows from our development as traders:  we become confident and consistent as we develop our talent the right ways.

Friday was one of my best days in the market in a while, so I thought I would share a few of the learning lessons reinforced by the day's profitability.

If you click on the chart above (screenshot from Sierra Chart), you can see how Friday morning's trade in the SPX (ES) futures evolved.  We went into the day's session considerably oversold on short and medium time frames, but in an uptrend on longer time frames.  For example, we closed on Thursday with fewer than 50% of SPX stocks closing above their 3, 5, 10, 20, and 50-day moving averages, but over 50% of stocks closing above their 200-day moving averages (data from  Over the last two years, that has occurred 19 times, with 15 of those occasions closing higher five days later for an average gain of 1.74%.  So we went into the session with possible upside edge.  Interestingly, a pattern I had posted earlier in the week also suggested a multiday  upside edge.  So there's the first best practice:

Best Practice #1:  Only go into a trade with a backtested edge and preferably more than one.

So, did I enter a long position at the close of trading on Thursday?  Not at all.  In the historical sample, there were a few instances of decent sized losing days.  The backtest provides a worthwhile idea, but I want to see the idea playing out before committing my hard-earned capital!  You can see from the above chart that we moved nicely higher in overnight trading, with transactions lifting offers (pink arrow).  That means buyers are aggressive.  With that price strength, we see the short-term moving average cross above the longer-term one on the Ehlers Adaptive Moving Average system (yellow arrow).  This confirms we have moved to an uptrend.  This leads us to a second best practice:

Best Practice #2:  Wait for a good trading idea to turn into a good trade by getting confirmation from price action.

So, did I enter a long position on the moving average crossover?  No, I didn't!  Why not?  It was between 2:00 AM and 2:30 AM in the morning and I was sleeping!  Did I get frustrated that I had missed a signal, where the market continued rising afterward?  Not at all.  The backtested edge was over a multiday period, so my default entry mode was to buy the first short-term retracement in the market.  That occurred a little before 6 AM ET (blue arrows).  I entered a first clip of risk on the retracement and then added a second clip on the subsequent rise.  The market was now going my way nicely and I set a stop where I had entered the first clip.  That provided very good reward relative to risk, leading us to the third best practice:

Best Practice #3:  Don't worry about catching highs or lows when you enter.  Focus instead on inflection points that provide superior risk/reward.  

As the stock market opened for the day on Friday, I noticed that advancing stocks were swamping losers by more than 5:1.  The NYSE TICK was skewed toward upticks and, during the first hour of trading, we never saw significant levels of downticks.  In short, buyers were solidly in control.  I knew from my prior research that such strong openings out of oversold conditions often lead to upside trend days, as many short-sellers are stopped out and buyers jump back in.  That gave me confidence to hold the position rather than take quick profits, setting up our fourth best practice.

Best Practice #4:  Adjust your position sizing and holding period to evolving price action.  A backtest and favorable price action will get you into a trade, but it's the subsequent price behavior that gets you to build your size and hold onto the trade.

Notice that I don't start the day looking for "setups".  If there's no solid edge, there's no trading.  And notice that I'm not concerned about "missing" or "chasing":  I'm following the edge in the trade and the evolving market action.  I don't get big in the trade until I see confirming evidence lining up.  Finally, note that I'm not simply generating ideas from chart patterns or "macro" stories that link a limited number of data points.  There's no guarantee that a pattern that has played out in the recent past will play out in the immediate future, but the alternative is to trade in ignorance of market history.  That doesn't strike me as a rational and promising alternative.

Once you've identified your best practices, they can form the basis for a checklist that guides your trading going forward.  Consistent profitability begins with a consistent process.  Correcting mistakes can help us limit the downside, but it's by maximizing our strengths that we find meaningful upside.

Further Resources:


Friday, July 02, 2021

Asking Good Questions In Your Trading

In recent meetings with traders, I've heard a similar question:  When are stocks going to come down?  Those traders have been frustrated by the seeming steady march higher, as time and again, they have tried to sell "overbought" stocks and indexes.

When I hear the same question again and again, I've found it's usually the wrong question.

Here's an example of a good question, which I define as a question coming from a fresh, unexpected perspective:

"Last week, we saw a majority of SPX stocks trading below their 50-day moving averages, according to the Index Indicators site.  After such a correction, what has the market done when we've returned to a situation where over 50% of stocks are trading above their 50-day moving averages?"

Note why this is a good question:  It ignores what the chart looks like and instead defines correction as any period in which the majority of stocks trade below their moving average.  By that definition, a correction has already occurred, even though it looks as though we've simply moved higher.

Good questions often are grounded in what is not obvious.

Well, according to the backtesting function of Index Indicators (see the site for even more extensive backtesting), we've had 10 instances over the past two years in which stocks have traded below their 50-day moving averages and then crossed back above.  All 10 instances were profitable 10 days later, by an average of +3.16%.  Indeed, just these 10 instances accounted for well over half of all SPX gains over the two year period.

So far, it's been a good trade.

To be sure, 10 instances does not constitute proof, and one would not build an algorithmic trading system on such limited data.  But I'm not looking for proof or systems; I'm looking for promising hypotheses.  Once I have those and I notice that everything I look at intraday is confirming the hypothesis, I have an idea worth trading.  

Very often, when I have traded poorly, I have not grounded my trading in good questions.

There's no sense working on your "trading psychology" if you're looking at the same charts and trading the same way as everyone else.  Our edge comes from uniqueness of perception and analysis.  That's true in every human endeavor.

Further Reading: