Fear and acceptance

I’m going to point out in advance that the following post is possibly a bit long and is an amalgam of a few references. However I hope it will help any newbie traders who’ve hit this point.

There’s a bruise on my forehead from this one kids so pay attention… 😉

Anyone who starts trading and actually wants to succeed has the odds stacked against them on two levels. Number one… They have no idea what they’re doing. Number two… They don’t have the psychology in place that will help them trade successfully. It’s possible that number three is ‘unrealistic expectations’ but I’m not going to go there ’cause I’ll end up on a 20 minute rant about training companies (calm down dear)

So, this week has seen the coming together of some information from a number of diverse sources…

  1. Reading ‘The Disciplined Trader’ by Mark Douglas as recommended by Jimmy Young during his excellent two day FX course
  2. Free online training from Mike (@FtseDay on Twitter who writes an excellent blog here) who basically spent 100+ minutes talking about trading psychology
  3. Japans very own ‘Gone with the Wind’ called Musashi which is a ridiculously long book about the Samurai ideal and the pursuit of perfection among other themes
  4. As mentioned before – 21 weeks of getting my arse handed to me on a plate by the market

The problem I’ve been trying to deal with is basically fear associated with pulling the trigger on trades. It’s clear from the previous post that not having a clue what I was doing (problem number one) has created a certain reticence with entering a position.

But… when I thought about this it didn’t seem ‘enough’ somehow. This issue I’ve been struggling with couldn’t really be held by this one idea as the feeling I was experiencing was too large. So let’s work on the basis that I now have a certain idea about what I’m doing. I’ve spent enough time on the mechanics of how to drive the car but I’m still scared to pull out of the driveway into the traffic… Seems a bit dumb, right?

Mark Douglas’s book has some great insights into trading especially with respect to the relationship between the trader and the market. It also contains some pointers to overcoming issues with trading. He tells it straight and is (imho) more accessible than Brett N. Steenbarger. Anyway I picked up a lot of tips but it wasn’t quite fitting together…

Then listening to Mike (@FtseDay) talking about how he went through the process of learning to trade he said something that stuck in my head which clearly hadn’t penetrated my thick skull before.

It takes a trader to take a loss

Now what that doesn’t mean is that you trade like a moron. What it does mean (to me) is that when you place a trade you accept that it could be a losing trade (obviously don’t expect it to lose) but the key point it that you’re not afraid of it failing to meet your expectations. Or if you happen to be a Samurai you’re not afraid of the other guy cutting you into tiny little pieces – lol

The samurai ideal was crystallized in the legend of Musashi who sought to become the greatest living swordsman by eradicating his fear of death so that he was able to fully commit to every action/movement in each battle to defeat his opponent. In the story he gets to a point where he realises every conflict is actually a battle with himself and the enemy acts as nothing more than a mirror.

Also this isn’t about abandoning hope but a complete acceptance of the reality that the trade will go your way (profit) or not (loss) without you being attached to the former or fearful of the later outcome. It should go without saying that you’re only going to place trades that meet your other criteria for a ‘high probability of success’ trade!

What’s pointed out in Mark Douglas’s book is that fear very much restricts the brains ability to gather, weigh, and process all the information available. Being afraid is not a state of mind that allows you to calmly consider all the options. Tunnel vision isn’t a good state to trade in! If you’re afraid then you’ll miss vital information. Calm is the order of the day.

What I resolved to do and actually did on Friday was put a trade on, accept the outcome of the trade in advance and then leave it to play out. All the usual OMFG nonsense about putting the trade on, watching it going (for/against) and then putting the stop too close or closing it out for a loss only to watch it reverse… none of these things happened to any great degree internally. Overall my emotional state was detached, un-afraid and interested.

I managed the trade without my lizard brain freaking out in the background… Much better!!

I put my stop in a logical place, I had a take profit target and I was able to calmly think. In fact I realised that my reason for entering the trade wasn’t actually playing out and was totally invalidated by the time I got out.

I closed the trade for a tiny loss by patiently waiting rather than panicking out for a 20+ point loss. Funny that my lack of trading experience defeated me on this occasion rather than crappy psychology!

  • Bad trade + bad psychology = massive / possibly irrecoverable loss
  • Good trade + bad psychology = still possible lose / possible small win(luck?)
  • Bad trade + good psychology = possible loss / possible small win(luck?)
  • Good trade + good psychology = possible win / very good win

Now, you can see that new, inexperienced traders or anyone with bad psychology with respect to trading is more than likely going to lose. Yes, you might get lucky a couple of times in the middle there but luck isn’t the basis for any sort of long term success. Relying on luck is called gambling 😉

Being realistic it may well be that only by being in the last category (good trades+good psychology) does a retail trader even begin to have a chance to be successful… and then they’ve still got to get everything else about trading right too! You can place a good trade and have good psychology but STILL lose due to some un-foreseen news etc.

Anyway, next step will be to practice the mental/emotional approach I took on Friday till it becomes automatic.

  • Examine the trade setup and other factors – reasons to enter
  • Confidence to place the trade with stop/take profit and without fear
  • Accept the outcome and detach from the result emotionally
  • Monitor in relation to my reasons to place the trade (reasons still valid?) not emotions
  • Close the trade at an appropriate point
  • Rinse and repeat for the next few decades 😉

I suspect this won’t be as simple as writing about it but I feel very happy to have made this breakthrough. To quote the great sage “Do or do not, there is no try!’

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8 thoughts on “Fear and acceptance

  1. Gavin

    Hi Robert, can you get an RSS feed added to the site? Go to feedburner.com and get one there, means your readers can follow your blog posts in google reader/other post readers. I would add your blog to my list and keep up to date on your posts, which are quite interesting.

    Reply
  2. Simon

    The ‘take a trader to take a loss’ seems to ring very true. It reminds me of the way Malcolm Pryor wrote about taking a loss in one of his books. It said ‘congratulate yourself’ and was essentially based around exiting a trade based around the predefined ‘exit rules’ of the strategy, one that would, of course, hopefully result in more wins than losses over the long-term. Having confidence in a strategy and keeping my risk per trade to 1% of the overall funds I can afford to lose has really helped me with the psychological aspect. I can afford to lose £50 if the trade goes against me.

    Reply
    1. robertsweetman Post author

      Hi Simon, thanks for the comment.

      Yep, I think this is spot on and I have probably read this in Malcolm’s book without the lesson hitting home at all. Unfortunately there’s an issue with learning new skills that means you often don’t know what it is you need to learn until certain other points have been grasped first… It’s not possible to see beyond the horizon of your own experience/understanding. I’m hoping there aren’t too many of these moments left but we’ll see 😉

      Cheers

      Robert

      Reply
  3. Mike

    Hi Robert

    Thanks for the mention and glad you got something out of the training and you do pick up on a valuable point in that we all know how difficult it is to master ourself and sometimes its worth sitting through 100+ minutes just to get 1 key point clear inside your head! Yes on the site we have a concept of happy losses not being happy that your trade lost, but happy that you stuck to your rules and long term that is what keeps you in the game (http://www.ftseday.co.uk/how-to-enjoy-day-trading-with-happy-losses/)

    Great blog btw keep your head and am sure you will be fine and look fwd to more cracking posts

    Mike

    Reply
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