Coach Yourself as a Trader

I was recently asked a question by one of the most respected trader development psychologists/ mentors that I know of in the business. Brett Steenbarger, working on a new project, asked if I could elaborate on what strategies and/ or courses of action I take to mentor/ coach myself as a trader. Brett’s excellent blog can be found at Traderfeed. He specifically asked:

What are the three things (i.e. courses of action, strategies, resources) that you’ve found most helpful in mentoring/coaching yourself as a trader?

And here is how I answered:

  • 1. Understand me. The most powerful tool I have found in life and in this specific case, the market, is what I, as a person, am capable of doing as a trader. I finally understand that personal characteristics that are engrained in my DNA will only allow me to trade successfully under specific circumstances. For example, I am much more consistent and profitable as a medium term and longer term trend trader than as a day trader (even more so on the long side). I don’t need to be everything, all the time as long as I continue to focus on the areas that bring me the greatest success. Understanding “me” has been my holy grail of understanding how to trade the market with some type of consistency and profitability.
  • 2. Learning to cut losses. It’s almost cliché but not many people can do it (in any aspect of life). I have learned to cut losses in my trading, my career, my hobby of competitive poker and everything else in life where the rule applies. Without this rule, there wouldn’t be a third rule.
  • 3. Study and work hard. Sounds so simple but we live in a very lazy society. It is extremely important to my success for me to continuously study the markets on a fundamental and technical level and learn from my successes and mistakes. If you think about it, we would all start at square one on every trade if we didn’t learn from past situations where we succeeded or failed. Applying the knowledge gained from past experiences allows me to properly analyze similar situations in the future with slightly greater odds of success (or at least I would like to think). Never stop learning is a phrase that I will never stop saying as it proves to be truer the older I get.

P.S. – Sorry for the lack of posts over the past few weeks as I have been in and out of town without much focus on the market. It’s better for me to be mostly in cash at this point in time due to the lack of opportunities crossing my screens. Regular posting will resume as soon as my schedule allows me to focus 110% on the market. I will look to post occasionally as long as I have something of value to add.

Focus on You

It is never the system or author writing the trading book that fails.
It is YOU! It is your lack of focus.
Focus on yourself and then you can focus on trading successfully.

Trading is at least 98% psychological. It’s a mental state of mind based upon your beliefs of what may happen. Books, systems and technical indicators can only take you so far! You must accept and understand that the market is all in your head. It is you versus the other trader. If you don’t understand YOU, how will you ever understand other traders; thus taking advantage of market moves based on their mental state of mind and their underlying beliefs.

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Many investors, both novice and experienced, drift from book to book to book and system to system to system, never understanding why they produce inconsistent profits. They are confused, looking at too many things, complicating the entire process while ignoring the essentials to success.

Keep it simple.

Why complicate things when simplicity works; especially when it comes to trading? We know that trading may be the most difficult endeavor that any human may attempt to undertake.

Thousands of different systems work in the stock market so we can conclude that it is the user that ultimately fails because of lack of concentration and motivation to stay the course. Wall Street is not for drifters and most people can’t play the game profitably because they never sharpen their own mental skills while applying basic money management techniques. They focus on the wrong set of skills.

We all see people come and go every day: rags to riches to rags. They are motivated for weeks, months and sometimes years but most fizzle away after they fail and can’t figure out what they are doing wrong. Some investors copy a system from a so-called guru and may find success for a while but they don’t tailor it to their personality, integrate it with their investing style and focus on their mental state of mind, therefore, it will become obsolete and they will fail. Working hard to become successful in the market is fine but understand that working smarter will always take you further.

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Our goal as traders and investors is to understand the crowd and anticipate how they will act and react based on the thoughts we had, prior to focusuing on the proper skills, when we were just one of the sheep (waiting to be slaughtered)!

Focus on what is important and the success will follow.

Stop focusing on iffy stochastics, Bollinger bands, MACD, ADX, earnings releases and bogus news stories. Yes they can aid you to success but the main focus is on you!

Personally speaking, I require specific fundamentals, price, volume and basic daily and weekly charts to succeed but they are secondary tools. They can help me make money as long as I am focusing on the overall picture which is my mental focus and my emotional balance.

I know I am getting all “Dr. Perruna” on you but it is true.

Once your conscious mind understands how the beliefs of the crowd work, your subconscious mind takes over and intuition kicks in and you start making some of the best decisions of your life by flawlessly following your system.

As Jesse Livermore said:

“Wall Street never changes, the pockets change, the stocks change, but Wall Street never changes, because human nature never changes”

Why? Because humans never change!

Once you understand this and learn to trade other humans, you will become successful. Yes, you will need some of the tools mentioned above but don’t focus your attention in this area. Focus when investing by mastering the beliefs of the crowd and you will always be one step ahead.

Could you Trade Full Time?

I get this question often and always offer the same answers to allow the person to determine if they can trade full time. I don’t trade full time and I am not sure if I ever will because I am great at what I do: trend trade longer time frames.

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Take this quick quiz and honestly determine if you are built to trade full time:

  • Are you properly capitalized?
    I wouldn’t suggest anyone start to think about trading full time until they have at least six figures that can be used solely for trading. Living expenses must come from other income or saved funds. Without six figures (and the more then better), I suggest you continue to build your stake.
  • Are you a successful part time trader?
    Why do you think you can succeed being a full time trader if you haven’t made money as a part time trader? Have you built your own stake to six figures trading part time? If so, you pass this question with flying colors.
  • Have you developed a system that works?
    Does your system have a positive expectancy? Have you back tested the system (I don’t hold too much weight to this question)? Do you understand position sizing and do you implement it properly so you don’t blow-up with one or two trades?
  • Does your system offer enough opportunity?
    Without opportunity (multiple trading signals per day/ week), you will not be able to achieve your system’s expectancy. A lack of opportunity may skew your results and turn your anticipated positive expectancy to a negative expectancy and cause you to go broke.
  • Can you handle your emotions?
    How do you handle your emotions now with longer term positions or part time trading? Do you follow your rules, all the time? Will you have pressure to make money every month, week or day? Can you handle being alone (most cases) and staring at a computer for large portions of the day?
  • Finally, do you have spouse or other influence that will interfere with your endeavor?
    A spouse, friend or family (member) can have a negative affect on your trading that may result in subconscious sabotage. Outside negative forces or nagging pressure people may lead you down a path that is not controllable because you are trying to prove something rather than “just trade” based on your acquired skills. Make sure the closest people in your life support you while making the move to full time trading.

30 Major Causes of Failure

The 30 Major Causes of Failure:
How many of these are holding you back?

All text below quoted by Napoleon Hill from the book (list published in 1937):

Life’s greatest tragedy consists of men and women who earnestly try, and fail! The tragedy lies in the overwhelmingly large majority of people who fail, as compared to the few who succeed.

I have had the privilege of analyzing several thousand men and women, 98% of whom were classed as “failures.” There is something radically wrong with a civilization, and a system of education, which permit 98% of the people to go through life as failures. But I did not write this book for the purpose of moralizing on the rights and wrongs of the world; that would require a book a hundred times the size of this one.

My analysis work proved that there are thirty major reasons for failure, and thirteen major principles through which people accumulate fortunes. In this book, a description of the thirty major causes of failure will be given. As you go over the list, check yourself by it, point by point, for the purpose of discovering how many of these causes-of-failure stand between you and success. (This can and does apply to trading – trading for a living is a business)

  1. UNFAVORABLE HEREDITARY BACKGROUND. There is but little, if anything, which can be done for people who are born with a deficiency in brain power. This philosophy offers but one method of bridging this weakness—through the aid of the Master Mind. Observe with profit, however, that this is the ONLY one of the thirty causes of failure which may not be easily corrected by any individual. (not sure if I agree with this one, especially at #1)
  2. LACK OF A WELL-DEFINED PURPOSE IN LIFE. There is no hope of success for the person who does not have a central purpose, or definite goal at which to aim. Ninety-eight out of every hundred of those whom I have analyzed, had no such aim. Perhaps this was the…see #3
  3. LACK OF AMBITION TO AIM ABOVE MEDIOCRITY. We offer no hope for the person who is so indifferent as not to want to get ahead in life, and who is not willing to pay the price.
  4. INSUFFICIENT EDUCATION. This is a handicap which may be overcome with comparative ease. Experience has proven that the best-educated people are often those who are known as “self-made,” or self-educated. It takes more than a college degree to make one a person of education. Any person who is educated is one who has learned to get whatever he wants in life without violating the rights of others. Education consists, not so much of knowledge, but of knowledge effectively and persistently APPLIED. Men are paid, not merely for what they know, but more particularly for WHAT THEY DO WITH THAT WHICH THEY KNOW.
  5. LACK OF SELF-DISCIPLINE. Discipline comes through self-control. This means that one must control all negative qualities. Before you can control conditions, you must first control yourself. Self-mastery is the hardest job you will ever tackle. If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self. You may see at one and the same time both your best friend and your greatest enemy, by stepping in front of a mirror.
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It Couldn’t Be Done

I’m going to start 2008 by posting a few inspirational and/or success blog entries. These types of exercises clear my mind of the past, force me to focus on the positives and hit the ground running in the New Year. They allow me to build a stronger family, a more successful business life and most relevant to this blog: continue trading successfully!

Enjoy the poem I found in the latest copy of Think and Grow Rich: The Original Version, Restored and Revised, it’s a favorite of Annie Lou Hill (Mrs. Napoleon Hill).

It Couldn’t Be Done
by Edgar Guest, 1941

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.