Yes, We Can’t! Or Can We?
Just like there’s a major difference between theory & practice, reading trading books & trading the markets are hardly the same thing. Otherwise, just reading a good investment book would instantly put a load of money in our pockets.
Similarly – there’s a big difference between who we want to be & who we really are, otherwise we’d be living in a much better world.
Just like the market discounts everything, in trading who we are discounts who we want to be.
The markets are not an environment for guesswork.
You can’t predict the market, and you can’t control it.
But you can control yourself, and to a large extent, by knowing how you function you can predict your actions quite accurately. Moreover, no one else can do this better for you than yourself. This is an edge for you, the trader.
So let’s get personal. Starting from a few facts about who you are, let’s try to determine your basic psychological profile & whether trend trading is really for you or you should be a knife-catcher instead;)
Patient vs. Fast & Jumpy
Are you a patient fellow? Everyone talks about “respecting your trading plan” & “being disciplined” in your trading & indeed, patience is one essential individual quality associated with discipline in trading. While patience is required for BOTH approaches, it is much more important in trend-trading, due to the necessity to stay longer in the market following the trend, cut your losses short & keep your profits running.
Got itchy fingers?:) When you are trading counter-trend, you have less time to react & enter a trade (if you are slow, you miss the train). Trend-trading requires less speed of reaction, since a trend you’re planning to “ride” is not something that disappears from one minute to the next, while opportunities against the trend are by nature less in number & more limited in time.
Rational & Organized vs. Emotional & Erratic
Are you a reason-driven person? Against common belief, there’s more pressure on a trend trader than on a counter-trend trader. Think how many times you closed a trade too early, and you will immediately understand why. Being able to understand all elements of the trading plan & act on them in a lucid, coherent way will help you in following the discipline of the trend. Trend-following trades need to work like surgeons, cutting their way through the trend at precise moments.
Do you allow Emotions to take over? When trading against the trend, you will usually go for SHORTER trades (compared to the length of the trend). There will be less time to crack under pressure, and knowing your trade will soon be either in profit or closed for a loss should keep you from interfering with it (thus increasing the chance of respecting your trading plan). if you know yourself to make emotional decisions at times when reason should prevail (when trading, that’s always!) then you may want to seriously consider counter-trend trading, as trend-following action may not be your cup of tea.
Risk Taker vs. Safety Freak
Do You Enjoy a Good Thrill? Human nature drives us towards safety (closing realized profits, even small) and away from the unknown (unrealized profits, on the table, at risk), even if we do have a trading plan and the desire to follow it. Most traders I interacted to (up to 95%, give or take) have at least for some time in their trading career cut their trades too early thus losing good potential profits in equity. As a trend trader, you will need to beat this obsession with safety, and allow your trades to be exposed to controlled risk (since you have the advantage of probability on your side). You will need to by psychologically strong enough to take a risk without blinking (controlled & calculated risk, of course – according to your rational & organized personality), as breaking the dynamic of the trend can kill your strategy in the long run.
Not Comfortable in Risky Situations? Trend trading is increasing the odds of closing trades too early, while counter-trend strikes are less psychologically burdening. Besides, stop losses can be moved to break even much faster when being in a “right or wrong” scenario (thus putting the trader’s mind at ease faster about having to take a loss), while when riding a trend stop loss placement can be problematic due to the large stops associated to high probability trading (trend trading has in general higher probability of success, although it may not always have equally good risk/reward). So, if you’re not the kind of guy who enjoys living on the edge, counter-trend trading may be your thing.
Conservative vs. Aggressive
Not the Adventurous Type? if you don’t mind walking the beaten path (which is also safer, clearer & more predictable!), then you are probably more of a trend-trader than a counter-trend trader. if you don’t mind taking your pips in the middle of a trend – as long as it’s very clear you are on the right direction – you’re a trend lover at heart. If you like doing things the proven, “right” way, if you prefer a known “good” to an unknown “possibly better” & don’t like being the first at a party, then the trend can indeed be a good friend to you.
Are you bold & daring? Some people like the trading adrenaline just as much as they like profits. That’s OK, as long as they don’t love it MORE than the profits & start trading for thrills instead of cash. If you think that just jumping on a trend after it started & after it’s been confirmed is just too boring for you, then forcing yourself to do just that will not help & may eventually bring you to acts of indiscipline. Stick to counter-trend trading & you will constantly experience the pleasure of being in a move before everybody else – the satisfaction of doing what you love can help you stay “in the zone” & enjoy your hours of trading.
Modest vs. Proud
Like Keeping a Low Profile? If you don’t mind taking 3 losses for 1 win – if the win makes 4-5 times more than a loss – then you’re definitely well-cut for trend trading. If you’re not interested in proving yourself to yourself or anyone else & what matters is the overall equity curve, not having a large number of winners & being “wrong” will not matter & won’t put unnecessary pressure on you. The trend will give you sustained rides, much larger than your initial risk, moves than can easily cover for 2, 3 or even 4 of your losses. Consistently scoring a 40% win rate on a 2:1 risk/reward strategy will make you very profitable in the long run, although you will be wrong more often than not.
You Enjoy Saying “I Told You So”? Some people just like being right & sticking it to others. While this is something every trader should constantly try to fight against (because the market is the only one right all the time!) it is nevertheless a feature of our personality that we should try to acknowledge & – why not? – even use as an edge if possible. A positive mindset (given by a high number of wins) can help you stay motivated as long as it doesn’t turn into outright cockiness. If you know yourself to be proud & you often count the winners against the losers then you must look for a strategy with a high winning rate, even if the risk to reward may not be more than 1:1. It’s likely a counter-trend system may give you just that, while a trend-following strategy could bring up feelings of frustration as you would tend to focus more on the negative side of things (wins vs. losses) instead of the positive (a profitable equity curve).
The markets are a challenging environment & trading is a highly sophisticated activity. We really don’t need to add in our own personal weaknesses to make our job more difficult. We should all do our homework before we trade, learn about our strengths & weaknesses & come to the battlefield prepared & well-armed.
Ee need to understand & fully use ALL OUR EDGES to prevail on our competition. Other traders are NOT our enemies – the market is an objective, perfect entity, remember? We are our worst enemies, and our indiscipline is our enemies’ leader. The market does not take our money, we give it away ourselves through our actions.
We are not perfect entities, and knowing ourselves, admitting our personal personality biases is CRUCIAL for improving our trading results (whether we are newbies or pros).
Carefully analyze your personality before creating your trading plan, and come up with something will work for you NATURALLY. Always think about WHO YOU ARE, not WHO YOU WANT TO BE! If you are into self-improvement (and you should be!), do that outside your trading hours. You may not be perfect, but while you are in front of your platform you should strive to become a perfect entity too: a machine that perfectly follows a pre-designed trading plan.
Some of you are fully “automated” traders (with or without robots), strictly following rules & only rules, leaving nothing to discretion or real-time subjective evaluation. That’s great, because while you may be missing out on some action every now & then, you will be much less likely to be hit by a bad drawdown (usually created by indiscipline).
If on the other hand you are a DISCRETIONARY trader, you must carefully define the limits of your discretion. You don’t want to be discretionary to the point of doing whatever you want whenever you want, overriding your entire trading plan. This approach can lead to nothing but failure. Again: discretionary or mechanical, trend-following or counter-trend trading – there’s no right or wrong answer.. But when it comes to YOU, there is a better way to do things, that comes out of knowing yourself & giving the markets (as well as everything else) the best of who you are.
This is a personal re-writing of Mihai’s recent webinar on trend-trading psychology. As I found it extremely interesting, I used an audio transcript of the session & Mihai’s own notes to make it available to other traders. It’s also my way of saying thank you to a great trader & teacher for the dedication & patience he put in my education & all the long messenger chats over the past 4 years:) For over 3 years I am successfully trading both trend-following & counter trend strategies & make a really good living as a trader & recently as a fund manager.