Bouncing back slowly but steadily

Mentoring

A trader asked me a question about how to develop the discipline in following his trading plan. Am sure many of us can relate to the questioner’s mindset in ‘trying to recover the losses as quickly as possible’. It is clearly evident that the trader does not believe in bouncing back slowly. He is also well aware of the risks involved in trading stock futures on result days but he could not control the urge to put on a trade.

Here is the question (quoting it) and the complete reply

Question:

“Hello Madan – i know i have to focus on maximizing gain and have to stop weighing losses more than gains. If I look at my losses, have incurred heavy losses in trading stock future and that too on result days. I need to bury this desire to recover what I lost quickly. I find it difficult but would want to know if there is any mental drill to have disciplined approach.

I understand that trading in stock future on result days is very risky, after I enter a trade if it is in my favor it nurture my belief that being undisciplined at times helps u in profit but in the long run I am at loss due to these trades only”

Reply:

First things first – please do not answer these questions but just answer them to yourself.

1. Why are you trading the markets?

2. What is the need to trade on results day (knowing well that the stock can go either way)? If it is not part of the trading plan, why trade that day? For example, i don’t initiate new trades on RBI days. There is always another trade right? I know few traders trade on earnings announcements day but they have hedged strategies.

3. Why are you impatient to make back all the lost money back quickly? Why are we not respecting probabilities, distribution of trades and climbing up steadily?

4. We are aware that ‘profiting by breaking our system/rules can create havoc in the long run’ but we still take comfort in the fact that we are making profits by not following our plan. So, what thought process is giving us this pleasure?

5. Are our goals oriented towards P/L or oriented towards the process? Why are we so focused on P/L than focusing on the process?

Common observations about an undisciplined trader:

1. More often than not, traders do not trade to make money. Trading is not rocket science. It’s like making biryani – all the raw-materials and perfect ratio/sequence has to come into play. Once we figure that out, making a great biryani is just a process of following the routine. All the major restaurants follow routine in making their special dishes every day.

Most of the traders trade to regulate their emotional state. Once the trader becomes attached to the need to trade and make money quickly —and once his perfectionist voice of “I should have bought there” enters the picture–he is no longer grounded in markets. It’s when those frustrations build over time, becoming self-reinforcing, that traders sway away from their plan/system. What derails traders is that, at some point, we switch perceptual lenses and view the trade through the lens of profit/loss (P/L), not through the lens of probabilities, risks, and rewards.

Mentally rehearsing a mindset everyday (please read psychocybernetics and see how you can implement mental rehearsing in trading. It helped me tremendously) in which it is OK to miss moves–there will always be future opportunity–traders can prevent many of these train wrecks. The practice of taking a break during the trading day, reviewing one’s state of mind, and clearing one’s head is remarkably effective in this regard. Clearly identifying the parameters of one’s trade–the optimal size, a logical way to trail SL, stop loss points that put risk and reward into proper alignment–also ensures that you are controlling your trading, not the reverse.

2. Many traders formulate intentions for their trades and then wonder why they have veered from their trading plan. When we ask them about their trading plan, however, there is nothing written down nor is there anything specific that has been planned. Often, however, we will hear from traders that they’ve violated their discipline. When we ask which rules they’ve violated, they cannot give a definite answer. How can we violate a discipline that isn’t there to begin with? The problem is not that an excess of emotion interfered with their plans and rules. Rather, they were never sufficiently planful and rule-governed to begin with. So, there is no emotion involved (or progress to be made) when there is no plan to follow in the first place.

Essentially, in my opinion, the single greatest way to build discipline is to turn rules and plans into ‘resolutions’. That means that you have to give those rules and plans a life of their own. The more you think of them (mental rehearsing/writing them down in a piece of paper whenever you find time in a day), look forward to them, grade yourself on them and reward yourself for them–the more real they become. You are most likely to abandon rules and plans that haven’t been internalized as resolutions/commitments. This is where ‘mental rehearsing’ would help immensely. It enables us to internalize our plans/goals effectively.

Unfortunately, mere intentions are not strong enough to trap these trading errors. We need the emotional force of resolutions and the reliability of routines. Turning intentions into checklists and checklists into resolutions is a great way to ground yourself into best trading practices.

Last but not the least – being disciplined is a self-fulfilling phenomenon. The more you are disciplined, the more you will see stability in your trading and the more stability in P/L (bottom left to top right angle), the more disciplined we become. And the cycle continues.

Hope it helps. Good luck with your trading !!

Intraday trading and position sizing

I started this activity to show how we can take a small account to a decent sized account on Feb 5 2018 and we followed fixed position sizing (4 lots) and skipped trades with stoplosses bigger than 20-22 points.

When I traded this system live and took 6lacs to 19 lacs in flat 8 months on compounding, I took all the trades and if SL was bigger than the intended risk, then I would reduce the position size to bring the risk down to the desired level.

On February 19th 2018, I tweeted about reduced position sizing for bigger stoplosses but received several DMs denouncing that idea as few folks are trading with only 1 lot (even though my money management plan clearly stated that we should start with 4 lots). Their contention was that they do not have a way to trade with reduced position size. I thought about it and estimated that we will never come this far w.r.t drawdown (even if we skip bigger SL trades). So, thought to myself that I would stick with the ‘SL too high and so, skip the trade’ logic. Boy, I was so wrong. Big mistake and we are paying the price for that blunder.

Here is the above-mentioned tweet

Just to a give a glimpse of the reduced position size trades and its effect on our net P/L so far. All the big SL trades were profitable trades and that has just increased the mental agony !!

February 2018 – Big SL trades

1. Feb 19 2018 –> Short 10412 (9:50 am) SL = 10451 (39 points) – we should have gone short with 50% position size (to keep the risk percentage constant).Exit at break of 10338 pivot – 74 points profit (for 100% position size). So, with 50% position size, we should have made 35 points profit (after cost on full size).

2. Feb 23 2018 –> Long 10451 (10:30 am) SL = 10418 (33 points) – we should have gone long with 75% position size. Exit at 3:15 pm low 10498 – 47 points profit (full 100% size). Hence, with 75% position size, we should have made 33 points(after cost on full size)

Overall, we missed 2 trades in the month of February because of bigger stoploss. Hence, if we had followed reduced position size logic (the idea is not to miss system trades if SL is big), February 2018 should have been -23(twitter trades points) + 35 + 33 = 45 points.

March 2018 – Big SL trades

1. March 6 2018 –> Short 10375 (2:15 pm) SL = 10406 (31 points) – we should have gone short with 75% position size. Exit at 10260 (3:10 pm bar high) – 115 points profit (for 100% size). Hence with 75% position size, we should have made 84 points (after cost on full size)

2. March 16 2018 –> Short 10315 (11 am) SL = 10345 (30 points) – we should have gone short with 75% position size. Exit at 10224 (3:10 pm bar high) – 91 points profit (for 100% size). Hence with 75% position size, we should have made 66 points (after cost on full size)

3. March 19 2018 –> Short 10181 (10:05 am) SL = 10220 (39 points) – we should have gone short with 50% position size. Exit at 10155 (3 pm bar high) – 26 points profit (for 100% size). Hence with 50% position size, we should have made 11 points (after cost on full size)

Essentially, we missed 3 trades because of bigger stoploss. So, if we had followed reduced position size, March 2018 should have been -104 (twitter trades points) + 84 + 66 + 11 = 57 points.

With this information in hand, it is obvious to see that we should have been up by 102 points in the system(had we taken all the trades with reduced position size) but rather we were down by 127 points at the end of March 2018. A difference of 229 points.

Reduced position size if Stoploss is big

Bygones are bygones. In the first post of this blog, I enunciated how we will deal with this activity and the money required for each lot. Here is the post.

Introduction – Growing small trading account into a bigger one

If we refer to point # 7, it states that “If we look at the Money Management plan that I posted, We have used 40K (including 200 points DD) for 1 lot but are using 50k per lot. We will keep 10k as a buffer amount incase of contingencies. We will invoke the buffer amount if we see unforeseen circumstances.” I believe the time has come to invoke the 10k buffer as we are at 190 points drawdown as of yesterday close.

So, we still have room for 130 more points of drawdown (based on the buffer) and given the fact that the system is faring decently, I think it is time to invoke this buffer amount. So, we will keep continuing the activity (despite numerous trollings and sarcasms hurled on me) until we hit 320 points drawdown. That would be the ‘hard stop’ for the activity. I take complete responsibility for not using reduced position size from February 19th tweet and infact, there have been numerous instances in the past 1.5 months wherein i was advised to take reduced position size for bigger SL trades by my trader friends. Better late than never and i truly believe the error has been rectified now (for the past 2 trades).

Final thoughts

The intention of this post is to elucidate the facts and to see how we can take this forward. Going forward, I will announce the trades as usual in Telegram but if the SL is bigger, we will take reduced position size(as deemed necessary) and 50% or 75% will be mentioned promptly in the message.

Happy trading and have a great weekend ahead !!

Deliberate practice and patience

Mentoring

Few people have emailed me about ‘being impatient’ in executing their trades (both entry and exit) and I have already written a blogpost on patience few weeks ago. Here it is..

Why do we exit prematurely from a trade

Nevertheless, let me put some more thoughts to drive that point home again. As St. Augustine once quoted – “Patience is the companion of wisdom,” and if he lived in our era and had to say it about trading, he could have easily gone on to say that patience is a virtue that should never be disregarded when trading, nor ignored when learning how to trade. Proper patience is essential throughout the life-cycle of any given trade, and is of acute importance when learning and practicing how to trade. Unfortunately, patience is one of the most challenging skills to develop as a trader.

Deliberate practice is the key

In the book ‘Talent Is Overrated’ (I highly recommend this book, if you haven’t read it), Colvin cites research presenting that only through 10,000 hours of practice can world class performance be accomplished. He is not talking about ‘being there’ kind of practice but ‘Deliberate practice’.

Deliberate practice stresses repetition, but also stresses self-awareness and the ability to analyze how we are performing and acclimatizing accordingly. It is a crucial stage in the development of a trader because it is at this time when both good and bad habits are formed. If a new trader is not patient and hurries through the process, because of their over-enthusiasm or need to make money, the chance for developing improper skills is amplified, and the odds are the trader will become overly frustrated and either quit or attempt to accelerate their learning curve even faster.

Now, the question lingers in our mind – why are we impatient? Impatience usually stems from the underlying belief to prove oneself. If we have an underlying belief to “prove our worth”, we may find ourselves hastening through things, eager to accomplish things – in myriad number of ways to prove our worth. The “need to prove oneself” belief may be formed by any number of life experiences, where we may have felt inadequate, incompetent, defenseless, stranded or unappreciated.

Patience is vital to consistent success in trading because it allows us to be selective in our trading decisions. The experienced trader will not be anxious to make a trade, but will patiently wait until a setup with a high probability of success is exhibited. Once in the trade, a patient trader will give the position time to progress and will not get out of the trade too early, but will exit the trade according to a pre-defined/ ‘well thought-out’ plan. And the patient trader will not have to be concerned with over trading as well.

Creating the ‘patient identity’

Many of us have the problem of not waiting patiently for the setup to unfold. So, we basically muscle into the trade, see it collapse (or recover after our exit) and wonder what just happened. It is basically our survival instincts overriding rational mind to create a thought process incapable of trading effectively. Research unequivocally shows that our brain is not equipped to deal with uncertainty (the basic essence of trading).

Many a times, traders take the wrong approach of using will power to become a patient trader but come out empty-handed. One can talk to himself (self-talk) that ‘I am a patient trader..I am a patient trader’ but the same mistakes seem to crop up in frequent intervals. One can also put sticky-notes on the screen but ultimately one will become a patient trader only when they experience it themselves. Usually, it means that we practice/cultivate patience in our non-trading life as well. Forcibly putting ourselves in situations that require a person to exhibit patience. One can start a garden (will teach you lot of patience), teach physics (or some other subject) to their kids, babysit a toddler (lot of patience is required) or tutor a special child (great cause too).

By doing the activities that require patience, we create that ‘patient identity’ within ourselves and that will nicely manifest in the market. We will never be organized/disciplined in trading if we are not disciplined (one common example is lack of discipline in working out – if we are not disciplined in life-enhancing activity like hitting the gym, then trading will be no exception) in our daily lives. Everything in life, approached properly, is an opportunity to exercise the capacities we most require in our trading. I always say to my fellow traders that ‘becoming a better trader is a path to becoming a better person’

Final thoughts

As someone said – “People who do the common things in this life uncommonly well will command the attention of the world”. Trading is not rocket science – it is more of an art. It is the pint-size things we do well when trading and learning how to trade, that make the difference between success and failure. Novice traders must always be prepared to put in the practice needed if they want to achieve proficiency, and experienced traders must continue to exercise their skills if they want to achieve greatness. And that ‘elusive’ patience might be the missing link.

Hope this post resonates with some of your experience/thoughts and if it does, I would like to hear it !!

Mentoring requests and my response

Mentoring

It is Saturday evening and here I am. Last one month, my email box was swamped with requests for mentoring (as of yesterday, it stands at 32 requests). I was doing ‘blanket’ denial for all the requests except one but due to my natural propensity to respond to questions/requests, I replied to those emails with the reason for denying the requests. Eventually, it came to a point where I thought it is better to compose a blogpost about it.

As trading is a mind-numbing activity for me, in the past decade, I have helped few traders (free of cost) for months together with their trading related despairs and few of them are successfully trading fulltime. As I derive colossal pleasure out of these conversations/interactions, it was a win-win situation for me.

Rough plan for mentoring

Out of these 32 requests, I already took a person under my wings to assist in his trading career. He came up with his own system (as am not a system seller, I told him clearly that I will not help him with system building from scratch but I would be able to help him out to enhance it).

Having walked his path before, I think am more like a watchtower for his trading related activities and I believe I can positively impact his trading progress. I spend 1 hr per week over the phone with him and have few conversations over email/chat about his trading related evolution. We both know that there are no guarantee of success for him due to this relationship but we hope that it will shorten his learning curve (when someone who has walked his path is able to guide).

As I don’t have a structured way of doing this activity, this is what I have in mind for him. (We are in step 2 of the process right now)

1. If needed, enhancing his existing system (if am able to spot any logical flaw in entry/exit based on my experience, would suggest that). If the system sounds logically good to me, we go to the next step.

2. As there are 100s of ways to make money in the markets, we quickly progressed on to this step (sticking with the 1st step for a longer time is tantamount to ‘holy grail’ search).

So, backtesting the system for atleast 5-10 years to derive parameters to analyze if it is going to suit the trader’s psychology and if it is worth putting the money in. One system will not suit everyone (so he has to come up with his own) and if a trader is already attuned with his existing system (by trading it live) but not profitable consistently, he is an ideal person for me to help out.

3. Devise a money management plan based on his trading capital, his risk comfort level and backtested parameter (and if he has real trades with the system, nothing like it).This step will take some insightful thinking from my side.

4. Risk management (can be a part of money mgmt) – maximum importance would be given to this step to ascertain the risk appetite/goal of the trader. At the end of the day, risk determines our longevity in this profession.

5. Then, real trading starts – emotions kick-in. So, it is time for the trader to understand how emotions affects trading and how to embrace them (and not fight them out). We will probably handle fear of loss, fear of missing out, taking profits early and fear of pulling the trigger. These are the common roadblocks in a trader’s mind.

6. Once we go through step #5 (which is an ongoing process), we move on to handling drawdown part – both points and time drawdown. Hopefully, I would have fortified the trader about his system drawdown in step 2 itself (during backtesting) but real trading invokes the ‘real’ emotions out of us.

7. Helping him out in increasing position size slowly but steadily – not exponentially. The money management will have a clear-cut crisp plan to do this position size increase.

8. Once the trader is successful consistently (and able to execute his system with atleast 95% efficiency), I guess my job is done. I might have created a trader who can live on his own and hopefully, help others to achieve the same.

Vital pre-requisites I look for

I like to try out new things and as i have never done this before, am thinking of assisting 2 more folks (and hopefully to develop a good friendship in the long run) but i have certain pre-requisites in mind

1. A person with good character, ethics, and morals.

2. Be a person who is committed to things, dedicated, and have a stick-to-it approach

3. Someone who is looking to do things that may be uncomfortable for him to become better.

4. Minimum of 5 lacs in his trading account (more the better as we will have room for efficient money management). If someone is an intraday player, the required trading account size can be a tad lower.

5. Atleast 1-2 years of trading the markets (part time or full time). Cannot be a complete newbie

6. At least 2 hours per day dedicated for backtesting and reading chart patterns (Believe me – this is tremendous amount of work as we will do bar-by-bar replay and few iterations would be there). System building is just 20% of the game but it forms the foundation to the remaining 80% – to be successful in trading.

Fees for this relationship

I was doing this for free all along (and still do) and have spent numerous hours with few folks when I was in Bangalore but later figured out that people do not value the time if it is done free – free meals are only worth that much, I guess. They just squander away the time spent as if it meant nothing. Honestly, it is not about the money as I don’t need this extra money at all but it will make the trader more accountable and he will come to the table more planned with sound questions/utmost sincerity. It will make me accountable too.

Am planning to charge something that is not too less for the trader to consider this as a pastime or too high for the trader to think it as a burden. 20k per month is the figure I have in mind.

So, if you think you have what it takes to be a successful trader (and meet the pre-requisites), please email me with your background in trading/what has happened so far to ‘marketswithmadan@gmail.com’. If you are a free-loader/don’t take this profession seriously/do not meet the pre-requisites/do not have a system already (atleast a skeleton), please don’t bother to email me.

Hopefully this post gives me a chance to interact with only serious folks who want to do something about their trading profession (or take it to next level).

Happy trading all !!

Trading psychology Part two

Psychology

This is in continuation with the previous post on psychology and subconscious mind. There were some interesting messages in twitter after I posted the first blogpost on psychology. Here is the link to the previous post.

Trading psychology and the role of subconscious mind

In this blogpost, I would like to highlight the similarities between trading and other common psychological issues/observations. To make the concept richer, I will give it a try again on the same topic with a different flavor.

Trading and Sports

We all understand that to trade the markets, we need to learn how to trade. That is the baseline. If we believe that trading is a skill based competitive endeavor, then it follows that psychology may have a part.

Like any sporting endeavor, psychology can’t make up for us being crap in the first place. So, no point getting a sports psychologist to attend our first golf lesson. On the other hand, let’s say we have a 15 yard put on the 18th hole this shot and if we putt it right, we win the tournament (plus a cool 10 crores prize money). Fluff the shot and share 2nd place with five other folks. As we line up for that shot, our visits to a sports psychologist could make or break us.

Think about it – this is an easy shot we took a million times. But now there is so much riding on it, can we just saunter up to the ball and pop it in the hole? Or will we be deliberate, think things through too much, not rely on just letting our body do its thing in taking the shot (use of muscle memory). In short – will we f*** it up?

With any skill, our performance can degrade under pressure. We need skill before this will show up in my opinion but anyone that has played a sport competitively will know that feeling of pressure that mounts as the outcome becomes more important. This is our mind/psychology in full play.

Trading and primitive fight/flight response

When we trade the markets, lot of traders feel that that markets are there to prey on them. In fact, market does nothing to affect us individually but our brains are primordially built to handle adversarial situations. Hence, we do things like making “revenge trades”, which is treating the market like a contest between people. That is equivalent to curve fitting data so that it fits our trading idea, but we are fitting the market onto how our behavior and natural responses are designed to interact with people and predators.

Evolution has effectively given us a dumb brain and a smart brain. The smart brain runs the show unless a threat is present and then the dumb brain takes over, because the dumb brain is faster at making simple decisions. This avoids people taking a long time to arrive at a conclusive decision (whether to fight or flight) only to find that it is too late and they are in the jaws of a predator. This can create a problem in trading as our natural responses can be inappropriate and the way we view/assess information changes when the dumb brain takes over.

When we practice trading in a non-stressful situation (read it as ‘demo trading’), we evaluate our success based on how our smart brain handles the situation. Under stress, in real trading, we may find that we fail to notice things that are obvious when we look at the same information after the stress has passed. This is why demo trading is so deceiving.

Trading and owning up for our actions

Some people like to say psychology has no place. We are either a skilled trader or we aren’t. Maybe that is true if we are an Android or computer, but as a human, we have emotions. Our mind plays tricks on us. If we don’t believe that to be true, then we need to do some more research on how memories work with the human brain and it would be wise if we do some research on why wall street employs trading psychologists for millions of dollars to train hedge fund managers.

When we put all these things together, “the psychology of trading”, we come up with a collective of reasons that can explain away why we held on to that losing trade, even though our trading plan said to get rid of it. This is both a good and a bad thing.

For most, it is a good thing when we finally realize that our poor trading performance is a direct result of our own actions. Too many traders never get this far. They blame the market, indicators, vendors, platforms, data feeds, family, neighbor’s dog, phone calls and myriad number of reasons. But never themselves – Zero accountability.

When we finally realize that it was our own actions that caused us to mismanage a trade,that is progress. When we realize that it was our own actions which made as a ‘failure’ trader, that’s real progress as well. But why did we do it? We know we did it, but why?? I call this the psychology of trading. Why do we as humans want to be right? Why is it our memories fault us, convincing us of something in order for us to be right, when in reality we were wrong? This is a really important point to ponder.

Trading and stress/emotions

Am sure many of aware of backtesting a trading idea. But here is the question. When we all can see ourselves as multi-crorepatis in backtesting/demo trading, what happens in real trading? The moment that real capital is put at risk in trading, everything changes. Trading goes from a scholarly exercise where loss is theoretical/on-paper/not personal to a primordial experience where potential loss deranges the rational mind and primeval emotional responses take charge of the trading mind. After experiencing real losses, the emotional brain even starts anticipating potential losses (rather than gains) and hijacks the trading mind (and consequently, disabling it to take decisive actions) If one has dealt with fear of entering a trade or fear of pulling the trigger on a perfectly good set-up, he has experienced the incomprehensible power the emotions have over sane thought.

Others are primed for over trading when their desire to experience the feeling of winning big (and to feel that drop of dopamine creating euphoria in the brain – lot of research has been done on how the brain gets addicted to gambling) transforming the coherent trading mind into the gambler’s mind. All these inexplicable behavior during real trading can be termed as ‘trading psychology’ too.

Unless we have won the genetics lottery (to get to be in nirvana stage from age 2), the brain/mind we have brought to trading is simply not equipped to produce success in trading. It was not built to deal with uncertainty.

Final thoughts

In stock markets, riches are made in a matter of weeks and lost in a matter of minutes. This pattern recur itself as each new generation of traders hit the market. Most of us have been raised hearing (through our kith/kin or media) that rich people are immoral/unethical and downright dirty. Once we grew up and become a trader, whenever we reach that mental threshold in trading and we start feeling rich, our subconscious mind will start to help us to adjust that behavior. It pretty much helps us to push the button when we shouldn’t and so on. It is about that much-hyped (pun intended) self-image we carry inside of us. The outer world is mirroring back that to us. If we feel bad one day, our trades are going to be bad as well. This is so relevant to ‘discretionary traders’. Why? Simply because we’re actually not trading the markets really, we are trading ourselves. So, it is prudent for any trader to keep the mind and body sharp, in that aspect.

We can exercise our body (to keep both mind and body healthier) but only if we believe that mind is important in trading, we can exercise the mind as well.

Happy trading!!