Tag Archives: trading woes

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 !!

Trading psychology and the role of subconscious mind

Psychology

How many times have we heard this word ‘psychology’ getting associated with trading profession? Innumerable times. To the uninitiated, it seems to be an over-rated (probably abused) word. I will make an attempt to give a different perspective about psychology’s part in trading as there are lot of literature that talks about cliched topics like ‘handling fear/greed and discipline issues’. We will not focus on those items in this blogpost.

To all the readers reading this post, have you ever faced any of the following issues?

1. Not taking a trade in your plan because you did not think it would work (after a couple of losses in a row)?
2. Taking a trade immediately after a loss that is not in your plan? And then after another loss, another trade not in your plan?
3. Chasing a price move because you are afraid it is going to run without you only to see it reverse after you jump in?
4. Averaging into a losing position because you just believe you are right and price will come back to where you bought?
5. Moving your stop further away from your original stop to give the trade more room or moving to breakeven too early?
6. Continuous counter trend trades because you feel price has moved too far and you expect a reversal?
7. Refusal to close out a losing trade and holding it until later in the day or the next day taking a bigger loss than your original stop?

If you haven’t had any of these issues, please stop reading this blogpost further – you are either a master/legendary trader or have never traded before!! Chances are if we have had several of these happen to us, we either have no trading plan or should not be trading or our mindset around trading needs some work. We can call it psychology, call it mindset, call it mental discipline, or whatever suits our fancy.

The difference between unsuccessful traders, net profitable traders, and big money making traders is smaller than we think. It usually boils down to a small but perceptible edge, and while it can be related to poor money management, inadequate funds, or a bad methodology, it is usually an internal factor – a lack of discipline, emotional control, patience, and especially an improper attitude about losing and risk. Mind you, all these factors collectively called as ‘trading psychology’. So, it does not matter what we call it, but the intrinsic difficulties are real and they reflect in our trading P&L.

But to understand this phenomenon more deeply, we need to understand how mind works and how it relates to trading profession. Let’s start by dividing the mind into three divisions – inner subconscious mind, the subconscious mind and the conscious mind. We’re not going to talk about the inner subconscious mind (its primary function is to run our organs automatically) and the conscious mind (as our emotions are not relevant to them). Our focus will be on the ‘sub-conscious mind’. On a daily basis, we spend about 1-5% in the conscious mind. The rest is spent in the subconscious mind. The conscious mind perceives about 40 bits of information per second and on the contrary, the subconscious mind about 20 million bits of information/second. As they say -“Your brain (subconscious mind) sees even when you don’t”. And it’s never dormant. In fact, it has been awake and recording since the time we were a fetus.

Subconscious mind and the way it works

Subconscious mind can be divided into 3 subsections –

1. The Memory Mind – It has recorded all our memories, all events, and actions, everything that ever happened in our life since the time we were a fetus. Think of it as a video camera with five senses. All of our memories (from brain’s inception) are there and they are present constantly in every moment of your life.

2. The Emotional Mind – It’s the part that contains all of our emotions. Whenever we act, react on an emotional basis, the subconscious mind is involved. Have you ever thought of that situation when we reacted so silly, and we asked ourselves later, why in the whole world did we react like that, or why did we say that? It’s because of the emotive information that’s stored in our subconscious mind. Remember, that conscious mind has no role here – analytical part of the brain (part of conscious mind) cannot even start processing the information yet.

3. The Protective Mind – It has the role of protecting us against what it perceives as dangerous.

How subconscious mind is built

The basis for sub-conscious mind is created from day zero of our life till the age of about 7. That’s because, our brain waves, in that period are in a kind of hypnotic state. They move very slowly, and our whole subconscious is very much completely open. During these years, we lack the critical factor –the analytical and rational mind. And that means that every little thing that’s put there (not that it stays there) creates the fundamentals of our character, and our outcomes in life.

Subconscious mind and need for security

We understood how the mind is built but who’s putting in the information? Well, most of it comes from our parents or the people who raise us up. They are the ones in charge of our lives. One of our primate need is the ‘need for security‘. As I have a 8 months old baby now, I can give an example w.r.t to a baby. Normally, when a baby starts crying, it is taken up by the mother, it continues to cry. The mother checks the diaper, changes it. The baby keeps on crying. The last step – the one that always works – is to bring the baby to the bosom and feed it with breast milk (or stick a bottle with milk in its mouth if one is not breastfeeding). That’s when the baby finally stops crying.

What’s actually happening? The need for security is fulfilled. Being brought up to the bosom, the baby feels the warmth/care from the mother and the need for security is fulfilled. The only problem, is that it creates an association. The brain creates that association to food. In other words, when I get food, then I’m secure. We grow up, and every time, we had a stressed day or we feel depressed, we find ourselves putting something in your mouth. If we start to abuse food, we give birth to obesity. But, remember it has to do with the need of fulfilling ones security. Other quick examples are classical as well. Just think of how many parents out there telling their children, things like “you’re not worthy”, “you can’t do that”, “you’re bad”, “you’ll never be able to” and so on and so forth. So, it is prudent for a parent to watch what they are really telling their kids as that information is shaping up our kid’s future (more so, when they are in their young/blossoming years).

The real us, is our subconscious mind, because we’re spending there about 95% of our daily lives. The subconscious mind is this device ‘playing on’ the program we got and it is put there by our parents and by society.

Subconscious mind and trading

Ok great!! But, what does all this has to do with trading then? Have you guys ever heard of, fear of success? We do want to make money, we love money, we love trading but we’re still losing money. What we’re experiencing here is a conflict between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. Remember, who the real you is! We’re actually the sum of all our programming. Funny thing right? So, being the sum of all our programs and given the fact that subconscious mind has the role of protecting us – Bingo, we got a great recipe!! It doesn’t allow us to make money. Because somewhere in the program, we’ve got a bad experience that has a negative charge and it keeps holding us back from getting hurt again.

See this innocuous looking statement – “In order to earn money, you have to work hard”. It has probably been put there, somewhere between the age of 0-7. Unfortunately, our parents became parents without getting any instruction manual on how to raise kids and we have the social construction as well in the picture. Nothing against the parents here but just wanted to put the facts across. Our parents inadvertently created ‘reward and punishment’ mechanism. They punish us when we’re not following their instruction and reward us when we do as we’re told. The kind of reward we get is, acceptance. When we get that acceptance, we then fulfill one of our basic needs – the need for security.

This creates a dogged association here –”In order to earn money, we have to work hard” which in turn equalizes to ‘safety’. We grow up, and start to work, and eventually we find out that, working hard equals earning money. And the safety need is fulfilled. Now, fast forward few years and you enter the arena of trading. We get into situations that can make us money easily, without having to work hard. BANG – That’s when we blow it!!

Dealing with the core issue

It is very difficult to buy this concept. I understand that. Personally, it took me a while before I finally had the courage to face it, and to understand that, it doesn’t matter how I take it or perceive it, by my conscious mind. The subconscious plays the lead here. And no matter how much I refused to accept that, it wasn’t that way. Any amount of self-talk and affirmations were not helping here and the subconscious mind just snickered back at me by decreasing my account. This was of course a very basic example but am sure you get the drift. There are various ways of overcoming this obstacle – NLP (Neuro-linguistics programming), Hypnosis and many more. I do not want to dwell in to those vast topics in this blogpost but I hope I have enabled the readers to think in that direction.

Bottom line, discounting psychology is the same as discounting your mental health. Psychology doesn’t mean seeing a shrink. It means being aware of your mind and its behaviors. Surely, we are not going to try and make an argument that mental health is unimportant. Skill is composed of more things than just physical prowess. There is also mental aptitude. And in order to exercise our mind, we must at least accept that psychology (and the subconscious mind) is not a “prank”.

Happy trading all !!

Handling trading losses effectively

I have been hearing some stories of traders/investors who have lost quite a sum of money in the last few days. Worrisome part is that some folks have borrowed money for trading and have lost it as well. Few other folks who are managing other’s money (PMS) have also lost substantial amount too.

These kind of losses happen in trading profession (especially for the uninitiated) and all is not lost here. So, thought of writing this post to see how to take this losses in a positive stride.

1. Taking ownership of losses –  No one is responsible for our losses except us. Not the market, not the system, not the people who gave us the money to trade. We have to realize that we were wrong, we had taken too much risk, and we were employing trading methods that did not work. Period. No point in blaming outside manipulators of markets or bad luck. We, as traders, need to accept that we have completely and utterly made a hash of things (really no choice here and this is not a luxury we can afford). In a job scenario, we can blame others and get away with it but not in trading.

2. Stop trading right away –  a  trader might not like to hear it but this is absolutely necessary.

Take the time to process what had happened, figure out what was done wrong, and make radical changes in the approach to markets. Jumping from one system to another will not cut it. Most of us try to tweak our system after a heavy hit. Optimizing the system based on last 6 month of market performance would not cut it. Just a small time-based break would soothe off the mind a bit. Most of the times, this should be enough to come back as a different trader.

3. Refocus and relearn –   Use the time away from trading to work on other aspects of your life and career. Create alternate streams of income so that one doesn’t depend on trading income alone. ‘Depending on trading income’ in the initial stages of trading is probably the biggest sin in trading.

Trader should try to focus on building the self-image with other aspects of life not just with trading. In doing that activity, he can remain opportunity-focused and not regret-focused. Please stay focused on what you could control, not on what you could not.

4. See the setback as an opportunity to bounce back –  I am sure the loss was very painful. Make sure that you would never go through such an episode again. Try to create a new balance between trading and the rest of your life so that you would never be dependent upon trading results for your happiness and fulfillment.

5. Handling depression –  a trader need to figure out how to handle depression. More so, a losing trader. It is better to handle it heads on than brushing the episode aside and continuing to lose money in a state of denial.

Depressed feelings are a normal response to loss: the loss of money, the loss of dreams. Sometimes you have to go through that loss before you can come out the other side as a different person, one who has learned from the experience. So, please stay positive.

6. Get out of need to make money mindset – If a trader gets attached to the need to trade and make money–and once his perfectionistic voice of “I should have bought there” and “I should have sold here” in hindsight kicks in –he is no longer grounded in markets. It’s when those frustrations build over time, becoming self-reinforcing, that traders lose discipline and focus and eventually perish. Mental rehearsals would help in these cases.

By staying physically relaxed in one’s breathing and posture and by mentally rehearsing a mindset in which it is OK to miss moves–there will always be future opportunity–traders can prevent many of these train wrecks.

7. Trading too large for our account size –    Swing in the equity curve almost always is proportional to the negative effect on trader’s psyche. Higher the swing, higher the negative effect on pysche and the vice-versa.

When we trade size that is too large for our account size, we subject ourselves to drastic swings in P/L, and that subjects us to drastic swings in mood. In turn, we then make trading mistakes that bring a negative expectancy to each trade, and the size eventually blows us up.

As they say, in trading, if we create drama in your returns, we’ll create trauma–and that’s how trading career end.

8. Understand failure –  Knowing the worst-case outcome if this trade happens to fail can reduce the fear inflicted by a previous failure from an unseen event. Black swan events aren’t common, so it’s not reasonable to fear them every time you approach a setup. Weigh the potential for loss, and if it’s outweighed by the potential for gain, the probabilities are favorable enough to participate.

9. Psychologically, it’s healthy to experience defeat and then overcome it – It strengthens you to battle back and win. If you lose the wrong way–by taking so much risk that you can’t come back for the day, week, month, or year–you rob yourself of the victory that could be yours by going from red to green.

10. Make a choice to move forward –  All of us have the ability to choose, whether it’s our career or our spouse or our attitude. Maybe your fear somehow gives you comfort right now, because it’s been a habit you’ve allowed. That won’t cut it though, so it’s time to change. Eventually, you either decide to get back on the right path, or you’re completely done trading. Make your choice and get on with it—and don’t look back.