At one point or another, everyone who has interactions with the market asks oneself, “Why is trading so hard?” There are legitimate reasons why trading should be difficult: markets are highly random; whatever edge we can find is eroded by competition from smart, well-capitalized traders; some traders work within various constraints; and markets are subject to very large shocks that can have devastating effects on unprepared traders. Even so, it seems like something else is going on, almost like we are our own worst enemies at times. What is it about markets that encourages people to do exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, and why do many of the behaviors that serve us so well in other situations actually work against us in the market?
Part of the answer lies in the nature of the market itself. What we call “the market” is actually the end result of the interactions of thousands of traders across the gamut of size, holding period, and intent. Each trader is constantly trying to gain an advantage over the others; market behavior is the sum of all of this activity, reflecting both the rational analysis and the psychological reactions of all participants. This creates an environment that has basically evolved to encourage individual traders to make mistakes. That is an important point—the market is essentially designed to cause traders to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. The market turns our cognitive tools and psychological quirks against us, making us our own enemy in the marketplace. It is not so much that the market is against us; it is that the market sets us against ourselves.
Everyone knows that chasing price is usually not beneficial, we either end up catching the move too late, or we get poor trade location, which makes it more difficult to manage the trade.
However, there are other forms of chasing that are just as common, maybe more common, and just as counter-productive.
Traders who are not profitable are often too quick to chase after new set-ups and indicators, or a different chat room, if that’s your thing. Obviously, we need to have a trading edge, whether it is from the statistical perspective of a positive expectancy, or simply the confidence in a particular discretionary strategy such as tape reading, following order flow, market profile, etc.
Chasing a trade is the fear of missing out. The fear of missing out is associated with various emotions, including regret. There’s a lot of talk about fear and greed in trading, but the power of regret is often overlooked. Some of my own worst trades, and those of my clients, often have a ‘regret from missing a prior opportunity’ component. When I finally finish my book on the psychology of financial risk taking, I will include much about this overlooked but very powerful emotion.
Somewhat related to chasing a trade, is impulse trading. They both have in common the underlying feeling of the fear of missing out. It’s tempting for me to talk about impulse trading here, but it really deserves its own piece.
To be good at trading you must fully understand and embrace the idea that it is extremely challenging and that you will lose money at it on a very regular basis. Once you internalize that thinking then you are in positions to develop a way to be successful at it. You can never take the market for granted. You always have to be on guard with the mindset that it is going to steal your cash if it is given an opportunity.
The odds of being a successful trader are only against you if you fail to recognize the amount of work and effort that it takes. I’m convinced that anyone can be a good trader if they have the necessary work ethic and cultivate a ‘problem solving’ mindset.
If trading wasn’t very hard it wouldn’t be so potentially rewarding.