consistent winnersI don’t think I could put the difference between the consistent winners and everyone else more simply than this: The best traders aren’t afraid. They aren’t afraid because they have developed attitudes that give them the greatest degree of mental flexibility to flow in and out of trades based on what the market is telling them about the possibilities from its perspective. At the same time, the best traders have developed attitudes that prevent them from getting reckless. Everyone else is afraid, to some degree or another. When they’re not afraid, they have the tendency to become reckless and to create the kind of experience for themselves that will cause them to be afraid from that point on

2 Hidden Virtues of Successful Traders

1)  The ability to tolerate uncertainty – Suppose you take any particular configuration of price in a market; say, trading x% above or below a Y period moving average.  Then look at what that market does on average over the next Y period.  The odds are great that for any value of x and Y, the market’s directional tendency will be swamped by the variability of price within that next Y period.  What that means is that, on average, the signal to noise ratio for a directional trader is low.  Whatever directional tendency is present is generally not statistically significant and not readily tradeable.  Given such a situation, the modal opinion of any trader should be “I don’t know”.  Uncertainty is itself a view and, in fact, should be one’s base case.  When a trader cannot tolerate uncertainty and needs to manufacture conviction, the result inevitably is overtrading the objective opportunity set.  It is impossible to properly manage risk if you are intolerant of uncertainty.

2)  The productivity of time spent away from trading – I consistently find that successful traders spend more time identifying good trading opportunities than actually putting on and managing trades.  Csikszentmihalyi conducted a fascinating study with artists in which they were shown 27 objects and asked to arrange a small group of them into a composition and generate a sketch.  They had one hour for the task.  The artists fell into two categories.  One group quickly identified the objects for the composition and spent the better part of the hour refining their sketches.  The second group spent most the hour figuring out what to draw.  They selected objects, started sketches, changed the objects, sketched some more, rearranged objects, etc.  By the time they found the composition they liked, they spent only a few minutes on the final sketch.  The drawings of the second group were rated as significantly more creative by a group of art critics than those of the first group and, after a five year period, the second group demonstrated significantly greater success as artists.  The less successful artists spent most their time sketching.  The successful artists spent most their time finding compositions worthy of sketching.  It’s a great analogy for trading.

Good things happen when these two strengths come together.  The ability to accept uncertainty frees the mind to maximize time away from trading and creatively generate sound trade ideas.  For the successful trader, uncertainty provides the opportunity to get away from screens and look at markets through new lenses.  Overtrading exists when the need to trade exceeds the need to understand.

Learning to Trade from a Legend-Victor Niederhoffer

Study horse racing books. The odds against winning at a parimutuel racetrack are overwhelming. Yet some touts have systems that produce a profit (against all odds). Can you apply any of these horse racing principles to your trading?

• Write down trading prices (by hand). There were a ton of computers in Victor’s trading room. Yet Victor made me do price analysis by hand. He felt there was enormous virtue about getting close and comfortable with trading figures.

• All markets are related. Learn what a move in bonds does to gold. And to S&P futures or the Japanese yen. Don’t trade markets in isolation

• Only make a trade when the odds are at least 60% in your favor.

• Don’t take losses to heart. I lost $20,000 on a Friday, the first day I traded real money for Victor. I wiped out my trading account. After stewing over my losses all weekend, I offered to resign and refund my losses. Victor refused my resignation and put $20,000 back in my trading account.

• Don’t take wins to heart. I remember making a lot of money following (I thought) Victor’s instructions while he was away. When Victor returned, he was not impressed by the fact the firm made money. He told me that I had traded erroneously and was lucky to have survived my trades.

• Be a mentor. Victor was generous with his time and advice. Despite the fact that several employees exploited his generosity, Victor continued to help new traders.

•  Get out when the trade is over. All trades have a beginning and end (based on time and price). Get out whether you’re winning or losing when the time or price has been met.

• Write down your moves. Learn from your mistakes.

• Learn concentration and game strategy from champions in other disciplines (such as ping-pong and checkers).

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