The key to investment success is emotional discipline. Making money has nothing to do with intelligence. To be a successful investor, you have to be able to admit mistakes. I trained a guy to trade who had a 188 IQ. He was on “Jeopardy” once and answered every question correctly. That same person never made a dime in trading during 5 years!
Most people lose money because of lack of emotional discipline
-the ability to keep their emotions removed from investment decisions. Dieting provides an apt analogy. Most people have the necessary knowledge to lose weight—that is they know that in order to lose weight you have to exercise and cut your intake of fats. However, despite this widespread knowledge, the vast majority of people who attempt to lose weight are unsuccessful. Why? Because they lack the emotional discipline.
In my opinion, the greatest misconception about the market is the idea that if you buy and hold stocks for long periods of time, you’ll always make money. Let me give you some specific examples. Anyone who bought the stock market at any time between the 1896 low and the 1932 low would have lost money. In other words, there’s a 36 year period in which a buy-and-hold strategy would have lost money. As a more modern example, anyone who bought the market at any time between the 1962 low and the 1974 low would have lost money.
Once a price move exceeds its median historical age, any method you use to analyze the market, whether it be fundamental or technical, is likely to be far more accurate. For example, if a chartist interprets a particular pattern as a top formation, but the market is only up 10% from the last low, the odds are high that the projection will be incorrect. However, if the market is up 25% to 30%, then the same type of formation should be given a great deal more weight.
To use a life insurance analogy, most people who become involved in the stock market don’t know the difference between a 20 year old and an 80 year old. Investing in the market without knowing what stage it is in is like selling life insurance to 20 year olds and 80 year olds at the same premium.
“Gambling is taking a risk when the odds are against you. Speculating is taking a risk when the odds are in your favor.” Victor Sperandeo
“the only difference between gambling and trading is that your amount at risk and amount of potential reward varies with trading.” I agree, but there’s more to it. The parallels are obvious, from the lack of control over outcome to the illusion of knowledge to the physiological effects of having a stake in the outcome. However, the differences are substantial…and mostly mathematical.
The expectancy in gambling is ALWAYS terrible, while market speculation at times offers outstanding opportunities. To get a 2:1 or 3:1 opportunity in gambling, one needs to accept incredibly low odds of victory. In financial markets, those 2:1 or above opportunities come around like clockwork and offer high enough probability that long-term positive expectancy is possible. Not only that, but the market speculator has the opportunity to adjust his or her position after the game begins…when was the last horse race where you could take a little off the table after the first turn? Or reclaim most of your bet when your horse stumbles out of the gate?
I’ll leave the neuroscience to the experts, but it seems to me that we need to coordinate our left brain(rational) and right brain(experiential) in laying out the role of each. We want to allow our intuition to shine through, but within the overall structure of positive expectancy. No matter how hard one tries, the math of gambling can’t come close to touching the opportunities for building a business out of the markets.
Psychology matters more to trading or investing than perhaps any other income-producing activity. Here are some quotable quotes from some well known industry participants highlighting that reality…
Anyone who claims to be intrigued by the “intellectual challenge of the markets” is not a trader. The markets are as intellectually challenging as a fistfight. Ultimately, trading is an exercise in self-mastery and endurance.
Ralph Vince (money management expert)
The key to trading success is emotional discipline. If intelligence were the key, there would be a lot more people making money trading.
Victor Sperandeo (master Wall St trader) (more…)
As Jesse Livermore said: “Trading is not a game for the stupid, the mentally lazy, the person of inferior emotional balance, or for the get-rich-quick adventurer.” In other words, to excel in the stock market, you have to work hard, have emotional control, and develop confidence in your strategy. I constantly get asked to recommend books that can help with these areas of trading. There are so many good ones out there, but here are a few that I suggest.
(If you click on the titles, you can get a more detailed description from Amazon.com).
How to Make Money in Stocks (4th Edition), William O’Neil
How to Trade in Stocks, Jesse Livermore
Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, Edwin Lefevre
The Disciplined Trader, Mark Douglas
Trading in the Zone, Mark Douglas
Trader Vic-Methods of a Wall Street Master, Victor Sperandeo
Trader Vic II-Principles of Professional Speculation, Victor Sperandeo
How I Made $2,000,000 in the Stock Market, Nicolas Darvas
The Battle for Investment Survival, Gerald Loeb
Confessions of a Street Addict, James Cramer
There are 3 Market Wizards books all written by Jack Schwager:
The New Market Wizards
Stock Market Wizards
Confidence and emotional control are extremely important in order to become a successful trader. I believe the ideas taught in the following “self-help” books can help develop that “mental toughness” that’s needed. The concepts learned can also be applied to many areas of our lives:
Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill
You’ll See It When You Believe It, Dr. Wayne Dyer
The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale
The Magic of Thinking Big, David Schwartz
Awaken the Giant Within, Anthony Robbins
Turtle Trading Principle
Trade with an edge, manage risk, be consistent, and keep it simple.
The entire Turtle training, and indeed the basis of all successful trading, can be summed up in these four core principles.
Curtis Faith, Way Of Turtle
Why Chart Patterns Repeat Themselves
All through time, people have basically acted and re-acted the same way in the market as a result of: greed, fear, ignorance, and hope.
That is why the numerical formations and patterns recur on a constant basis.
Jesse Livermore, How To Trade In Stocks
Stick To Your Trading Rules
Successful trading is about finding the rules that work and then sticking to those rules.
William J. O’neil
Perfect speculator must know when to get in; (more…)
In his book Trader Vic: Methods of a Wall Street Master, Victor Sperandeo mentioned:
As an aside, I want to point out that although this period of intensive study helped me immeasurably in my ability to call the markets, it cost me substantially in my personal life. My daughter, Jennifer, was at a crucial formative age (3 to 5), and I spent almost no time with her. I would get home from the office, eat, and go straight back to work in my study. When she came into my office, I would shoo her away impatiently, totally ignoring the fact that she needed her father’s attention and love. It was a bad mistake that both of us are paying for today. If I had to do again, I would draw out the study period and give Jennifer more time.
After reading this paragraph, I have been doing a lot of thinking. I’m not sure if this is a common mistake among traders, I, sometimes, make the similar mistake. We know this business requires a lot of time, effort, attention, but our loved ones require more.
Just being a little bit emotional. Anyway, this book is really a good read. If you haven’t done so, go and get one.
“I think successful trading, or poker playing for that matter, involves speculating rather than gambling. Successful speculation implies taking risks when the odds are in your favor. Just like in poker, where you have to know which hands to bet on, in trading you have to know when the odds are in your favor.” – Sperandeo
It is interesting that Sperandeo makes a point to define the difference between speculating and gambling. He discusses how he never viewed playing poker to be gambling in the same respect that slot machines are gambling. In poker, he had the knowledge of which hands had the highest probability of winning and the option to only play the highest probability hands. This draws a direct correlation to trading. We know from our study of historical winners what qualities make up stocks that go on big runs and we have the option to only play those key stocks.
Looking at trading in this respect breaks it down into two important goals. We have to know which kinds of stocks have the best odds of going on huge runs. We also have to have the timing skills and the guts to play those stocks when we encounter them and the patience to sit on the sidelines when when there aren’t good options.
“Trading the market without knowing what stage it is in is like selling life insurance to twenty-year-olds and eighty-year-olds at the same premium.” – Sperandeo
Again here, we see Sperandeo drawing a real world comparison to stock trading. He discusses that you just as the odds would be better if you sell life insurance to a twenty-year-old compared to an eighty-year-old, the same can be said when trading a young trend compared to trading an extended trend. He doesn’t necessarily say you should trade a new trend or shouldn’t trade an extended trend, but that you should strongly factor that in to your timing decisions. (more…)
The majority of unskilled investors stubbornly hold onto their losses when the losses are small and reasonable. They could get out cheaply, but being emotionally involved and human, they keep waiting and hoping until their loss gets much bigger and costs them dearly.”
The key to trading success is emotional discipline. If intelligence were the key, there would be a lot more people making money trading… I know this will sound like a cliche, but the single most important reason that people lose money in the financial markets is that they don’t cut their losses short.”
Some people say, “I can’t sell that stock because I’d be taking a loss.” If the stock is below the price you paid for it, selling doesn’t give you a loss; you already have it.
When I became a winner I went from ‘I figured it out, therefore it can’t be wrong’ to ‘I figured it out, but if I’m wrong, I’m getting the hell out, because I want to save my money and go on to the next trade.’”