This is a Guest Post from Rolf @Tradeciety (He has some of the best content and trading graphics on twitter).
“You only learn from your mistakes” is a very dangerous and misleading statement. And at the same time, it is totally wrong. In fact, there is so much you can only learn from your winning trades that not using this opportunity will cost you a lot of money as a trader. In the following article we will take a look how you should analyze your winning and your losing trades and what to focus on when evaluating your trades.
Not all winning trades are good
In the first step you have to understand that you can make a bad trading decision, violate all your trading rules and still come out ahead. Having a winning trade while breaking trading rules is very dangerous for the development of a trader because it might lead to sloppy trading behavior and a mindset that trading rules should not be taken too seriously. On the other hand, the best setup can turn into a losing trade, and there is nothing to worry about. It is the nature of the game that not all trades will be winners. The graphic below illustrates the connection between the outcome of a trade and the adherence of trading rules.
How to learn from winning trades
There are mainly three things that you have to ask yourself when it comes to analyzing your winning trades when it comes to increasing your trading performance.
1. Were you just lucky?
“In trading, it does not matter whether you are right or wrong; the only thing that matters is whether you are making money”.
The quote above wanders around trading forums and on social media, but it could not be further from the truth. The previous diagram shows, you can easily end up in a winning trade while having violated all your trading rules; a winning trade would then be the result of pure luck.
Inexperienced and ignorant traders might start to believe that they don’t need trading rules and that their ‘gut feeling’ tells them what to do. Dead wrong. Winning trades, when violating rules, can be very harmful for a trader’s discipline and his overall development. It is therefore important to analyze whether your winning trades are the result of accurate planning and following the plan, or whether you were just lucky.
2. How to make more money?
If you have followed the rules and price made it to your take profit order, you did what a trader is supposed to do. But, did you execute your plan in the best possible way, or was there something you could have done better? There are two things you should analyze when it comes to optimizing your trading performance:
• Was my entry good? Could I have entered later for a better price and, therefore, had a bigger winner?
• Could I have used a smaller stop loss or a wider take profit target?
Although analyzing these two points is crucial for a trader to increase his performance, it is even more important to avoid knee-jerk decisions. Only after you have collected data on a big enough sample size, the numbers can tell you what to do.
3. What do your winning trades have in common?
Finally, you should evaluate your winning trades and find things they have in common. If you are able to find a common denominator you can take more of those trades that already work. Pay attention to the time of the trade entry, a certain indicator setting if you use any, the prevailing market conditions or just whether you have more winning trades on certain instruments than on others.
How to learn from losing trades
It is great when you can find ways to turn winning trades into even bigger wins, but finding out how to eliminate losing trades is equally important for your overall success. And keep in mind, you will never be able to avoid all your losses. They are just part of the game. The following three points can serve as a guideline when analyzing your losing trades.
1. Could the loss have been avoided?
This is probably the most obvious question and the one you have to ask yourself first. Did you violate your trading rules, or was there any way that the loss could have been avoided? Besides breaking trading rules, going against the overall trend and ignoring the impact or release of important news usually fall into this category. But be honest, you cannot avoid all losses and even the best setups will fail over and over again.
2. Could you have lost less?
If you rule out the possibility that the loss was avoidable, you have to answer the question whether it would have been possible to minimize the loss. Did you see early signs for a potential losing trade or was it even your mistake, due to wrong trade management decisions that caused the loss?
Traders sell winners at a 50% higher rate than losers. 60% of sales are winners, while 40% of sales are losers.- Odean (1998): Volume, volatility, price, and profit when all traders are above average
Finding ways to cut losses early is one of the fastest ways to increase trading performance. Evaluate your losing trades to find patterns that signal early when the trade goes wrong. Most trades do not head straight to your stop loss order, but provide opportunities to get out for a smaller loss.
3. What do your losing trades have in common?
In the last step you have to evaluate your losing trades and check whether you can find similarities. Often traders find that they lose a disproportionate amount of money on a specific kind of trade, setup or instrument. Some traders even report that they are better at trading long trades than short trades. An easy way to avoid losses is to find what is not working for you and stop doing it. It seems so obvious, but not many traders follow this advice.
Conclusion: There are several ways to increase your trading performance
Most traders do not see the bigger picture and only focus on finding a ‘better’ indicator that can tell them how to find better trades, whereas the answer is so often right in front of them. By analyzing how to win even more on your winning trades and how to cut losses in an effective way, you can become a profitable trader much faster than believing in the Holy Grail of trading.
You can find more of Rolf’s great articles at www.Tradeciety.com
Today I would like to explore three concepts in trading that many traders have never thought about. Fragility, robustness, and anti-fragility are concepts that describe a trader’s psychology, risk management, and method.
Here are some general definitions:
Fragility is a word used to describe something that is easily broken, shattered, or damaged. It means very delicate or brittle.
Robustness is a system’s ability to operate without failure under a variety of conditions. Being robust means a system can handle variability and remain effective in challenging environments.
Anti-Fragility can be described as high-impact events or shocks that can be beneficial to certain kinds of investment methodologies. It is a concept invented by professor, millionaire trader, bestselling author, and former hedge fund manager Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He invented the term “anti-fragility” because the existing words used to describe the opposite of “fragility,” such as “unbreakable” and “robustness,” were not really accurate. Anti-fragility goes beyond these concepts; it means that something does not merely withstand a shock, but actually benefits from an outlying Black Swan event.
Fragile Traders are new traders that struggle to survive the first year. Their psychology is fragile; they don’t make it through the learning curve because they expect to immediately make money. Learning to trade takes time, just like any other professional pursuit. Fragile traders lack the mental strength and perseverance to stick with trading until they are successful. They make decisions based on their pride, fear, and greed which eventually break their accounts.
A fragile trader has poor risk management. They risk a lot to make a little. Big position sizing leads to fragility because all it takes in one big adverse move to seriously damage an account.
A fragile trading methodology is one based purely on opinion that really has no edge. It is counter-trend, where a trader thinks the logical thing to do is to short uptrends, and go long downtrends, instead of going with the flow. Shorting bull markets and catching falling knives is a fragile trading methodology.
Robust Traders are usually, but not always, trend following traders. There are many different types of robust trading methodologies that put the odds on their side.
Part of what makes traders successful is that they don’t put too much weight on any one trade. The most successful traders limit their total account risk on any one trade to 1%-2% of total trading capital. They carefully look at a market’s volatility and logical support levels to position size effectively and set appropriate stop losses.
Their risk management principles make every trade just one of the next 50-100 trades. This brings down their stress level, and turns down the volume on their emotions. They risk a little over and over again for the chance to make many times their risk.
A Robust Trader has completed the homework on their methodology, system, and principles. They know why their system works, and they understand their edge. They keep the faith in their systems, even during losing streaks, because they understand the realities of changing market environments. They know what kind of trader they are, so there is little internal dialogue of doubt or confusion; they just trade.
Because robust systems are generally trend trading systems, they can profit in both bull and bear markets. These traders need trends to make money, and don’t do well in choppy, trend-free markets or range bound markets. Their systems are robust because the trends come back around eventually, and the profitability of those periods, make up for the smaller losses in trend-free markets.
The Anti-Fragile Trader is someone that puts on very small position sizes in low probability trades, but shifts huge amounts of risk to the trader on the other side of the trade. The methodology of the anti-fragile trader is to bet on the eventual blowup of the traders making high risk trades for a small premium.
The favorite tool of the Anti-Fragile Trader is the out-of-the-money option contract. For pennies on the dollar, they can control huge amounts of assets. While they expire worthless the majority of the time, when a random Black Swan event hits the market affecting the option contract, they can return thousands of percent on capital at risk, and makeup for all the past losses.
The creator of the anti-fragile concept, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, traded long option strangles, betting on both directions to capture any huge trend event up or down. A company being purchased and rocketing up, or a disaster and a company stock sent crashing, was hugely profitable for Taleb. He also bought option contracts on futures markets. The key is very tiny bets on these trades versus total account equity. Tiny losses and tremendous wins was what made the system profitable.
Anti-fragile traders grow stronger through losing trades by learning instead of quitting. Rough market environments don’t break them; it educates them on what to do different in the future. A trader who is mentally anti-fragile has no doubt that they will be a successful trader, and that only time separates them from their goal.
The anti-fragile trader wins in volatile markets and random Black Swan events, outside the bell curve of normal price movements. Taleb made a fortune in the Black Monday crash of 1987, and many other instances over the past 25 years.
What kind of trader do you want to be?
There is a big difference between a trader and a gambler.
Many people think they are traders when they are really just gamblers that could get better odds in Las Vegas betting on the roulette wheel than what they get in the financial markets. The difference between a trader and a gambler is similar to the difference between a casino and a gambler. The casino paradigm for traders was introduced in “Trade like a Casino” by Richard Weissman and this thinking process can really help traders become profitable.
Why would the casinos in Las Vegas be so big and luxurious and gamblers mostly just be broke? Casinos have a statistical edge in their games of chance against the players of those games. Time is the friend of the casino and the enemy of the gambler. The more someone tries to beat the casino the more their chances of losing in their attempt. The casino also has table limits so a gambler cannot keep doubling down to eventually win there is a ceiling to the bet size the casino is willing to take the risk on. The casino does not risk its business and profitability on any one trade it has table limits to make sure no one win makes any difference in its profit and loss statement. The casino allows its edge to play out over a huge amount of trades so the odds come back in its favor over a large sample size of bets.
Another huge edge that the casino has is that it has no emotions; the casino does not care about any player and whether that player is winning or losing. In contrast the gambler is filled with emotions wanting to win back all their losses so they trade with the odds against them and usually trade bigger and bigger wanting that one win to get them back to even when it usually just takes them into bigger and bigger losses. Another plague of the gambler is that even after winning streaks they do not take their profits and leave with their money, they stick around and lose it all either through getting arrogant and trading too big or losing their discipline in their strategy that was working for awhile. Gamblers are generally doomed to be losers.
Ten Ways to Be a Trader NOT a Gambler
- Trade based on the probabilities NOT the potential profits.
- Trade small position sizes based on your account NEVER put your whole account at risk of ruin.
- Trade a plan NOT emotions.
- Always enter a trade with an edge that can be defined DO NOT trade with entries that are only opinions.
- Trade based on quantifiable facts NOT opinions.
- Trade after extensive research on what works and what does not. Don’t trade in ignorance.
- Trade with the correct position sizing since risk management is your number one priority and profits are secondary concern.
- Trade in a way that eliminates any chance of financial ruin NOT to get rich quick.
- Trade with discipline and focus DO NOT change the way you trade suddenly due to winning or losing streaks.
- Trade in the present moment and DO NOT get biased due to old wins or losses.
The question is what side of the market are you operating on? Are you with the majority who gamble and lose their money or are you with the minority acting as the casino picking up the profits that the gamblers consistently lose?
Many new traders entering the trading game can’t get the right answers because they aren’t asking themselves the right questions. Much of the success traders experience is attributable to how well they know themselves. This insight for you will come from the quality of the questions you ask, and how honest you are willing to be with yourself. Only after you honestly answer the following 10 questions, will you have enough self-awareness to be successful.
- What markets will you trade? Futures, options, equities, or forex? You must fully understand the markets you choose.
- Do you have enough money to trade successfully? A bank of $25,000 will enable a trader to avoid the pattern-day-trader rule, and help to ensure broker commissions do not deplete trading capital. If starting with smaller capital, it is better to trade over a longer period to avoid excessive commissions. To comfortably trade for a living, $250,000 to $500,000 in trading capital is realistic, depending on your expected standard of living.
- What kind of annual return do you anticipate? A consistent 12%-20% annual return will put you in league with some of the best money managers in the world.
- What timeframe will you be trading? Will you be a day trader trading intra-day charts and going home flat with no positions each night? A swing trader buying lows, holding for a day, a week, perhaps longer and then selling higher? Or will you be a trend follower, holding positions as long as the trend is up over a period of months?
- How much are you willing to lose on a trade if you are wrong? Position sizing and placing stops to ensure no single loss is more than 1% of your total trading capital will keep your trading capital safe over the long term.
- What will be your entry parameters? You need set ups and entry signals that are proven to be profitable through price and chart studies.
- How will you exit a winning trade to lock in profits? Money is only made in the exit. Trailing stops and profit targets enable you to exit a winning trade while the money is still yours to take home.
- What is your maximum risk exposure? How many open positions will you have at any one time? How much will be at risk in each one of those trades?
- What is the most draw down in capital you are willing to accept before you abandon your system? Generally a 25% draw down is proof that your system is not viable for real trading. A 50% drawdown in trading capital is virtually a ruined account because it will take a 100% return to get back to even.
- What is your edge over other traders in the market? If you can’t answer this question, you need to find an advantage before you place your next trade.
Your success as a trader will depend on whether you ask yourself how you plan on mitigating losses to your trading capital, rather than how you will get rich quickly. Don’t get caught up in trading results; focus on controlling your mindset in the present. By focusing on the process that ultimately leads to success rather than obsessing over the results you achieve in the learning phase, you will become a self-aware, disciplined trader. If you ask the right questions, and then go seek the right answers, the only barrier between you and success is time.