You must do the things you think you cannot do.

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Carrying a Cat by the Tail

"Any plan you develop should emerge from experience—and the opportunities that you observe during that experience." - Enhancing Trader Performance by Brett Steenbarger

"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way." - Mark Twain

"You can't step twice into the same river. " - Heraclitus

"One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try." - Aristotle

For the beginning trader, or even those further along yet still stuck in various forms of trading dogma, developing a plan often involves something pernicious: using someone else's ideas without personal experience. Many of the methods described in books and online tutorials can work [1], however, need modification depending on the situation. This requires experience. How do you know if a market has gone from bearish to bullish or vice versa? Experience. There isn't a well-defined method for making that determination (at least not right off the bat). If there was, no one would tell you. Trust me, you don't have enough money.

How do you know what effect something like the FOMC could have on markets without actually experiencing it first hand? When I started trading I didn't know what could happen on FOMC Days. At first, I experience large windfalls. Lady luck chose my side. But, this did not allow me to experience the importance of such events. Later, when the events (which I hadn't investigated much) started producing different results, I lost lots of money. You need experience in order to understand such things and their evolution of meaning. Some books out there may go into such detail [2], but most will not. Most may mention news offhand but focus entirely on reading candlesticks without explaining context. Some may show you Fibonacci lines [3] but not explain why they place the beginnings or ends here or there. Many books may only show you successful implementation of such signals--failing to alert you to the instance where a doji may fail, or a gap does not act like resistance/support.

How do you know what your mind will do with $100 on the line? $1000? $5000? $20k? Your home? Without experience, you may assume that money's psychological effect will be minimal. Unlikely. Perhaps you think you will be disciplined. Really, you do not know what disciplined even means yet! How do you learn the perfect baseball pitch when you have never thrown a ball before? Or the perfect tennis swing without ever having played? YOU DON'T! You need to play first. Experience the weight of the objects in your hands. Begin developing a feel for the various nuances. Perfecting your skill comes later.

Basically, without experience you cannot create a good plan. Even if you do, you will have trouble executing it. Furthermore, and I think most importantly for beginning traders, without experience you cannot trade someone else's plan well! I don't have enough football [4] experience to play much less formulate a winning plan on Superbowl Sunday! I could take one of John Madden's plays step for step, but I doubt I could invigorate the team like he can; I don't have the skill. Why are you trying to do that with trading?



[1] This excludes most of the sites, endorsed by someone you have never heard of (and no one else has either), with stories of overnight success, rags to riches (in a week), and with a paypal link at the bottom. Also excluded are: numerology sites, astrology sites, or basically anything without some solid logical reason for working. They may work once or twice, but prepare for the illogical to eventually leave you homeless, and the guy selling you the package rich. Back.

[2] An interesting book that explains some of the Federal Reserve actions over the years (especially the Volker years) is Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country. It is rather thick and probably won't benefit your trading enough to warrant such an endeavor. But, it is information for the interested and/or hardcore. Back.

[3] I'm not a fan, do not use them. I would only (and hesitantly) suggest using them like others use pivot lines. Remember: there's nothing magical about them. Life isn't that beautiful/simple. If it were, we'd all be rich. Back.

[4] Not soccer for our international friends, although it would probably serve just as well :)Back.


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  2. Hi fellow trader! Just found this blog and so far I love it, a big problem I have is my mindset (it's more screwed up than any humans in existence) I favorite d your site and am planning to read daily hopefully to develop a similar mindset. I especially liked your post on dreams, I have dreams too, but having never experienced my dreams in any kind of reality they are just sort of ideas, vague concepts that I don't really believe could happen for me.. anyway I have great respect for anyone who reflects and attempts to better themselves, their discipline/work ethic, so I wish nothing but success and happiness for you.