Here’s a simple question to start off with: What is it that you think about before you start trading? Is it money? Booking successful trades? Maybe it’s the brighter financial future we all hope to achieve on the wings of our trading success? If you’re like most traders—and the pros included—you tend to think about making money before you start trading…and that’s understandable!
There are plenty of times in the markets, though, when it pays not to follow the crowd, and when you start trading could be one of those times. So whether it’s at the onset of your trading career, or as you start trading each market session, consider these alternate thought patterns, which can help you trade better and more freely, not to mention get positive results without being so uptight and fixated on them, the way most traders are.
Far removed from the pipe dreams about newfound wealth and financial freedom is the reality that trading is hard work, and success isn’t guaranteed. Sure, trading looks easy on TV commercials and in all the clever marketing messages out there, and perhaps that’s why too many start trading without fully understanding what they’re signing up for. But soon after, when their expectations don’t match the reality, they give up…and over 90% who start trading ultimately do just that.
So instead of dreaming of how to spend those future profits, here’s what anyone looking to start trading should think about going in:
Realistic Expectations: Trading is a lifelong pursuit that requires a strong commitment to continuing education, discipline, and lots of patience, so view success as a long-term goal before you even start trading. Also, expect to devote many hours studying set-ups and techniques, analyzing your trade journal, and developing new skills, because trading encompasses far more than the, say, 10-60 minutes per day you may spend actively placing trades.
Focus on Your Strategy, Not End Results: Establish non-monetary trading goals related to metrics like plan compliance, not win rate, P&L, etc. Make it your intention right when you start trading to never do so with money in mind, and even once you do gain experience and become profitable, never get complacent, and instead work towards becoming even better and more consistent, and continually perfecting your strategy for the long term.
Embrace Your Journey, Imperfect as It’ll Be: What happens to you once you start trading depends largely on the quality and consistency of your efforts, and to a certain degree, on luck and the random nature of the markets. Inevitably, you’ll have winning and losing trades along the way, and you stand to learn a great deal from each of them, if you so choose. So take everything that happens—the good and the bad—as a learning experience, and appreciate challenges and the chance to work through them, for each one is a chapter in the larger story of your trading career, which, like everyone else’s, will have plenty of twists and turns along the way!
The promise of a new trading day typically brings high hopes, maybe some trepidation, but above all, endless possibilities. There’s seemingly no limit to what traders may think before they start trading each day, but here again, thoughts about money and end results are misdirected. Instead, the focus should be on strategy, execution, and “following the rules.” (Recently, we discussed how a pre-trade checklist can be helpful in the moments before a trade.)
Here are some other worthwhile thoughts for before you start trading as well:
Your Physical & Mental State: Make sure your body and mind are “in the game” before you start trading. Did you just have an argument with your spouse, or are the kids misbehaving? Are you thinking about outside pressures of work, life, family, finances, or something else? Or maybe you’re sick, or feel overtired and not at your best that day? If so, don’t just start trading and try to power through it. Always begin each day with clear senses, and if you can’t do it that day, then perhaps the best trade idea will be no trades at all.
Your Game Plan: Start trading each day with a purpose, and a distinct game plan for the markets, set-ups, and time frames you’re going to trade in accordance with your strategy, and don’t vary from that. Too many will switch wildly from market to market, or talk themselves into trading sub-par or unfamiliar set-ups in the heat of the moment, even though that wasn’t part of their plan going in. Remember that trading is simply executing a strategy with a proven edge, not making one up as you go along, so reinforce the importance of having that discipline before you start trading each day.
The Big Picture: Many often feel like so much is riding on every trade. Even apart from the money, their reputation and validation of their skill level is at stake, and for many, even a feeling of self-worth is on the line. Don’t start trading until you erase those thoughts from your memory. Reflect on the “big picture” and what’s truly important in your life. Your health, your family and loved ones, and everything else you hold dear, is not riding on the outcome of your trades, so just be grateful for the opportunity you have to trade another day, and don’t build up trades so much that they seem like life or death matters.
Do you ever consider what percentage of trading is just mental? Is it 70%, 80%, 90%, or maybe even more? Regardless of how much, it flat-out matters what you’re thinking, whether it’s during a trade, after one has ended, or even before you start trading.
So whether it’s at the onset of your trading career, or at the beginning of a new trading day, focus on your thought process, promote these healthy ones, and work towards blocking out and eventually eliminating unhealthy thoughts centered around money and end results. You’ll trade more freely for it, have more fun, and reach your true potential much faster than those who toil away while fighting a combined battle against the markets and themselves with each trading day.