4. Fear of Not Being Right
Too many traders care too much about being proven right in their analysis on each trade, as opposed to looking at trading as a probability game in which they will be both right and wrong on individual trades. In other words, their overall method will create positive results.
The desire to focus on being right instead of making money is a function of the individual’s ego, and to be successful you must trade without ego at all costs. Ego leads to equating the trader’s net worth with his self-worth, which results in the desire to take winners too quickly and sit on losers in often-misguided hopes of exiting at a breakeven.
Trading results are often a mirror for where you are in your life. If you feel any sort of conflict internally with making money or feel the need to be perfect in everything you do, you will experience cognitive dissonance as you trade. This means that your brain will be insisting that you cannot exit a trade at a loss because it ruins your self-image of perfection. Or if you grew up and feel guilty about having money, your mind and ego will find a way to give up gains and take losses in the markets. The ego’s need to protect its version of the self must be let go in order to rid ourselves of the potential for self-sabotage.
If you have a perfectionist mentality when trading, you are really setting yourself up for failure, because it is a given that you will experience losses along the way in trading. Again, you have to think of trading as a probability game. You can’t be a perfectionist and expect to be a great trader. If you cannot take a loss when it is small because of the need to be perfect, then the loss will often times grow to a much larger loss, causing further pain for the perfectionist. The objective should be excellence in trading, not perfection.
In addition, you should strive for excellence over a sustained period, as opposed to judging that each trade must be excellent. The great traders make mistakes too, but they are able to keep the impact of those mistakes small, while really riding their best ideas fully.
For the trader who is dealing with excessive ego challenges (yet, who wants to admit it?), this is one of the strongest arguments for mechanical systems, as you grade yourself not on whether your trade analysis was right or wrong. Instead you judge yourself based on how effectively you executed your system’s entry and exit signals. This is much easier for those traders who want to leave their egos at the door when they start to trade. Additionally, because we are raised in a highly competitive culture, the perception of a contest or competition will also bring out your ego’s desire to win and beat others.
You will be better off seeing trading as a series of opportunities that will become apparent to you, and your task is to create a plan that finds opportunities with potential rewards that are several times greater than the risks you incur.
Be sure you are writing down your reasons for entering each trade, as the ego will play tricks and come up with new reasons to hang on to losing positions once the original reasons have evaporated. One of our survival mechanisms is remembering the good and omitting the bad in our minds, but this is dangerous in trading. You must acknowledge the risk and use a stop on every trade to admit when the analysis is no longer timely. This helps prevent undesirable situations where you get stuck in a position because you did not adhere to your original stop. This is a bad use of capital being tied up in an under-performing position, when there are likely to be many better opportunities elsewhere. Trading without stops is an ego-driven approach that hopes to avoid accountability for a losing trading idea. This is an unacceptable behavior to the successful trader, who knows he must limit risk with stops to stay in the game for the next trading opportunity.
In summary, your trading plan must account for the emotions you will be prone to experience, particularly those related to managing fear. As a trade, you must move from a fearful mindset to mental state of confidence. You have to believe in your ability as well as the effectiveness of your plan to take profits that are larger than the manageable losses. This builds the confidence of knowing that you are on the right track. It also makes it easier to continue to execute new trades after a string of losing positions. Psychologically, that’s the critical point where many individuals will pull the plug, because they are too reactive to emotions as opposed to the longer-term mechanics of their plan. If you’re not sure if you can make this leap, know that you can if you start small.
Too many investors have an “all-or-none” mentality. They’re either going to get rich quick or blow out trying. You want to take the opposite mentality – one that signals that you are in this for the longer haul. This gives you “permission” to slowly get comfortable and to keep refining your plan as you go. As you focus on execution while managing fear, you realize that giving up is the only way you can truly lose. You will win as you conquer the four major fears, to gain confidence in your trading method and, ultimately, you will gain even more confidence in yourself.