What was the problem with my list, a list typical of so many novices who think they are learning something? After several months of attempting to apply the “rules,” it became clear that I made not merely a mistake here and there in the list, but a fundamental error in compiling the list in the first place. The error was in taking aim at the last trade each time, as if the next trading situation would present a similar problem. By the time 16 rules are created, all situations are covered and the trader is back to square one.
Let me give you an example of the ironies that result from the typical method of generating a list of trading
rules. One of the most popular trading maxims is, “You can’t go broke taking a profit.” (The brokers invented that one, of course, which is one reason that new traders always hear of it!) This trading maxim appears to make wonderful sense, but only when viewed in the context of a recent trade with a specific outcome. When you have entered a trade at a good price, watched it go your way for a while, then watched it go against you and turn into a loss, the maxim sounds like a pronouncement of divine wisdom. What you are really saying, however, is that in the context of the last trade, “I should have sold when I had a small profit.”
Now let’s see what happens on the next trade. You enter a trade, and after just a few days of watching it go your way, you sell out, only to stare in amazement as it continues to go in the direction you had expected, racking up paper gains of several hundred percent. You ask a more experienced trader what your error was, and he advises you sagely while peering over his glasses, “Remember this forever: Cut losses short; let profits run.” So you reach for your list of trading rules and write this maxim, which means only, of course, “I should NOT have sold when I had a small profit.”
So trading rules #2 and #14 are in direct conflict. Is this an isolated incident? What about rule #3, which reads, “Stay cool; never let emotions rule your trading,” and #8, which reads, “If a trade is obviously going against you, get out of the way before it turns into a disaster.” Stripped of their fancy attire, #3 says, “Don’t panic during trading,” and #8 says, “Go ahead and panic!” Such formulations are, in the final analysis, utterly useless.
What I finally desired to create was a description not of each of the trees, but of the forest. After several years of trading, I came up with —guess what— another list! But this is not a list of “trading rules”; it’s a list of requirements for successful trading. Most worthwhile truths are simple, and this list contains only five items. (In fact, the last two are actually subsets of the first two.) Whether this list is true or complete is arguable, but in forcing myself to express my conclusions, it has helped me understand the true dimensions of the problem, and thus provided a better way of solving it. Like most rewards life offers, market profits are not as easy to come by as the novice believes. Making money in the market requires a good deal of education, like any craft or business. If you’ve got the time, the drive, and the right psychological makeup, you can enter that elite realm of the truly professional, or at least successful, trader or investor. Here’s what you need: