Why Don't We Keep Stops?
With everything said and written on the subject of stops, it should be given that everyone is conditioned to keep them religiously even before they start trading. No matter what source a newer trader turns to, utter importance of stops will be underlined and emphasized up to the degree that keeping them is heralded as the ultimate key to success. We all heard adages like “Take care of your losses, profits will take care of themselves”.
Do all the stern warnings work? Not really.
Time and again traders blow their stops, widen them in a course of a trade, hold losing position in false hope it will make them whole. If this destructive behavior continues despite all the warnings, there must be deeply rooted reasons for this. As with most trading flaws, failure to keep stops roots in fundamental misconceptions about the very nature of the market and trading. Such misconceptions cause incorrect psychological makeup which, in turn, results in behavioral patterns harmful for a trader’s performance. In order to re-condition oneself it is necessary to work out fundamental, even philosophical if you will, understanding of the market as an environment in which a trader operates.
Let us list and analyze the misconceptions that cause failure to keep stops.
Right action must result in profit.
This misconception stems from misunderstanding of the very nature of the market as an uncertain environment. Newer trader sees a market as a conglomerate of firm links between reasons and outcomes. In such a conglomerate, every reason results in single possible outcome. The simplest case of such link would be “good news – up, bad news – down”. We know it’s not true – price reacts to news in a wide variety of ways.
Similarly, an inexperienced trader applying the setup he knows “should work” expects every trade to be a winner, providing all the components of the setup are right. Have you ever heard complaints like “Everything was exactly like in that book, yet the trade failed”? That is direct result of this misunderstanding. Everything may be right, yet the trade fails – just because markets work in probabilities and not in certainties.
If a system produces certain percentage of wins over time, it’s just statistics – and, as it is always the case with statistics, it cannot predict an outcome of a particular trade. No matter how good the setup is, any given trade can fail. That’s why it’s imperative for a trader to distinguish between two kinds of losses.
The first kind is a loss caused by a trader’s mistake – failure to follow all the rules of system applied, or impulsive entry without any reason at all. Such losses must be taken as a lesson. The second kind is the case where every piece of puzzle was in place, yet the trade failed – such losses must be written off as a part of trading game, as a tribute to uncertainty of the markets.
Of course, if you identify a component of your trading system that regularly causes trade failure, you can and should tweak your system in order to minimize failures. However, during the trade a stop must be taken as soon as signal of failure appears. The line of thinking “The setup was so good, it must work eventually” is a disaster waiting to happen.
Failure to perceive the market as an uncertain environment can result in another misconception:
Losses can be eliminated.
In a paradoxical way, this erroneous notion leads to more losses. A trader tweaks his system endlessly trying to get rid of losses completely. In such constant adjusting and re-adjusting, the system evolves into something totally different, losing its original logic, or even stops producing entry signals at all. As a result, a trader either abandons his system, which was not a bad one to begin with, or in a worst case, simply refuses to take losses. After all, he made his system so perfect by eliminating all the reasons for failures, it just MUST work! Meanwhile, had he stayed with original approach, maybe with some minor tweaks, it would continue producing steady results.
My trade is who I am.
This is one of those hidden subconscious misconceptions that cause us to refuse to take our stop. A trader perceives the result of his trade as a reflection of his personality, his abilities. A trade failure makes him feel as though he is a failure. Winning makes him feel "right", while losing makes him feel "wrong". Nobody likes to be a failure, to be wrong. That’s why, in order to avoid being wrong, we refuse to take our stop. You can be right and still lose on this particular trade. You can be wrong and win, too.
It’s important to differ between good and bad trade, and we will be back to this later, in the Random reinforcement part. At this point it’s important to separate your self-perception from the result of your trade. Taking a stop loss, you are stopping your loss – nothing foolish about that. The major trigger for the right approach here is a realization that by accepting the market as an uncertain environment, we already have accepted the possibility of losses. If we haven’t expected the market to work in our favor every time, there is no reason to feel foolish when it doesn’t.