Why Don't We Keep Stops?
A loss is just a paper loss until it’s taken.
This is a big mistake in thinking. If a loss gets out of hand, it’s very real. It paralyzes you, it clouds your judgment, and it makes you miss plenty of other opportunities. Instead of taking a pre-determined loss and moving on to another trade, you sit and watch your losing one, twitching in pain and feeling remorse. Your chance to take a small stop is long gone. You are agonizing now over big one that is going to deplete your account too much and inflict serious emotional wounds. You hardly notice many other opportunities. The market has moved on, other sectors and stocks are in play, and you still nurture your losing trade, hating it and not being able to finally drop it. At some point you will ask yourself "Why was this trade so important to me? What made me hold onto it?" And this takes us to the next common error:
Putting too much importance into single trade.
A newer trader tends to see each trade as overly important, as if it’s going to make or break him. The market is an endless stream of opportunities. The next trade is right around the corner. No single trade is so important that it would be worth abandoning all other opportunities. Perceive your trading as a process, not as separate events. With the correct approach trading becomes natural, like breathing. Each entry is inhale, each exit is exhale. Breathe in and breathe out. Don’t choke yourself trying to hold onto each given breath.
This is an important concept to understand. The market is not always rewarding right decisions and punishing bad ones. The practical implication is that a trader runs a risk to stop applying propper techniques if he sees wrong ones being rewarded sometimes. Take a stop, observe a stock reversing and going into profit zone – and you get tempted to skip your stop next time. If you try it and it works, there is significant chance that you continue doing just that – the bad habit gets reinforced. You may win several times by breaking your rules. What happens eventually is that one trade that does not reverse destroys your account. It’s important to define what good and bad trades are. Unlike many think, a good trade is not always a winning trade; a bad trade is not always a losing trade.
- A good trade is a trade where you kept all your rules that you know to be working in a long run. A good trade can be a winning one when the market acts accordingly to what your system indicates. It can be a losing trade when the market acts against it, but it’s still a good trade.
- A bad trade is a trade made against your better judgment, against your rules. It can be a losing trade when a market acts as it “should”. It can be a winning trade when the market rewards your bad judgment, and it can be a very dangerous trap as a bad habit gets reinforced.
The last thing to say in conclusion is that a certain psychological barrier for a trader to overcome to start applying his stops with no hesitation. When this barrier is taken, things suddenly become so clear and automatic that a trader can’t even believe it was ever a problem for him. When this barrier is overcome, you feel that stops became natural part of your trading, that you take them with no slightest hesitation and forget about them instantly, moving on to search for your next trade, that taking stops do not trigger any negative emotions. This is wonderful feeling of total self-control. Not only will it do plenty of good to your trading performance, it’s a very rewarding feeling in itself.