Trading Psychology – Why Traders Knowingly Make Bad Decisions
“To Err is Human”, but in trading it often happens that traders will knowingly make decisions that create losing trades. Now we’re not talking about losses that come about because of testing out a trading plan or a specific indicator. Nor are we looking at simple errors committed purely by accident. If our goal is to profit, then why would we do these things that are clearly against what we know to be right? This phenomenon has many very undesirable consequences that are experienced quite regularly in the trading world.
A person’s confidence can take a severe blow when these intentional mistakes occur on top of the loss of money. Other after-effects often include a lot of putting oneself down for having done these things. Depending on the magnitude of the error, this can wind up in a rather nasty cycle that compounds the problem and sets the stage for it to happen again. Until the source of the issue is discovered and the trader takes action to address it, the self-sabotaging behavior is likely to happen again and again. This isn’t limited to new traders either.
For an example, one such trader (a real person that we’ll call Mark) of over 50 years had been going through this month-after-month for over a decade since becoming an individual trader trading from home. Mark has done just about everything in the futures industry that there is to do. He worked on soybean farms and at the shipping docks loading ships and coordinating shipments and orders. For about another decade, Mark ran orders on the exchange floor. From there, he worked both for and as an introducing broker in the commodities industry until he decided to retire at the age of 59. Needless to say, Mark had plenty of experience in trading, but for nearly fifteen years, Mark has been losing money. But why, and why does he keep doing it?
Trading is definitely nothing new to Mark. As a broker, he was very successful. He’s tried just about every strategy and system there is. He’s pretty sharp and knows his way around the computer and what he’s looking at on the charts. Mark loves trading and looks forward to getting up every morning to get busy with his trading. On a typical day, he might make 0 or lose 0. More often than not he loses. When his wife gets home from work (yes, she still works at the age of 70), he’s usually brooding in his easy chair after kicking himself and calling himself “stupid” or “idiot”. In all these years, he still has yet to end a year in the black. He’s also concerned about how much longer his wife is going to let him keep on this way.
When asked why he continues to trade this way, and why he doesn’t make use of a system that he knows can make him money, he simply says that he doesn’t want to because they are boring. This is very true: a well-thought out trade, where you know what you’ll do before you get in regardless of which way the market moves can be very boring. However… when you enter trades without a plan, or if you’ve deviated from your system, the suspense can be very intense.
Why do people take the time to sit through movies instead of going straight to the end to see if the hero triumphs or fails? Why do millions of people watch baseball games, rather than simply check the scores in the morning? It is the suspense, the excitement of not-knowing the outcome, that brings the thrill. The moments that are most enjoyed and fully hold our attention are when the ball is in the air and we don’t know if it will be caught or dropped, when the hero’s fate hangs in the balance. As humans, there is a part in all of us that craves that excitement.
At the conscious level, profits are what everyone wants (who doesn’t?). Many people choose trading because trading offers the opportunity to realize very significant financial gain. The real risk is that it also offers the thrill that another part of us craves at the subconscious level. If that part of you isn’t being fulfilled through other channels of your life, it is highly probable to find its way into your trading and seek satisfaction there. Excitement from not-knowing the outcome in your trading is where you don’t want it. What you need to do is to include activities in your life that provide sufficient excitement, and be okay with it if your trading is a bit boring – but profitable.