Why do we REALLY Lose at Trading?

“You miss 100% of shots you do not take”. That’s a famous Wayne Gretzky statement that many trading gurus like to quote. I’ve used it myself in past columns as way to motivate traders to take on risk.

There is just one problem. It’s probably the dumbest trading maxim you will hear.

You see, trading is not like hockey or almost every other human activity out there. It has negative costs attached to every failed action.

What’s the worst thing that happened when Wayne Gretzky missed a shot? Did it ricochet off the boards? Hit the glass? Ended up in a goalies glove? To Gretzky, the downside of missing a shot was minuscule. Now imagine if every time Gretzky missed a shot, every time Lebron hit the rim, every time Messi sent the ball wide of the net, the opposing team got a point.

That’s trading.

That is what makes trading so unique and challenging. We lose not because we can’t take being wrong, but because it’s truly painful when we are.

But here is where things get really interesting.

What the most common thing we do when someone punches us?
Punch back!
So the moment we lose on a trade, we instantly get into a brawl with the market. Our trading turns into “Slap Shot”, which was a great movie, but I think we would all agree is not a good way to live life.

We can deny this all we want. We can call it “trade adjustment”. We can call it “maintaining our thesis”. But in actuality it’s just a schoolyard fight and whether we are thirty or eighty we still look like idiots rolling around on the ground trying to subdue the market which will always be stronger and meaner and dirtier than we are.

In the end, we are just left with a black eye, a puffy lip and a sense of humiliation as the money in the account is gone.

So what can we do to prevent this?

I wish I had a magic answer — but I don’t. There is no perfect way to overcome this problem, but there are two practical solutions to that go a long way to helping contain it.

Trade smaller
Trade less

In FX one of the absolute best ways to avoid a losing spiral is to trade with no leverage at all. That means for every $10,000 in your account your trade size should be 10,000 units or less. Although FX appears to be wild and crazy, the asset class is actually the least volatile major market in the world. It rarely moves more than 1% per day. What makes it so dangerous is the high leverage that can magnify those moves by a factor of 100 or more. Losing 100 pips on no lever trade doesn’t feel like a punch in the face, more like a slight pinch on your arm and you will be much less likely to lash out at the market and want to “punch it back”. You are always much cooler and calmer when losing large amounts of pips on small leverage rather than losing a small number of pips on large leverage — and keeping your cool is half the battle.

The other half has taken me a very long time to realize. The basic fundamental rule of the market is — the rarer the trade, the better the trade. It seems to so obvious in retrospect yet few people appreciate that fact.

Imagine the reverse. Great trades are common! If that were true we would all be billionaires by Tuesday. In fact, if you study the actions of great traders throughout history, guys like George Soros, John Maynard Keynes, and even Warren Buffett. They resemble nothing more than the hunting habits of a lion. Basically, they spend 90% of their time doing NOTHING. And only pounce when the conditions are ideal for a score.

As day traders in FX we can’t be that choosy, but we can still be selective. If you are trading with the trend, only buy higher lows, sell lower highs. If you are fading the trend, stay as close the daily ATR as possible. You’ll be amazed at how much more accurate you will be. Instead of making 10 trades per day, do just 2 and your overall pip score will likely increase.

None of this, of course, will make you an absolute winner. You still need a strategy, an edge, an execution structure and risk control rules. But all those things can be worked out. 99% of us never get the chance to find out if we can succeed because we lose it all in a stupid schoolyard skirmish with the market. Let’s do less of that.