What's the hardest thing a trader will ever have to do?

Today I've decided that we need to show our support to our huge Aussie following by giving Dean Whittingham, a native Aussie and trading mentor, the ability to teach us a thing or two about what he's learned while trading in Australia. He's been a mentor, trader, teacher, and technical analyst for years and today he'll be blogging about the hardest thing a trader will have to do.


Visit forums, join memberships, purchase tuition with member areas for support, read books, talk to fellow traders etc and you can be guaranteed you will come across many who will be struggling with a whole host of reasons why. Some will even appear as experts but beneath the surface are struggling with some aspect of their own trading system or style. But do you know what the hardest thing any trader will have to do is?

1. Learn the jargon – no way, this is easy and it just takes time.

2. Find a profitable trading system – there are hundreds of thousands of them, in fact many are just given away for free nowadays.

3. Back test and paper trade – c’mon, I know many people don’t like hard work but you’re way off here.

4. Learning to read charts – kids like reading charts as they look at the green thing and they say, “Hey that’s going up”, or if they see a red thing they say “that’s going down”.

5. Setting goals – important because if you don’t have a goal, you’re floating aimlessly; but not the hardest.

6. Thinking successfully – no matter who you are or where you are there is always something you are good at. If this is so you already know how to be successful.

7. Being true to yourself – knowing who you are is indeed a quality that sets one apart from the rest and is therefore one of the hardest things a trader will ever have to learn, but not the hardest.

8. Cut losses short – it is hard to do this for many but it is definitely not the hardest.

9. Logging trades – as we are lazy this is done by a very few, but this does not make it the hardest, not by a long shot.

10. Keep emotions at bay – trading without emotions is very hard, but as we are humans the proper definition is more like managing emotions; but either way it is not the hardest thing a trader will ever have to do.

11. Remain independent – listening to other’s advice whether it is a newsletter, internet forum, or just your buddy next door is very easy to do as we like to follow other people by nature so to do the opposite is hard, but not the hardest.

12. Sticking to the rules of a plan or system – this is indeed hard but not the hardest. Many people trade with only rules for analyzing or entering, but most never have a complete set of rules anyway, but even those that do, it is not quite the hardest and you're about to find out why.

13. Letting profits run – BINGO!

The hardest thing a trader will ever have to do is to let profits run. It doesn't matter whether a trader uses trailing stops or profit targets, the ability to let a trade run its full course is the hardest thing a trader will have to consistently do.

Why is this so difficult?

For one, most place more emphasis on seeking opportunities and rules for entering than on anything else to do with running a trading business. And this is exactly how the whole “trading” thing is marketed. Very few traders have rules for exiting.

But even those that do have rules for exiting, only a small minority will stick to them, and this is because we as traders can not get past thinking about the money. Money rules us as traders and probably rules us in our lives too.

If you go back over all the points above I can tell you that all of them contribute in some way to the most difficult thing a trader will do; hold on to winning trades.

For example, if you think you’re a successful trader then why would you cut your profits short?

Because if you thought you were a success you would know yourself and where you need emotional management, you would learn any jargon and how to analyze, you would have a goal, and you would have a plan to go with it, which means you would have a system with rules for analyzing, entering and exiting, and you would have a fair idea how this system performs, which means you would have back-tested or paper traded it, and you’d cut losses short and you’d log all trades, you’d remain independent, and finally you’d stick to all the rules.

What a trader will face is the situation where they cut a profit short and take a look at what they made for that trade; this will send out a good feeling throughout their body. What will compound this feeling is if they look a little later on to see their decision was justified because the trade would have resulted in a loss if they’d not closed it out earlier.

The problem is this good feeling we are experiencing is encouraging bad behaviour whether it’s breaking rules, trading without a plan or whatever. To continue on this path will lead you to having to find more winning trades because the trades you do get wrong will cost you more than what you make from the profitable ones.

Now here comes the litmus test: If you cut a profit short only to see it would have been a lot more profitable had you held on longer or used your exit rules then this should hurt – I mean really hurt, but not because of the lost opportunity but because you see it as a failure on your part. If it doesn’t then success means very little to you.

All traders will go through the process of seeing themselves in a winning trade only to see it end up as a loss. This is inevitable. Apart from having someone look over your shoulder to prevent you breaking rules or cutting profits short, the only person who can do this is you! If you find yourself cutting profits short then look for your weakest links in your trading business. I have given you many here to ponder.

Dean Whittingham

http://www.atradersuniverse.com - Stock, futures and forex trading system development for all traders.
If you'd like to learn more from Dean I highly suggest his latest report on The Subtle Trap of Trading

6 thoughts on “What's the hardest thing a trader will ever have to do?

  1. Frank
    Yes it is quite useless to just say "let your profits run" without a system to protect them.
    I believe the answer to your question is to set progressive protective stops to protect your profits as the price hopefully moves in the direction you want. This is what I do. However, you will be stopped out, for example, in long trades on inevitable minor corrections if you set your protective sell stops too high. If this happens and you still see enough upside in the price then re-enter and start again, progressively moving your stops up as the price rises on long trades. Sounds easy enough to do but it's harder to get it just right in practice. Hope this helps a little.
    Cheers J

  2. Thanks for the replies Frank and Cyril.

    When a trader understands their system, there is nothing left to manage on the technical side.

    If you have back-tested, paper traded and traded live for at least some reasonable period, then you must know your systems performance metrics, i.e. your total losses, total profits, total # of trades - you then take these figures and determine your 'average profit per trade'. If you know your average profit per trade, then you must know the number of trades you must take in a period to reach any goal you set.

    Where it get's people is when they don't follow the rules of their system, i.e. their exit rules, which then completely and utterly messes up the performance metrics they calculated.

    Therefore, the main reason someone breaks their rules must surely come from the psychological standpoint. A practical way to do that is suggested is as follows.

    Enter a trade with a plan to exit it 'before' you enter. Then tell everyone you know (especially people who don't trade themselves) that that is your exit plan or strategy. In other words make yourself accountable - this is a practical way to achieve the goal of letting your profits run or adhering to your exit strategy.

    Unless of course I have misunderstood your questions, which may be, "please tell me the best indicator or method to use as an exit strategy", which there isn't one. Exit strategies are personal.


  3. Unfortunately,as interesting and important a point made in Mr. Whittingham's article about letting profits run,a practical method to achieve that goal would have been useful.

  4. this article hits the nail right on the head, as we all experience this predicatment before, but how do you find the solution, aside from sitting there and watch all day, or set a stop/limit, but that's not the ideal solution either, I've seen my trading kept going and going long after the limit kicked in. any thoughts any one?

  5. please send info.


    Please let me know what information you are looking for and I will be glad to help.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    Lindsay Thompson
    Director of New Business Development

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