Notes from Trading in the Zone
|September 7th, 2016, 08:08 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Student of the Markets
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Notes from Trading in the Zone
Notes from reading through Trading in the Zone. I tried to pull all the important aspects so as to set this up as a reference vs. having to read through the full book again in the future. Kind of like my highlighter. In my opinion Mark Douglas' books offer some of the highest quality trading info from a psychological perspective.
Trading in the zone
While this may sound complicated, it all boils down to learning to believe that: (1) you don't need to know what's going to happen next to make money; (2) anything can happen; and (3) every moment is unique, meaning every edge and outcome is truly a unique experience. The trade either works or it doesn't. In any case, you wait for the next edge to appear and go through the process again and again.
However, market analysis is not the path to consistent results. It will not solve the trading problems created by lack of confidence, lack of discipline, or improper focus. When you operate from the assumption that more or better analysis will create consistency, you will be driven to gather as many market variables as possible into your arsenal of trading tools. But what happens then? You are still disappointed and betrayed by the markets, time and again, because of something you didn't see or give enough consideration to. It will feel like you can't trust the markets; but the reality is, you can't trust yourself.
As long as you are susceptible to the lands of errors that are the result of rationalizing, justifying, hesitating, hoping, and jumping the gun, you will not be able to trust yourself. If you can't trust yourself to be objective and to always act in your own best interests, achieving consistent results will be next to impossible. Trying to do something that looks so simple may well be the most exasperating thing you will ever attempt to do. The irony is that, when you have the appropriate attitude, when you have acquired a "trader s mind-set" and can remain confident in the face of constant uncertainty, trading will be as easy and simple as you probably thought it was when you first started out.
Consistent losers do almost anything to avoid accepting the reality that, no matter how good a trade looks, it could lose. Without the presence of an external structure forcing the typical trader to think otherwise, he is susceptible to any number of justifications, rationalizations, and the kind of distorted logic that will allow him to get into a trade believing that it can't lose, which makes determining the risk in advance irrelevant.
The unlimited characteristics of the trading environment require that we act with some degree of restraint and selfcontrol, at least if we want to create some measure of consistent success. The structure we need to guide our behavior has to originate in your mind, as a conscious act of free will. This is where the many problems begin.
Remember, the best traders think in a number of unique ways. They have acquired a mental structure that allows them to trade without fear and, at the same time, keeps them from becoming reckless and committing fear-based errors. This mind-set has a number of components, but the bottom line is that successful traders have virtually eliminated the effects of fear and recklessness from their trading.
There are a number of psychological factors that make it very easy to assume that it's what you don't know about the markets that causes your losses and lack of consistent results. However, that's just not the case. The consistency you seek is in your mind, not in the markets. It's attitudes and beliefs about being wrong, losing money, and the tendency to become reckless, when you're feeling good, that cause most losses—not technique or market knowledge.
Even though you cannot force or will yourself into a zone, you can set up the kind of mental conditions that are most conducive to experiencing "the zone," by developing a positive winning attitude. I define a positive winning attitude as expecting a positive result from your efforts, with an acceptance that whatever results you get are a perfect reflection of your level of development and what you need to learn to do better. That's what the great athletes have: a winning attitude that allows them to easily move beyond their mistakes and keep going.
Learning more and more about the markets only to avoid pain will compound his problems because the more he learns, the more he will naturally expect from the markets, making it all the more painful when the markets don't do their part. He has unwittingly created a vicious cycle where the more he learns, the more debilitated he becomes; the more debilitated he becomes, the more he feel compelled to learn. The cycle will continue until he either quits trading in disgust or recognizes that the root cause of his trading problems is his perspective, not his lack of market knowledge.
As I have already stressed several times, what separates the best traders from everyone else is not what they do or when they do it, but rather how they think about what they do and how they're thinking when they doit
The best traders stay in the flow because they don't try to get anything from the market; they simply make themselves available so they can take advantage of whatever the market is offering at any given moment.
Other than the many issues surrounding responsibility that we discussed in Chapter 3, there isn't anything about trading that is more central to your success and also more misunderstood than the concept of accepting the risk.
I said that many of the mental patterns that cause traders to lose and make errors are so self-evident and deeply ingrained that it would never occur to us that the reason we aren't consistently successful is because of the way we think. Understanding, becoming consciously aware of, and then learning how to circumvent the mind's natural propensity to associate is a big part of achieving that consistency. Developing and maintaining a state of mind that perceives the opportunity flow of the market, without the threat of pain or the problems caused by overconfidence, will require that you take conscious control of the association process.
If there is such a thing as a secret to the nature of trading, this is it: At the very core of one's ability 1) to trade without fear or overconfidence, 2) perceive what the market is offering from its perspective, 3) stay completely focused in the "now moment opportunity flow," and 4) spontaneously enter the "zone," it is a strong virtually unshakeable belief in an uncertain outcome with an edge in your favor. The best traders have evolved to the point where they believe, without a shred of doubt or internal conflict, that "anything can happen."
However, what you don't know is exactly how the pattern your variables identify will unfold. With the perspective of making yourself available, you know that your edge places the odds of success in your favor, but, at the same time, you completely accept the fact that you don't know the outcome of any particular trade. By making yourself available, you consciously open yourself up to find out what will happen next; instead of giving way to an automatic mental process that causes you to think you already know. Adopting this perspective leaves your mind free of internal resistance that can prevent you from perceiving whatever opportunity the market is making available from its perspective (its truth).
Not only can you learn something about the market that you previously didn't know, but you also set up the mental condition most conducive to entering "the zone." The essence of what it means to be in "the zone" is that your mind and the market are in sync. As a result, you sense what the market is about to do as if there is no separation between yourself and the collective consciousness of everyone else participating in the market. The zone is a mental space where you are doing more than just reading the collective mind, you are also in complete harmony with it
They simply don't do the mental work necessary to reconcile the many conflicts that exist between what they've already learned and believe, and how that learning contradicts and acts as a source of resistance to implementing the various principles of successful trading. Getting into and taking advantage of the kind of free-flowing states of mind that are ideal for trading requires that those conflicts be thoroughly resolved.
What casino owners and professional gamblers understand about the nature of probabilities is that each individual hand played is statistically independent of every other hand. This means that each individual hand is a unique event, where the outcome is random relative to the last hand played or the next hand played. If you focus on each hand individually, there will be a random, unpredictable distribution between winning and losing hands. But on a collective basis, just the opposite is true. If a large enough number of hands is played, patterns will emerge that produce a consistent, predictable, and statistically reliable outcome.
It's the ability to believe in the unpredictability of the game at the micro level and simultaneously believe in the predictability of the game at the macro level that makes the casino and the professional gambler effective and successful at what they do. Their belief in the uniqueness of each hand prevents them from engaging in the pointless endeavor of trying to predict the outcome of each individual hand. They have learned and completely accepted the fact that they don't know what's going to happen next. More important, they don't need to know in order to make money consistently.
Because they don't have to know what's going to happen next, they don't place any special significance, emotional or otherwise, on each individual hand, spin of the wheel, or roll of the dice. In other words, they're not encumbered by unrealistic expectations about what is going to happen, nor are their egos involved in a way that makes them have to be right. As a result, it's easier to stay focused on keeping the odds in their favor and executing flawlessly, which in turn makes them less susceptible to making costly mistakes.
They stay relaxed because they are committed and willing to let the probabilities (their edges) play themselves out, all the while knowing that if their edges are good enough and the sample sizes are big enough, they will come out net winners. The best traders use the same thinking strategy as the casino and professional gambler. Not only does it work to their benefit, but the underlying dynamics supporting the need for such a strategy are exactly the same in trading as they are in gambling.
Suppose the trader seizes the opportunity to take advantage of his edge and puts on a trade. What factors will determine whether the market unfolds in the direction of his edge or against it? The answer is: the behavior of other traders! At the moment he puts a trade on, and for as long as he chooses to stay in that trade, other traders will be participating in that market. They will be acting on their beliefs about what is high and what is low. At any given moment, some percentage of other traders will contribute to an outcome favorable to our traders edge, and the participation of some percentage of traders will negate his edge. There's no way to know in advance how everyone else is going to behave and how their behavior will affect his trade, so the outcome of the trade is uncertain.
Third, casino owners don't try to predict or know in advance the outcome of each individual event. Aside from the fact that it would be extremely difficult, given all the unknown variables operating in each game, it isn't necessary to create consistent results. Casino operators have learned that all they have to do is keep the odds in their favor and have a large enough sample size of events so that their edges have ample opportunity to work.
Traders who have learned to think in probabilities approach the markets from virtually the same perspective. At the micro level, they believe that each trade or edge is unique. What they understand about the nature of trading is that at any given moment, the market may look exactly the same on a chart as it did at some previous moment; and the geometric measurements and mathematical calculations used to determine each edge can be exactly the same from one edge to the next; but the actual consistency of the market itself from one moment to the next is never the same.
For any particular pattern to be exactly the same now as it was in some previous moment would require that every trader who participated in that previous moment be present. What's more, each of them would also have to interact with one another in exactly the same way over some period of time to produce the exact same outcome to whatever pattern was being observed. The odds of that happening are nonexistent. It is extremely important that you understand this phenomenon because the psychological implications for your trading couldn't be more important.
The bottom line is that there is some degree of sophistication to thinking in probabilities, which can take some people a considerable amount of effort to integrate into their mental systems as a functional thinking strategy. Most traders don't fully understand this; as a result, they mistakenly assume they are thinking in probabilities, because they have some degree of understanding of the concepts. I've worked with hundreds of traders who mistakenly assumed they thought in probabilities, but didn't.
As a result, being wrong on any given trade has the potential to be associated with any (or every) other experience in a trader's life where he's been wrong. The implication is that any trade can easily tap him into the accumulated pain of every time he has been wrong in his life. Given the huge backlog of unresolved, negative energy surrounding what it means to be wrong that exists in most people, it's easy to see why each and every trade can literally take on the significance of a life or death situation. So, for the typical trader, determining what the market would have to look, sound, or feel like to tell him that a trade isn't working would create an irreconcilable dilemma.
I define an unrealistic expectation as one that does not correspond with the possibilities available from the market's perspective. If each moment in the market is unique, and anything is possible, then any expectation that does not reflect these boundary-less characteristics is unrealistic.
In what way does a trader have to learn how to be rigid and flexible at the same time? The answer is: We have to be rigid in our rules and flexible in our expectations. We need to be rigid in our rules so that we gain a sense of self-trust that can, and will always, protect us in an environment that has few, if any, boundaries. We need to be flexible in our expectations so we can perceive, with the greatest degree of clarity and objectivity, what the market is communicating to us from its perspective.
A probabilistic mind-set pertaining to trading consists of five fundamental truths.
1. Anything can happen.
2. You don't need to know what is going to happen next in order to make money.
3. There is a random distribution between wins and losses for any given set of variables that define an edge.
4. An edge is nothing more than an indication of a higher probability of one thing happening over another.
5. Every moment in the market is unique.
Keep in mind that your potential to experience emotional pain comes from the way you define and interpret the information you're exposed to. When you adopt these five truths, your expectations will always be in line with the psychological realities of the market environment. With the appropriate expectations, you will eliminate your potential to define and interpret market information as either painful or threatening, and you thereby effectively neutralize the emotional risk of trading.
We can "know" that we have a specific plan as to how we are going to take profits if a trade works. But that's it! If what we think we know starts expanding to what the market is going to do, we're in trouble. And all that's required to put us into a negatively charged, "I know what to expect from the market" state of mind is for any belief, memoiy, or attitude to cause us to interpret the up and down tics or any market information as anything but an opportunity to do something on our own behalf.
Creating consistency requires that you completely accept that trading isn't about hoping, wondering, or gathering evidence one way or the other to determine if the next trade is going to work. The only evidence you need to gather is whether the variables you use to define an edge are present at any given moment. When you use "other" information, outside the parameters of your edge to decide whether you will take the trade, you are adding random variables to your trading regime. Adding random variables makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine what works and what doesn't. If you're never certain about the viability of your edge, you won't feel too confident about it. To whatever degree you lack confidence, you will experience fear. The irony is, you will be afraid of random, inconsistent results, without realizing that your random, inconsistent approach is creating exactly what you are afraid of.
When you are at peace with not knowing what's going to happen next, you can interact with the market from a perspective where you will be making yourself available to let the market tell you, from its perspective, what is likely to happen next. At that point, you will be in the best state of mind to spontaneously enter "the zone," where you are tapped into the "now moment opportunity flow."
The first stage is the mechanical stage. In this stage, you:
1. Build the self-trust necessary to operate in an unlimited environment.
2. Learn to flawlessly execute a trading system.
3. Train your mind to think in probabilities (the five fundamental truths).
4. Create a strong, unshakeable belief in your consistency as a trader.
The mechanical stage of trading is specifically designed to build the kind of trading skills (trust, confidence, and thinking in probabilities) that will virtually compel you to create consistent results. I define consistent results as a steadily rising equity curve with only minor draw downs that are the natural consequence of edges that didn't work. Other than finding a pattern that puts the odds of a winning trade in your favor, achieving a steadily rising equity curve is a function of systematically eliminating any susceptibility you may have to making the kind of fear, euphoric or self-valuation based trading errors I have described throughout this book.
When it comes to personal transformation, the most important ingredients are your willingness to change, the clarity of your intent, and the strength of your desire. Ultimately, for this process to work, you must choose consistency over eveiy other reason or justification you have for trading. If all of these ingredients are sufficiently present, then regardless of the internal obstacles you find yourself up against, what you desire will eventually prevail.
I AM A CONSISTENT WINNER BECAUSE:
1. I objectively identify my edges.
2. I predefine the risk of every trade.
3. I completely accept risk or I am willing to let go of the trade.
4. I act on my edges without reservation or hesitation.
5. I pay myself as the market makes money available to me.
6. I continually monitor my susceptibility for making errors.
7. I understand the absolute necessity of these principles of consistent success and, therefore, I never violate them.
These beliefs are the seven principles of consistency.
Being objective means there's no potential to define, interpret, and therefore perceive any market information from either a painful or euphoric perspective. When you stop making trading errors, you'll begin trusting yourself. As your sense of self-trust increases, so will your sense of self confidence. The greater your confidence, the easier it will be to execute your trades (act on your edges without reservation or hesitation).