By Larry Williams
No platitudes here, speculating is very dangerous business. It is not about winning or losing, it is about surviving the lows and the highs. If you don’t survive, you can’t win.
The first requirement of survival is that you must have a premise to speculate upon. Rumors, tips, full moons and feelings are not a premise. A premise suggests there is an underlying truth to what you are taking action upon. A short-term trader’s premise may be different from a long-term player’s but they both need to have proven logic and tools. Most investors and traders spend more time figuring out which laptop to buy than they do before plunking down tens of thousands of dollars on a snap decision, or one based upon totally fallacious reasoning.
There is some rhyme and reason to how, why and when markets move – not enough – but it is there. The problem is that there are more techniques that don’t work, than there are techniques that do. I suggest you spend an immense and inordinate amount of time and effort learning these critical elements before entering the foray of financial frolics.
So, you have money management under control, have a valid system, approach or premise to act upon – you still need control of yourself.
2. Ultimately this is an emotional game – always has been, always will be.
Anytime money is involved – your money – blood boils, sweaty hands prevail, and mental processes are short circuited by illogical emotions. Just when most traders buy, they should have sold! Or, fear, a major emotion, scares them away from a great trade/investment. Or, their bet is way too big. The money management decision becomes an emotional one, not one of logic.
3. Greed prevails – proving you are more motivated by greed than fear and understanding the difference.
The mere fact you are a speculator means you have less fear than a ‘normal’ person does. You are more motivated by making money. Other people are more motivated by not losing.
Greed is the trader’s Achilles’ heel. Greed will keep hopes alive, encourage you to hold on to losing trades and nail down winners too soon. Hope is your worst enemy because it causes you to dream of great profits, to enter an unreal world. Trust me, the world of speculating is very real, people lose all they have, marriages are broken up, families tossed asunder by either enormous gains or losses.
My approach to this is to not take any of it very seriously; the winnings may be fleeting, always pursued by the taxman, lawyers and nefarious investment schemes.
How you handle greed is different than I do, so I cannot give an absolute maxim here, but I can tell you this, you must get it in control or you will not survive.
4. Fear inhibits risk taking – just when you should take risk.
Fear causes you to not do what you should do. You frighten yourself out of trades that are winners in deference to trades that lose or go nowhere. Succinctly stated, greed causes you to do what we should not do, fear causes us to not do what we should do.
Fear, psychologists say, causes you to freeze up. Speculators act like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. They can see the car – a losing trade, coming at them – at 120 miles per hour – but they fail to take the action they should.
Worse yet, they take a pass on the winning trades. Why, I do not know. But I do know this: the more frightened I am of taking a trade the greater the probabilities are it will be a winning trade. Most investors scare themselves out of greatness.
5. Money management is the creation of wealth.
Sure, you can make money as a trader or investor, have a good time, and get some great stories to tell. But, the extrapolation of profits will not come as much from your trading and investing skills as how you manage your money.
I’m probably best known for winning the Robbins World Cup Trading Championship, turning $10,000 into $1,100,000.00 in 12 months. That was real money, real trades, and real time performance. For years people have asked for my trades to figure out how I did it. I gladly oblige them, they will learn little there – what created the gargantuan gain was not great trading ability nearly as much as the very aggressive form of money management I used. The approach was to buy more contracts when I had more equity in my account, cut back when I had less. That’s what made the cool million smackers – not some great trading skill.
Ten years later my 16-year-old daughter won the same trading contest taking $10,000 to $110,000.00 (The second best performance in the 20-year history of the championship). Did she have any trading secret, any magical chart, line, and formula? No. She simply followed a decent system of trading, backed with a superior form of money management.
6. Big money does not make big bets.
You have probably read the stories of what I call the swashbuckler traders, like Jesse Livermore, John ‘bet a millions’ Gates, Niederhoffer, Frankie Joe and the like. They all ultimately made big bets and lost big time.
Smart money never bets big. Why should it? You can win big on small bets, see #5 above, but eventually if you bet big you will lose – and you will lose big.
It’s like Russian Roulette. You may well spin the chamber holding the bullet many times and never lose. But spin it often enough and there can be only one result: death. If you make big bets you are destined to be a big loser. Plunging is a loser’s game; it can only set you up for failure. I never bet big (I used to – been there and done that and trust me, it is no way to live). I bet a small percent of my account, bankroll if you will. That way I have controlled loss. There can be no survival without damage control.
7. God may delay but God does not deny.
I never know when during a year I will make my money. It may be on the first trade of the year, or the last (though I hope not). Victory is there to be grasped, but you must be prepared to do battle for a long period of time.
Additionally, while far from a religious person, I think the belief in a much higher power, God, is critical to success as a trader. It helps puts wins and losses into perspective, enables you to persevere through lots of pain and punishment when you know that ultimately all will be right or rewarded in some fashion.
God and the markets is not a fashionable concept – I would never abuse what little connection I have with God to pray for profits. Yet that connection is what keeps people going in times of strife, in fox holes and commodity pits.
8. I believe the trade I’m in right now will be a loser.
This is my most powerful belief and asset as a trader. Most would be wannabes are certain they will make a killing on their next trade. These folks have been to some ‘Pump ’em up, plastic coat their lives’ motivational meeting where they were told to think positive thoughts. They took lessons in affirming their future would be great. They believe their next trade will be a winner.
Not me! I believe at the bottom of my core it will be a loser. I ask you this question – who will have their stops in and take right action, me or the fellow pumped up on an irrational belief he’s figured out the market? Who will plunge, the positive affirmer or me?
If you have not figured that one out – I’ll tell you; I will succeed simply because I am under no delusion that I will win. Accordingly, my action will be that of an impeccable warrior. I will protect myself in all fashion, at all times – I will not become run away with hope and unreality.
9. Your fortune will come from your focus – focus on one market or one technique.
A jack of all trades will never become a winning tradee. Why? Because a trader must zero in on the markets, paying attention to the details of trading without allowing his emotions to intervene.
A moment of distraction is costly in this business. Lack of attention may mean you don’t take the trade you should, or neglect a trade that leads to great cost.
Focus, to me, means not only focusing on the task at hand but also narrowing your scope of trading to either one or two markets or to the specific approach of a trading technique.
Have you ever tried juggling? It’s pretty hard to learn to keep three balls in the area at one time. Most people can learn to watch those ‘details’ after about 3 hours or practice. Add one ball, one more detail to the mess, and few, very few, people can make it as a juggler. It’s precisely that difficult to keep your eyes on just one more ‘chunk’ of data.
Look at the great athletes – they focus on one sport. Artists work on one primary business, musicians don’t sing country & western and opera and become stars. The better your focus, in whatever you do, the greater your success will become.
10. When in doubt, or all else fails – go back to Rule One.