Knowing What You Don’t Know in Trading Markets by Jim Wyckoff
The headline of this educational feature may be a bit confusing, but I will explain what I mean shortly. First, I want to reiterate that trading futures, stock and FOREX markets is not an easy undertaking. It disgusts me that there are a few unsavory people in our industry that portray trading as an easy, get-rich-quick scheme, or as some endeavor for which there are “secrets” to be learned from those who hold “trading secrets.”
Folks, the plain truth is that there are no trading secrets and no easy paths to quick success in trading markets. Beware of anyone who tries to tell (or sell) you such.
One of the biggest obstacles to success in trading markets is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the process of trading. The “process of trading” includes understanding financial leverage, market behavior and trader psychology. Understanding the process of trading can be achieved with perseverance and a willingness to continue to learn.
It’s not coincidental that trading markets is similar to most other human endeavors: Hard work and experience are required to achieve notable success. A person who enjoys classic automobiles would not attempt to tear down and successfully rebuild an engine without having some previous experience, or without having learned about the workings of an automobile engine-including knowing about the tools involved in the operation.
I have written numerous times that learning about different trading tools, different markets and different trading strategies provides a solid foundation on the road to trading success.
Ironically, I believe a major advantage of being an experienced trader is knowing what you don’t know about markets and trading. Yes, you heard that right: Knowing what you don’t know.
What do I mean by this? I mean that there are certain elements of futures trading about which I do not “know,” and never will.
I don’t “know” what markets are going to do in the future. Some may ask, “How can you be in this business and not know what markets are going to do? How can you be a successful trader and not know where market prices are going?” My answer is that market analysis and trading (at least the way I see it) is not a business of bold predictions, but one of exploring market probabilities based upon market knowledge, price history, human behavior and trading experience. The fact that I “know that I don’t know” exactly what a market will do gives me a trading edge. Why? Because I will exercise more caution and think about and plan for what could happen if a trade turns against me. I know that some trades will indeed turn against me and that I need to have the capital to trade another day, so I won’t “put all my eggs in one basket.”
I prudently place protective buy and sell stops on trades because I do not “know” what the markets will do. I would rather absorb a small trading loss and be termed “wrong” about that trade, as opposed to risking trading with no protective stops and seeing a small loser turn into a big loser–all in the “hope” the market will turn around so I can be proven “right.”
(Do you see what I mean when I discuss human behavior? Most of us don’t like to be “wrong,” and will make decisions so that we are not wrong. In trading, sometimes the decisions traders make to avoid being “wrong” are not prudent decisions for those wanting to be successful traders in the long run.)
One sure fire clue I get that a trader does not have much trading and market experience (and needs more!) is when the trader tells me he or she “knows” a market is going to do something. What can be even worse is when a trader thinks he or she “knows” what the market is going to do, and then makes a trade that turns out to be a winner. That type of psychological reinforcement of a flawed trading characteristic only sets up the trader for a bigger disappointment at some point in the future-likely sooner rather than later.
Traders absolutely must respect the markets. Only the markets are 100% right. Traders who think they “know” exactly what a market will do are not showing the markets respect.
That’s it for now. Next time, we’ll examine another important issue on your road to trading success.
Jim Wyckoff is the proprietor of the analytical, educational and trading advisory service, “Jim Wyckoff on the Markets.” He has a website at www.jimwyckoff.com