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A New Trader's Journey to Success

Aug 17, 2007
I am going to take you through the different development stages of a new trader. Most of this comes from my own experience. Like any other profession, trading takes years of practice to reach the ultimate level. While doctors and lawyers have gone through higher education to obtain their license to practice, traders are required to obtain knowledge on their own. If you are in it for the quick buck, think again. The challenge is tough but the achievements are rewarding.

Stage One: The Clueless Trader

This is the first stage when you enter trading. You may have picked up a book on technical analysis somewhere, heard of a day trader making millions, or got lucky in an earlier stock investment. After all, how hard can it be? The money sounds appealing and the freedom to be independent sounds attractive.
I don't mean to shatter anybody's dream but those who succeed in trading are the minority! Approximately 90-95% traders lose money. This is the cold hard facts. In the first stage, every trader is optimistic. You open a direct access brokerage account and the sound of Level II, ask/bid, and market makers make trading sound like hi-tech video game. In reality you have no clue. You will buy just to see the market reverse and you will short just as the market starts to rally. Most of your trades are done emotionally. You buy just because the markets feel strong without any logical reason. You are in the unconscious incompetence stage. You have no clue how the mechanics and psychology of trading works. What's worse? You are not aware that you don't know. Most traders will blow their entire account at this stage.

Stage Two: The Rookie Trader

In this stage you have lost enough money to realize what you are doing is completely wrong. In other words, you start to realize that you don't know. You will then devour every trading book available. You will study and purchase Technical Analysis of Stock Trends by Edwards and Magee believing price patterns are the Holy Grail. You will memorize every technical pattern known to man. You will read about the ADX, moving averages, Fibonacci lines, pivot points, MACD, Bollinger Bands, channels, etc... You will go through the "help" tab on your data vendor to read about every single technical indicator available. You will plot them on your charts and spend hours looking for an indicator that works. You will be extra confident now because think you have found the magical technical indicator.

Yet, you still continue to lose money everyday. You realize that your indicators are lagging and that every other new trader is probably looking at the same thing. You realize that you are the sucker.

Stage Three: The Developing Trader

You start to realize the amount of work required and the immense learning curve that you must overcome to understand the markets. At this point, traders may find it overwhelming and quit. Stronger minded traders will push their motivation harder to start their second spurt for knowledge. Hunger and passion is needed to clear this stage. You will look for reference online, join mentor programs, chat rooms, and seminars. You realize the necessary elements needed to develop as a trader. You will ask a thousand questions and bug every professional trader you meet. You will read a thousand day trading articles. You will start paper trading, develop strategies and setups, and define risk parameters for every trade. You will go on a hunt for self-understanding to master your psychological game. You will visualize every possibility on a trade before you take it. This is the true learning phase. You are trying hard to develop your edge in trading.

Stage Four: The Determined Trader

This is the stage in which you learn to specialize in certain markets and trading methods. Without realizing it, you have finally found your style of trading after hours of hard work and research. You stick to your method and you improve it. You realize that you need an edge whether its tape reading or being a Fibonacci expert. The important thing is you are slowly transforming yourself into a specialized trader. You test your methods and they seem to work. You gain tremendous market knowledge. You reflect back on yourself and you can't help but laugh at your foolishness. Although you have not made enough money to call yourself successful you are proud of your journey and accomplishments. You realize that the Holy Grail is not about technical indicators or price patterns. You calculate risk before profits and place strict money management on all your trades. You cut losses short and learn to scale out on your winners. You start accept losing as a natural part of the game. You take high probability trades that you have tested and feel confident about your setups because you understand that trading is a game of probabilities. Your psychological makeup has changed from an amateur mindset to a professional one.

Step Five: The Consistent Trader

You rely on your trading method and start taking trades systematically. You try to aim for consistency and are meeting your daily goals often. You have reached the conscious competence stage. You are fully aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a trader. At times you feel euphoric and at times you feel pain. But you are able to understand your own psychological makeup to control your emotional swings. You are now able to trade for a living.

Step Six: The Expert Trader

In this final stage, you completely understand the markets you are trading. Being involved in it everyday you are aware of every key price level. You understand market concept and are able to predict the direction of the markets a fairly good amount of time. You pat yourself on your back and take profits as soon as you feel euphoric. You do this because you understand euphoria is the same as emotional trading. You talk to other traders and realize the development stage they are in. People start asking you for trading advice, you publish a book, and you have a specific trading methodology that represents you!

Taking trades come naturally and you are able to get in and out at the precise price levels based on tape. Instead of having the markets take your stop out, you exit when you know you are wrong. You keep your head high but remain humble on the inside. You have now officially graduated the school of the hard knocks.

Entering the trading profession can be a tough journey for many people. Trading is one of the toughest careers that you can choose. If you enjoy the challenge, you will definitely enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Trading is 30% mechanical and 170% psychological. 200% is required to become a successful trader.
About the Author
James Lee is a full-time day trader specializing in the mini-sized Dow futures. His core trading strategy is based on pivot point clusters and Market Profile. Find out how to identify high probability trading opportunities at http://www.traderslaboratory.com.
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