A good analogy from my good friend,
Janice Dorn, M.D., Ph.D.
We’re not two peas in a pod.
We’re two fingers in Chinese handcuffs.
The more we pull we stay,
The more we stay we pull apart this wicker toy…
“Chinese Handcuffs” by Matt Kadane
Most of us are taught from a young age that “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” When we lose, we feel ashamed and humiliated– which is why we do everything possible to prove to our families and the world that we are winners.
Coaches encourage their teams to “Go out there and win, win, win!” That is how we keep score in athletics. Winners win, losers lose and numbers don’t lie. This type of thinking shows up in every area of our lives, including our jobs, relationships and trading.
The bottom line is this: We all want to win and succeed because it is ingrained in our collective psyches.
If we are winning, we are “on a roll” and give ourselves positive messages to keep winning. If we are losing, we try harder and harder, but a subtle shift occurs. We morph from trying to win to trying not to lose. Ironically, the more we try not to lose and tell ourselves that we must stop losing, the more we lose.
Winning traders feel happy, confident and good about themselves. Contrast this with the losing trader who is constantly trying not to lose. These traders have a tendency to dig themselves deeper into losses because they do not yet understand a fundamental tenet of trading success: It is both necessary and natural to lose
The beginning trader believes every trade must be a winner. She/he goes from newsletter to newsletter looking for the Holy Grail of trading that promises the highest number of winning trades. In trading, the highest number of winners tells you nothing unless you know the percentage gained on the winning trades relative to the drawdown percentage on the losing trades.
Trading is a game of probabilities; thus, it is paramount to understand that is it perfectly natural to lose. Successful traders always make more money than they lose. One major reason for this is that they understand the game they are playing. They also do one critical thing that losing traders do not do — they embrace and manage risk. In other words, they identify the risk involved in every trade and they quickly cut losses when the ratio of risk to reward is no longer favorable. At the same time, they hold on to profits and may even increase position size if the risk/reward remains favorable. Winning traders do less of what is not working and more of what is working. They are trying to win, rather than trying not to lose.
The Chinese Finger Cuff is a woven wicker straw with an opening at each end the size of a finger. Once you put a finger into each end of the straw, you are in a losing position. When you try to pull your fingers out of the straw, it tightens around them. The more you try to pull out, the tighter the straw becomes. The emotional brain feels trapped wants out at any cost and so it orders you to pull and pull, causing more constriction around the already trapped fingers.
After struggling a while, the rational brain takes over and tells you that the way to get your fingers out of the straw is to relax and stop pulling.
The same applies to trading. The more you resist taking a loss, the larger the loss becomes and more desperate you become not to lose. Once you totally relax into the trade, let your rational brain take over from the grasping, clutching emotional brain, you see that the best way to win is to let go.
The takeaway from this is simple. Winning is not the same as trying not to lose. Great traders may struggle, but not to the point where they are in the vise of the Chinese Finger Cuffs. They know and understand completely that losing is often the only way to win. They have learned to surrender, accept and move on. Once you practice doing this with your own trading, you will find a new sense of freedom and a new happiness. Moreover, you will preserve your capital to play the game another day.
Perhaps my number one rule is: Don’t try to make a profit on a bad trade. Just find the best way to get out…Linda Bradford Raschke,
Janice Dorn, M.D., Ph.D.