Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Kirk Report

The Kirk Report

Justification Mode

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 07:29 AM PDT

Earlier this month I shared a quote in the email newsletter that seems to have struck a strong cord with a few of you...

"The ego is not your friend as a trader. The ego wants to be right, it wants to predict, and it wants to know secrets. The ego makes it much more difficult to trade well by avoiding the cognitive biases that hinder profits." - Curtis M. Faith

That quote came to mind this morning when having a conversation with a fellow trader who I think is in what I call "justification mode."

Justification mode is when traders (or investors) find themselves having to justify poor performance on something that seems logical and which helps comfort and protect their ego without having to own up and face a big mistake.

In this trader's case, like a lot of people it seems he went and stayed short when the market rolled over last month. Although he won't admit it to you now, I know from our prior emails he was sucked in by the infamous "death cross" and, in spite of a strong reversal, has now refused to reverse his short (and losing) positions. In fact, his ego is so involved with this short-trade that he's recently doubled down when the market refused to roll over even using lots of leverage to prove his point. Now he's in a painful position of being trapped between owning up to the mistake and taking the painful loss or doing what so many tend to do - find a way simply to justify his actions and let a growing loss have the potential to wipe him out entirely.

Bear Trap

In our conversation this morning, this trader kept talking about "the market is in a trading range" and "ready to roll over." That's fine and well as long as the price action confirms that view, but it hasn't yet. As I asked him this morning, "Can you afford simply to stay wrong just to protect your ego?" He didn't know how to respond. In fact, it became clear that he didn't even realize that his ego was becoming such a strong influence over his entire market analysis. I suspect, as he does as well now after talking to me, that if this trader's positions were different, for example aggressively long the market instead of short, this same trader would not be seeing a "trading range" or a market "ripe for reversal." Instead, he would see nothing but more upside potential. This is why human traders, with human egos, are often at a significant disadvantage.

Trust me, at one point or the other, we've all done this. I know I have been in justification mode many times even when I didn't even realize it until much later on. However, over time, I've learned to spot to tell tale signs that I've fallen trap to this and then have learned to take immediate corrective steps to right the ship. Moreover, as many of you also know, at all times I also trade in a way that makes sure that when I do make mistakes (which are often) that they NEVER have the potential to wipe me out. When your ego gets so involved in your trading, the potential for catastrophic losses are tremendous which is why we've all have to learn and know when we've fallen into justification mode.

As most experienced traders will tell you, the most difficult thing about trading well is that you've got to learn for yourself how to stop protecting your ego and readily own up to mistakes quickly before they do significant and lasting real damage. No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to entirely separate your ego away from your trading. Those who tell you that you can, are, in my view, just wrong and have little understanding about how to trade well. As long as you are human, you are going to trade with both emotion and ego, but the better traders among us simply learn how to work with both in ways that limit their negative influence.

To help you do that, be sure to always ask yourself the following question especially when you find yourself trapped by poor positioning: "If I held the exact opposite bias, how would that impact my overall analysis of the market right now?" In other words, if you are currently short the market, how would your analysis change if you were long? That will help you think in a way that will help you at least spot the clues when you're in justification mode so you can take the necessary corrective action even when it hurts your ego to do so.