In his book, "Trading to Win," Dr. Ari Kiev notes, "winning days are often followed by plateaus and losing streaks." Behavioral economist Dr. Terrance Odean observed that novice online investors who had a series of winning trades tended to have periods of overtrading. It's as if they believed they could take more risks, and potentially lose profits, since they had just made more than they expected. If you want to be a profitable trader in the long run, you must learn to keep your profits rather than give them back to the markets.
Why are winning days often followed by plateaus and losing streaks? Loss of focus and concentration is a major reason, according to Dr. Kiev. In the back of their minds, most traders are thinking, "How am I going to find a profitable trading opportunity?"
When you find it, and capitalize on it, you feel relieved. You may wrongly think, "Now I can relax. I can let my guard down." When you relax, you might trade less carefully. You might take lower probability setups because you think you have the luxury of taking risks. Or you may become overconfident and move beyond your risk limits because you are ahead. This is where traders end up giving profits back to the markets. Just because you have a little bit of a winning streak does not mean you can be sloppy and lose focus. It's vital at these times to maintain concentration. Stick with your method, continue to develop trading plans, and follow your trading plan.
A second reason losses may follow winners is that winning takes psychological energy. Winning may feel great, but as you are winning, your adrenalin is pumping. After a big, exciting win, your mind and body just want to relax. When you are worn out, you are prone to make poor decisions or trading errors. The solution to this issue isn't clear.
Dr. Kiev suggests regrouping, and to continue to face the markets in earnest. This may be hard to do for some traders, however. The mind is like a muscle. Once you expend psychological energy, you need rest. It's like playing a championship game. Some players are so prepared mentally and physically that they can play the entire game with ease. For other players, the added stress of a big game wears them down. It's the same with trading. If you are rested up, you can regroup, and continue trading after experiencing big wins. You just need to be aware of your tendency to let your concentration lapse, regroup, and then face the markets with a renewed energy.
Although some traders secretly feel they don't deserve to make profits in the markets, and unconsciously sabotage themselves, for many, it's just a matter of feeling that you need a big reward after the good fight. This reward usually manifests itself as a sloppy, unfocused approach to trading. Be aware of this tendency, so that after you experience winning trades, you will stay focused and maintain your momentum, rather than give profits back to the markets.