Setting Goals, From Joe Ross's Newsletter (July 2008)

Joes' Trading Tidbits

Successful traders and investors set high goals and make specific plans to achieve them. Goals can be motivating, and they don't have to be just about gaining monetary wealth. The more specific the goal you set, the better. Abstract goals often seem impossible to achieve and are weak motivators. Although dreamers can succeed, nothing much happens until they take the actions necessary to make the dream come true.

By breaking down a larger goal into specific steps, or sub-goals, you will be more likely to achieve the goal. Rather than a misty, undefined fantasy, specific immediate goals help you to see how even a seemingly unattainable larger goal can be realized.

When you see the specific details, you will be more able to develop plans for achieving your longterm goals. When specific goals help you see how your broader goals can be achieved, they can be highly motivating. But goal setting isn't straightforward when it comes to trading. Setting a goal to become a "winning trader" without a specific set of sub-goals, such as planning to learn specific trading strategies or planning to practice executing trades in a variety of market conditions over time, is simply not sufficient.

It is also possible to set a goal that is too specific. It can be so specific that it interferes with your ability to trade or invest. For example, trying to reach a particular dollar amount each day can actually be self-defeating.

One disadvantage is that trying to achieve a specific dollar amount might cause you to make poor, impulsive decisions, due to putting too much pressure on yourself. In the end it may cause you to overtrade.

The pressure of this overly specific goals may cause you to take poor trading setups or make poor investing decisions because you feel a sense of urgency to reach a specific dollar goal. Such an approach usually fails. When you take poor setups, you often end up losing money. In addition, a daily or weekly dollar goal tends to make you think that you should trade every day, or all day long, regardless of whether or not the market has opportunities, or regardless of whether or not you are in an optimal mental or emotional condition.

It is often wise to let the market tell you how much it is willing to give you on a particular day or week. You can't always dictate how much you can make. It's also wise to stand aside when you see conflicting market information or when you are in poor spirits. By setting a specific amount to make, though, you'll tend to feel guilty about staying out of the market when you are either in poor spirits or when the market is just not conducive to profitable trading or investing.

We are in just such a time now. For instance, currently, there are many bargains to be had among great global enterprises. But it may be too early to jump in. Share prices may drop quite a bit more before we see the market bottom. But a goal that is too specific can cause you to jump into the market much too soon, and consequently have to suffer a huge drawdown before the actual market bottom is obvious on the charts.

It is a paradox, but when you focus on outcomes, you will have trouble reaching them. When you focus on the process of trading or making sound investments, and act as if you just don't care what happens, you'll end up making more profits. Rather than focus on dollars, focus on whether you follow your trading or investing plan. Look at how many justified wins you achieve, rather than at the money you make. If you trade consistently and according to plan, you'll end up profitable (assuming you use sound trading and investing methods).

In addition, you will feel more carefree and detached from the outcomes. When you focus on specific money amounts, you'll tend to think of the money in concrete terms; you'll think of what you can buy with the money, rather than think of it as just abstract points or ticks that you work with.

Goals can be motivating when used in the proper way. It may be nice to occasionally look at how much money you are making, such as once a month. If you focus on it too much, however, it can be a disadvantage. You will put extreme pressure on yourself to perform. You may feel euphoric when you make big wins, but discouraged when you face losing trades. It's better for your emotions to keep things as objective as possible, and that usually means focusing on the process of trading consistently and decisively. The more you can focus on the process, the more profitably you'll trade in the long run.