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Your Money or Your Ego?

Which would you be willing to part with first, your money or your self-esteem? If you are like most traders, you are likely to let your money go before your self-esteem.

Trading stories are full of traders who gladly fed losing trades to avoid admitting the fact that they made a mistake. They hoped against hope that a losing trade would turn around if they could merely wait long enough. In the end, it's better to cut your losses and to move on, but few traders do so. They lose more and more money. Why? The biggest reason is ego. They don't want to admit they were wrong. They don't want to feel like a loser.

A 2006 study showed how people are willing to lose money in order to protect their self-esteem. Participants played a game of chance that was similar to continuing to invest in a losing trade: they were told they could win a jackpot of $10 if they patiently played long enough by feeding the investment in 25-cent increments. Each participant was given $5 in quarters to play the investment game. They had the choice of continuing to put in quarter after quarter to keep an investment going or cutting their losses. In the experimental group, participants were threatened by being told that most people choke under pressure when playing the game and that if they were prone to crack under strain, they would have difficulty. A control group was not given this "ego threat." These researchers also looked at people's self-esteem to see if it would impact the amount of money participants lost. What did they find?

You might think that people with high self-esteem would handle a warning that they might choke under pressure better than people with low self-esteem, but they did not. One might also expect people with high self-esteem to perform better on the investment task than people with low self-esteem, but people with high self-esteem lost more money than people with low self-esteem. Why? People with high self-esteem tend to want to defend their ego. They want to preserve their self-esteem even if it means continuing to lose money on a game they can't win.

What is the lesson? Don't link your net worth to your self-worth. If you think you have value as a person because you make money on winning trades, you will believe that an outcome of a trade determines your self-worth. It does not, however. No matter how much you win or lose, you still have value as a person. If you remember this fact, you will be able to trade more rationally and objectively. But on the other hand, if you let your self-worth be defined by how well you do as a trader, you will be putting your self-esteem on the line with your money, and you will be likely to do anything to maintain your high self-esteem, even if it means losing money. So whatever you do, forget about making it personal. Trading is not personal. It is just business. If you keep your self-esteem out of the picture, you will trade more objectively, rationally, and profitably.

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Monday, 09 December 2019

Derivative transactions, including futures, are complex and carry a high degree of risk. They are intended for sophisticated investors and are not suitable for everyone. There are numerous other factors related to the markets in general or to the implementation of any specific trading program which cannot be fully accounted for in the preparation of hypothetical performance results, and all of which can adversely affect actual trading results. For more information, see the Risk Disclosure Statement for Futures and Options.