A Trading Reality Check by Van K. Tharp, Ph.D.

van tharp bkA note to readers: While Dr. Tharp’s content is timeless, this article is from our newsletter archive and may contain outdated information, missing links or images.

Having modeled success in numerous areas of trading—the trading process, designing systems, and position sizing™ strategies—it still totally amazes me to see how we are almost “hard-wired” to do all the wrong things. It’s almost as if we were put on this planet to determine how many ways we can mess up our trading and even our lives.

How do you respond to a loss? Have you done any simulations of your trading? Have you really worked on yourself and determined that it’s all you? What decisions have you made about your trading and yourself?

If you’ve been working through the Peak Performance Home Study Course or reading my latest book, Super Trader, you probably have learned many ideas to improve your trading. Let’s look at one simple example: a business plan for your trading. There is probably no good reason not to spend one month (or six months) developing a good business plan and incorporating many of the ideas covered in the book or in the course. So what is stopping you?

If you don’t immediately feel the urge to carry out such a task, it’s time to do a little homework to recognize your self-defeating patterns and excuses.

We All Have a Story

I’d like you to sit down and write several paragraphs on, “The Story I’d Tell Myself If I Have Not Produced Meaningful Change in My Trading and Myself.” Be honest with yourself. What are your typical excuses?

Your story might sound a little like this:

“I was desperate. I was running out of money, and I needed to do something. I really didn’t want to go back to work, so I had to make money. As a result, I really didn’t have time to do a proper business plan. Instead, I just made trades.”


“After going through the Peak Performance Home Study Course and Dr. Tharp’s books, I didn’t do any of the things recommended because…”

Or your story might be worse:

“After buying the Peak Performance Home Study Course and the Super Trader book over a year ago, I have not looked at either of them because…”

For the 30 minutes that it takes to do “The Story I’d Tell Myself…” exercise, give yourself a break and be brutally honest. You know that you’ll con yourself in order to not make any progress. Treat this exercise as a test to determine just how you con yourself. Can you be honest and tell it like it is, or is it more important to justify the excuses and be a failure?

So go ahead. Take 30-60 minutes right now and start writing down your excuses about your trading.

Do the exercise even before continuing reading this article! It’s that important.

So What Did You Write?

If you were honest with yourself, you justified your limitations. You’ve probably created a record that includes many of the major thoughts and beliefs that you use to undermine virtually every endeavor that you create. Furthermore, the more honest you’ve been with yourself, the more valuable this exercise will be for you.

What might some of those excuses and justifications look like?

Here’s a list of possible excuses:

  • I just haven’t had the time that I need to trade better.
  • My spouse doesn’t understand my trading and how important it is.
  • I have had too many distractions, and I cannot focus.
  • The market has not been acting like I expected.

Here are some of the kinds of excuses people have stated who have my materials but haven’t made progress with them:

  • I had Dr. Tharp’s material but it wasn’t for me.  I thought it was something simple that I could use to transform myself. I didn’t think it would be so much work to complete it.
  • Dr. Tharp doesn’t know me. He doesn’t really understand the kind of person I am.  If he did, his material would be easier.
  • My life is going fine. I don’t have any problems, and I just don’t need to deal with all of this stuff.
  • I’m right and Dr. Tharp just doesn’t get it.
  • I know I need to study this stuff, but I just can’t seem to find the time.

You make excuses simply so that you can be right. You are basically saying that you like your excuse beliefs because they are right.  I have mentioned over and over again that wanting to be right is a pervasive problem for most people.  Excuses don’t make you happy.  Excuses don’t make you successful. Excuses, however, do allow you to be right and if that’s so important to you, so be it.

If you want to evaluate your excuses or any of your beliefs for that matter, there is a great strategy you can use.  It’s called the Belief Examination Paradigm and you can learn more about it here.

If your trading isn’t going the way you want it to, change what you are doing. One of the basic presuppositions of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is that if something doesn’t work, do something else. Almost anything else will get you different results.

Maybe you need to change something about your trading system (your exits or your position sizing strategy). Or maybe you need to change how you approach your life in general.

Life is a process. There is no success or failure—only feedback. You’ve been getting feedback about what you’ve been doing for a long time. How have you been responding to it so far?  Have you been making up a lot of excuses?  Are you more interested in being right than making progress toward your goals?  Are you willing to change now? It’s never too late. You’re never too old.

Just imagine that you are responsible for everything that has happened to you up to now in your life. That’s part of “respondability” that I’ve talked and written about so many times. And when you finally decide that you are responsible for your own life—for what has happened in the past—you will find that you get an immense rush of freedom.

You can decide right now what you want, and you are in charge of making it happen.  Today is always the first day of the rest of your life, so begin now.

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