Maintaining self-control and discipline is one of the most essential skills required for financial success. There are many ways that traders, especially novice traders, can lose self-control. They may abandon a trading plan prematurely or take profits too early, for example. Trading takes patience, a trait that many traders don’t have. The most disciplined people tend to avoid risk and are unlikely to get into the trading business. People who are attracted to trading, in contrast, are often independent-minded rule breakers. They are drawn to the potential thrills that trading can provide. They may like the action, but many have difficulty maintaining discipline. If you have trouble maintaining discipline, you might want to think about developing this skill.


Just as you would do physical conditioning to prepare for a marathon, one of the “muscles” a trader needs to tone is the ability to maintain discipline. It may seem easy to maintain discipline, but when it comes down to actually maintaining discipline during the tense moments of the trading day, some traders baulk. During a trade, they are under a tremendous amount of pressure. They often panic and abandon the plan or make trading errors.

One way to build your trading self-control is to practice self-control during off-hours. Here’s a simple exercise you might try. It’s called “Got Milk?” exercise. Have you ever seen the television commercial where a person eats a cupcake and doesn’t have any milk to wash it down with? We all know the feeling of trying to hold back an urge. When you eat a sugary frosted cupcake, you need to drink a glass of milk. Your ability to refrain from drinking a glass of milk is a good indication of your self-control ability. The self-control exercise is based on the commercial. Get a cupcake and leave it wrapped in its plastic package. Pretend you are eating it.

Think of how it tastes. At that point, you will naturally start thinking about drinking a glass of milk. When that happens, you should stop yourself. Instead of imagining drinking a glass of milk, think of what it would be like to put it off for 15 minutes. It would be uncomfortable, but you could do it. Examine your self-talk as you imagine not drinking a glass of milk. If you are thinking, “It’s unbearable; I can’t stand it,” you won’t be able to handle not drinking the milk. But if you think, “I can wait 15 minutes.

I can endure the pain. I just need to stay calm and think of something else,” you’ll be able to resist temptation. The expectations you have about self-control dictate how you’ll be able to maintain control. By thinking, “I can wait; I can control the urge,” you will be able to maintain control compared to when you focus on how unpleasant it is to avoid drinking a glass of milk. Now comes the more difficult part. Actually unwrap the cupcake, eat it, and see how well you do in terms of not drinking the glass of milk.

By using the same kind of self-talk as in the imagined situation, you can maintain self-control in the real situation. Remind yourself that you can resist temptation. Think of something else to shift your attention away from your urge to drink a glass of milk. By doing so, you can last 15 minutes. Once you have mastered 15 minutes, you can extend the time to 30 minutes or an hour. It may sound a little silly, but it’s a way that you can build up your ability to maintain self-control in a situation that doesn’t present the added stresses and strains that the trading realm provides. Eventually, you’ll be able to apply the same methods to maintaining discipline as you monitor a trade. By changing your expectations and self-talk, you’ll have the patience and discipline of a winning trader.

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