The one thing–the only thing–that matters

Positive reinforcement word Discipline engrained in a rock

One of the problems with successful trading is that everything matters. In the scope of: when to get in, when to get out, how much to buy or sell, how often to adjust your position, etc., every decision matters. There’s no one thing that is most important. You can’t become a successful trader by focusing on entries or on position sizing–you have to have it all. (What’s the most important part of a submarine? You can have a power plant, a screw, a pressure hall, or a hatch. Pick one. Obviously this is not going to end well.) However, there really is only one thing that matters in the market, and it’s what you do: your actions are all that matters.

Orthopraxy is a term you may not have encountered before, but it’s easy to take apart: “ortho” meaning “correct”, and “praxy” meaning “practice”–doing the right thing. Though it’s a mouthful, the market rewards us for being orthopractical traders–for doing the right thing at the right time.

You can have all the belief, confidence, knowledge (all of this might be orthodoxy) in the world, but if you don’t do the right thing, none of it matters. If you’re paralyzed by fear, you lose. If you are excited and take positions too large when it feels right, you lose. If you ignore your exits and hold on, hoping for the best, you lose. If you are lazy and aren’t at the table when it matters, you lose. On the other hand, if you’re fearful, excited, bored, tired or whatever and you still do the right thing, then you have a chance.

This is why so many of the good and correct “trading sayings” focus on discipline and why so many successful traders say, over and over, with almost boring regularity, that you must have discipline to succeed in the markets. I invite you to take a few moments and review your trading history–both from a short term (recent weeks) and a longer-term (maybe the whole span of your career) perspective. Realize that the market does not care about your system or analysis. The market does not care how hard you work. The market does not care how passionately you believe if your own success. All that matters is you do the right thing at the right time.

This is very basic, but it’s also a profound truth. If you’re falling short on your executions, think about why, and think about what you’re going to do about it.


Adam Grimes has over two decades of experience in the industry as a trader, analyst and system developer. The author of a best-selling trading book, he has traded for his own account, for a top prop firm, and spent several years at the New York Mercantile Exchange. He focuses on the intersection of quantitative analysis and discretionary trading, and has a talent for teaching and helping traders find their own way in the market.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. OriginalTricks .

    But in order to do the right thing at the right time you must have patience, so isn’t that the most important characteristic of a trader? Even the most disciplined trader will eventually start to get frustrated if he doesn’t make money in the market whereas the patient trader can wait as long as he needs until the law of averages works in his favor.

    1. Adam Grimes

      We can argue semantics but I’d say patience is part of discipline. Discipline is the bigger category and patience is one of the “tasks” of discipline.

    2. John

      IMO, stating it again, patience just makes it easier.

      I am not patient. I become annoyed and anxious in the face of things not happening within a time frame I perceive as reasonable. But patience is just about how you feel in response to an outside stimulus.

      So I’m impatient (I’m also driven, tenacious and will push hard if I think a delay is unreasonable – flip side) but it doesn’t matter. I don’t like the delay so I’m impatient, and I feel irritation and maybe anxiety. As long as I’m disciplined and emotionally aware I can feel, and label those emotional brain feelings. Then I can carry on doing the thing I need to do. That’s discipline.

      Keep on feeling it. Know yourself. Be mindful. And do the right thing – discipline. 🙂

      Its a bit like courage. Someone who doesn’t feel fear is not nearly as brave as someone who feels fear and then goes over the top anyway.

      1. Adam Grimes

        I do think that patience is absolutely critical… especially the patience to do nothing at all until action is required. That’s pretty rare in new traders, but I think it’s common in experienced traders. Whether the group of experienced traders is self selected for this trait or whether it’s learned I don’t know (probably a combination of the two.)

        But, yes, I couldn’t agree with you more. This is such a very important thing for traders to have. Actually, it’s worth a blog post. 😉 Thank you!

  2. John

    Patience makes one aspect easier: the discipline of not taking an impulsive trade when frustrated by the market or worried about frequency. So it is worth working on as a way of making discipline easier.

    But patience won’t help with taking the trade that meets your criteria. Or impulses when distracted from your system. Or impulses to feel good when you’ve taken a loser. Or not exiting properly.

    Once you have a positive expectancy, discipline is the one thing.

  3. Saz Dosanjh

    it’s a question of degree too. Back in my corporate days I was told in different reviews that discipline was one of my strengths, so I thought I had that covered. Once I stepped into the world of proprietary trading, I realised that as good as I was, I was in the lightweight division and there are other divisions, moving up the divisions is hard and “they” don’t tell you how many divisions there are.

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