Destructive patterns in trading

This article reproduced with permission from Brett Steenbarger

Before we get into the topic of destructive trading, allow me to explain how psychologists assess whether or not a person has a problem with alcohol consumption. Here are ten questions that a professional might ask in order to assess any kind of substance use disorder, including alcohol abuse:

•  Have you found that your drinking is bringing unwanted, negative consequences?

•  Have you recently felt guilty over the way you have been drinking?

•  Do you find you need to drink more just to get the good feeling?

•  Do you find that your personality changes when you drink excessively?

•  Do you find it difficult to take a break from drinking, even when part of you knows that this would be best for you?

•  Do you find yourself drinking to feel good about yourself?

•  Do you sometimes feel that you cannot control how much you drink?

•  Do you find yourself getting angry when someone close to you questions your drinking?

•  Do you find yourself vowing to limit your drinking, only to slip back into overdrinking?

•  Do you find it difficult to not drink given the opportunity, even when the occasion is not really appropriate?

Now for the topic of destructive trading:

Please answer the above questions, but substitute the word “trading” for “drinking”, and substitute the word “trade” for “drink”.

Fear and greed are potent influences on trading, but the greatest trading problems, I find, are addictive in nature. Successful traders really want to trade; they have a passion for trading. Addictive traders need to trade; they have a passion for action and excitement.

An addictive trader will not manage his risk. That is because risk is part of the high. An addictive trader will not stop trading, even when losing money. That is because action, not profit, is the goal. An addictive trader will cycle between periods of guilt and responsibility and periods of excess and irresponsibility.

Good traders trade actively. Addictive traders overtrade.

If you see yourself in this profile, do the right thing, before your patterns ruin your career and harm those who depend on you. Get help. You can change. Your trading and your happiness lie in the balance.


Brett  N. Steenbarger, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY. He is also an active trader and writes occasional feature articles on market psychology for MSN’s Money site ( ). The author of The Psychology of Trading (Wiley; January, 2003), Dr. Steenbarger has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on short-term approaches to behavioral change. His new, co-edited book The Art and Science of Brief Therapy (American Psychiatric Press) is due for publication during the first half of 2004. Many of Dr. Steenbarger’s articles and trading strategies are archived on his website,