Learning to day trade and then achieving a consistently high level of profitability in this business can be a curious thing. When observing full time day traders the trading process often seems very simple, even nearly effortless, with minimal emotion getting in the way of decision-making. However, for the novice trader learning to day trade is rarely an easy and straight-forward endeavour and is often a rather emotional undertaking at times.
The interesting thing is that the novice's perspective of what the professional trader is doing isn't incorrect. Trading well should be a simple exercise, though not necessarily easy.
You have your trading plan, execute it with consistency, manage your emotional and mental state, and achieve consistent profitability week after week as a result. There's a certain routine to elite day trading performance and most who have done this for a while are happy to settle into those positive habits and don't look to over-complicate their approach too much or make sweeping changes to their methods.
The Pressure to Profit
For the complete market novice who is looking to day trade and is finding consistency difficult to come by the problem is usually one of pressure. It's the weight of expectation they put on themselves, the "get rich quick" mentality people can have in the financial markets, and the struggle to detach themselves from the outcomes of single trades in order to see the "big picture" of trading performance over time.
All of this leads to a number of fresh faces entering the day trading arena who struggle as they place a very real burden on themselves to achieve elite results almost immediately. Of course, anyone putting this kind of pressure on themselves is rarely going to achieve positive outcomes and in many cases this pressure only serves to draw out the learning and development process thanks to over-trading, breaking of rules, and other key trading errors.
So this begs the question - if you are looking to learn to day trade and to develop a skill that can be utilized for the rest of your life then why are you putting that pressure on yourself during the infancy of your trading development? If you're trying to learn how to swim you wouldn't have someone drop you into the middle of the ocean and then hope for the best. You would take things slowly, learning the basics step by step, until you had developed the skills and confidence to swim in a variety of conditions and situations in a calm and measured way. Learning to day trade is no different.
I've worked with a number of people over the years and I consistently see the same thing - when people understand that trading is a long term skill to be developed and are willing to put their time and effort into learning in a minimal pressure environment then they achieve great results.
While I know through my own experience and that of STA students that consistent profitability can be achieved in a matter of months it is still a process and only in extremely rare cases can a trader hit their goals from week one. It takes screen time, practice, and the building of patience and discipline to get there.
How to Develop Your Trading Skills More Quickly
I've stressed in many posts here on Samurai Trading Academy that learning to day trade isn't a race and you shouldn't put immediate pressure on yourself to make massive profits but that doesn't mean that the learning process can't be streamlined. There's no substitute for screen time and experience in this business but not every hour spent on skill development is equal and there are a few ways to accelerate the process. In order to learn any skill as quickly as possible, including that of day trading, there's a handful of factors that should be present.
First, when initially learning the skill you need to put it into practice immediately.
You can spend a lot of time reading books on candlesticks, price patterns, trading psychology, or any number of subjects relevant to becoming a day trader, but unless you take actionable steps to actually trade then you're not going to get anywhere. Right from the start you should take your basic lessons and apply them in a demo account through the platform of your choosing and start to develop an understanding of the theory being put into actual use.
Second, you need to utilize your developing trading skills with regularity during the initial weeks/months in low to moderate pressure environments.
This is the only way to develop pattern recognition, reinforce good trading habits, and continue to grow as a trader week after week. What this all boils down to is simply making sure that you set aside time consistently for focused practice sessions. NinjaTrader, the platform most STA traders use, is great for this. Using the Market Replay functionality you can download historical data and replay it as if it was live while trading in Sim mode without real money.
These practice sessions remove a great deal of the emotional pressure that new traders often put on themselves to perform in a real-time market (even while Sim trading) and makes skill development that much faster. Of course, there's still a lot of benefit to be found in trading in a moderate pressure live environment and eventually some things that can only be learned through trading with actual money but early on a trader will find having extra hours spent in calm, focused practice sessions to be hugely beneficial to their development.
Lastly, having the guidance of a coach, mentor, or more experienced peer who can give you clear feedback can help to greatly accelerate the learning process.
Over the years I've learned countless lessons from veteran traders that have provided me with insight into my own trading and have challenged me to continue to develop and improve. However, it's not as simple as just getting a bit of feedback and putting it into practice for immediate results. In order to realize the most benefit from personal coaching and feedback a developing trader needs to be receptive, mentally adaptive, and willing to put some effort into tweaking their trading approach and their own behaviours to ensure positive (and profitable) decisions are made.
It's important to note that while it's hugely beneficial to have this kind of coaching support it's not a requirement. I can say that with confidence because I personally began learning to day trade through self-study and achieved profitability through hard work, a LOT of testing and practice sessions, and finding like-minded traders to brainstorm with. It wasn't ideal and I made a lot of mistakes along the way that made my overall development take longer (something I try to help people avoid these days) but it's certainly possible for those who are highly motivated and determined to be successful as traders.
Keeping Your Cool
The mark of an elite trader is their ability to keep cool under pressure and this comes from utilizing many of the guidelines listed above. Maintaining a calm mental state and "trading in the zone" is something that comes from a combination of preparation (a solid trading plan and practice), support (from a coach and/or family), and a sense of long term purpose.
The full-time professional traders that we talked about at the start of the article have those traits and that's why they succeed in an almost effortless fashion. It isn't magic or something that just miraculously happened the first time they sat down at their screens - they worked for it! They put in the time and the effort and kept their eyes focused not just on the outcome of a single trade but on what they could achieve in weeks or months by simply following their tested plan and letting their trading edge play out.
Daily profits and the pressure that's involved in meeting short-term financial goals isn't something that concerns most long-term traders.
They simply set a goal of executing their plan to perfection each and every day and profit is the inevitable by-product of that disciplined approach.
They've tested their edge, they follow a simple plan, have positive expectancy backing them up, and know that if they just remain discipline and execute well that they'll be consistently rewarded.