In Search of Fluency in Day Trading

I’ve been visiting a friend in France. We try to catch up every year, though usually in the summer when it’s not so bracing. My friend isn’t French, she moved to the country a few years ago. She was part of the so-called ‘Brexodus’ — folks who were getting out of the UK before the barriers come down and moving around Europe becomes a whole lot more complicated.

Each time I come here to visit, I’m struck by the progress my friend has made with her French language skills. She assures me she never studied it at school, and I have no reason to doubt that. I remember on my first visit she was struggling. Yesterday though, as we strolled down the high street bumping into various people she had come to know, I was struck by how she has become fluent, able to chat with these friendly natives about…well actually I’m not sure what she was chatting about because I understood nothing! The point is, she has achieved the holy grail of language learning — fluency. And it made me think about how actually, fluency is something we strive for not just in language, but in almost anything we do.

A Deeper Understanding

We understand how our mother tongue, our native language, works on a deep level. So deep, we don’t even think about it when we use it. I’m not talking about technical terms like knowing what verbs, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives are. And I don’t mean memorising the rules of grammar. I’m talking about being able to take a thought and effortlessly communicate it in a sentence that another speaker of the language will understand.

If we can go about our daily life communicating in our mother tongue, then we have a deep understanding of how that language works. If you are reading this and understanding it, you have a deep understanding of how the English language works, even if what I’m writing isn’t 100% grammatically correct (which is highly likely).

A non-native speaker, someone with no knowledge of English, or someone learning the language, will probably be able to make sense of these words with the aid of a dictionary or a translation site. But it would take extra time. We can travel to a foreign land and communicate with the locals with the help of a phrasebook, or more likely these days an app. But there’s a barrier there, a delay while the translation or interpretation takes place. Inevitably the conversation becomes stilted and unnatural. We take shortcuts, abbreviate wherever possible, keeping things brief to minimise the amount of translation that must be done. A conversation between people who are not fluent in the same language is never as effortless and flowing as one between those who are.

The translation or interpretation barrier limits the flow of conversation compared to fluent speakers of a language. When someone asks us a question in our mother tongue, we can speak our response with effectively no effort. Our brainpower is spent on thinking about what we want our response to be, not on how to physically communicate it. We don’t need to go through a phrasebook, dictionary, or app to translate the question into something we can understand, then a second time to translate our reply; we just reply.

Aiming For Trading Fluency

This is what we should be aiming for in our trading. Ideally, we want to get to a place where we instinctively comprehend what’s happening when we see prices move. Rather than examine the bars or candles and compare them to mental models of known setups, we want to almost feel what the chart is telling us. We want it to communicate as effortlessly as someone stopping us in the street to ask for directions or to comment on the weather.

Equally, we want to be able to communicate our intentions on mental auto-pilot, by placing the correct order types for the situation without reference to books or manuals or cheat-cheats.

The work of trading should be second-nature. We want to act and react not without thinking — because we still want to consider the merits of a trade setup, the risk, reward, and so on — but without having to go through a layer of interpretation first. That’s why as traders we should be trying to achieve fluency in our trading.

The Bad News

How do we reach this holy grail of fluency? Unfortunately, there’s only one way I know of: practice.

Maybe one day we’ll all be able to plug into the Matrix and download a brain-app that gives us new knowledge or a new skill in seconds. Until that day, the only way to achieve fluency — be it in speaking a language in any other activity — is to practice regularly.

How long it takes depends on the individual. There’s no doubt that some people have a natural aptitude for certain activities, others not so much. It’s taken my friend a few years to get to the point where she can chat with the French locals on any subject. The good news is that trading is not particularly complicated, and it shouldn’t take most people years to reach a level whereby it’s second nature. There’s certainly no need to do ten-thousand hours to become fluent (besides, that whole theory has since been debunked).

The Good News

The good news is that once fluency has been reached, it’s a skill for life and it offers us all sorts of new possibilities. My France-dwelling friend tells me that she found life opened up to her the more she got to grips with the language. For the first year she was here she was only communicating with other ex-pats. She said it was like living in a tiny enclave, boxed in, almost prison-like. Even seemingly simple tasks like buying stamps or paying taxes were hard work and something she came to dread. But as she got better at speaking and reading, she was set free, able to live and work as she had done before making this life-changing move.

Achieving fluency in day trading probably won’t change anyone’s life, but it does free a trader. When we understand a chart on a deep level, when we don’t have to spend time and mental energy interpreting what we are seeing, our mental capacity is freed up to see new things, almost like hidden layers. We see trades that, while perhaps not on our trading plan, are so obvious that we know we can take them anyway. Rather than blindly follow a plan like a robot, we can adapt to changing market conditions without thinking about it, tweaking our entries and exits to extract the very best from every trade.

In short, the work and practice we put in up-front as we strive for fluency pays off by making us more profitable; and all for less effort as we improve. If that’s not a skill worth working towards, I don’t know what is.