“Unpleasant Truths” or “Comforting Lies” and The Path To Trading Mastery

In trading and investing, the taste for “unpleasant truths” is slim.

This is human nature… it’s always been this way. And we at MO know something quite important. We know it with the certainty of gravity:

    • The millions who take the “comforting lies” approach to trading will fail.
    • A large portion of this group will quit in disgust, never to trade again.
    • Another portion will become “permanent dabblers,” screwing around forever.
    • But a small portion, a remnant, will tire of the lies and finally seek truth.

Simon and Garfunkel: “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”

Truer words were never spoken. What most people “want to hear” is that a trading method or system can make them successful, with a small amount of capital and minimal effort, in three to six months.

So when we come along and say nope, it’s more likely to take three to six YEARS minimum… with a LOT of effort and focus and sweat equity on your part… and by the way, your focus should be on training and growing your first few years, with the life-changing profits coming later (via scale)… how do you think that goes over?

Like a lead brick, that’s how. For those still hooked on comfort at least.

And yet, for those who have “taken their share of beatings” from markets… who have wrestled with the real pitfalls and challenges of trading… who have gained enough knowledge and seasoning as such that the “comforting lies” simply aren’t comforting anymore… the “unpleasant truths” become something different.

The unpleasant becomes pleasant after all.

How so? Because after passing through the “comforting lies” phase, for many (who are honest with themselves) there is a moment of confidence-shattering doubt. There is the question thrown out in despair: “Is it even possible to become a successful trader at all?”

We’ve seen it on Twitter and message boards. Maybe you have too: Call it “failure fatigue.” The trader who has burned up all his patience for the “comforting lies” stage, banged his head on the wall 500 times — or maybe 5,000 times — and has finally exploded, raging to anyone and everyone who comes across his posts that no, no, no, it can’t be done, you’re all full of shit, trading is all a bunch of lies…

Or they go and start a newsletter and spout eternal bearishness and rage against the machine. Maybe they call this trading service SouthmanTrader or something along those lines… but I digress….

Here’s the thing… It can be done. And there is ample empirical proof of this. And theoretical proof, and overwhelming data. (For those not emotionally bound to blindness that is.)

On progressing to a certain stage of maturity and readiness, the unpleasant truths become pleasant because they are revealed as the true path forward. The only path forward. Insanity has been defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” At a certain point in the struggle, for an honest few, the wake-up call comes. Then, with enough searching and questing, the path reveals itself.

And then comes the hard part. Morpheus to Neo: “There is a difference between knowing the path… and walking the path.”

    • First there is the false path (comforting lies).
    • Then there is discovery of the true path (unpleasant truths).
    • And then there is getting on it…

Becoming “the one”

There is a scene in The Matrix where, after questioning Neo on being “the one,” The Oracle tells him:

“Being the one is just like being in love. No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.”

You can have that feeling as a trader. Not at first, and not automatically (just as neo had to take some time, take some beatings, and learn to believe in himself).

But having progressed far enough down the path of knowledge and experience and training, you can know you are “the one”… in the sense of having made it as a trader.

You can wake up in the morning and know — not half-believe, or try to talk yourself into believing, but know — you are a master of your craft. That you have earned the right to call yourself a trader… and that the profit goals which you seek to achieve, will be achieved, short of a meteor striking you down.

But you don’t get to this place through wishing or hoping or ginning up lots of enthusiasm. You get there by walking the path. The path of training and knowledge and experience. The path is not months or weeks but years long… and in exchange provides freedom and benefits, financial and otherwise, that will last your entire life.

This is an important point so we will indulge all caps. Walking the path is a PHYSICAL FORWARD PROGRESSION. This is why enthusiasm is great as an ignition boost — a way to get started — but it won’t take you where you want to be. Progress along the path is NOT a self-esteem trick. It is NOT a “positive affirmation” thing. It is an actual physical progression.

Memories have a literal physical presence in your brain. Connections between memories have a physical presence in your brain, via the highways and byways of neurons and synapses. This means, as you progress along the path of knowledge and experience as a trader, you are ACTUALLY BUILDING SOMETHING. You are literally BUILDING NECESSARY CONNECTIONS within your PHYSICAL BRAIN.

I shout (the all caps) because this is another reason the “comforting lies” are so obnoxiously stupid. Someone who suggests you can have the seasoning and training of an experienced trader quickly and easily might as well tell you it’s possible to build a skyscraper in two weeks with your bare hands. It takes time to build a structure… including a knowledge and experience and emotional reference structure, with a physical three-dimensional presence within your own brain.

The Martial Arts Paradigm

In some ways, trading is comparable to a martial art. If someone said “my system will take you from zero to black belt in three weeks,” you would laugh out loud. (Or at least I hope you would).

The notion of becoming a trained martial artist (on par with becoming a trained trader) without requisite time and effort applied — with zero time and effort, really — is beyond ludicrous. In fact, it’s insulting. The prospect of becoming highly proficient and combat-trained over a period of years, however — via putting in the effort, with the high-quality feedback and instruction — has genuine merit. What you put in is what you get out.

The martial arts / trading comparison is also apt in respect to the above and beyond benefits acquired by training.

I’ve never heard of a serious martial arts practitioner who did it “just for the belt,” or solely to handle themselves in a fight, or to stay in good shape or some such thing. There are always reasons, and discovered benefits, that go much deeper, touching on things like personal philosophy… self-awareness and self-confidence… way of life.

And so it is with trading…

Attuning the subconscious

In the 1920s, a German philosopher named Eugen Herrigel went to Japan to study archery. Except he wasn’t really studying archery, he was studying Zen. Herrigel wanted to truly understand Zen from the inside out. He achieved his goal through a combination of theory and practice, over a six-year span of becoming proficient with the bow.

Years later Herrigel wrote the amazing little book “Zen in the Art of Archery,” which contains the following observation (in the 1953 introduction) from D.T. Suzuki:

“One of the most significant features we notice in the practice of archery, and in fact of all the arts as they are studied in Japan and probably also in other Far Eastern countries, is that they are not intended for utilitarian purposes only or for purely aesthetic enjoyments, but are meant to train the mind; indeed, to bring it into contact with the ultimate reality. Archery is, therefore, not practiced solely for hitting the target; the swordsman does not wield the sword simply for the sake of outdoing his opponent; the dancer does not dance just to perform certain rhythmical movements of the body. The mind has first to be attuned to the Unconscious.”

“In the case of archery, the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects, but are one reality. The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bulls-eye which confronts him. This state of unconsciousness is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill though there is something in it quite of a different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art.”

What Suzuki calls the Unconscious, we know as the subconscious. When Suzuki speaks of an element “which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art,” he speaks of training…. The actual practicing and doing of the thing.

This reveals another puzzle piece — more illumination as to why the 90 percent fail. Herrigel, based on his writings, was a devoted and attentive archery student. If it yet took Herrigel six years to fully master something as surface-level simple as “letting the arrow shoot itself” — i.e. gaining mastery-level proficiency at archery — can we expect less of trading?

Can we really expect to take a mastery path measured in years, and compress it down to weeks or months (or no time at all), or otherwise count “time served” via flipping through books on weekends? No.

This is another “unpleasant truth” to most ears, yet pleasant to those with ears to hear… because it highlights that the path, though extended and challenging, truly does exist.

When you think there is an easy road, you don’t want your delusion taken away. When you realize the easy road was a lie, if you still burn with desire to achieve your goal, then the confirmed existence of a hard road is good news, not bad. (The hard road reality further explains why most do not walk it. Too long! Too much effort!)

The ideal training scenario

But returning to the trading vs martial arts comparison… let us say, for theory’s sake, you wanted to attain a black belt in a certain martial art. And not just any black belt, but a ninth-degree black belt from a world-class teacher. How would you go about doing it? What would the ideal scenario be?

The optimal setup, if you were dedicated enough, might be moving to a dojo in the rural wilderness of Japan — cut off from disturbances of the outside world — where you could train with a handful of fellow students.

This would provide access to the instructor, whose insights are vital… access to proper knowledge, without which you might stumble for years in the dark… structured routine and motivation to train… and access to your fellow students, who would provide friendship, encouragement, and comparative notes along the way.

In training to become a trader, something similar might be ideal.

Going off to some remote setting, surrounded by fellow traders, wholly devoted on both an individual and group level to mastering the craft. If it’s going to be a long journey, you want guidance and friendship and shared milestones along the way.

The “dojo in the wilderness” isn’t’ realistic, of course.

But something comparable is…

The Macro Ops vision

At MO, community is central to our vision. But we want to do more than just attract excellent traders to our community. We want to create them.

To succeed in your ultimate growth path as a trader, you need training. And feedback. And camaraderie wouldn’t hurt either. Hardships go down easier when they are shared. Celebrations are better enjoyed in company too — the company of those who know the meaning of your victories and defeats, large or small, because they are fighting the same battles.

Man is a social animal. Standing together as a group is better than standing alone.

Ask yourself: Is it time to join Hernan Cortes, burn the f*cking ships, and commit to a path of mastery?

Die-hards only, need apply. We want those who are committed to the journey; regardless of current skill level. We want those who embrace the “Unpleasant Truths” and will stop at nothing to get what they want.

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Brandon Beylo

Value Investor

Brandon has been a professional investor focusing on value for over 13 years, spending his time in small to micro-cap companies, spin-offs, SPACs, and deep value liquidation situations. Over time, he’s developed a deeper understanding for what deep-value investing actually means, and refined his philosophy to include any business trading at a wild discount to what he thinks its worth in 3-5 years.

Brandon has a tenacious passion for investing, broad-based learning, and business. He previously worked for several leading investment firms before joining the team at Macro Ops. He lives by the famous Munger mantra of trying to get a little smarter each day.


Investing & Personal Finance

AK is the founder of Macro Ops and the host of Fallible.

He started out in corporate economics for a Fortune 50 company before moving to a long/short equity investment firm.

With Macro Ops focused primarily on institutional clients, AK moved to servicing new investors just starting their journey. He takes the professional research and education produced at Macro Ops and breaks it down for beginners. The goal is to help clients find the best solution for their investing needs through effective education.

Tyler Kling

Volatility & Options Trader

Former trade desk manager at $100+ million family office where he oversaw multiple traders and helped develop cutting edge quantitative strategies in the derivatives market.

He worked as a consultant to the family office’s in-house fund of funds in the areas of portfolio manager evaluation and capital allocation.

Certified in Quantitative Finance from the Fitch Learning Center in London, England where he studied under famous quants such as Paul Wilmott.

Alex Barrow

Macro Trader

Founder and head macro trader at Macro Ops. Alex joined the US Marine Corps on his 18th birthday just one month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He subsequently spent a decade in the military. Serving in various capacities from scout sniper to interrogator and counterintelligence specialist. Following his military service, he worked as a contract intelligence professional for a number of US agencies (from the DIA to FBI) with a focus on counterintelligence and terrorist financing. He also spent time consulting for a tech company that specialized in building analytic software for finance and intelligence analysis.

After leaving the field of intelligence he went to work at a global macro hedge fund. He’s been professionally involved in markets since 2005, has consulted with a number of the leading names in the hedge fund space, and now manages his own family office while running Macro Ops. He’s published over 300 white papers on complex financial and macroeconomic topics, writes regularly about investment/market trends, and frequently speaks at conferences on trading and investing.

Macro Ops is a market research firm geared toward professional and experienced retail traders and investors. Macro Ops’ research has been featured in Forbes, Marketwatch, Business Insider, and Real Vision as well as a number of other leading publications.

You can find out more about Alex on his LinkedIn account here and also find him on Twitter where he frequently shares his market research.