A trading journal is a trading book you write about your journey, system, risk management, and lessons learned, says Steve Burns of New Trader U.

It helps you see your past mistakes so you don’t repeat them in the future. Your edge as a trader is the advantage you have over other traders with your system, psychology, risk management, or trade management that creates your profits from other’s losses.

Keeping an up-to-date trading journal makes you put your feelings, thoughts, mistakes, and risk management issues along with emotional and ego problems on paper. Writing helps clarify your thoughts, identify your errors, and become mindful of the emotions that lead to trading errors. Having a great trading plan and following that plan consistently are different things. The major causes of being an unprofitable trader are having no edge, mental mistakes, bad risk management, or all of the above. A trading journal can document your mistakes and quantify where you are going wrong.

With the data and patterns you see from a detailed trading journal, you can see both when you were disciplined and when you failed to follow your plan and why. The goal of good trading is not to make money every time but to follow your trading systems, entries, exits, and position sizing with discipline every time. If you have a system with an edge and follow your process you will make money over time in the markets. You will lose money over the long term if you have no edge or if you have one but not the discipline to implement it.

How exactly you keep your trading journal is not as important as whether you do or not. A trading journal can be a notebook, on a spreadsheet, or using advanced software, however, you like doing it.

How to Create a Trading Journal and Find Your Edge in the Markets

Your trading journal should document the following things:

Before you start to trade:

  1. Your return expectations for your effort.
  2. Your risk tolerance for individual trading losses and total account drawdown limits.
  3. Quantify your statistical risk of ruin.
  4. What are the long-term backtested results of the signals you will be using through multiple market environments?
  5. Your watchlist that meets your filter parameters.
  6. Are all the items on your watchlist liquid enough to trade with little slippage in the bid/ask spread?
  7. The quantified principles of your profitable trading system.
  8. The quantified entries and exit signals you will be following.
  9. Your position sizing parameters are based on volatility.
  10. The rules for total risk exposure and correlation limits.
  11. Journaling for Self-Discovery

Here are ideas for what to document during each trade, take what is useful to you as you zero in on your errors.

  1. Document your chart at entry.
  2. Your entries and why you chose to enter at that price.
  3. How do you feel about entry? What are your expectations?
  4. Your position sizing and why.
  5. Your initial stop-loss plan if the trade moves too far against you.
  6. Your profit target expectation and why.
  7. How you plan to trail your stop loss.
  8. What is your risk/reward ratio based on your entry level versus your profit target?
  9. Document your chart after you exit.
  10. How did you feel on the exit?
  11. What errors of execution did you commit if any?
  12. What would you have done differently to minimize the size of a losing trade?
  13. What would you have done differently to maximize the size of a winning trade?
  14. Do you have any regrets?
  15. What were your thoughts during each stage of the trade?
  16. Did you have faith in yourself to follow your plan?
  17. Did you have faith in your signals to make money over the long term?
  18. Are you mentally comfortable trading this timeframe?
  19. Are you comfortable with your trading system?
  20. What was your stress level during each step of the trade?
  21. Does your trading system fit your own beliefs about the markets?

How does a trader put the odds in their favor so that the more they trade their signals, the more an account will grow? An edge is a definable advantage over market competition. If you have backtested moving average signals over the past 30 years of price data and studied the historical charts of all the best stocks in the past 50 years that can be an edge. If you are trading a system that puts the odds in your favor of having small losses or big wins, that alone can be an edge.

You can have an edge over a new trader who has done no homework and is just making guesses if you have done your research on historical price action patterns. Traders predicting and trading based on their own opinions can at times outperform a systematic trader but that is more luck than skill. Skill in trading is repeatable actions with an edge that can be taken over and over again systematically. Luck is winning from the randomness of your undefined actions.

Here are ten of the primary edges profitable traders have over their competition. Trading in the direction of the trend as it plays out has better odds of putting a trader on the right side of the market than a trader with a bunch of opinions and predictions. Backtested signals that worked in the past have better odds of success in the future than guessing which way the market will go.

A trader with a trading plan will usually beat a trader with no plan if it is based on creating a good risk/reward ratio. A trader who is patient with their winning trades will have bigger wins over the long term than traders who take profits too early. Putting your stop loss in a spot that is unlikely to be triggered gives your trades time to work out without being prematurely stopped during normal volatility. This can be an edge over a trader that sets their stop losses too tight and is stopped out and exits too fast.

Finding repeating historical patterns in the markets and then trading them consistently based on signals gives you an edge over the traders who don’t know about the repeating patterns. Getting into a trade when the majority are getting out is using a high probability turning point with a good risk/reward ratio. Getting out of a trade when the majority are getting in is usually the best place to lock in profits.

Trading with a position size that keeps your emotions manageable can give you an edge over traders driven by their fear, greed, and ego. Following a trend until the end when it bends usually gives the big wins if you can stay in. A trading journal can be an edge because you have been working on your strengths and weaknesses. You did the homework so many others just don’t do it.

Learn more about Steve Burns at NewTraderU.com.