Trading successfully requires certain traits. When examining top traders, essential qualities emerge, says Steve Burns of New Trader U.

Based on insights from the wealthy and successful traders featured in the books by experts like Jack D. Schwager and Michael Covel, this post will cover three indispensable traits for trading excellence: discipline, risk management, and continuous learning. For those seeking trading mastery, cultivating these three traits is essential.

Markets confound even seasoned professionals. However, research reveals that the best traders exhibit discipline. They stick to their systems, strategies, and plans amidst unpredictable markets. Additionally, robust risk management separates winners from losers. By managing the downside, successful traders endure. Finally, adapting to evolving demands necessitates continuous education on new technologies and studying new and changing markets. Great traders voraciously learn and innovate.

Developing these traits enables sustainable success. Though trading offers complexity and emotion, rigorous discipline, risk control, and knowledge equip you to thrive. Striving to embody these qualities better will empower your performance as a trader.

Trading, especially at the highest levels, is a complex endeavor that requires a combination of skills, mindset, and sometimes a bit of luck. However, when we look at the most successful traders, certain traits tend to stand out consistently. Let’s dive deeper into how to embody and execute three of the most commonly cited traits of successful traders:

1. Discipline and Consistency

Definition: The ability to stick to a trading plan, resist the temptation to deviate from strategies, and maintain emotional composure. The ability to do the work to create a trading system with an edge, then the discipline and consistency to follow it for the long term.

Importance: Markets are unpredictable, and there will constantly be losing trades. The key is to maintain discipline and not let emotions drive decisions. Successful traders often emphasize the importance of sticking to a plan and not overreacting to short-term market movements beneath your trading time frame. This trait is particularly crucial for trend followers who might need to endure significant drawdowns or long periods of underperformance before realizing big profits.

Discipline and consistency are essential because trading often provokes strong emotions like fear, greed, regret, and hope. However, decisions driven by emotions rather than reasoned analysis produce poor outcomes. By sticking to predetermined rules and plans, successful traders avoid impulsive and irrational choices. Even when a trading strategy hits a losing streak, the most effective traders stick to their approach rather than making rash changes. Trading systems may need to be adjusted over time, but those changes should be made outside market hours and based on data and analytics, not emotions. Without discipline and consistency, it doesn’t matter how good a trading strategy is because it can’t be followed.

2. Risk Management

Definition: The ability to understand, quantify, and manage the potential losses in trading. This includes setting stop-losses, diversifying, and only risking a small percentage of one’s capital on any one trade.

Importance: Even the best traders can be wrong 50% of the time. What sets them apart is their ability to manage losses. By applying robust risk management techniques, successful traders ensure that no loss (or series of failures) can devastate their portfolio. This approach allows them to remain in the game and capitalize on profitable opportunities.

Risk management separates those who survive and thrive in trading from those who fail. Traders who lack risk control can be wiped out even after a series of wins if they let losses spiral out of control. The most successful traders are rigorous about only risking 1-2% of their capital on any single trade and cutting losses quickly before they become catastrophic. This 1-2% risk is the percentage of trading capital a trader will lose if their stop loss is triggered based on their position size. The 1-2% risk isn’t the position size nor the risk of the movement in a stock. Diversification across asset classes, timeframes, and strategies reduces volatility and drawdowns for the best fund managers.

3. Continuous Learning And Adaptability

Definition: The commitment to ongoing market education, staying updated with market changes, and the flexibility to adapt strategies when necessary.

Importance: The financial markets are dynamic, with changing correlations, volatilities, and macroeconomic influences. What worked a decade ago might not work today. Successful traders always learn, test new strategies, and adapt to the ever-changing market environment. They understand that resting on past successes can lead to complacency and eventual underperformance.

The best traders have an insatiable appetite for knowledge. They read extensively, analyze data, study price action, review charts daily, and consult mentors to deepen their understanding. But more importantly, they translate knowledge into action by continuously evaluating and optimizing their strategies. When markets evolve, they evolve along with it rather than rigidly sticking to the same old approach. Adaptability and innovation are crucial to sustained success.

Key Takeaways

  • Adhere unwaveringly to pre-planned trading rules and strategies. Don’t let emotions disrupt discipline.
  • Apply robust risk controls like stop-losses and portfolio sizing. Never risk so much that you cannot recover from losses.
  • Absorb new market knowledge continually. Test and refine approaches to adapt to evolving conditions.


While these traits are among the most commonly cited for successful traders, it’s essential to note that trading is multifaceted. Traders might emphasize qualities based on their experiences and trading styles. However, discipline, risk management, and continuous learning are foundational traits that many top traders seem to share. By cultivating these traits, any trader can significantly improve their performance and longevity in the market. The road to trading mastery requires dedication but can be immensely rewarding.

Thriving as a trader requires cultivating specific mindsets and habits. Rigorously sticking to plans, managing risk through diversification and loss-cutting, and constantly learning and innovating separates the successful from the rest. While trading often provokes strong emotions, rigorous discipline, and risk management prevent impulsive decisions. Since markets continuously change, flexibility and ongoing education are also vital. By ingraining these traits, traders can achieve sustainable excellence in trading. Though challenging, doing so is ultimately very rewarding.

Learn more about Steve Burns at