What is it about successful Forex traders that sets them apart from the rest?
A well-known figure in the Forex world is that 90% of Forex retail traders do not succeed. Some publications quote failure rates as high as 95%.
Regardless of the actual number, having interacted with thousands of traders over the years, I can tell you that those figures aren’t far off.
So what is it that sets the 5-10% apart?
We’ve all heard the typical reasons such as experience, discipline, and strategy. While those may be factors, there are other less obvious differences.
The bottom line is this…
Successful Forex traders think differently from the rest. They aren’t concerned with needing a high win rate or trying to trade every day regardless of market conditions.
In this post, I’m going to share with you nine of the top qualities that the best Forex traders in the world possess. What follows is a combination of lessons I’ve learned since I began trading in 2002.
So without further ado, let’s begin!
- What Does It Mean to Be Successful?
- So Who Are the World’s Best Forex Trader?
- 1. They Don’t ‘Lose’
- 2. They Use Price Action
- 3. They Have a Defined Trading Edge
- 4. Successful Forex Traders Don’t Try Too Hard
- 5. They Think in Terms of Risk
- 6. They Don’t Need the Money
- 7. Successful Forex Traders Know When to Walk Away
- 8. They Don’t Focus on Wins and Losses
- 9. They Never Gave Up
What Does It Mean to Be Successful?
Before we get into the nine attributes, I want to clarify how we will define success in this article.
Any story about a successful Forex trader must include consistent profits. I think we can all agree that most traders use profits to benchmark the success of another.
However, success in any endeavor is about more than just money. It’s also about the joy and passion it adds to your life.
This is one thing I can’t teach. I can offer help in drawing key levels, determining trend strength and price action signals. However, I cannot teach passion.
You either love trading or you don’t. There is no in between. So the question is if you don’t have a passion for trading, can you really be successful?
Think about that for a moment. If you don’t absolutely love what you’re doing every day, can any amount of money make you content?
I would argue that it can’t.
So as you’re reading today’s post, remember that it isn’t just about the money. If your only reason for trading is making money, then you may want to have another look at your chosen career.
It’s your passion for trading, not money, that will push you through the tough times. Without passion and a love for trading, no amount of money can make you a successful Forex trader.
So Who Are the World’s Best Forex Traders?
Stanley Druckenmiller has long considered George Soros his mentor.
In fact, the two worked together at the Quantum Fund for more than a decade.
He was even there during Soros’ famous Black Wednesday trade in which they “broke the Bank of England” when they shorted the British pound in 1992.
The duo reputedly made more than $1 billion in profits from the single trade.
Stanley Druckenmiller left the Quantum Fund to start his own fund, Duquesne Capital.
Duquesne Capital Management is famous for posting an average annual return of 30 percent without a losing year.
However, Stanley decided to close the fund on August 18, 2010.
He indicated that the “very large sums” of money were making it difficult to make big profits for investors.
I’ve written about Bill Lipschutz in the past.
He’s known for turning $12,000 of inheritance money into $250,000 while still in college.
He did this by investing the risk capital in his free time.
However, nobody is perfect, and Bill is no exception.
Shortly after turning $12,000 into $250,000, he made one bad investment decision that nearly cost him the entire account. He was back to square one.
But instead of throwing in the towel, he used that loss to fuel his passion for learning.
Lipschutz joined Salomon Brothers in 1984 as part of the newly formed Foreign Exchange Department.
One year later he was making $300 million per year for the firm.
Here are four key tenets from Bill Lipschutz himself:
- Time is a risk factor. A three to one reward to risk ratio is acceptable for trades of 48 hours or less, but longer duration trades require a five to one ratio.
- The game is the “thing”. According to Bill, a truly successful trader has got to be involved and into the trading; the money is the side issue.
- Know pain, but don’t fear it. You have to feel the pain of a bad trade, or a wrong trade. If you don’t and are numb to it, then it’s over.
- Insane focus is a must! Bill Lipschutz once said “when they call you crazy, you know you are on the right track. He was referring to the work ethic and insane focus required to succeed as a Forex trader.
Now that we’ve covered some of the world’s best Forex traders, let’s discuss the nine attributes they share.
1) They Don’t “Lose”
Before the emails start pouring in, let me explain…
No Forex trader is without losses. But there’s a distinct difference between how the beginning trader loses and how the best Forex traders lose.
What’s the difference?
Most starting out in the Forex market view a loss as a bad thing. It’s a way of signaling that they did something wrong.
And doing something wrong is bad. At least that’s what we’ve come to believe over the course of our lives.
However, the successful trader doesn’t view a loss as a “bad” thing.
It’s also not something the market did to you. The Forex market doesn’t know where you entered or where your stop-loss order is located.
Unlike you, the market is always neutral. So when you lose, it’s a matter of reflecting on what you could have done better.
Don’t get me wrong, nobody likes to see a trade go against them. I don’t care if you’ve been trading for one month or ten years, it’s always more enjoyable to make money than to lose it.
That being said, just because a trade doesn’t go your way doesn’t mean you should take it personally. Thinking this way will only dig you a deeper hole.
The successful Forex trader has the mindset that a loss is simply feedback.
It’s the market’s way of disproving a trade setup. That’s the only thing the Forex market has the ability to do because it doesn’t know anything about you or where you entered the market, nor does it care.
Losses can be a powerful way to learn. Just remember that even a trade that ends up as a loss can be the right decision.
How is that possible, you ask?
If you’ve defined your edge, and the setup met all of your criteria to enter the market, then you did all you can do. The rest is up to the market, and some days the market just doesn’t play along.
Next time you have a loss, take it as constructive feedback. Analyze the situation to see how you can improve the next time. Keep in mind, though, that even an A+ setup doesn’t always work out.
I’ve had many trade setups that didn’t work out that I would gladly take every single week.
That’s because I know that my edge will win over time and put money in my account. In fact, a good exercise after a losing trade is to ask yourself, “would I take this same setup again next week if it presented itself?”
You should always be able to answer this question with a resounding “yes”.
If you answer with a “no”, you need to take a step back, determine where things went wrong and correct it for the next trade.
Start seeing trading losses as business investments rather than upsetting events. Each loss is an investment in your trading business and ultimately your trading education.
The money you put at risk on any given trade, whether it’s $5 or $500, is an investment with the best Forex coach in the world—the market. Keep an open mind and it’ll show you everything you need to know.
2) Successful Traders Use Price Action
Every successful Forex trader I’ve met uses price action in some way, shape or form.
This doesn’t mean they’re using price action in the same way I use it, but they are using some form of price action as part of their trading strategy.
Whether a trader is using raw price action or simply using it to identify key levels in the market, price action plays a major role in any strategy.
That’s because it serves as a representation of the psychology within a market. It gives us some insight into the minds of other traders.
Having some idea of where buy and sell orders are located in the market is critical to becoming the best Forex trader you can be. It can strengthen any trading strategy by providing areas to watch for potential entries as well as profit targets.
Trading Forex without using some form of price action is like trying to drive a car with one eye closed. It can be done, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
So even if you are developing a strategy based on indicators, it would behoove you to learn about price action. If nothing else, it will provide a solid foundation from which you can design and develop other strategies.
3) They Have a Defined Trading Edge
I see a lot of talk on the internet about the need for a trader to develop an edge and define it. And, if I’m honest, most of what I’ve read out there is pretty alarming.
It’s little wonder why so many traders struggle to understand what an edge is and how they can develop one of their own.
So what exactly is a trading edge and why is it important?
An edge is everything about the way you trade that can help put the odds in your favor.
It’s a combination of the time frame you trade, the price action strategies you use, the key levels you’ve identified, your risk to reward ratio, and other factors. It even includes your pre- and post-trading routine.
How do you handle losses? What do you do when you win? These are all things that make up your trading edge.
Think about it like this…
What allowed Brazil to win so many World Cups in soccer (football to most of the world)?
Was it the passing? Maybe the shooting?
It was everything. Brazil had the “total package”, as they say. It was their passing, shooting, dribbling, movement of the ball, set plays and everything in between that gave them an edge over other teams.
Your trading is no different.
Although there are dozens of factors that make up your edge, you don’t have to master all of them at once. Nor do you have to master all of them to start putting the odds in your favor.
It’s better to master one set of factors and then slowly expand to others to further define your edge. Not only is this a natural progression, it’s the preferred way to learn.
Have you heard the saying, “jack of all trades, master of none”?
If you try to master too many of these factors at once, you’re setting yourself up to become good (not great) at a lot of things. That isn’t what we want.
Instead, master one thing at a time. For example, become an expert at identifying key levels. Then expand your skill set by learning how to determine trend strength. After that, set your focus on learning about pin bars.
Those three things are all you need to witness a rise in your profit curve. Continue to expand your skill set in this manner and soon you will have a trading edge of your own.
The key is to only tackle one or two factors (at most) at a time. Using a slow and steady approach will get you on the road to becoming a successful Forex trader in no time.
4) Successful Forex Traders Don’t Try Too Hard
But trying hard is what it takes, right?
This might apply to other ventures in life, but Forex is the exception. Successful Forex traders know that trying too hard is a sign that something isn’t right.
This is different from studying hard. As a new trader to Forex, studying the market is highly recommended.
For instance, you can’t spend too much time learning the ins and outs of the various currency pairs, or how to draw key levels. The harder you try to learn those particular topics, the better.
However, trying to make a trading strategy work will only lead to destructive behavior, such as emotional trading. Similarly, trying too hard to find trading opportunities is a good way to lose money on subpar setups.
Jack Schwager, the author of the Market Wizards series, said it best when he wrote, “good trading should be effortless”.
I’m a big fan of this book series. In fact, I wrote a post that features several of his books.
When I first started trading Forex, I remember spending countless hours studying setups over the weekend. I would often come back to my trading desk multiple times on Saturdays and Sundays.
Then on Monday, more often than not I would end up taking a completely different trade setup only to watch the original trade idea move in the intended direction without me.
Does that sound familiar?
It happened because I was trying too hard. As soon as I stopped over-analyzing trade setups and trying to make them work, my profit curve started to rise.
Now I spend maybe 20 to 30 minutes per day looking at my charts—the exception being the charts I post on this website, of course.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, learning to not try so hard was one of the things that completely changed my trading career for the better.
Successful Forex traders have taken note of this, which is why they let the market do the heavy lifting for them.
5) They Think in Terms of Risk
It’s often the smallest things in life that generate the greatest improvements.
The concept of thinking in terms of money risked, as it applies to Forex trading, is no exception. It’s an extremely simple concept that can have a huge impact on your journey to becoming a top Forex trader.
I’ve never met a successful Forex trader who doesn’t calculate their risk before putting on a position.
You may think that’s an obvious statement, but a surprising number of traders don’t think about how much money is at risk before opening a trade.
This is because they’re using an arbitrary percentage to calculate risk, such as one or two percent of their trading account balance.
Think about your last trade for a moment. Did you define the exact dollar amount at risk before putting on the trade? Or were you more focused on the number of pips and the percentage of your account at risk?
The convenience of Forex position size calculators has made it so that we never have to consider the dollar amount being risked. This convenience has caused a huge oversight.
Don’t get me wrong, I use the position size calculator at the link above before each and every trade.
However, I’m just as interested in the dollar amount at risk as the percentage of my account balance.
Aren’t those the same?
Yes and no.
Obviously, 2% of $5,000 is $100. In that respect, the 2% and the $100 are essentially the same things.
However, in terms of the way our mind perceives these two figures, they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum.
I wrote an article a while back called, Pips and Percentages Will Only Get You So Far. In it, I talk about the need to think in terms of money risked vs. pips or percentages.
This is because pips and percentages carry no emotional value. So when you define your risk on a trade as a percentage only, it triggers the logical side of your brain and leaves the emotional side searching for more.
When you calculate your risk as a percentage only, you’re defining your risk but you aren’t accepting it.
As soon as you convert that percentage to a dollar amount, your mind is able to visualize what $100 looks like. This enables you to determine if you’re prepared to lose that $100. In other words, is the trade setup in question good enough for your $100?
It’s much easier to risk 2% without fully accepting the potential loss because it doesn’t carry the emotional value that money does.
The best Forex traders know this. That’s why they always define their risk in terms of a percentage and a dollar amount.
6) They Don’t Need the Money
There aren’t many guarantees in the Forex market. But one guarantee I can make is that there’s no successful Forex trader who is trading today for money he needs tomorrow.
In other words, trading Forex to gain a certain amount of money within a specific time period.
I’m not saying that you can’t generate the majority of your income from trading Forex and do it full time. Such a statement would contradict my own experience.
What I am saying is that no successful Forex trader needs a win today to pay the electric bill tomorrow.
No trader can sustain that kind of pressure and become consistently profitable. That type of environment will only foster destructive emotions such as fear and greed.
This topic takes us back to the notion that the best Forex traders don’t try too hard.
If you need the money from trading to pay bills, odds are that you’ll feel pressured to win. If you’re feeling pressured to win you’ll most certainly be trying too hard instead of allowing the market to do the heavy lifting.
The bottom line is this…
You should only trade with money you’re prepared to lose. Don’t trade with the money you need to pay rent or provide for you or your family.
Similarly, don’t allow the money to be your sole reason for trading. The desire for money is probably what attracted you to trading in the first place, but don’t let it be your only desire.
Embrace the challenge and focus on the journey to becoming a successful Forex trader and the money will follow.
Let money be the byproduct of good trading.
7) Successful Forex Traders Know When to Walk Away
Of course, I’m referring to taking a brief hiatus, not walking away for good.
All successful Forex traders know when to walk away and take a break. Those who are truly passionate about trading Forex know how hard it can be sometimes to walk away from the market. Still, it’s necessary in order to become a successful trader.
Walking away can be especially difficult following a trade. This is because our emotions are running high and often get the best of us. But that’s exactly what makes walking away at this time so beneficial.
After a profitable trade
After a win, we’re feeling good about ourselves and our trading strategy. It feels like things are finally starting to click.
Walking away at this time can be tough. The natural tendency after a winning trade is to continue trading.
However, that’s precisely why you should walk away.
Taking a break after a win will allow your emotions to settle. After the win, you’re feeling excited and proud of yourself, and you have every right to be.
But as you may well know, pride and excitement can get you in a heap of trouble, and fast.
So the next time you have a winning trade, pat yourself on the back and then walk away. By the time you come back to your trading desk, your emotions will be under control and you’ll be ready to approach the market with a neutral mindset.
After a losing trade
What do you do immediately following a loss?
I can’t speak for you, but I know what I used to do. I would immediately start going through all my charts looking for a new setup with the intent of recovering what I just lost.
Whatever you do, don’t do this. It’s just your ego drawing you into one of the most common and costly traps in the Forex market.
If you’re doing this, it means your emotions are getting the best of you.
Instead of seeing a loss as a reason to hop back in the market, take it as a signal to look at what you could have done differently. Remember, it’s just feedback.
One reason the failure rate is so high in the Forex market is that traders haven’t learned to lose.
Your emotions will always try to outweigh your logic after a loss; it’s human nature. The key to becoming successful isn’t about eliminating emotions after a loss, it’s about channeling them in a way that will make you a better trader.
Top Forex traders know this and have learned how to control these emotions. The very first step in controlling your emotions involves walking away for a bit.
One thing I’ve found helpful after a trade is to close my trading platform until the day closes at 5 pm New York time.
Not all brokers offer New York close charts, but you can go here to get access to the same style charts I use.
This is when I do the bulk of my analysis anyway since I trade the daily time frame, so it makes sense to take a breather until then.
It’s a simple, yet incredibly helpful, way of controlling your emotions.
8) They Don’t Focus on Wins and Losses
You can’t visit a Forex site these days without seeing an advertisement for some strategy that promises a 98% win rate.
Why is that? Is it because a high win rate is needed to become a successful Forex trader?
Not even close!
They do it because it sells. People love to win, there’s no denying it. If you’ve ever played sports or watched your favorite sports team on television, I’m sure you can relate.
Those behind the so-called strategy that produces an advertised 98% win rate know this and exploit it to make money.
Nobody is going to be enticed to spend money when they see a headline that promises a 50% win rate.
But what if it’s a strategy with a proper risk to reward ratio that aims for $300 for every $100 risked?
At a 50% win rate, that’s a 20% gain on a $5,000 account over the course of 10 trades.
Successful Forex traders know this. They have realized long ago that it’s not about winning a high percentage of the time.
It’s about maximizing the amount of money made on wins and minimizing the amount of money lost on losers.
As George Soros once said…
“It’s not whether you’re right or wrong, but how much money you make when you’re right and how much you lose when you’re wrong”.
9) They Never Gave Up
Although this one is last on the list, it’s by far the most important to your success as a trader.
I’ve found over the years that many people, including Forex traders, lose sight of this very simple fact. The only way you can fail at becoming a successful Forex trader is if you give up.
This sounds obvious, but it amazes me how often I see perseverance and grit left off the list of reasons why a certain trader became successful.
You can’t fail if you don’t quit.
That brings us back to the first section of this post where I mentioned passion. You can’t expect to achieve Forex success if you give up, and you can’t expect to persevere if you don’t have a passion for trading.
You must have a burning desire to want to succeed as a trader. Not because you want more money, but because you love trading.
Of all the ways to make money in this world, trading is arguably the worst choice.
That may surprise you coming from me, but of all the things I’ve accomplished in my life, none have come close to being as difficult and unforgiving as becoming a successful trader.
I don’t say this to discourage you, but rather to prepare you for what’s ahead.
In all honesty, although trading has been the most challenging endeavor I’ve ever undertaken, it’s also been the most rewarding
Whether you’ve been trading Forex for a month or five years, I hope the nine attributes of successful traders you just read will help you in your journey.
The most important takeaway from today’s post is that there is no secret to successful Forex trading. Sure, there are various tips that can help you, but those who have achieved consistent profits are not untouchable.
In other words, there’s nothing they do that you cannot eventually replicate.
However, if you intend to climb the ranks and join the top 5% of successful traders, you should be prepared to put in the work and devote the time necessary to succeed.
Embrace the journey, because there is no finish line. Even those who have achieved consistent profits have more to learn. Anything less wouldn’t be worthwhile.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you get rich trading Forex?
I think the better question is: can you become consistently profitable trading Forex? The answer is a resounding, yes! The key is to focus on the process and forget about trying to strike it rich. Focus on the process, stay disciplined, and the profits will follow.
Who is the most successful Forex trader?
That depends on how you define “successful”. For instance, is a billionaire who works 16 hour days and is generally unhappy more successful than someone who makes six figures a year but only works 6 hours a day and loves what they do? The second individual is more successful in my opinion.
What is the number one trait of a top Forex trader?
In my experience, having the patience to wait for the “A+” setups and do nothing else in the meantime is the number one trait of successful traders.
Did any of the traits above come as a surprise to you? Can you think of an attribute of successful Forex traders I left out?
Leave your answer, question or comment below. I’d love to hear from you!