Many futures traders start trading, make some decent profits, and then, all of the sudden, encounter what seems to be an endless string of losses. These losses eat away at their trading capital as they struggle to figure out what they are doing wrong. To be successful trading in the futures market, you must know what the common pitfalls are and how to avoid them. (For a background in futures trading, be sure to check out our Futures Fundamentals Tutorial.)

Common Futures Trading Mistakes

You can improve your odds of success by avoiding common mistakes many beginner futures traders make. These include:

1. Not Sticking With Your System

All successful futures traders have a system in place to help them select trades and keep losses to a minimum. However, just when a trading strategy is starting to show promise, many traders will deviate or abandon the system they are using. Doing so allows emotion to creep into their trading, which ultimately leads to losses. (Learn more about systems in our Trading Systems Tutorial.)

2. Not Protecting Yourself

Futures trading (like all trading) involves a certain degree of risk, so it is important to protect yourself. There are a few ways to do this, such as using sell or buy stops to limit your losses to a comfortable level, or by using hedging strategies like buying puts. Taking steps to protect yourself will help keep losses to a minimum while maximizing profits. (To learn more, read "The Stop-Loss Order – Make Sure You Use It.")

3. Not Staying Focused

Trading futures successfully requires your undivided attention to read and evaluate the markets effectively. Sometimes distractions are unavoidable, but you always want to have as few as possible when you are trading.

4. Not Being Open to New Ideas

The markets are always changing. No matter how great you think you are as a trader, there's always a new idea that can help you improve your results. Too often, traders get caught up in thinking they already know enough and aren't willing to learn anything new. As market conditions change, this type of trader is left behind with nothing to show but losses. However, if you remain open to new ideas, you will be able to change with the markets – and profit consistently, no matter what they do.

Qualities of Good Futures Traders

A good futures trader is someone who can profit in any type of market condition. Traders come from many different backgrounds and lifestyles, but most good futures traders are:

1. Independent Thinkers

Great futures traders think for themselves rather than follow the crowd. They pay attention to what is happening in the markets and the world to help inform their trading decisions. When the market is falling, they avoid panicking and turn to bearish strategies to make money. They also avoid getting too greedy in rising markets when many investors behave as if the market will go up forever. 

2. Strong Analysts

To be a good futures trader, you must understand technical and fundamental analysis and be able to apply them to spot trading opportunities. If you are a beginner, gaining the necessary knowledge and experience may seem like an enormous task. But a wealth of information can be found in books, magazines and on futures-related websites. As you are learning, you can practice and hone your skills by paper trading. (For more, see "Blending Technical and Fundamental Analysis.")

3. Active Learners

Successful futures traders never stop learning. Consider going to seminars or other events where you can interact with traders and continue your education.

4. Handy With the Tools of Their Trade

Information is key when trading futures. Make sure you have the ability to place trades 24 hours a day, have access to real-time quotes and software to help you analyze the markets, and be able to receive fast executions. With these tools, you can react quickly to changing market conditions.

The Bottom Line

Being a good futures trader means staying informed, sticking with your system, honing your skills and learning from mistakes – your own and those of others. By following these simple tenets, you can increase your odds of seeing more profits and fewer losses in the challenging-yet-rewarding futures market.

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