Today’s article is about a seemingly obvious concept; how to measure trading profits. Yet, most traders start out measuring their profit (and loss) totally wrong, but it’s really not their fault. Conventional thinking and what is typically spread on the internet or recommended by brokers and even in many books, just isn’t how actual professional traders think about measuring trading performance or managing risk (they go hand-in-hand).

Hence, today, I want to give you a real-world lesson which is probably not what you have read or heard elsewhere, on how to properly measure your trading performance and risk in the market. After all, this is a pretty core-component to your trading career, and if you don’t have this part down how can you expect to actually make money in the market? I think you agree.

As you know if you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, I am primarily a swing trader and that is the style of trading we focus on here and that I teach my students. Why is that important? Well, because depending on how you are trading, you will want to measure your profits differently, and for swing traders like you and I, there is one way to measure profits that is clearly more logical and simply “better” than the rest.

However, before we get into how I measure risk and reward as I trade the markets, let’s be fair and transparent and go over the three primary ways traders measure this. We will discuss each of them and then I will explain which one most professional traders focus on, and why.

The 3 Primary Means of Measuring Profits:

  • The “2%” Method – A trader picks a percentage of their account to risk per trade (usually 2 or 3%) and sticks with that risk percentage no matter what. The basic idea here is that as a trader wins, they will gradually increase their position size in a natural way relative to account size. However, what usually happens is traders lose (for a number of reasons discussed in my other articles, check out this lesson on why traders fail for more), and then they are stuck trading smaller and smaller position sizes due to the 2% rule (the 2% means less money risked as you lose), making it harder just to get back to their starting amount, let alone actually make money!
  • Measuring Pips or Points – A trader is focused on pips or points gained or lost per trade. We aren’t going to focus much on this method because it is so ridiculous. Trading is a game of winning and losing money, not points or pips, so the idea that focusing on the pips will somehow improve your performance by making you less aware of the money, is just silly. You will always be aware of the money, no matter what. Only by properly controlling your risk per trade can you control your emotions, and that means you need to know what you are risking per trade in monetary form (dollars, pounds, yen, etc).
  • Measuring based on “R” or Fixed $ Risk – A trader predetermines how much money they are comfortable with potentially losing per trade and risks that same amount on every trade until they decide to change that dollar amount. The dollar amount they are risking per trade is known as “R” where R = Risk. Reward is measured in multiples of Risk, so a 2R reward is 2 times R, etc. Yes, there is some discretion involved with this method, but honestly, discretion and gut feel in trading is a big part of what separates the winners from the losers. I will explain more as you read on…