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Trading Education Posted by Team Topstep September 6, 2022

What To Do When You Have No Trade

Bored Trader

Think about this, a situation that we’ve all likely experienced. We are wide awake and well-prepared for the beginning of the trading day. You are filled with the optimism derived from a trading plan and the belief that today will be a profitable day. Your market opens, and you want to be active; however, nothing presents itself. By the end of the first hour (if not before), you are concerned, knowing that the busiest part of the day has produced no signals that meet your criteria.

What happens next? Well, for many of us, we begin to chase, hoping to catch some sort of trade, unconsciously reasoning that a lesser quality entry is better than no entry. The result is that we negotiate our trade entries, which in turn prompts us to negotiate our exits, take on too much risk, and then negotiate other sound principles.

For many of us, things continue to spiral out of control. We overtrade, revenge trade, increase size, or other factors that turn a disappointing morning into a bad day or even blow up an account type of day.

Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic. However, I can tell you that blown-up accounts are made of this formula. Even if you don’t blow up an account after you take that first lousy trade, you are prone to having questionable judgment for the rest of the day. The challenge to become profitable or return to break even becomes more suspect. 

What’s The Problem?

Of course, there are many ways to blow up an account; it is just one hyper scenario when things worsen. However, there are several symptoms that I addressed in this case study, simply put, there were bad trades based on bad decisions which circulated around negotiating rules. However, in that story, these were mere symptoms of an underlying and core problem, namely inactivity and possible boredom. 

This article will address a part of the learning process necessary for all traders, what to do when the market gives you nothing to trade. This is an issue we all face regularly. Part of the process of maturing into successful long-term traders is managing this as a professional. 

It All Starts In The Mind

Eric Berne wrote the book Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis, whereby he discusses in part how humans often interact with their surroundings. Sometimes we negotiate our principles by boxing ourselves in with frail analysis. I recommend this book to all traders who want a better understanding of psycho-social analysis that they can apply to all areas of life, including trading. 

What prompted my remembrance of this book was when considering how traders respond to dull markets. Some will become bored; however, you might remember as a child or teen that when we were unstimulated, we were either miserable or often found trouble. 

The issue, in part, is the healthy or sometimes unhealthy need for stimulation or excitement. I’ve found that people from all walks of life tend to need excitement, sometimes becoming dependent to the extent that it is an addiction.

If this may be you, then you might consider further help from professionals on how to control this level of stimulant required. One thing is for sure; if you live for an adrenaline rush, you are less likely to enjoy sustainable success in a trading career.

The Gambler Scenario

What typically occurs is the same product that gamblers experience. The need for a rush exceeds the abilities and mechanisms of self-control. When self-control is lost, then self-harm is afflicted. For the gambler, this will be betting the farm, so to speak. For the trader, it will be blowing up an account, as an extreme scenario.

Of course, you don’t have to be an adrenaline addict or junky to suffer from being caught in the moment, stimulated out of your boredom, to the extent that mistakes are made and self-harm is done. We all have moments when our trading has been captivated by our ambition that we’ve discarded our principles. 

One thing that we may consider is keeping a journal each day of our experiences, specifically one of our emotional and mental processes when we open positions, hold trades, exit positions, and after we close the trade. This will enable us to inventory our psychological condition better to determine what part of the self demands greater attention. So often, it is not the trading system that is flawed but the person who is implementing it. This is why automated trading has been incorporated so popularly in recent years because they don’t have the same psychological limitations. 

So What Do I Do About It?

Okay, back to the task at hand. Again, if you have a serious problem with boredom and the need for stimulation, it could be best to get some professional help. For those with routine, modest to moderate issues with the markets when they don’t give us a trade, below are a few pointers on how to reshape your trading temperament. 

Who Says You Can’t Multitask?

One of the things that old trading books will tell you is how hard you have to watch and concentrate on the markets as if it’s a virtue to stare at screens all day. But, of course, this is not a necessity, especially given that so much is now automated. 

Sure, you probably enter your trades manually, but if you are like me, your criteria are set in your platform, which will alert you to appropriate trading conditions. Therefore, in that situation, I can multitask. Even now, I’m working on this article while my software is doing its work. Below are some other ways you can productively multitask while trading.


The trading life can be highly sedentary. Hence, if you can set up your platform to do significant amounts of work while you also exercise, that will help keep you tamed during dull markets and benefit your health. I call that a win-win. In my trading area, where my desk resides, I also have multiple workout machines so I can be close to all the action.

Additional Work

While you are waiting for precision in a dull market, you can work on charts or various other things. As I mentioned, I’m writing this article while trading, taking appropriate breaks when I  need to focus on the markets.

I wouldn’t suggest taking phone calls or getting into intensive projects, but writing emails and other productive avenues are welcomed. This way, at the end of the trading day, I can walk away from my office and all my work. It should go without saying, as a reminder, this is a potential remedy for dull markets. If your day is not dull, or if your side work is intense, then I suggest reconsidering this option.


Alright, here’s a true story. I know a trader who excels in many facets of the profession. However, he suffered when markets were dull. So I made a few suggestions to help him occupy his time, and before I knew it, he was watching movies and documentaries and even playing video games during the trading day. 

I don’t know how he does it, but it works for him and keeps him from chasing bad trades in slow markets. But, again, I’d be careful with this. If it works for you, then great. However, my concern is that while a movie can be paused, a video game, for some of us, may be more intense. But once more, if your platform is doing a substantial amount of work and alerts you to conditions, then you have an opportunity to relax while being entertained.

Branch Out Into New Markets and Strategies

 Here’s another of my favorite ideas. If you have demonstrated your capability to earn money from the markets but just need a little boost from your growing edges concerning dull trading, then why not take what you do, adapt as necessary, and apply it to more markets? 

If you can handle it, then do more of what you already do well. This will help keep your attention on your trading and likely create more opportunities and potentially a higher income. But, again, if you have less developed skills and experience, then this may not be good for you either. 

A Big Thing To Remember

Remember, the idea of multitasking only works as long as you are not being distracted from success. The purpose is to enable you to overcome some mental hindrances. I think that for many in my age group (the mid to late 30s), we are thought of as having attention issues, perhaps even ADD or ADHD, which makes it very hard to trade, and wait for the right trades. This idea of multitasking may help compensate for some of that. 

Additionally, for some of you, perhaps newer traders, hardly anything in this article will be applicable, as someone may find the markets never dull but too much to process. In that case, in the following article, we will discuss the flip side of the problems explored in this article. 

As always, my opinions are my own and are hardly authoritative. However, I do have 15+ years of experience working in trading and have many observations to share. What’s always most important is that you are independent enough to throw salt on what I write and decide what’s worth chewing up and digesting and what should be left on the bone. 

Take what’s valuable, adapt it to your style and personality, and leave behind the rest. However, I believe there is enough present here to provoke reflection from any of us.

Until next time, trade well!