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Dykstra: Discipline Key in Facing Life's Curveballs

Updated from 12:04 p.m. EST

As mentioned in previous columns, I am forever seeking a competitive edge in order to maximize my chances for success. This begins with impeccable preparation, which commences at 5:30 a.m. each morning, and rarely culminates prior to midnight. But regardless of how well prepared you are, life has an uncanny way of presenting you with situations in which your preparation is virtually worthless.

In essence, my strategy is to stay disciplined, regardless of the situation. This approach has served me well throughout my career, be it baseball, my various businesses or investing. Discipline allowed me to develop into the consummate leadoff hitter. I saw more pitches than anybody in the history of Major League Baseball during the magical 1993 season with the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies. This was directly attributable to the fact that I approached each at-bat with a plan. That plan had to be flexible in order to respond to the situation dictated by the scoreboard.

In other words, you must have a strategy to deal not only with the expected, but perhaps more importantly, a strategy to deal with the unexpected.

Discipline yourself, as I do, to always play the percentages, thereby creating that competitive edge that is integral to success. Furthermore, recognize, acknowledge, and accept when the percentages are not in your favor, so that you do not take on unnecessary risk.

Unfortunately, precious few of us are truly clairvoyant; therefore, we are bound to pick stocks that will go down in price. When this inevitability occurs, I believe in stopping the losses from the start and moving on. Remember, this can happen only through a disciplined approach, which for my trading means:

  • Using limit orders -- never a market order;
  • Not "marrying" positions, meaning you have to leave your ego and emotions out of trading;
  • Learning to sell your losers for tax purposes and to avoid the "opportunity cost" of keeping capital tied up;
  • Using options to leverage my bets, instead of using margin, but understanding that options must be handled with care;
  • Using tight stop-losses based on technical indicators, such as the 50- and/or 200-day moving average.
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