Trading / Investing

Simple Ways to Improve Your Mind and Body for Trading

12 Min Read

I recently spoke about the trading mindset concept of ‘Adapt like Water, Absorb like a Sponge’ and I told you that I was going to show you how to make that mindset a reality. Today I want to speak about the small physiological and psychological changes you can make that have a big shift in your trading performance… the ‘hacks’.Some of you will be familiar with Al Pacino’s famous speech in the film Any Given Sunday:

“You find out life’s this game of inches. And so is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small. I mean… one half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow or too fast; you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They are in every break of the game, every minute, every second.On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the fucking difference between winning and losing!”

How many aspects of our lives can we relate that same message to? I know in my case, there are hundreds. But, as I’m sure you’re anticipating, the key thing that stands out for me when I hear that speech is how directly it relates to trading.

Trading an inch for a mile…

Trading is all about minuscule movements; tiny percentage changes, pip-level activity and points being gained here and there. Seemingly insignificant alterations in performance can have a huge long-term effect.In short, the entire process is based on having an advantage, which means any edge you can get, no matter how small, can have a huge impact.When it comes to trading, too many of us are focused on developing the tools rather than the person using them. Since trading is so heavily focused on trader psychology, this clear negligence of the most important factor is only going to lead to disaster eventually.Fortunately for us, I won’t be letting us make that same mistake.I’ve put together a series of tried and tested actions you can take that will make big enhancements in your trading; through clarity of thought, improved cognitive ability, increased energy and general badassery.I’ve also added some bonus content for you today, right at the bottom of this post. I convinced my good friend Ross Garshong from Blackstar Fitness to add his own tips for improving performance by enhancing our daily routine. Ross is a professional athlete and offers personal training for City professionals to help reach their peak state – more on that later.Firstly, let’s get started straight away on these actionable points you can use to improve your trading… starting today.

7 Ways to Improve Your Cognitive Power for Trading

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1. Straighten up!

We all know that active trading involves a lot of time sat at a desk in front of your screens. I think we’ve all felt the effects on your back from sitting down all day, but that still doesn’t seem to be enough of a deterrent for us to take the issue more seriously and change our posture. However, did you know that bad posture can actually have a negative effect on your brain power? If you want that extra edge in your trading, pay attention…Sitting up straight expands your rib cage and reduces restriction on your diaphragm. You breathe more deeply and easily allowing your brain to be better nourished. The added benefit of reducing the stress on your spine by sitting, standing and walking with an improved posture is reduced stress and fatigue.Good posture helps you to breathe better: By expanding the rib cage, and reducing restriction on the diaphragm, you are able to breathe more deeply and with less effort. By increasing the volume of air that you can take in with each breath, you increase the amount of oxygen you extract from the air. This allows your body to work more efficiently.

2. Stay consistently hydrated

Not drinking enough water throughout the day can reduce your overall alertness and ability to concentrate. Light-headedness, headaches and tiredness could all be caused by not drinking enough water. It has been found that being dehydrated by even as little as 1% can lead to a 5% reduction in cognitive power.Since we know trading is all about the accumulation of small edges – that 5% reduction in cognitive power can make a substantial difference in your P&L.If you want to be fluid in the market and to be able to react quickly, aim to drink at least 2 litres of water every day. Keep a bottle of water near your trading terminal and swap your caffeine kick for a sip of the clear stuff.

3. Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition…

Improving your diet can benefit your brain and body. There are a number of ways you can do this while you’re busy trading without much hassle.Ensure you keep a steady supply of energy throughout the day, by consuming the following options:

  • Wholegrain (Low-GI, releases glucose slowly into the bloodstream) – Eat: brown rice or pasta, wheat/bran cereals
  • Oily fish (Omega-3 occurs naturally in oily fish) – Eat: salmon, pilchards, sardines, herring and trout
  • Easy snacks (for when you need to keep energy but can’t leave your screen) – Eat: blueberries, cherry tomatoes, blackcurrants, pumpkin seeds and nuts. These provide the added benefits of improved memory and increased mental agility; improving your thinking skills. They also contain antioxidants to help prevent dementia and vitamin E to prevent mental decline.

Why not start a new habit by taking a multi-vitamin suited to your lifestyle? Take the time to speak to your local pharmacist or health shop for help finding the most suitable choice for you.

4. Meditation: The most underrated trading tool ever

It’s not just for weekend retreats. Simple meditation can be done quickly and at your trading desk by closing your eyes and simply tensing up and then relaxing your muscles while paying attention to your breathing.Keep your attention on your breathing and the sensations in your body. After a few minutes this will begin to refresh your mind for the task ahead.Create a new habit where you incorporate meditation into your daily routine. To get started you can use some free courses to learn the ropes – I recommend downloading Calm or Headspace on your smart phone. Alternatively, there are many guided meditations on YouTube if you don’t have a smart phone.I truly believe meditation is the most underrated tool for trading (and for life in general). If you learn to use it in your trading schedule, you will see a noticeable difference. Since it’s so important and there are so many different types of meditation, I will be writing a longer article on the subject of meditation and trading soon.

5. Detox your Mind by Having a Structured Time Schedule

If meditation doesn’t work for you, you can still enjoy the benefits of a meditative frame of mind simply by making changes to the way you structure your time.In a recent interview, Arnold Schwarzenegger discussed how he used Transcendental Meditation for a year to organise his mind when he was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of tasks he had to do and the pressure of them all.When the interviewer asked why he doesn’t do meditation anymore, he replied that he found having a routine where each task had its own allocated time gave him the same benefits. Since he knew other tasks would be dealt with in their own time slot, he could focus 100% on the task at hand and not worry about what else was on his plate.A good way to enjoy the benefits of having a structured time schedule is to use a productivity technique called Pomodoro.Typically, to use the Pomodoro technique you would allocate 25 minutes of solid work with no distractions, followed by a 5-10 minute break. After a few of these 25 minute periods, you will then have a longer break (perhaps to have lunch etc.)Obviously 25 minutes is not long enough for trading, so I adapted this and made it 50 minutes. I trade for 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break to switch off (and meditate!) If I have other tasks that need to be done, I simply allocate a Pomodoro to those, so I can get them done efficiently and not allow it to disturb my trading.This technique allows me to be 100% focused and not get distracted with niggling tasks.

6. Are you still sitting up straight? Good, now straighten up your work area

Concentration and clarity are easier without distractions… In the mind and in your surroundings.Clear your work area, your home office space and even your car! De-cluttering for a few minutes every day can add up; find a home for every object and keep important things that you might need urgently closer to hand. In the same way that high-performance cars put the gears closer to the driver’s hands; a high-performance trader will want the same benefits from their important tools.The process of clearing your messy trading station can be particularly therapeutic after a difficult/bad day in the markets. Out with the old, in with the new.

7. Learn a New Language or Musical Instrument

Teach your mind new ways of thinking and be creative about it. Join a class that introduces you to new people and new things – this comes with the added benefit of social interaction. As a private trader, you can often spend long periods of time on your own with only your double-screens for company. Getting out will help dust off the cobwebs and keep you fresh.However, that’s not all. Learning a language can also improve your cognitive function significantly, as pointed out by Cody Delistraty for The Atlantic website:

“Multi-linguals tend to score better on standardized tests, especially in math, reading, and vocabulary; they are better at remembering lists or sequences, likely from learning grammatical rules and vocabulary; they are more perceptive to their surroundings and therefore better at focusing in on important information while weeding out misleading information (it’s no surprise Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are skilled polyglots).”

Similar benefits have also been found in individuals who learn to play a musical instrument. As noted in the Telegraph:

"Experts said there is growing evidence that musicians have structurally and functionally different brains compared with non-musicians – in particular, the areas of the brain used in processing and playing music.These parts of the brain that control motor skills, hearing, storing audio information and memory become larger and more active when a person learns how to play an instrument and can apparently improve day to day actions such as being alert, planning and emotional perception.Lutz Jäncke, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, said: “Learning to play a musical instrument has definite benefits and can increase IQ by seven points, in both children and adults.”

I think we can all be a bit skeptical sometimes about some of these so-called ‘body hacks’, which provide immediate enhanced performance – especially as traders, where we’re looking for logic rather than anecdotal evidence.Of course, most of these points come with scientific evidence and if you want to waste time trawling the research online to discover that for yourself, then go ahead. Alternatively, you could avoid being stuck in your ways and just give these tips a go. See what ones work for you and ditch the ones that don’t. World-class trading is often about testing.

Bonus Content by Ross Garshong from Blackstar Fitness

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to add some extra advice from a specialist.Our two-day Learn to Trade courses feature a guest spot from Ross Garshong, to discuss how nutrition and fitness play a vital role in getting you in optimal condition and peak state for high-performance trading. Ross is a professional athlete and offers exclusive personal training to City professionals; building an athlete-level training plan for people with limited free-time.I asked Ross to provide us with some of his quick-win tips for inducing optimal performance:

Hit the Ground Running by Ross Garshong

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At the start of a rugby game, the first tackle is often the most important. It sets the precedent for the rest of the game…You want to send out a message, loud and clear – I am a force to be reckoned with and I mean business!This is exactly how you want to be hitting the markets every day. As a trader, you’re also a force to be reckoned with; but in order to reach that peak state, the preparation starts the night before.

Switch off Early

Caffeinated beverages are a complete No-Go after 6pm. You may not think that you can feel the kick of the caffeine, but if it’s in your system at rest, it will keep you awake at night.Learn to use caffeine when needed rather than out of routine. This is the key to keeping an edge on the competition – on an even playing-field where all the players have the same tools; efficient utilisation becomes the key to progress.

Get Your Mind Right

After waking up in the morning, I will immediately have a glass of water. It fires up your metabolism…Drinking a large, cool glass of water after you wake up has been shown to kick-start your metabolism by a whopping 24% for 90 minutes!Now, pay attention to the rest of this article to keep the ball rolling.

Eye up Your Competition with Your Goal for the Day

Set a goal that you will strive to achieve today. This doesn’t have to be to take over the world (yet), but just something small and manageable.This goal will keep you focused and solidify your resolve – it will become part of your routine each day to conquer it.On game day, I’ve developed the habit of repeating my goal to myself in the mirror. Establishing that competitiveness with yourself will ensure that you compete at the best of your ability.

Surprise, Surprise…

Eat your breakfast.I know you probably feel like you’re fine without it, but to reach peak performance the key is to provide adequate fuel for your activities. That includes your cognitive function, which needs just as much fuel as other physical activities (and is even more important in many aspects). Don’t be left at the line, be a front-runner from the get go!You’ve had your water. You’ve set your game plan. Now ensure you generate that metabolic spike to get everything you need, and more, from your body!