Monday, April 26, 2010

Minding Our Selves: How Body Becomes Soul

In the past, I've written about how life experiences serve as mirrors: they reflect to us something of who we are, which we then internalize as part of our identities. This is particularly true of relationships: we continually experience ourselves through the people in our lives: in a very real sense, who we allow into our lives helps shape who we become.

We also have relationships with our bodies, in a sense. Our bodies are constantly sending us signals about their state: whether we are tense or relaxed, energetic or fatigued, fit or falling apart. A common problem with sedentary occupations such as trading (and a common problem as people become older) is that they stop taking care of their bodies and focus on more "practical" things, like making money, raising children, and keeping up a home.

Over time, a divergence develops: the mind is trying to stay sharp and the person is trying to stay focused, energetic, and motivated, and the body is sending a completely contrary set of signals. It is very difficult to stay at the top of one's game if the other side in our mind/body relationship is sending frequent signals of exhaustion or deconditioning.

I see this often among traders--and too often in myself: neglecting the body and then not having enough fuel in the tank to sustain a crucial piece of motivation or optimism that could lead to that good career decision, that extra effort that gets noticed, or that one good trade after a couple of losers.

If our bodies are mirrors to our selves, what experience of your self are you living with and internalizing each day? A promising strategy for working on the mind might just be minding the body.



Michelle B said...

A state of fitness is essential in developing and maintaining mental and emotional stamina.

However, keeping fit is challenging. When young, not much is required for fitness. As we age, we need to make an effort to keep and maintain fitness.

The only way that works for me is to do heavy duty gardening (no electric helpers) for about 6-8 hrs daily (before the market opens my time in France). The only way at my age by which I am willing to exert energy is when I am doing something I enjoy, and I have an insatiable appetite for gardening.

My husband, with whom I have to make an appointment for him to do the occasional heavy lifting in the garden because he hates gardening so, keeps fit by walking about 3-5 miles daily just by doing chores (sans car).

Just like we need to find our niche in trading, we need to do that in exercising. Everyone is different and what is essential is to find something that you love and you will fit it into your routine.

Radek Dobias said...

I find it's the other way around: taking good care of the mind will automatically reflect in taking care of the body. If you neglect your physical aspects, you can be sure there is something wrong on the mental / spiritual level.
The physical is the effect.
The mental is the cause.

Adam said...

Brett ~

There is a large body of credible scientific literature showing causality between increased frequency of strenuous physical activity and reduction of the biochemical markers indicative of stress and depression.

For this reason alone, because of stress and potential episodic depression associated with our profession, it is easy to see that benefit can be derived from regular rigorous bouts in the gym or miles pounded out along roads.

Intense, frequent physical activity lowers one’s resting heart rate over time. Elevated heart rate is a symptom of both emotional and physical stress. Regular exercise reduces the time it takes for one’s elevated heart rate, whether due to physical or emotional stress, to return the resting rate.

A well-designed course of physical exercise, combining aerobic and anaerobic activity provokes neovascularization. That is, the growth of new capillaries in the muscles being worked, resulting in overall improved, efficient blood circulation to parts of the body previously served less well.

There is a significant body of scientific literature correlating one’s ability to concentrate on a task for long periods of time with physical fitness. These studies cover the gamut from rats, to primates, to humans ~ including fighter pilots, whose cockpit work environment is similar in relevant ways to trading.

Speaking personally:

During the past eight years, I have come to view my daily workouts as part of my work as a trader, not something separate that gets fit in if possible. I have experienced all the benefits described above.

Some years ago, a diagnosis required bouts of hard-core chemical therapy. Physicians told me my ability to deal with side effects and reach full recovery was directly related to a high level of fitness.

At nearly 60 years old, and in the ninth decile of cardiac health, I am married to a woman 20 years younger. Marital “happiness” is sustained by remaining fit.

I’m in the gym five mornings a week before market open. Three days a week, I work with a coach, a former career combat officer and martial arts champion now my own age. I once asked how many sit-ups he does. His reply, “I start counting when it starts hurting.”

Most highly recommended.

Adam Sterling.

bleurain said...

Not sure if you shared the following information before. If you don't mind sharing, what constants do you use for your weekly SPY price targets? How do you determine the constants in general (for other stocks or markets)?

Thanks in advance.

Michele said...

Another great post and a great reminder.

I really liked Adam's comment too:

"I have come to view my daily workouts as part of my work as a trader"

That's a great way to think of it. Now, every day when the market closes, I get my dog and we go out for a brisk half hour walk, rain or shine.

It gives me an excuse to get out and be active and it's good for her too. I started doing this a few months ago and I already definitely feel better.

John Grover said...

I'm interested in your notes and the 2 comments so far. And ever since you have posted your end of blog, I have been thinking about what question I would ask. This post brings to mind my larger question. You have mentioned several times that high performance people seem more "plugged in" than others. In follow up posts like these you are gently pushing your readers to be more involved and plugged in to each aspect of life for maximum performance AND joy. So the question relates to the cycle of personal sustainability in keeping this focus and energy.
The news is filled with fallen heroes, and the trading literature is replete with blown up supertraders. So if the goal is a happy and fulfilled life, I suppose the balance must be found by each person for themselves. But holding that edge of maximizing performance while retaining balance is what makes a genius and losing the balance equals destruction. Since all performance faces defeat and overcomes, the exhaustion of that faculty seems to lead to downfall unless purposeful refuelling takes place. I remember in the Fountainhead how Roark "loafed like an expert" after a long project. The balance of rest was required after an all out effort.
In my own life I have had years of performance in various areas followed by periods of laziness. It is only lately that I'm seeing that this "laziness" which made me feel guilty at times, was actually the foundation period for the next period of performance. So what is the balance there among the best traders and performers in your view? How are longer and shorter breaks to be taken to make sure the edge does not grow dull? If levels of engagement wane, is it a sign to take a break or renew your effort to engage? And in the end, is it not better to take some time off regularly rather than face the burnout and destruction many at the top seem to face? Or is this simply rationalizing sloth?
As many have said, your blog has been very important to me and my trading. Much more so than any of the technical analysis or news blogs out there. You have truly given us your best, and in turn I wish you the best in your new career.

Jim said...

Hi Dr Brett,
I saw Michael's mention of you shutting down the blog over at MarketSci. Just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed and benefited from your blog over the past 2 or 3 years, although I haven't visited for a while.

On topic re this post, I am in my 70th year, vigorous, active and in good health (thank God). I have never been an "intentional" exerciser, but have long realized I should be. This year I came across a comment on the PaNu blog posted by a guy who had recovered from type2 diabetes via diet and exercise. PaNu is a MD's blog on eating in congruence with our evolutionary metabolic milieu, not some fanciful recreation of duplicating our pre-agricultural ancestors' lives.

The exercise component of the comment referred to a work by another MD and an exercise expert entitled "Body by Science". The writer didn't like intentional exercise either, and referenced being able to increase strength and fitness in 12 minutes per week. I know, too good to be true. But I checked out the BBS website, bought the method book, started exercising Feb 1, and am totally pleased with the progress I have made in strength and fitness.

I have six acres to maintain, and used to dread the amount of work it took each spring, and how exhausted and sore it made me, to get the place 'up to snuff'. This year has been much better.

Best to you down the road, Dr Brett. A final thought: the Standard American Diet (SAD)kills, as you can see by looking around. Human ancestors were all hunter-gatherers, and none suffered from the Diseases of Civilization.

I am indifferent as to whether you post this comment, but wanted to share its content with you.