Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mental Fatigue and Getting to the Next Level of Performance

I recently posted on the topics of psychological energy and life success and how we can overcome procrastination to become more productive. What is the difference between someone who persists through adversity and someone who gives up? Someone who makes that one extra trade to recover losses and someone who does not? Someone who stays alert and focused on opportunity and someone who overtrades in unfocused moments?

As Jim Loehr has pointed out, many times the difference is one of psychological and physical energy. How many times have we seen a basketball team make an attempt at a comeback, only to run out of gas late in the game and ultimately fall short? The same thing happens in the boxing ring: fatigue makes cowards and weaklings of the best fighters.

Less well appreciate are the effects of mental fatigue. We have free will only to the degree that we can direct ourselves in goal-oriented ways. When we are burned out, overwhelmed, or just plain tired, we lose that capacity for direction. We drift, rather than act with intent. Even our minds drift, rather than stay focused on goals.

It's important to recognize that fatigue is not just something that happens to us, but also something that we actively do: we fatigue ourselves with low-yield activities, negative self-talk, and the frustration of unmet needs.

If you think of our minds and bodies as houses, we have dozens of leaky windows from which energy escapes. We compensate with excessive eating, caffeine consumption, drugs, and thrill-seeking, only to see that energy dissipate as well. Until we repair and replace those windows, we will always operate inefficiently, on partial energy.

Without sufficient psychological energy, we cannot escape the gravity of habit.

That is a major reason why we repeat the same problem patterns, why we cannot muster the energy to stick to plans and intentions, and why we procrastinate when we know we should act. The energy we need to direct our lives has flown out the window.

What we do outside of trading either provides or saps energy for our market challenges. How we eat, how we exercise, how we think, how we utilize our time: all either give energy or take it away.

Life is a training camp for elite performers; that is what gets them to the proverbial next level.