Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Powerful Workout Routine for Traders and Its Hidden Benefit

The recent post took a look at working on the body to sharpen the mind.  The speed exercise routine I described consists of five minutes of stretching (working down the body starting with neck and arms and progressing to shoulders, back, and legs); ten minutes of weight lifting (working neck/shoulders, arms/chest, stomach, and legs); and fifteen minutes of jogging on the treadmill (at target heart rate).  What makes it a speed routine is that there is minimal break between the activities.  It's meant to be a fast-paced body tune up to start the day, not a full conditioning program.  If you recall the post on using constraints to bolster creativity, then you can see that the half-hour limit is a constraint that pushes us to use the time in the most energy-boosting, body-challenging way possible.

Can we pack even more into the half-hour constraint?  Can we design a workout for mind as well as body?  As I discuss in my upcoming book, it turns out that the answer is a resounding yes.

The key is found in yoga.  At its most basic, yoga consists of a series of poses that build strength and flexibility, while promoting healthy posture, breathing, and mindfulness.  Unlike traditional meditation, some forms of yoga are quite physically active and challenging, stimulating the body rather than quieting it.  Yoga has been found to promote both physical health, as well as reduce stress and promote well-being. 

Yoga illustrates that it is possible to work on mind at the same time that we work on body.  This is accomplished by keeping ourselves focused and mindful while we are working out vigorously.  Tracking our breathing during each workout phase is a simple way of accomplishing that.  In the most basic form of the speed routine above, you begin the session seated, keeping yourself completely still, breathing deeply and slowly.  With each inhalation, you recite to myself, "Energy In" and feel your body completely expand with the intake of air.  With each exhalation, you say to yourself, "Energy Out" and feel your body wholly relax with the release of the air.  

Once you are centered with this introductory exercise, you then begin the speed workout--already in a state of high mindfulness.  Throughout the stretching, lifting, and running, you are mindful of your breaths and keep yourself focused on "Energy In", "Energy Out".  Although the workout is quite vigorous and fast-paced, you'll find that your mindset stays very calm and focused throughout.  In 30 minutes, you have a routine for pushing your physical comfort zone, pumping up your energy, and building your capacity to stay in the zone.

But there is a hidden benefit as well.  I originally designed this routine to maximize the value of a workout to fit into a busy day.  What I found was that the combination of physical exertion and enhanced mindfulness is extremely effective in training us to stay mindful whenever our bodies are worked up.  During trading, you may become harried because of fast-moving markets; frustrated with a bad trade; or anxious about the possibility of loss.  In each case, your body enters an adrenaline-fueled flight or fight state.  If you have trained yourself--day after day--to stay mindful when your body is aroused, that capacity will come to you in the heat of battle.

In other words, when you train mind and body as part of a workout routine, you also train yourself to handle the workouts that markets give us.  That is a tremendous benefit that pays off when we are most vulnerable, enabling us to trade more mindfully and intentionally.

Further Reading:    Trading and Mindfulness