Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Three Simple Steps to Improve Cognitive Performance

Here are three simple practices that can improve alertness, concentration, and overall cognitive performance:

1)  Hydration - Thanks to Henry Carstens for pointing this one out.  A lack of proper hydration has been found to negatively impact mood among women and decrease alertness and concentration among men.  A wide range of studies link dehydration to declines in short-term memory, concentration, alertness, visuomotor tracking, motor skills, and computational performance.  Water is essential for feeding the brain.

2)  Power Naps - Sleep is a restorative.  Although sleeping on the job has a negative connotation, research finds that power naps improve creativity, memory, energy level, and general cognitive functioning.  Naps also improve decision-making and problem-solving, with naps of different lengths offering different benefits.  A 20-30 minute nap is ideal for improving alertness.   

3)  Moving Around - Prolonged sitting carries a number of health risks.  Standing at the desk for a portion of the day can also increase energy and improve mood.  Exercise during the day improves sleep quality, energy level, and mood.

So what does that tell us?  The traditional way of working as a trader--sitting at the desk all day, hunched over and focused on screens, guzzling coffee and soda--is bad for our cognitive performance and bad for our health.  If you're a world-class athlete, you will do everything possible to maintain your body in peak condition.  If you're a world-class trader, keeping your brain in peak condition is equally important.  It makes little sense to spend time looking for more and better trade setups when our minds are poorly maintained to act upon those.

Further Reading:  Improving Concentration and Productivity