How many of us traders actually take time out every now and again to evaluate our wellbeing, our physical and mental health? Are there any measurement and metrics we could use to determine if we’re fit enough mentally and psychically to trade? And ultimately does it matter if we’re dog tired and completely stressed out when we’re trading the markets? After all the markets don’t know if we’re having a bad day, or if our winter gas and electricity bills have just dropped on the doormat, they are what they are…
As you move around various investment and trading circles it’s impossible not to notice certain constants, some of the ‘superstars’ I’ve met in our industry appear to have developed and arguably perfected, an admirable work-life balance. Their home life, leisure time and dedication to work appear perfectly aligned.
We’re not talking of some form of supreme being here, we’re all fallible, we all drop the ball, but one thing I’ve noticed, as characteristics in people I’d consider great traders or businessmen in our industry, is that they always have time, it’s a simple observation but tricky to explain. Similar to great footballers they seem to have an uncanny ability to create time and space for themselves on their pitch. They’re organised and if you’re having a chat regarding what they’re up to it appears that their diary is full; gym, golf, meal out, kids activities, cinema, watching their rugby or football team at the weekend, for many of us it’d be hard not to be just a little envious of how well they’ve structured their work life balance, particularly if you’re not the most organised yourself.
But here’s the rub, they hardly talk about the practicalities of trading. Think they’re going to have a one hour chat with you comparing the benefits of Bollinger bands, MACD, RSI, and the ADX? Think again, it probably occupies as small a part of their grey matter as their daily trading routine does.
But before we get too down on ourselves let me just remind readers that a friend of mine, who has created one of the largest brokerages in the UK, takes no exercise other than once a week golfing, hates the gym and is happiest spending time with his family and friends. Once his day is finished he’s ‘off the grid’ bar emergencies. Having spent time to build such a superb company you’d expect him to have delegated responsibly on many levels. So not all the great and good of our industry are supreme beings hitting everything at 100 miles an hour 24-7.
But getting back to the original point should we mortal traders look towards improving our personal well being (physical and mental health) and if we do is it likely to improve our trading? Yes is the short answer, the longer answer we’ll attempt to deal with in the rest of this article…
If you’re a solo retail trader our industry is, by many measurements, an unhealthy business. Particularly when you’re starting out you’ll make that inevitable mistake of confusing screen time with work time and ‘learning’. Staring at charts, playing around with time frames, reading hundreds of posts on forums, all the fundamental policy changes and high impact news events, flitting around the web and before you know it half a day has gone, you’ve taken one trade, one loser and you’re waiting for your next set up. It’s not a great life you’ve crafted there is it? Especially if you imagined that trading would somehow “set you free”.
So the important question is what are we going to do about it, how can we limit our screen time to the bare minimum of what’s necessary and ensure we spend the rest of our time in more productive ways?
Firstly we have to be honest with ourselves, if your trading depends on you chart watching for hours on end then you’re trading in the wrong way. In the early days the acclimatization of the industry requires traders to become familiar with so many aspects; from platforms, to time frame, to indicators and all the associated jargon, but the reality, for even fairly inexperienced traders, is that you don’t need or have to screen watch by even a tenth of what you imagine you have to.
Therefore a huge proportion of your day is probably wasted believing that you have to develop an obsession bordering on the unhealthy involving “being there”; being ready should something big break letting you take advantage. The reality is that the big moves won’t and don’t have to leave you behind. You can take the smartphone to the gym, on a long walk in the country, a bike ride, the golf driving range, find somewhere quiet to read a book, visit a museum, or art gallery, in short you can take the market with you. Be ‘on message’ permanently but not in the market mentally.
So there’s a correction to our behavior we can correct immediately, that wasted screen time can be used far more productively to deliver the kind of free time rewards you imagined would be available when you first became involved in trading and after all wasn’t that one of the subliminal and perhaps unconscious reasons you came into it in the first instance?
So if you do one thing today take a break to complete a full overview of where you’re heading with your trading. Be honest with yourself and see if you can crunch your screen and market time to a minimum and spend that extra time improving your physical and mental condition by way of exercise, interests and hobbies. By making that first move you’ll be developing habits that many of the best and brightest in our industry have developed. Who knows, you might find your account balance improves by the same ratio also..