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Change Your Environment, Change Yourself

(Editor’s note: one of the most com­mon ene­mies of get­ting qual­ity cog­ni­tive exer­cise is being on The Daily Trading Coach, by Brett Steenbarger“men­tal autopi­lot”. I recently came across an excel­lent new book, titled The Daily Trad­ing Coach: 101 Lessons for Becom­ing Your Own Trad­ing Psy­chol­o­gist, by trad­ing per­for­mance expert Dr. Brett Steen­barger, which explic­itly calls for address­ing the “men­tal autopi­lot” prob­lem in his Les­son 4. Even for those of us who are not traders, Dr. Steen­barger advice pro­vides excel­lent guid­ance for peak cog­ni­tive per­for­mance. Dr. Steen­barger gra­ciously gave us per­mis­sion to share with you, below, Les­son 4: Change Your Envi­ron­ment, Change Your­self. Enjoy!).

Human beings adapt to their envi­ron­ments. We draw on a range of skills and per­son­al­ity traits to fit into var­i­ous set­tings. That is why we can behave one way in a social set­ting and then seem like a totally dif­fer­ent human being at work. One of the endur­ing attrac­tions of travel is that it takes us out of our native envi­ron­ments and forces us to adapt to new peo­ple, new cul­tures, and new ways. When we make those adap­ta­tions, we dis­cover new facets of our­selves. As we’ll see shortly, dis­crep­ancy is the mother of all change: when we are in the same envi­ron­ments, we tend to draw upon the same, rou­tine modes of thought and behavior.

A few months ago I had an attack of acute appen­dici­tis while stay­ing in a LaGuardia air­port hotel await­ing a return flight to Chicago. When I went to the near­est emer­gency room at Elmhurst Hos­pi­tal out­side Jack­son Heights, Queens, I found that I was seem­ingly the only native Eng­lish speaker in a sea of peo­ple await­ing med­ical care. After some dif­fi­culty attract­ing atten­tion, I was admit­ted to the hos­pi­tal and spent the next sev­eral days of recu­per­a­tion nav­i­gat­ing my way through patients and staff of every con­ceiv­able nation­al­ity. By the end of the expe­ri­ence, I felt at home there. I’ve since stayed at the same air­port hotel and rou­tinely make vis­its into the sur­round­ing neighborhoods—areas I would have never in my wildest dreams ven­tured into pre­vi­ously. In adapt­ing to that envi­ron­ment, I dis­cov­ered hid­den strengths. I also over­came more than a few hid­den prej­u­dices and fears.

The great­est enemy of change is rou­tine. When we lapse into rou­tine and oper­ate on autopi­lot, we are no longer fully and actively con­scious of what we’re doing and why. That is why some of the most fer­tile sit­u­a­tions for per­sonal growth—those that occur within new environments—are those that force us to exit our rou­tines and actively mas­ter unfa­mil­iar challenges.

In famil­iar envi­ron­ments and rou­tines, we oper­ate on autopi­lot. Noth­ing changes.

When you act as your own trad­ing coach, your chal­lenge is to stay fully con­scious, alert to risk and oppor­tu­nity. One of your great­est threats will be the autopi­lot mode in which you act with­out think­ing, with­out full aware­ness of your sit­u­a­tion. If you shift your trad­ing envi­ron­ment, you push your­self to adapt to new sit­u­a­tions: you break rou­tines. If your envi­ron­ment is always the same, you will find your­self grav­i­tat­ing to the same Read the rest of this entry »

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