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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 »

Neurogenesis and Brain Plasticity in Adult Brains

Back in July, I wrote a post enti­tled 10 Brain Tips To Teach and Learn. Those tips apply to stu­dents of any age, includ­ing adults, for ide­al­ly adults are still learn­ers. Why is adult learn­ing rel­e­vant in a brain-focused blog, you may won­der:

The short of it

As we age, our brain:

still forms new brain cells
can change its struc­ture & func­tion
finds pos­i­tive stress can be ben­e­fi­cial; neg­a­tive stress can be detri­men­tal
can thrive on nov­el chal­lenges
needs to be exer­cised, just like our bod­ies

The long of it

Adults may have a ten­den­cy to get set in their ways have been doing it this way for a long time and it works, so why change? Turns out, though, that change can be a way to keep aging brains healthy. At the April Learn­ing & the Brain con­fer­ence, the theme of which was neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, I attend­ed sev­er­al ses­sions on adult learn­ing. Here’s what the experts are say­ing.

Read the rest of this entry »

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