Hi. My question concerns body posture when sitting at a screen for hours a day. I’ve learned I need to be very aware when trading of what’s going on in my brain, what I’m seeing and how I feel and think about it, and what baggage from life might be influencing my mood.
Often though I also realise that my body is there with me too too, often being sadly neglected. Maybe I’m slumping, hunching shoulders and back. I’ve tried different kinds of chairs, soft and hard regular ones, a special kneeling posture one, now I’m on a large inflatable pregnancy ball. it’s an ongoing search for how best to look after myself physically. I spend a good bit of time doing physical stuff outside trading time but it’s the hours spent on screen when I’m not sure I take best care of my one and only body!
Any advice to offer on how you guys deal with this aspect of a traders lot?
Dr. Andrew Menaker responds:
Being very aware of what you’re thinking and feeling is a critical component of self-management, which can also have a huge impact on how we make decisions. As we move from one mental state to
another, our body, including our posture, and breathing, plays an important role. So, learning to tune into
your body is a big part of self-management.
There is an abundant amount of research in psychology, medicine, and in business showing how posture plays a role in communicating emotional states and influencing our decisions and actions. In fact, many technology companies have departments that conduct research on user interface and nonverbal behavior. Microsoft calls their department, Decision Theory and Adaptive Systems Group.
We have both a central nervous system (brain and spinal column) and a peripheral nervous system (nerves that extend throughout the body). The two systems communicate with each and have a profound impact on decision-making and behavior.
Try this. Spend a few minutes sitting slouched, with your shoulders slumped, legs stretched out, chin dropped toward your chest. Next, spend a few minutes sitting up straight or slightly forward, raise your chin and lean your head slightly to one side. Notice a difference in how you feel and the type and quality of your thoughts?
Not only does our posture impact our internal state, our body can also act as an emotional warning system. And if you think about it, that can be very helpful in trading. We may be following price action, order flow or something on the chart as an indicator to help us decide what to do. We can also use our body as an “indicator”.
Being aware of your emotional state is an important part of learning how to control your actions. Many people have difficulty tuning into their emotional state. Focusing on physical sensations throughout the body can help you become aware of your emotional state. Tense shoulders, butterflies or “pit” in the stomach, clenched fist, muscle twinge,”nervous tick”, heart rate variability, and depth and rate of breathing can be examples of an emotional state reflected in one’s physiology. Our emotions are a form of self-communication, when we learn what the message is, we can often make better decisions.
In my work with traders, I sometimes recommend a standing desk, instead of sitting, for traders that have an attention or focusing issue.
Many people, including traders, report that regular practice of yoga helps them maintain body awareness as well as reducing stress.
Possibly the single most powerful thing you can do with your body is to become aware of your breathing and change it, if necessary. When trading, anxiety and tension can overtake us, often resulting in decisions and actions that our not in our best interest as a trader. As traders, we must learn to use all the tools available to us, including our own body, to make better decisions and learn to take control of our actions.
Here’s a simple but very effective technique I refer to as “breath first aid” because it can quickly alter your internal state and influence your decisions and behavior. Take four long, slow deep breaths, filling your abdomen (not your chest) with air. Pause for a second at the end of each inhalation and exhalation. And if possible, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
Dr. Andrew Menaker is a full-time trader, with a PhD in psychology and has worked as a consultant and coach with institutional and retail traders since 1995.