Burnout Basics: Recognition and Recovery

Traders and poker players often underestimate the mental demands of their profession. Even though many of you pursued these tracks because a “normal” job wasn’t appealing, you still compare yourselves to those working 9 to 5. That mistake is a common cause of burnout.

Below you’ll find an introduction on the basics of burnout and some ideas about what to do about it.

Burnout Basics

You can think of burnout like burning your skin, there are different degrees of severity and the worse it is, the longer it takes to recover. Sometimes, the trick is to just delay the burnout a little longer.

For instance, if you are a poker player in a tournament, you want the burnout at the end of the tourney, not in the middle. Or if you are a trader who knows the markets will be closed for an upcoming holiday, you might just need to keep going for a few more days before getting a three-day weekend. But when you are really burnt out, you need more time to recover. And that’s a hard pill for many of you to swallow.

As a trader or poker player you are closer to a professional athlete or performer than you are to a normal 9 to 5er. Why? Because you are paid based on your performance. Showing up isn’t good enough. You have to show up in good mental condition otherwise it’ll cost you money, quite literally out of your own pocket.

Imagine how different the corporate world would be if employees were paid on a daily basis based on their performance. The mental demands would be significantly greater and burnout would be an even bigger problem than it already is. Which brings us back to you. Since many of you lack the appreciation for the mental demands of trading and poker, burnout is a common and often hidden problem.

Let’s dig in.


Feeling Crusty

When burnout is small you want to take steps to get yourself back on track. Mild burnout is where you are just a little crusty. Maybe you don’t feel great when you get up. Traders may find they just don’t have it in them to do their normal premarket prep. Poker players may find it harder to work on their game, or sustain focus across the same number of tables online.

The sooner you recognize that you’re starting to get burned out, the sooner you can make decisions and adjustments. In order to do that you need to know the signs. Unfortunately, the best time to research your signs of burnout and identify the key factor is after each occurrence of burnout. But you can certainly think back to previous instances and do your best to map this problem like you would any other. Take good notes, and the next time around, use what you’ve found to spot the early indicators of burnout. Then you can take steps just prior to reaching that point.

When burnout is mild, some simple things you can do to recover are to prioritize your cooldown, diet, exercise, and sleep. In addition, I recommend being social, engaging in your hobbies, reading for enjoyment and not development, or doing something fun and not overly mentally stimulating. Taking these steps will help to not only delay the onset of burnout but possibly prevent it entirely—you stay right at the edge, without quite going over it.


Fully Toasted

At the other end of the spectrum is major burnout, where it’s hard to even think. You find it hard to muster the energy to trade or play poker. Just the idea of it weighs heavily on your mind. It’s a stark contrast to how you normally feel.

To prevent a severe burnout, you need to figure out the one or two signs that indicate you’re nearing that point. The signs could be emotional—you no longer have any control over tilt or greed. Or it could be evident in your discipline. Maybe you can’t follow rules and have proper entries and exits or push marginal edges, and play hands out of position that you know you should fold.

Burnout also intensifies your mental game problems and limits your ability to improve them, even if you have correctly identified the root cause. Your mind is in a weakened state, so you lack the strength, clarity, and poise to execute your strategy and fight for progress. Emotional volatility is higher, and emotions accumulate at a faster rate, which means you have more emotion to handle and less mental strength or willpower to battle it. As a result, your performance drops.

When burnout reaches this point you need rest. There’s no other way around it. The problem is that the kind of rest that you need to recover from burnout is costly. You don’t make money when your trading business is closed, or when you’re not at the poker table. Sure, sometimes it might make sense to push through, like an injured athlete in the playoffs. But you can’t push through forever.


Be Proactive

For many of you, scheduling time off feels wrong, or even irresponsible. That thinking is dangerous to your bottomline and EV. Burnout is costly. Do the math. How much more do you make from your days off if it results in improved performance on the days you are trading or playing?

Hard to say for sure I know. But many of you think that taking days off only costs you money and that’s short-sided thinking. Change your perspective to that of an athlete and think about how you get paid for days off when they help you to perform better and more often, and when that leads to greater learning and improvement.

Burnout is a common problem but it doesn’t have to derail you.


Written by Jared Tendler

November 9, 2021

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