Misunderstandings. Confusion. Feeling overwhelmed. Nobody who is trying to reach or sustain peak performance wants any part of those. Quite the opposite, you want your mind to be clear.
A clear mind produces sharp thinking and execution. You know what you’re trying to do and there’s nothing internally that is blocking you from doing it. Zero friction. Your thoughts easily translate into action, and access high-level intuitive reactions comes effortlessly. That clarity of mind makes accessing intuition more achievable, allowing you to make adjustments, capitalize on opportunities, see edges, and outmaneuver your opponent in ways that you typically can’t.
I wanted to focus on clarity this month because at this point in the year many of you will fall into two categories.
The first category is the people who excitedly made New Year’s resolutions but didn’t understand the true nature of progress and why resolutions don’t work. For those folks progress may have already stalled. When you are trying to transform your performance, it doesn’t take much for the gravitational force of C-game – your old habits and mistakes – to pull you back down. If that’s you, click on those links, review my previous blogs and then recommit in a way that will work.
The second group are folks who are successfully riding the wave of inspiration from the new year to achieve high levels of productivity. If that’s you, that means you are remaining diligent with routines and are adhering to the rules and play style you set out. It’s terrific news and I applaud you. But I want you to be aware that high productivity can be derailed by a very common, but not well understood, phenomenon.
Clutter in your mind slowly accumulates in these periods of high performance and productivity, and, left alone, this accumulated data can cause you to slide backwards and make you more vulnerable to your C-game. I call this accumulated data “Bloated Brain.”
The good news is that combatting bloated brain is straightforward and achievable – but first you need to understand it.
What is “Bloated Brain”?
Sometimes it’s easier to see a problem when it’s bigger. Think back to the trading days, poker sessions, or rounds of golf when you were so intensely focused for so long that you stopped being able to properly analyze trades, hands or shots.
Or how about the times when you were researching, watching training videos, or practicing for large chunks of time and reached a point where your brain just shut off — you couldn’t focus any longer and new information didn’t make any sense.
At those times, your mind is so full of data that you don’t have the room to hold any more. You’re like a wet sponge unable to absorb any more water. You have a hard time concentrating, miss key information, and feel mentally exhausted—like your head is in a fog.
The common assumption is that you’re tired, and that’s certainly a part of the story. But the hidden part is that your brain is full of data or what I call, “bloated brain.”
The problem gets worse when this data carries over day to day. Accumulated data is very much like accumulated emotion, and in a subtle way it can limit your ability to think clearly and process information the following day. When you’re driven to optimize your performance and learning, a cluttered mind is a hidden danger.
Consuming Random Content
A major contributor to bloated brain is consuming random content. Many of you are forced do that by the nature of your jobs. For instance, traders must sift through streams of data from multiple sources in order to interpret and capitalize on opportunities. And as you interface with these data streams, it’s easy to allow irrelevant information to flow in and influence your decisions.
You may think such distractions don’t affect you. But here’s a quick way to demonstrate what happens when the mind attempts to do two things simultaneously: While reading the next several lines, focus on the sensation of your legs against your chair or the feeling of your feet on the ground. Force yourself to feel the sensation of your legs or feet, while paying close attention to what you’re reading. See if you can notice the shift that your mind makes between reading and sensing your legs or feet.
Do you notice how each time your attention switches, you lose information from the other point of focus? Your eyes may continue to scan the page, but you no longer pick up every word, and you may even have to reread them. And every time you focus only on reading, you lose awareness of the sensation in your legs and feet.
Imagine this happening while trading or at the table or on the course. Every time you focus on Twitter, a text message, or an unrelated discussion, you absorb data that can either immediately, or later on, cause you to miss data that is critical to your performance.
Maintaining Clarity: Cool-Down Routines
The good news is that these problems are fairly easy to address by adding simple habits into your daily routine. The brain has a natural process for digesting information and converting it into valuable knowledge, just as the body’s digestive system extracts nutrients from food. You can make that process more efficient.
While trading, playing poker, or practicing golf, take breaks before your brain shuts off. Just a few minutes, where you stop consuming new data, can give your brain an opportunity to digest more of what you’ve absorbed. Plus, if you take some notes, go for a short walk, or meditate, you delay the drop-off in your performance until the end of the trading day, poker or practice session. (On the golf course, find small moments where you can do this between shots.)
Then, afterwards help your brain digest the data by writing, or talking and then taking notes, whichever you prefer. You don’t even have to review what you write to experience a benefit. The mental clarity you achieve from getting the data out of your head is valuable on its own.
Although, I do recommend that you review a few of the key takeaways from your writing as part of your warm up. This creates a cycle – before, during, and after – where you regularly focus on improving specific parts of your tactical and mental game. That kind of repetition is key to accelerating improvement.
Clients who follow this advice tell me that by regularly squeezing out the data that accumulates in their mind, they feel mentally refreshed at times when they previously assumed they were tired. Plus, when used consistently, it keeps their mind clear, which produces high performance and rapid improvement.
Unfortunately, clarity is not always that easy to come by in a world where so many are vying for your attention. To have a fighting chance requires a little maintenance.