Chris D here.
Last September, I gave a webinar to Macro Ops Collective members about my health habits and wellness practices. It’s an important topic because sloppy life practices away from the trading screens affect trading results way more than most people realize. Most of the questions and feedback I received from that video were about building trading systems and all the health and wellness that I focus on.
In this article I hope to provide you with health and wellness ideas that will up your trading game as well as your overall well being. After all, we don’t live solely to invest. We have family, friends, hobbies, and other projects in our lives that benefit from a focus on health.
My intention here is to share what has worked for me, for you to pick and choose what would benefit you the most, and then share with our team your tips and tricks.
Focus On Yourself First
Most think that it’s selfish to focus on your well being ahead of others you care about (ie, spouse, children). But, if you continuously sacrifice yourself for others and disregard your own mental and physical health, then what happens when that catches up to you and you’re sick, injured, or burnt out?
Something I learned in the military is a great metaphor for this. When I was younger, I was a United States Marine. An infantryman no less. The Marine Corps takes great pride in being a very self sufficient group, all the way down to the individual level. We are taught to take exceptional care of our weapons, our gear, ourselves and then it expands upward to our team, our squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment and so on.
The Marine Corps traditionally arrive by sea. With that, we need to take care of our own. I was lucky enough to go through Combat Water Safety Swimmer (CWSS) training (basically lifeguard training on steroids) as part of my training.
During this training, we operate according to the standards and intensity expected of us in combat. All CWSS is carried out in boots, trousers, two shirts, body armor, helmet and rifle along with accompanying ammunition and gear that the normal Marine would wear during an amphibious landing.
A major objective of this training is learning how to rescue a drowning swimmer. This is done in full gear, with the victim in full gear too, while getting hit by ice cold waves. The task is made more difficult since the drowning swimmer is in full on survival mode. They’re fearing for their life and trying to grab onto anything, especially the rescuer.
In order to be a capable rescuer, you need to be a good swimmer, which gives you confidence in the water and provides confidence to the troubled swimmer you are rescuing. This is the most important (and dangerous) part about a rescue; the troubled swimmer isn’t thinking logically, they are in fight or flight mode and very often you do end up in a fight. But our job is not to fight in the water our job is to rescue. We need to bring our rescuee back to reality, we need to calm them down, we need to give them a little confidence. This can take numerous attempts before you can get the swimmer to calm down enough to be rescued, as crazy as that might sound, and requires that you, as the rescuer remain calm, as well.
Applying this concept to real life: like that troubled swimmer, you won’t be able to help your family and friends when they need you the most if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
In order to take care of others (your spouse, family, friends, community and so on), you need to be at your best or other people’s troubles will be like that drowning swimmer. If you’re weak, tired, and/or distracted, you put both yourself and those you are helping at risk of being pulled under.
To further emphasize this point, being a good trader/investor doesn’t just happen on a whim, after reading Twitter for months and subscribing to some newsletter. I argue it takes developing a process, focus, discipline, and many other things as well, but you must take care of yourself first.
Excellent decision making is hard. Good decision making is easier. But poor decision making is the easiest of all.
This is why I believe that in order to become successful, and maintain that success as an investor, the majority of the work needs to be done on yourself before you can makegood, and then excellent, decisions with your money and your life.
Treat Yourself Like A Professional Athlete
I’ve been trading and investing for a living for nearly 20 years now. There have been some very hard lessons learned along the way but it wasn’t until I realized that the real success in the markets comes from first working on myself.
As a former semi-professional athlete and someone who still trains quite a bit, I liken my mindset to that of a professional competitor. As an investor, our minds and bodies are the tools we use to get the job done.
(Check out how LeBron James approaches taking care of himself with training, diet and a major focus on recovery. I have a very similar approach, albeit not 7 figures!)
Let’s start with the subject of sleep.
It wasn’t until 2018 that I realized how important sleep was to my health and focus, and the opportunity I had to jump-start my performance by just sleeping better.
Back to LeBron James…On the Tim Ferriss podcast, LeBron talks about getting 10 hours of sleep per night, and how he usually nap during the day as well.
This is an athlete playing a physically challenging sport, non-stop for six months at a time, and unlike many other professional basketball players, his season goes to the very last second of the very last game, as he is always in the championship. LeBron is still in his prime and he attributes a large amount of that to sleep.
For me, I always wore my 4AM wake up as a badge of honor, thriving on low amounts of sleep, and spending hours upon hours reading (usually about 8 hours before I really got going on the other things in my life). While this definitely gave me a huge advantage and I benefited greatly from that discipline, and consumption of information, increasing my hours of sleep has significantly improved my ability to focus and to get into a desired mindset more quickly and far more frequently than when I was operating on less sleep.
Here’s an interesting study and something I used to start my journey down the sleep “rabbit hole.”
“Brief periods of sleep loss have long-lasting consequences such as impaired memory consolidation.“
In the past I would go to sleep whenever I felt tired and wake up at 4AM regularly. I realized that focusing on the time I woke up was the key to getting more sleep. I force myself to stay in bed longer now, generally 5AM or6AM. I occasionally even find myself sleeping until 11AM – something old Chris would have never been able to do. Once I was able to overcome my 4AM wake up habit, making sure I received eight hours of sleep per night became easy. Now, I regularly get eight to ten hours of sleep every night.
Subjective results? Since then I’ve lost a bit of stubborn weight around the midsection, blew through some physical plateau’s and have built and improved my trading systems at a much faster and, more importantly, efficient tempo than ever before. I feel better, and I’m certain I make better decisions, so I continue.
As soon as I wake up, immediately before looking at my phone, any screens, emails, texts, Instagram, charts, news or anything else, that might cause any thoughts, I go straight to meditation.
There is a surprising amount of noise in our minds as we sleep. The activity of dreaming, then switching directly to external feedback, or someone else’s agenda (news, social etc…), means that there is no time to switch context from what our subconscious mind was doing while we were sleeping, to the immediate barrage of stimuli.
Meditating immediately after waking can help organize those crazy subliminal suggestions and enables us to better get our sh*t in order before taking on the day.
I’ve been meditating for about 30 years now, pretty much everyday.
I was lucky enough to be taught it through sports when I was young and have taken that with me throughout my life. It wasn’t until this year that I discovered how much more effective and useful meditation is when you do it first thing in the morning.
Your mind will also thank you again for doing a second session in the afternoon, which I do as well, though not everyday. This can be in the form of a dedicated meditation session or cardio routine. When I’m in a city, I like to go for long walks; when I am in nature, I like to hike, run trails or jog on the beach. The repetitive nature of hiking/jogging/walking helps me get into a meditative state.
While this s is subjective, meditating slows the world down for me. I make better decisions and am not bothered by things I can’t control when I am in a regular meditation practice. I am able to release worry and stress over these things.
Get Challenged By Nature
Challenging the elements further toughens the mind. I spend most winters in the snowy mountains so I get opportunities to be a part of some of the most extreme things that nature can offer. The strength I get from conquering the cold really sets the stage for my day.
During the winter after my morning meditation I throw my zero drop trail running boots on, a pair of shorts, and take a little morning jog…shirtless. There is something amazing about running in fresh powder snow with no sunlight and overcoming that voice saying that there is a nice warm shower back at home waiting for you, and continuing on.
This is about strengthening my mind, right along with meditation, this gives me the power to not be a victim of things that I can’t control. The cold is relentless but I can choose to not let it bother me.
Cold showers work too if you don’t have mountain access. In urban areas I like to spend about 5 minutes under cold water in the morning after I finish my meditation practice.
This is the first thing, outside of water, that is going into my body. I want to ensure that I reap all the benefits that coffee offers, without any of the negative aspects. This means only the highest quality, organic coffee that I can get my hands on. I like Kion Coffee.
Coffee has some amazing benefits, but the wrong type of coffee can have some less than desirable effects. Poor storage, pesticides, mold, and many other factors come into play when dealing with low quality coffee. More importantly, not so good coffee makes me feel not so great…
That is the beginning of my morning routine, and how I start my day before I look at any charts, trades, emails, texts or anything else. When I do fire up the screens and get to work, I put a lot of effort into focusing at a high intensity.
Eliminate Distractions and Achieve Flow State
When I sit down at the computer to work, all notifications are completely removed: no ringers, no pop-ups, all sounds are turned off/muted. My phone goes on Do Not Disturb mode so I will not receive any phone calls unless it’s a family emergency.
Interruptions from Instagram, Twitter, texts, and calls can crush your productivity. The reason is context switching. Anytime you respond to a message, call, or notification you have to refocus your attention. This refocusing costs brain power and precious time. Don’t believe me? Here’s some research that shows how “expensive” context switching is on productivity.
To be in a headspace to make excellent decisions, I focus on doing one task at a time and doing it well. My goal is flow.
A great defense against the distractions from the outside world is a nice set of noise cancelling headphones. I currently use these Bose and Beats and I just pre-ordered these babies – which are supposed to rival the Bose for sound quality.
To get into the flow state, I shove some Binaural Beats into my ear holes based on the chosen mindset I’m intending to achieve. Binaural beats need to be listened to with headphones to have the desired effect, where each ear is played a different musical wavelength and the difference between the two in your brain is the wavelength you are attempting to stimulate. Non-lyrical repetitive music is even easier than going down the Binaural Beat path. Try classical baroque era music; I’ve found it to be useful. Looking for something different? There’s a reason that Trance music is called Trance music. Give it all a shot!
3, 2, 1, Go…
After all of my boxes are checked, (good night’s rest, meditation, cold exposure, high quality coffee, silenced notifications, binaural beats) it’s time to check charts, update trades, and double check my risk for the day.
The first 30 minutes of trading will tell me if I have a new setup or not. If so, I put everything together, entry, exits, position size, and then send off that information to my broker.
That’s the skinny on my morning routine. It has evolved a lot in just one year, and I expect it to continuously evolve as I discover and adopt new best practices, but so far this ritual has me dialed in, focused, and ready to make the best quality trading decisions day in and day out.
The Rest of The Day
There’s a lot more that goes into my daily routine after these morning rituals, but I will save my diet, exercise routine, trading systems, geeky technology thoughts, travel methods, and much more on the soon to be released Macro Ops Podcast!
Chris Dover is systems trader with over 20 years of experience, former marine, government contractor, serial tech entrepreneur, angel investor and lifetime student.