I recently had the opportunity to facilitate the opening session of a workshop for financial traders in Kansas City, Missouri. Participants arrived from Spain, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and throughout the United States. They came together to present results of their research projects and to engage in five days of live training to observe and share best practices.
My role was to help these traders understand how their brains are wired to receive and process information so they could improve their performance. The effect of stress on their brains was addressed with emphasis on neuroscience methods to stay calm, resolute and “whole brained” while working. First, I will share my personal observations of the group characteristics, followed by a summary of the neuroscience data. Finally, a summary of the participant responses to their neuroscience reports and experiential exercises is provided.
Trader Behavioral Characteristics
The energy, tone, attitude and dynamics of the group were significantly different than what I expected. While this is a competitive field, everyone exhibited humility, open-mindedness and willingness to share their knowledge. What a breath of fresh air to experience men and women coming together for self-improvement with the attitude and intention of learning from one another.
The group, as a whole, seemed emotionally stable, with resilience and preparedness to deal with uncertainly, risk and opportunity in their profession. There was a quiet tone of calmness, maturity and wisdom present. The overarching theme seemed to be “performance excellence from continuous learning.”
Trader Neuroscience Profile
Fourteen participants completed an online, statistically validated survey that measured their sensory sequences and cognitive thinking preferences.
- Auditory (“word smart”): 7%
- Kinesthetic (“body smart”): 21%
- Visual (“picture smart”): 71%
Sensory “Blind Spots”
Where accidents and mistakes are most likely to happen under stress:
- Auditory (not hearing something important): 86%
- Visual (not seeing something important): 7%
- Kinesthetic (pushing the wrong key): 7%
- Sequential (“logic smart”): 14%
- Global (“big picture smart”): 29%
- Integrated (“cognitively balanced”): 57%
Trader Responses to Neuroscience Tools
All participants exhibited high levels of eagerness and enthusiasm to learn more about themselves through a neuroscience lens. They enjoyed their individualized reports and stated the results were accurate and connected to their performance. Most were familiar with some of the traditional personality and behavioral assessments;they were delighted to experience something different with practical brain-based tools they could put to use immediately.
The group takeaways included a heightened awareness of their neuroscience strengths and “blind spots” and how stress affects trader performance. They valued the tip on how to avoid visual sensory habituation (staring at data and screens too long) by moving their eyes around and shifting their physical position. The breathing and oxygenation techniques for managing stress got attention and “ah ha’s.” The group was challenged to form “trader teams,” with different brain strengths. The exercise helped them learn to leverage the power of diversity for “whole brain” performance and boosted their ability to spot opportunities and avoid pitfalls.
Being a successful trader requires a combination of highly unique characteristics. These include a passion and fortitude for the work, combined with extraordinary patience and willingness to learn from one’s disappointments and accomplishments. Successful traders know that success is never final; it’s measured over time like a baseball player’s batting average. They need to know themselves, inside and out, including their mental and emotional nature. Knowing how to leverage brain strengths is a critical, and often neglected, ingredient that can mean the difference between mediocrity and performance excellence.
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