Last night, I was trying to explain to my eight-year-old son that there are better ways to swot-up for a spelling test than just staring at the page and sighing a lot.
When I suggested that he wrote out the words he had to learn a few times, he just rolled his eyes – as if that’s going to help!
This must be what it feels like to be Michael Gove.
Not a sensation I want to repeat.
While I don’t hold with Mr Gove’s love of rote-learning, I have to admit that theories on how best to learn stuff tell us that repetition is vitally important. And, almost as crucial is finding different ways to repeat stuff.
Here’s what training specialist Bob Pike says…
“We know that we must revisit content six times with a time lapse in between each revisit of content in order to move the information from short-term memory to long-term memory. The more the participants themselves are involved in revisiting the content, rather than the instructor just repeating it, the more firmly the content will be anchored in the participants’ memory.”
There are two ways that our brains store memories: short-term (or working) memory and long-term memory.
The short-term memory is very useful for certain tasks. It’s associated with the pre-frontal lobe in the brain, and is highly developed in humans (it’s why we have those big tall foreheads). It’s the part we use to store the possibilities for our next chess move… or to remember that persuasive argument we’ll make as soon as the other person finishes talking… or to remember what the heck I just walked into the kitchen to do!
Long-term memory, on the other hand, is the stuff we just know: how to drive a car… getting dressed in the morning… how to make a cup of tea…
To make it into the long-term memory, pieces of information have to take a little journey through the hippocampus. This does the ‘sorting’ job.
Each time we repeat the facts that we want to learn, they are run through the hippocampus – and each time associations are made and that ‘memory’ turns into ‘knowledge’.
The time-lapse between repetitions is important too. It’s why the stuff you cram into your brain the night before an exam has mysteriously vanished a few days later.
Okay, that’s a very simplified version of what’s going on in your head. But it gives those of us without any knowledge of brain surgery a rough idea of how memories get plugged into our psyche.
You may be wondering why I’m banging on about memory. What’s it got to do with trading?
The question is – which part of your brain do you want to trade with?
The short-term bit that thinks things through and acts off the cuff?
Or the long-term bit that just reacts instinctively, without having to think?
Well, if every trading decision could be worked out rationally – like a chess move – then, provided you were smart enough, the short-term part of your brain might do a good job.
However, trading decisions don’t rely on rational decision-making. Trading is about building methods and following those methods.
When we act in trading off-the-cuff, we’re very vulnerable to stress causing bad decisions.
Instead, we need to rely on clear, definite rules.
If we’re following our clear trading methods, when markets throw the unexpected at us – we can calmly react. We know what to do.
If we’re trying to work out what to do in each scenario – knowing that money is on the line – we’re setting ourselves up for bad decisions.
So, if we don’t want to trade by the seat of our pants, how do we move our trading into the long-term part of our brains?
You guessed it – we repeat the same thing again and again. And in different ways.
If you don’t have your trading rules written down – write them down.
If you’ve never said your trading rules out loud – just say them.
If you’ve never told anyone else your trading rules – try explaining it to someone.
All these methods help to hardwire our trading discipline into our brains. And that way, we’ll react coolly and calmly whatever the markets throw at us.