As a financial adviser, one of the first topics we always discuss with new clients is their financial and emotional tolerance for risk. It is equally as important that we understand their emotional comfort level with investing, as we do their financial capacity to take risk with their money.
A fear of losing too much too soon can make one jump out of the market too early. With extreme fear of loss, an investor might resort to irrational ways to overcome the anxiety, which commonly leads to the exact opposite of what all investors should do – buy low and sell high.
During times of volatile investment markets, ironically, some of the best opportunities emerge. It can be thrilling to hear that the market is up, but it is when the market gets close to the bottom, not when the market is doing well, that we should feel the emotional rush of excitement, promise, and opportunity!
How to get your emotions under control
To succeed in investing, you’ve got to learn the skills to manage yourself and your emotions.
Emotional neutrality is the key. You should only invest for logical, rational reasons, and never, for example, because your colleagues or relatives are buying in droves and making money right now. It is most important but hard to do: make sure that you do not get carried away with the crowd.
A lot has been written about crowd behavior in the investment industry, but more attention is being paid to the phenomena of emotional contagion. As the term suggests, people can infect each other behaviorally. And, in investment matters, this can cost everyone a lot of money. Remember the technology bubble of the late 1990s and, more recently, the housing bubble of the mid-2000s?
Beware of contagion
In fact, history has shown that it is generally best to do the diametrical opposite to what the crowd is doing. When the crowd is cheering and buying, look to sell. When it is panicking and selling, it is generally time to make your move and buy! Investment contagion frequently leads to irrational or imprudent behavior by preventing “rational” evaluations of investment opportunities, which gets in the way of sound decision-making.
Getting past your emotions
Patience and discipline are the antidotes to emotional investing. Patience is a key trait for successful investors, as there is always the temptation to “get infected” by group behavior, which is ruled by greed or fear. Being patient will help an investor navigate volatile markets because the long-term investment mindset will take the focus off the short-term volatility. Discipline is needed to ensure that one stays true to investment principles and philosophies, and does not stray off the well-trodden path.
To cultivate discipline, ignore the noise and “advice” bombarding us daily in the form of recommendations and forecasts. To be disciplined also means following your original plan for investment and not deviating from it.
Having an independent, experienced adviser is also a great help. Objective fee-only investment advisers can be invaluable partners in ensuring that you don’t get carried away or become imprudent in the face of peer pressure, media noise (CNBC, etc), volatile markets, greed, overconfidence, fear, and regret. A good adviser should keep you focused on what matters most, a well-thought-out and disciplined investment plan designed to meet your goals.