illustration by Tim Sheaffer
Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
The brutal “punch in the mouth” brought on by Covid-19 caused markets worldwide to collapse and the repercussions sent shock waves throughout our daily lives. It’s changed how we work, learn, shop, eat, interact and generally how we live.
Having a plan is one thing (and albeit it a very important thing) but being able to stick to a well-thought-out plan is equally important, as Iron Mike Tyson’s quote implies.
If you were not sure before 2020, markets are volatile and can move extremely fast. It's best to think that we will get punched in the face from time to time and plan accordingly.
So how do we make sure our emotions don’t get in the way of our best judgement when we are getting punched in the face? The best time to build a resolute plan is prior-to, not during the barrage. A plan that anticipates getting punched in the face.
Why do we want to do this? Because our minds can be our own worst enemy under duress and we don't want to change our plan when getting punched in the face.
Several years ago Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel prize winning economist wrote about System 1 and System 2 thinking in his seminal book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” He describes how System 1 thinking helps us make everyday decisions and react quickly when we need to, while System 2 thinking helps us make more purposeful decisions and work on more complicated tasks. For both System 1 and System 2 thinking, our minds try to save energy by using heuristics to make decisions more efficiently. And most of the time this works fine, but biases can pop up which can lead us astray - these biases can do real damage when we don't even realize they are behind the scenes causing havoc. The challenge is to understand the biases we may have, the even bigger challenge is understanding the biases we don’t even know we have that are influencing us.
Psychologists and behavioral scientists have researched and documented well over a hundred and fifty different biases that can lead us astray when making decisions. We’ll discuss just a few biases that are particularly damaging when it comes to investing.
If you said yes, you are not alone. 90% of all drivers in a famous study of everyday people said they were above-average drivers - myself included. Unfortunately, basic math tells us this isn't possible. This is overconfidence bias. We all tend to be unrealistically optimistic about our chances of success and our abilities. When it comes to making investing decisions, this can result in investors thinking they can outsmart the market. This type of thinking leads people to believe they have a superior edge when in reality they do not.
Quickly Putting It All Together:
Here are a few things you can do to help make the best (System 2) decisions possible and overcome those nasty biases and unrelenting emotions.
Cheers to an emotional and bias free investing future!
-Paul R. Rossi, CFA