Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pressure Valve: Letting off Steam

Have you ever seen a steam pipe explode?

I did. I was in Boston driving down Boylston. I heard an explosion, checked the rear view mirror and what I saw looked amazingly close to the above photograph.
Market crises can create the investing equivalent of steam pipe explosions. Investors get caught between two competing pyschological forces that build up pressure:

On one hand, uncertainty causes indecision.

But on the other hand, when we are anxious, we naturally feel a need to do SOMETHING.

The result of these two psychological forces work against each other until -- Kaboom! -- the pressure becomes too much.

It's a vicious cycle and it goes something like this: Do nothing (and suffer), do nothing (suffer some more), continue to do nothing (suffer to the breaking point) then PANIC!!! (do something rash).

It's a wealth killer.

We need a way to let off steam, so that the pressure doesn't build to the point of explosion.

Now, let it be said that we don't give specific advice to investors here at MarketPsych.

Nonetheless, there are some tricks that people often employ to relieve the pressure.

One of the best pressure valves we have is to sell a small percentage of certain positions to free up some cash.

This works on a financial level, but more importantly it works on an emotional level.

Why does it work?

1) It fulfills a deep-seated psychological need to do something, to take back control of our lives.

2) It creates something safe. It lets us know that at least part of the money that was at risk, is now safe. We have less exposure to pain.

3) It gives us freedom. We now have money that we can put to work on our terms. Emotional forces can no longer compel us to sell what will we have already willingly sold.

4) It's a hedge against regret. We all have the same nausea-inducing fears of regret: E.g. "The moment I sell, the market will bottom out" or "It's going to keep going down, and I'm going to hate myself for riding it to the bottom." Selling a small percentage mitigates this crippling fear.

5) It allows us to reframe crises as opportunities. We know that market panics create opportunities. The problem for so many people is they simply don't have the cash available to take advantage of those opportunities. The ability to engage other parts of our brain is another fear-fighting tool that helps put investors back on a healthy investing track.

How much is enough? 1%? 5%?... 20%? Only you can decide. Sit down with your advisor and see where you stand.

If you would like more information on our trainings, please feel free to contact us.

In the meantime... good luck out there.


No comments: