How do your beliefs affect investing success?

If there were a common, misguided idea about financial markets that you held, would you change it?

The Mindful Money team. Photo: Karolina Zapolska

This story is sponsored by  Mindful Money, a Berkeley wealth management company that is committed to a behavioral and mindful approach towards financial well-being. It was written by the company’s founder and president, Jonathan DeYoe.

Our lifetime financial outcomes are determined by a combination of our personal conditions, our personal choices, and an element of luck (the three things academics point to most often). If we wish to improve those outcomes, we should focus our efforts on the things that have the highest probability of making a difference. 

While some will claim that we somehow choose our parents, we can’t prove or support this in any way — nor can we do anything about this choice once it’s made. And, while some may argue that we “make our own luck,” we must admit that this is more about being prepared for whatever luck or opportunities we may be granted — rather than actually co-creating our luck. 

We don’t really choose our circumstances and we can’t really create our own luck. So, the only place we can move the needle is by making better choices. Once we establish “better choices” as our goal, we quickly see the importance of our beliefs (shaped by the money stories we adopt as children). Our beliefs determine our choices.  And our choices, while not entirely determining our outcomes, are the only things we control that affect those outcomes. 

So, Jonathan asks, what do you believe about financial markets generally and about “investing” specifically?

What if we could point to a specific, widely held, but untrue, series of beliefs that fall into one another like dominoes and topple our financial lives? What if there were a binary choice at the beginning of the series?

If there were a widely held belief that could have such an enormous impact on your personal financial outcomes, would you want to know about it? If you knew about it and saw yourself on the wrong side of the results, would you carefully reconsider your thinking? Would you seek to discover the triggers that regularly catapult you into the big financial mistakes? 

Don’t believe the hype

After 25 years working with human beings and their money, I believe that there is just such a binary choice. When people are on the wrong side of the choice, they are dragged into constant anxiety about their financial choices, they never feel secure, they have a terrible investing experience, and they suffer worse outcomes.

Those, however, who are generally on the right side of the choice avoid many of the emotional mistakes, worry less about money, enjoy a better investment experience, and achieve a better investment outcome.

Here is how I see the dominoes falling that lead to worse outcomes:

  1. The core problematic belief is that markets and the economies surrounding them are fragile, unstable, and vulnerable. Without a sense of financial history, we get caught up in the current economic, political, and market events. 
  2. This mistaken belief in the fragility of markets and economies causes us to spend far too much time, effort, and energy on today’s financial headlines. Our focus turns away from the saving and earning we must all do to reach our financial goals, and even farther away from what truly makes us feel productive and happy in the long run. Instead we focus on THIS election, THIS Fed meeting, THIS earnings report, and THIS war because we believe they may bring the END of days.
  3. This short-term headline focus (rather than a long-term history focus) causes us to believe that market VOLATILITY = RISK that can and should be avoided, rather than accept volatility as the natural evolution of the markets.
  4. Since we misguidedly believe that volatility will destroy us if we’re not careful, we scour the internet to determine the “best” financial advice for managing and protecting our nest egg. We would rather believe some guru can offer us a magic investment bullet than accept the research that shows this pursuit to be folly.
  5. This mistaken belief that the right investment approach will either make us or break us leads to the even more mistaken belief that our portfolio and, even worse, its short-term performance are the dominant variables in our financial success. When our portfolio doesn’t perform to our unrealistic expectations, we change it. But every time we change our portfolios, we get further and further away from our desired outcomes and spend more and more time trapped in our mistaken beliefs.

Once we believe in the fragility of the economy and market, we set off a chain reaction that affects both the quality of our lives and our financial outcomes. We either waste huge amounts of time reacting to pointless headlines or we bail on the whole “risky” idea of saving and investing, convinced that the entire world economy is totally rigged or headed for collapse. We start thinking that the short-term zigs and zags around the market’s fairly steady historical trendline are more important than the trendline itself. And we forget that this trendline is supported by the wants and needs of a growing number of people on our planet who are living longer and coming into greater means than at any time in history. 

Frustrated by our inability to get ahead with our investments, we jump from market outlook to market outlook. We don’t trust ourselves, and we blame the markets, the economy, pundits, or politicians for our financial failures. We focus on buying and selling the “right” things at the right time — something the academic evidence tells us is impossible. 

We take all this action, experience all the frustration, get nowhere, and repeat the whole sorry process until we have had enough. The belief of fragility is financially destructive and completely impractical because nothing could be further from reality.

Ignore the headlines

When we look the real history of the economy and markets, we see that: 

  1. Markets are DURABLE (as opposed to individual companies). 
  2. Daily headlines are MEANINGLESS. 
  3. VOLATILITY ≠ RISK. Markets zig and zag. That’s just what they do. Human reactions = Risk. We get excited by the zig and panicked by the zag. We let our emotions drive our decisions. Emotional intelligence is far more important than market intelligence. 
  4. You DO NOT need a pundit’s forecast or a short-term market outlook of any kind. You need a long-term investment philosophy. NO ONE can predict or control in the short-term. Anyone can be successful in the long-term. 
  5. YOUR BEHAVIOR is the single greatest determining factor of your long-term financial success. Plan where you want to go and then… earn more, spend less, save and invest as much as possible. If you make a conservative plan and follow a disciplined process, you WILL realize your financial goals. No particular investment, trade, or market outlook can make that promise. 

Our belief in the fragility of markets and our fear of missing out on the money-making trade of the week keep us trapped in the headlines. A small tweak in this belief — a simple trust that markets are durable (as the preponderance of the evidence shows) — can help you ignore those headlines.

Imagine how much easier your life would be if you didn’t have to react to headlines. If that were the case, would you even read the financial section or tune into the financial news? No one can promise better financial outcomes, but the blend of plan-appropriate asset-allocation, broad diversification, and simple rebalancing allows you to focus on other areas of your life… it creates a better investment experience.

Stop predicting. Start Planning. Stay Mindful.

Jonathan DeYoe, President and Founder of Mindful Money. Photo: Karolina Zapolska

This story was written and paid for by Jonathan K. DeYoe, founder and president Mindful Money, a Registered Investment Advisor.  He is passionate about personal financial planning, financial literacy and helping clients achieve better outcomes through mindfulness.  He is the author of “Mindful Money: Simple Practices for Reaching Your Financial Goals and Increasing Your Happiness Dividend.” 

You can follow Jonathan at mindful.money; on YouTube; on LinkedIn; on Facebook; on Instagram; and on Twitter.

This material is solely for informational purposes. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Mindful Money and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital. No advice may be rendered by Mindful Money unless a client service agreement is in place. Mindful Money is a service mark of DeYoe Wealth Management, Inc. a Registered Investment Adviser.