Your Neocortex and Investing Psychology – Why Investors Get Anxious

Investing Worries:

Have you ever felt anxious about your investment portfolio? Who hasn’t? A recent presentation, at one of my professional conferences, pointed out that five out of every six years will produce a stock market return sequence that either triggers anxiety or smacks your portfolio so hard that you wonder why you ever trusted the markets to begin with.

This is normal. Many people simply cannot handle stock market volatility, which is why the people who DO have, historically, tended to make more, over multiple ups and downs, than the people who kept all their money stashed away in Treasury bonds.

The question is: is there better way to handle the inevitable anxiety that comes with buying stocks?

Psychologist Ken Haman, who now works at the investment firm Alliance Bernstein, says that the key is to stay rational. He points to studies of the human brain which shows that all of us actually have two brains. One is the neocortex, where all of your higher thought processes take place. Below the neocortex is a primitive brain which is about as smart as an alligator, and this lower brain happens to be where all of our survival instincts are housed. Whenever you experience panic, the primitive brain immediately takes over and shuts down the neocortex–which allows you to respond instantly (rather than thoughtfully) on those many occasions when a saber-toothed tiger is running in your direction.

So when the markets have spent the past quarter giving up all the gains they generated in the first quarter, what do you do? First, talk with somebody who actually listens to you about how you’re feeling. Then start to engage your neocortex. What do you imagine is going to happen in the future? Then move to: is that what you think, or how it feels?

Give us a call and we will help guide you through this process, and then, when your neocortex is functioning again, you can look at some of the past market declines and see what happened next, or look at your financial situation and take stock of your progress toward your financial goals.

About the author

Ted Feight, CFP®

I have been an asset, financial, life and wealth manager for 36 years. During that time the profession has been in a state of rapid evolution. What my core clients expect of me today is very different from what they expected 36 years ago When I started, clients were just beginning to invest and had little. Now many are near and or are retired, and have accumulated a great deal.
I believe I have given my clients peace of mind and comfort that occurs when they have had a trusted relationship with someone for many years. What keeps my clients coming back to us is not product, but the confidence that someone is looking out for their best interest, listening to what they are saying and serving as a partner in helping them get where they want to be. Who else has asked the questions about who they are, where do they want to go, and what drives them? I have been my clients' sounding board, confidant, coach, guru and in the end the stronger the relationship we have had, the greater were their successes. We do not always have the "Be your client's best friend" type of relationship but, in the end, I want to be their "go to" guy when they need questions answered or need help.

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