Improving Investor Behavior: Strengthen Your Financial Superpowers

Rack of comic books

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, July 21, 2019.

My son and I were in the car driving to the store as he struggled to plug in his phone with a USB cable. He flipped the cable back and forth a few times before it finally slipped in. “If I had a superpower, I hope it would be to knowing which direction I should use when plugging in a USB cable.”

Over decades of advising families, I’ve studied their investment behavior. From those who made mistakes to those who succeeded, a list of significant practices naturally came to mind. These “superpowers” help make investors successful. They can’t leap over buildings with a single bounce or see into the future (though this could be a pretty good investment superpower), but they do manage to achieve better than average results, almost as if by magic. What are these superpowers?

Delay Gratification – The fundamental principle of investing is delayed gratification. We believe the only reason people save and invest is ultimately for income. It’s either for income today or income tomorrow. Furthermore, that income should grow over time to offset the costs of creeping inflation. Delayed gratification, the ability to say “no” today so you can have the ability to say “yes” tomorrow, takes discipline.

Resist Lifestyle creep – Getting a raise, a promotion, or both is great. It affirms an advancing career. But when you don’t increase your savings by the same percentage or proportion as your raise, it is easy to have those benefits evaporate. This is lifestyle creep: thinking you can now afford a fancier car, a better vacation, boat, or just more stuff as a result of a higher income. Will more things bring you joy? Or would saving more of that pay increase enable you to have more choices in your future?

Do what you love to do – Focus on your passion. Yes, this is an ideal and often takes time to figure out, develop, or find. Mine boiled down to helping others. This may be very hands-on, or it may be remote from people and very much back-stage, behind the scenes. Even Warren Buffett shares this philosophy. In fact, it was his #1 principle in a recent article. It is why he skips to work every day, even at age 88.

Be a life-long learner – Develop a natural curiosity, whether in a hobby, vocation, or areas where you want to make a difference. Learning every day stimulates the mind and rejuvenates the heart. Today we have virtually unlimited resources for learning via the web. Set a goal to learn something new every day and watch your world grow.

No comparing to neighbors – Comparison and jealousy are caustic and rarely provide a long-term boost to your self-esteem. Comparison to an ideal only creates dissatisfaction. Instead, pursue gratitude. Gratitude creates positive emotions that lead to confidence. Reviewing your progress points out your capabilities, your courage, and creates a sense of calm.

Have a plan, set realistic expectations, and cultivate progress – In today’s hyper distracting environment, we are drawn, distracted, and influenced without realizing the pull. Being intentional with a plan, being realistic with your expectations, and then measuring your progress is an excellent habit stream. Set daily reminders or even consider using phone apps to remind you of your progress and encourage your subconscious to work on your goals.

Be comfortable in the uncomfortable – We all get comfortable with our normal, which may lead to complacency. Change can be good if it helps to create something new for your clients, team, and even yourself. Fear of the unknown can cause boredom. Experiment and don’t be afraid to fail. Experimentation has led to many breakthroughs we admire and embrace today as usual.

Be content – Most everyone we work with says they, “want to be happy.” Happiness is an emotional feeling that ebbs and flows: contentment and satisfaction are more valuable than the ever-changing goal of happiness. Marketers have figured out the best way to sell their goods and services is to cultivate discontent with an “I want “X” attitude. Even telling you that you deserve “X” is prevalent and fosters discontent. Strengthen your contentment muscle.

Start with an attitude of gratitude – When the lens you look through is one of gratitude, your superpower muscles do not fatigue from the traps of envy, fear, or the fear of missing out.

What’s impressive about these superpowers is they aren’t really superpowers at all. You don’t need to be bitten by a radioactive spider to be grateful. You don’t need to be an alien to resist lifestyle creep. Every one of these powers can be practiced, built, and achieved. Combine the last two superpowers, gratitude and contentment, and I will show you someone who is truly wealthy.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Blind Spots: The Mental Mistakes Investors Make and Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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