That sense of dread…
However difficult I find it; swimming off the coast of Donegal has become one of my most favourite things to do in life. But knowing that by stepping into those cold waters my body is going to recoil always makes me a little anxious.
And even though the waters this year seemed a bit warmer my feelings were no different…a sense of dread about the whole experience. I know the rewards – endorphins kicking in after thirty seconds, a burst of exhilaration, followed by sheer pleasure – but still the prospect of those first thirty seconds always leave me feeling uneasy.
But I also know that by not venturing in I’ll head home full of regret knowing what I have missed out on. Investing can be a bit like that.
My fear of dipping my toe in (or more specifically the water lapping up my inside leg) is a known one…but for many investors it is the fear of the unknown that is unsettling. Being anxious about the equity market is of course understandable, but if we wait for the “perfect” time to invest, the risk is we never will.
In a period of uncertainty, as we have been seeing, it is quite understandable that investors should seek to time the market. Like me standing at the water’s edge torn between dread and anticipation, it can be easy to rationalise against taking the plunge.
But the problem is that fear and uncertainty can never be eliminated. Those feelings are the emotional manifestation of risk that is the price we pay for the returns we are seeking. In the case of myself in Donegal, I know the pleasures, but the anxiety of that initial shock almost prevents me from doing so.
The key to all this is to accept that it is OK to feel anxious, but not to the point where it stops us ever doing anything. Read the newspapers, listen to the News at Ten but keep it all in perspective.
While there is a potential cost in taking that plunge, extreme risk aversion also comes at a cost. For me, the cost of avoiding that brief moment of fear was a miserable car ride home feeling excluded as all the others (my kids) talked about the fun they had had.
We don’t know which asset classes will be the next ones to push to new highs. But we do know that those people sitting on the sidelines in cash – like shivering on the water’s edge – risk going home without sharing in the returns enjoyed by others.
The takeaway message is that there never is a perfect time to invest. If there were, we would have to redefine the notion of risk.
Uncertainty is the price we pay for the returns we are seeking. We deal with that uncertainty by understanding the risks we are taking, diversifying broadly and being mindful of the factors within our own control – like our own behaviour.
So sometimes, you just have to close your eyes and take the plunge.
PS Having now seen some photos I’ve since been on a diet!