This article originally published in The Northern Daily Leader on 2 March 2013.
Discipline has become an important word in our household. Our son Jack, you see, has recently graduated from a cot to a bed. In hindsight it was a change which Liz and I failed to treat with due consideration. We had thought it would take only a night or two for Jack to settle into his new bed, complete with pirate-themed sheet set and a small army of teddy bears. As you probably guessed however, it was never going to be that easy. Most nights have seen Jack spend at least a few hours being repeatedly ushered out of the lounge and back to his bed. It’s not unusual to find him riding his plastic scoot-along bike along the corridor well after 9:00 pm. And it’s quite common to wake up in the middle of the night to find him standing next to your bedside table, peering at you intently, about to wake you up by sticking his finger in your eye.
Faced with such behaviour, which by all accounts is typical for a two year-old, we try to adopt a disciplined approach. There’s no point in dealing with his behaviour in an inconsistent manner. It won’t work to reprimand him on one occasion, but to give him a big cuddle the next time. Maintaining this discipline can be difficult though when it’s after midnight and you’ve caught Jack yet again wandering around the house with a teddy bear tucked under each arm. As you would expect, investing requires a similarly disciplined approach. The stock market may not have tantrums like a two year-old, but its behaviour can easily cause you to doubt yourself. Most investors have probably experienced the sensation of watching the share price of a company they had just bought fall by 10, 20 or even 30%. Despite the fact that nothing might have changed with the company itself, such rapid price movements may easily cause you to incorrectly reconsider your decision and might even compel you to sell out at a loss. This is where you need to be disciplined.
A disciplined approach to investing has three core components. Firstly, you must identify what it is you are trying to achieve. If it’s a certain level of income or a specific capital value, write it down and plan how you will get there. Remember the adage – failing to plan is planning to fail. Secondly, you need to review both your goals and your progress. Have a fresh look at your situation at least every six months. And finally, remember to stick to your plan. Haphazard decisions will be costly ones. And speaking of planning, I’ll have to see about planning a lengthy business trip; it may be the only way I can plan on getting a full night’s sleep.