Do Something Syndrome

Do Something Syndrome

Reading time, 3 minutes, 5 seconds

Another of the more pronounced human behaviours to influence our personal and investment outcomes is the urge to do something. The Do Something Syndrome may do more harm than good so it is worthy of consideration.

Have you ever been delayed by traffic and quickly created “plan B” to get moving again only to discover that you would have been further ahead had you stayed with “plan A”?  We may rationalize how its nice to “smell the roses” and take the long way home, on the other hand “plan B” was a longer drive.

Confusing motion with progress is easy to do and it’s as though it is hard wired into our DNA. About 400 years ago Blaise Pascal commented, “Man finds nothing so intolerable as to be in a state of complete rest, without passions, without occupation, without diversion, without effort.” Its as though we can’t sit still and in today’s hyper stimulated society, perpetual motion is considered normal behavior.

When we feel bored, impatient, threatened, pressured or if we simply desire excitement and stimulation, we will often act without a sensible reason. We don’t need a child prodigy to explain why a hastily conceived idea is not likely to produce as good a result as a well thought out plan. As simple as it may sound, actively doing nothing is harder than explaining how or why we’re doing something.

Pascal offered an explanation for why it’s harder to do nothing and it still holds true today, even with the increasing frequency of attention deficit disorder. When we do nothing, we can feel non effective, loneliness, inadequacy, dependence, helplessness, emptiness. Yikes!

Money is quite personal; people don’t like to talk about it. Some people would rather be caught with their pants down than to expose the gnarly details of their finances! And that’s a story for another time. The simple fact is, we don’t want to see ourselves as failures and especially where it concerns money.

Awkward feelings are generally avoided on personal and business levels. Many people make it their life objective to avoid experiencing anything uncomfortable.  Also, we live in a world where being a positive team player is incentivized and respected. We only need to look as far back as the global financial meltdown in 2008 to see how wrong it can be to avoid discussing obvious flaws and shortcomings in favor sharing a year end bonus with the others on the team. Similarly, it would be wrong for an advisor to recommend changes that are comfortable when doing nothing makes more sense, even if it feels better on both sides to hear or explain the intricate details of finance, economies, or markets, and if the churning behavior is incentivized.

As investors we have to choose what we want to embrace and decide what we are willing to let go by the wayside. Temperament and behavior are more important for successful outcomes than a quick wit or intelligence otherwise the wealthiest people would be comedians and librarians. Hot tips and inside information are not the answer, and neither is market timing, the next move by the federal reserve, interest rates, emerging markets, or the winner of the next election.  Political platforms are often launched and won on the premise of, “its time for a change”.  The emotion of change is captured in song for our daily consumption.

Animal spirits and ego will cause people to want to do something through all walks of life and in all kinds of circumstances. If an advisor recommends making portfolio changes, the response is like a father encouraging a teenage boy to have a normal sex life! There is no use running if we’re on the wrong road. We use a map, or a GPS – to decide where we want to go and then patiently put one foot in front of the other. We expect there will be bumps along the way in the form of market hiccups and we will make minor course adjustments, if appropriate.  We are rewarded most when we make decisions oriented toward the end goal.  The luxury of a meandering around the traffic to enjoy time smelling the roses is a client privilege, not entertainment provided as advice.

Anything that isn’t worth doing isn’t worth doing well whether we’re investing or driving through traffic.



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