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How passive investing is improving your mental toughness

The behavioural finance gurus tell us we’re a bunch of weak-willed monkey brains who chase performance like the world’s tastiest banana. We look in the mirror and see King Kong, rather than a PG Tips chimp in a nappy. We have a great time at the watering hole and think the future will always be lush, forgetting the drought of five years ago.

In short, we’re excitable apes, swinging from mood to mood like our ancestors swung from branch to branch.

And I admit I can see all that in myself.

However amid the daily bombard of advice for puny humans, I do wonder if we forget how far we’ve come.

Undertaking and sticking to a passive investing strategy is a huge self-improvement venture, for example.

You’re not building muscles, but you are building a financial exo-skeleton that will see you punch a hole through the walls of your old life and into the wild yonder.

Or maybe we’re building an ocean-going escape raft. Lashing together our savings so we can get off this overgrazed continent and row over the horizon to the land of financial independence (FI).

Voyage of self-discovery

A voyage of self-discovery

Our adventure demands:

The determination to stay the course no matter how turbulent the seas. You may be adrift or lost or seemingly sinking, but you cast aside doubt – the mental image of FI island and an “aloha” greeting keeping you going.

The discipline to stick with the strategy. Save, buy, hold, rebalance. This is the drumbeat that rows your boat across the uncertain ocean. It’s dull. Your mind screams for an end to the monotony. Willpower must be the galley master to instinct.

The fortitude to resist the siren song of instant gratification. This is particularly true if you’re living on restricted rations. It would be so easy to beach yourself on some sandy reef. Break out the rum, party with the natives, and ignore that smoking caldera and the giant pot that everyone’s so excited about. Hot tub anyone?

The resolve of self-reliance. You increasingly realise that you can fix, patch, or workaround any problems that you face. The comforts and status symbols of your old life fade in significance. You find new pleasure in simple things and in a grander narrative of discovery.

I salute you

It’s a lonely journey at times. It’s not something that many other people want to talk about. Often because they worry about being judged: either because they’re doing nothing to help themselves or because they’re too concerned with the size of their boat.

So it’s hard to get positive reinforcement that you’re doing the right thing – except through communities like the one here at Monevator.

And that’s what I want to acknowledge. Whether you’re a young 20-something who’s making an early start; or a 30-something who’s late on board but throwing everything at it; or a weather-beaten 60-something about to make landfall: you’re doing something tough.

You’re building or have built up large reserves of willpower. You’re forging good habits that are transferable to other parts of your life, like work and health.

And you’re doing it in the face of the general scepticism, ignorance, and dismay of the wider community.

You’re sticking to the strategy even when it’s a slog. You’re resisting the desire for instant results to build something enduring that will only reward you many years from now.

You’re determined. You’re committed. You won’t give up.

That’s mental toughness.

Take it steady,

The Accumulator

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{ 24 comments… add one }
  • 1 Mark Meldon June 3, 2014, 10:00 am

    And now we have a “price war” in the world of trackers! For instance, the new Class P Shares in the Fidelity Index UK Fund (FT-SE All-Share) can now be bought for just 7bps (that’s 0.07% per annum), BlackRock iShares Core S&P 500 UCITS ETF for 0.07%, Fidelity Emerging Markets for 0.23% BlackRock iShares EURO STOXX 50 UCITS ETF for 0.10%, etc.

    Will Vanguard, Deutsche Bank, Lyxor, SPDR, HSBC and L&G respond?

    Or, do these fund sponsors hint at something else? Like the market being “toppy”?

    Of course, these funds are driven by weighted market capitalisation (you have most money in HSBC then downwards, for example). I have a professional problem with that in that I emphasise that equities are for income generation first, capital preservation with reference to inflation second. So, oftentimes, I recommend so-called “fundamental” trackers, like the wonderful VT Maven Smart Dividend UK Fund or the Lyxor SG Global Quality Income ETF. These cost a little more (0.50% and 0.45%) but offer the tempting prospect of a decent yield and robust methodology.

    Then we have the “family office” investment trusts, such as Caledonia Investments, Hansa Trust and RIT Capital Partners; well worth a look.

    Back to trackers – the fees can’t go any lower, can they?

    I am an IFA based in Somerset, said in the interests of full disclosure.

  • 2 Neverland June 3, 2014, 10:14 am


    I think its pretty easy actually…I mean its not you are going to get stoned by an angry mob, shot at or anything is it…

    Mental toughness is getting up at 5 am every day to go fetch water a couple of kilometers away to farm your scrap of barely arable land

  • 3 The Investor June 3, 2014, 10:55 am

    @Neverland — That’s poverty, not mental toughness. I wouldn’t ever compare our modest hardships to theirs but on the specific subject of mental well being there’s plenty of evidence the West is in a worse place.

  • 4 Neverland June 3, 2014, 11:17 am


    I think thats a matter of expectations being unrealistic in the West

  • 5 PC June 3, 2014, 12:23 pm

    Wise words – and less extreme than Mr Money Moustache (much as I admire him)

  • 6 PC June 3, 2014, 12:24 pm

    Curious what you use to produce those great diagrams?

  • 7 vanguardfan June 3, 2014, 12:31 pm

    Well, self awareness and discipline are helpful in investing as in most of life’s endeavours.
    But I would caution against too much self congratulation. Its a hell of a lot easier to save money if one has plenty of it. Of course, its easy to spend it too, but there is definitely a difference between having a surplus and not.

  • 8 Grand June 3, 2014, 12:59 pm

    I would just like to say that today marks the 1st anniversary of my foray into the world of investing. It’s been a roller coaster ride. I personally want to thank all of you have contributed in some way of the year and on posts before I washed up on the Monevator shores.

    Rebalancing time?


  • 9 MrsFinancialFreedom June 3, 2014, 1:17 pm

    I’m personally the 30-something trying to play catch-up on this investing game and trying to throw as much as I can into this financial independence game! If somebody had told me 10 years ago that I would be happily investing in the stock market, I would have told them they were crazy as I would never put my money into that madness! Turns out that madness can be quite addictive!

  • 10 Under The Money Tree June 3, 2014, 1:38 pm

    While being incredibly compelling, investing for the long run can get a bit boring at times. My usual way to ‘tough it out’ is to fiddle around with my investing/budget/net worth spreadsheets….then catch myself fiddling and tell myself to stop and go make some more money from somewhere!

  • 11 Chopper June 3, 2014, 4:27 pm

    Another 30 something trying to catch up here. Having followed the advice on here, Boggleheads et al. I have managed to achieve a reasonable return during my first 18 months of investing. I have yet to see a market downturn and as such not had chance to have my nerve tested in my short investing career. Just hope that I will follow the courage of my convictions when the time comes!

  • 12 Dawn June 3, 2014, 4:33 pm

    my biggest fear is ive joined the party too late! just turned 49 yrs old and just started investing my savings seriously. fortunately I did have savings to invest, missed out on all the past 5 years so to miss FF- your doing great.
    as for monevators article today I think hes bang on!
    saving does take discipline, not everyone is willing to do it, most people are spend it all now and worry about the future later or the state will keep me but we are responsible independent people and any financial freedom later we generate, we will deserve every penny of it.

  • 13 DMDave June 3, 2014, 4:49 pm

    I’m 34 now, and I started my passive investing portfolio in Jan 2013, after trying unsuccessfully to trade individual stocks. I’m quite lucky to discover indexing only 6 months after I started trading stocks, and my monetary lost were minimal, I’ve only lost $3,000 on my Apple stocks when it plummeted from >$700 down to $400. Lesson well learned.

    When I travel abroad, I can relax and forget my portfolio, and that’s the biggest advantage over sitting in front of my computer, vexed that stock prices are jumping up and down in random. Just being at ease with my portfolio of ETF’s is my biggest joy.

  • 14 30SD June 3, 2014, 8:18 pm

    30 Something isn’t too late, it problems the best time to start because reality bites and we start to realise time is running out. In my twenties I was too cocky and thought I’d land some cool job which would solve everything. But 30 is when I realised: start now or you’ll end up depending on whatever state pension there is when your 60.

  • 15 dearieme June 3, 2014, 11:47 pm

    We’ve just opened loss-leader current accounts that pay 4%p.a. after tax: that’s 1.5%p.a. above the RPI inflation rate. Not bad for a low-risk “investment”. Our money source was maturing fixed rate Cash ISAs.
    But over the next two years more of our ISAs will mature, and we shall probably have exhausted this stunt. What then? Will we feel harried into investing more into equities than we really want to? I almost envy younger people who are saving every month – if equities collapse they can rub their hands and enjoy buying more at the new, lower prices. But what if you are codgers who want to preserve capital? The Harry Browne Permanent Portfolio or its competitors: is that the way to go?

  • 16 Calm Investor June 4, 2014, 4:54 am

    Loved the post. Any investing, passive or active is about recognizing, not necessarily overcoming the biases we’re ALL susceptible to. It took me a few years to realize how my urge to buy was strongest on days where the tickers showed green and it took some practice to “feel” the other way, that is to buy when the markets bleed red. Now, it’s when markets fall that I crack my knuckles and look to add to my positions in my favourite stocks.

  • 17 Epiktet June 4, 2014, 7:45 am


    As much as I like the concept of the HB Permanent Portfolio, I think the short answer to your question is adjust your equity allocation to a level you (!) feel comfortable with. This may well be 25%, if you feel you could stomach a 50% (temporary) loss on this and still sleep well at night.

    Took me a long time – despite being in my 30s – to figure out that anything more than 25% in equities would turn me into the weak-willed monkey mentioned above.

  • 18 vanguardfan June 4, 2014, 10:32 am

    @epiktet – I thought it was just me being a wuss and shying away from 100% equity allocations!
    My target is 50% equity allocation, but I don’t know if that will prove to be too much – having never been invested through a major pullback.
    @dearieme – best cash rates are around 3% for 5 years. I think it just has to be sucked up. Personally I wouldn’t remove anything from an ISA wrapper unless I really needed to spend it. Unfortunately all my cash is taxable, paying between 2 and 4%. One thing I’ve concluded over the past few years is that I should try to ladder the cash deposits and use the longest fix I can for each one, 5 years, as each matures roughly annually. Then you’ve got some hedge against rates rising as you can reinvest at least some cash each year, and each ‘rung’ is benefiting from the best available rate at the time. I’ve been caught out by investing in too many 2 year deposits, thinking that rates could only go up from here….

  • 19 The Rhino June 4, 2014, 10:41 am

    I am waiting for P2P ISAs, then will move some cash that way

    already have a ZOPA account, so ready to move when they bring them on to the market

    I think it looks pretty attractive once you get the tax free option

  • 20 Luke June 4, 2014, 1:05 pm

    31 here and I don’t feel like I’m struggling to catch up, very few people younger than 30 give any real thought to investing!

    I’ve always had a pension and have a small preserved DB pot from a government job, a stakeholder pension (went indexy with this last year) and chunks of LifeStrategy 60% (small) and 80% (larger).

    Luckily I don’t feel the urge to spend all that much, but doing something that’s different from the herd is very tough at times. When peers are talking about cars, consoles and season tickets you do feel like the odd man out. Which is funny, as none of the things that I’m ‘missing out on’ are things I want. The human brain is a complex, silly thing at times.

    My main takeaway from index investing is that my ego makes no difference to my success (it might even reduce it). This causes some cracking arguments, including with an IFA relative who has made a lot of money during property and equity booms and refuses to accept that a ‘lose the fewest points’ strategy might work.

  • 21 Steve June 5, 2014, 6:12 pm

    I was 16 when I first started investing in shares and I started out with £250 purchases then the floatation of the electric companies I went in with everything I had,a few years later and trebling of my investment I sold everything for a run down house,then let it out,after that it just escalated into F I.
    Everyone has to start somewhere and with the information available now compared with when I started out is fantastic, this site especially gives some fantastic articles which I share on Facebook,but I have found out not everyone is interested like us,if only they knew I was giving them the blueprint to financial independence.
    Its hard to tell people how important compound interest is without sounding a bit freaky or geeky.

  • 22 The Accumulator June 5, 2014, 7:12 pm

    @ Luke – Yes, I get that odd man out feeling too sometimes. It’s only natural to want to form stronger bonds with your peers, it’s just a shame they’re into the wrong kind of bonds 😉

    Steve makes an interesting point too about people’s lack of stamina when it comes to personal finance. A lot of people are interested for 5 minutes when they find out I know a bit about investing but very, very few genuinely want to learn anything about it. Even people who are good with money from a salary or bargain-hunting p-o-v soon wilt when it comes to investing.

    So much about investing seems inimical to the human brain that expecting people to manage their own financial fate through defined contribution pension systems is tantamount to throwing them to the wolves. To me that’s the strongest reason to be cheerful about the mooted move to Dutch-style collective pensions.

  • 23 dearieme June 5, 2014, 8:03 pm

    “expecting people to manage their own financial fate through defined contribution pension systems is tantamount to throwing them to the wolves”: it falls into the class ‘fine theory, wrong species’.

  • 24 spacebadger June 5, 2014, 8:27 pm

    In my late 40’s now but started with a pension at 21 and luckily started investing in my late 20’s with PEPS and ISA’s later on. I’ve seen the crashes and peaks and treat them with the same…. feel a Kippling IF moment coming. Places like this site provide so much good information and information is power… well sometimes…. read the enjoyable confessions booth!!

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