“Your molar is cracked. You need a root canal.” That’s what the dentist told me a few weeks ago. It didn’t sound like fun. But the truth is, it wasn’t bad at all. As I laid back and the drilling was in progress, I noticed I was a bit tense. I asked myself why. It didn’t hurt. Everything was frozen. So why was I still, well, afraid?
The only thing I could think of was that, although it didn’t hurt at this moment, maybe in a few seconds it suddenly would. Maybe the drill would hit something that would cause me pain. That had never happened to me before. I knew it was highly unlikely. Not impossible. But unlikely. And yet, I never really fully relaxed until it was over.
Fear is an interesting thing. I’ve spent some time in the past year learning about it and about how to overcome it. I did an online program with renowned coach Michael Neill. He explained it this way. We are not afraid of what we think we are. Fear is just the feeling we get when we scare ourselves. It’s the physical and emotional reaction to a story we make up in our minds.
In the dentist’s chair, my present moment was fine. I was in no pain or discomfort. But I was making up a story about the future and I was scaring myself with it. What if in a few seconds, the drill hurts me?
It won’t surprise you that this made me think of my work as an advisor. Fear presents itself quite often with investors. Because the future is uncertain, people are sometimes afraid of what will become of their investments. A lot of the time, they have years of investment experience – bull markets, bear markets; booms and recessions – and things work out. Their financial plan stays on track and they reach their goals. Still, people sometimes remain tense wondering if the next time, it will be different. Maybe the next time the value of their portfolio will fall farther than ever. Maybe the next time, it will be the big one. The one where it goes down and stays down.
Like the dentist, I can’t guarantee that it’s not going to hurt. But I can tell you that that odds are heavily in your favour. Markets have been good to long term investors. Those who follow some basic risk mitigation rules such as diversification and rebalancing have walked away with no pain. It’s the financial equivalent of a local anesthetic.
Here are a few more dental metaphors:
- Brush and floss daily – Diversify
- Don’t brush too hard. Go easy on the gums. – Choose quality investments and don’t transact too much
- Get regular cleaning and checkups – Professional advice, a financial plan, rebalance
And most of all, stop scaring yourself!