Griggs: A sober look at investments, moderation in all things

Dry January never appealed to me. I already practice moderation in most activities and never warmed to extremes in either direction. I do wonder how I’d react after 31 days of avoiding the liquor cabinet. Would it be like skipping workouts for a month and then catching up the next? Or, perhaps not contacting any clients for 30 days and making up for it during days 31 to 60? No critique of others but for me and my vices consistent moderation works best.

Once, at the height of my business roller-coaster ride, I lost 60 “big ones” after investing in a company where my buddy was the human resources manager. It was all legit — I used a real broker, not him. I would like to blame others but I lost the money due to my intemperance, greed and pride. Getting in at $13 a share, I bragged that I would soon double my money. Times were good. Who needed moderation? When the stock doubled to $26 and a colleague snarked, “You did sell didn’t you?” I quipped, “Does a quarterback stop throwing touchdowns when he’s ahead.” Weeks later the stock passed $39. And no, I didn’t sell. 

Extremes rarely hold. The statistical phenomenon of regression toward the mean holds true — outliers usually return to the average over time. In health, business and even amateur investing moderation really does save the day. During most economic crashes the smart money seems to hold steady. I recall a friend from a neighboring office bursting into mine screaming, “The stock market just crashed, the market just tanked.” The year was 1987. Even then the patient and rational investors seemed to do well. I asked a broker friend if it was true that the most successful companies simply worked harder than everyone else. His exact answer was “everyone works hard.” My memory edited the rest of his response into, “the difference is that some know what to work on; others know when to stop; and a few just get lucky.” 

Hard work or not, when you’re on a roll — you want more. Even good things go too far. If it’s a great meal — you want more. When the snow is perfect — you take “one last run.” You know when to stop and you simply don’t.

When I’m unclear I go with moderation. Even more fundamental is that I try to translate my excited efforts into daily habits. That way it burns less emotional energy and keeps me from listening to a buddy’s investment advice. The best marketing is researched and sustained. Let feelings go as you pick the “rightest” thing to do and start doing it. 

The psychologists say the most efficient way to continue performing a task is to 

turn it into an effortless habit. So it boils down to learning the right thing, doing the right thing and building a habit around the right thing. The enemy of this productive thinking is everyone around you. You will find a hundred reasons to change course. Posters, bloggers and other influencers will scream for you to do it their way. Your habits will seem outdated and childish. Keep going.

My buddy began looking for another job — I never sold. I couldn’t believe it when the stock price peaked and began edging down. My bewilderment paralyzed me — I didn’t sell. At first I lost my “greed” money after the stock had tripled and turned back. Next, I lost my “goal” money — my investment had still doubled. I couldn’t quit then. Finally, I lost my original money and the company went belly up. My friend found another job while I felt like a mark in a grifter movie.

I’ve made other business and financial mistakes. When I stayed close to moderation most were short-term and harmless. You can have tea in January— I’ll have a bourbon.

Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He runs the 10-month Leadership Mastery Academy. rick.griggs83@gmail.com or 970-690-7327.