Marie Curie, the Polish-born physicist and chemist, famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity said: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
With what is going on in the world today; a global pandemic, the world’s financial markets showing increased volatility, people in lockdown; it’s easy to understand why people are fearful. It’s a genuinely scary time and a period of unprecedented uncertainty. There are many questions for which we have no answers. Even experts don’t have all of the answers yet, and this all creates an environment of instability, and can lead to stress, anxiety, and fear.
So how can we go about helping ourselves? How can we reduce the amount of fear we all have and get through this global event with our sanity intact?
We only need look at the field of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to start to gain an insight into what goes on in our heads and how we go about navigating uncertain times, like now.
CBT shows us that the way we think (our cognition) and what we do (our behaviours) affects the way we feel (our emotions). Therefore, if we want to change the way we feel about something, then we need to change the way we think and act.
In other words, we need to dig deeper into what is making us think, feel, or behave in a particular way, albeit this potentially requires us confronting the very thing that is making us fearful; not in one fell-swoop, but gradually, over time.
The evidence is clear on this; change one of those things (thoughts, behaviours, feelings) and it has a knock-on effect to the other two areas, and positive outcomes start to be realised.
FACING OUR FEARS DEAD ON
These principles were echoed in a conversation I recently had with Dr. Daniel Crosby, a friend of Be-IQ. We were discussing how people go about facing financial fear, or fear induced by falling global stock markets that sees investors wanting out!
Daniel explained: “If we are scared of something, our natural position is to try and avoid it, although paradoxically, by avoiding it, we’re actually feeding it and giving it more power. It’s easier said than done to confront our fears, but one way is to take baby steps… slowly introducing ourselves to our fears, but gradually. Another proven way to confront our fears is to fake it until you make it. There’s an interplay between behaviour and cognition, so if you can’t bring yourself to be brave, you can pretend to be brave until the time comes when you’re able to be brave for real”.
This makes perfect sense and is a well-known method of dealing with fear and phobias. Another area we discussed, and one that resonates with me, is the concept of know thyself, or gaining an understanding of who we really are, not who we think we are. Do this and you’re better armed to navigate the world we live in.
There is a very obvious and positive knock-on effect all round here. If CBT suggests that changing just one of those core principles – how we think, how we act, how we feel – can have positive benefits for us, then understanding what happens in our unconscious mind, and how that manifests itself in how we act, is also hugely beneficial.
For example, during times of increased market volatility, it’s very easy for us to exhibit what is known as myopic loss aversion. In other words, we start to look at the value of our investments on a much more frequent basis; daily or even hourly.
Suppose I learn that I have a tendency to exhibit strong loss aversion, and this is presented to me in a non-judgemental way that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. This gives me an opportunity to change one of thoughts / behaviours / feelings. By changing how I behave, it will change how I feel about market volatility, and therefore how I think about stock markets in the context of them being a scary place to be, with the net result being an increase in my wellbeing.
And the same is true of many other unconscious behaviours that drive our actions, from confirmation bias to framing. From probability neglect to mental accounting. Understand these and you give yourself an incredible chance at effecting the changes that will allow you a smoother journey through turbulent times. Not only will this be a great outcome for your financial wellbeing, it will be a great outcome for your overall wellbeing.
As Marie Curie suggests; now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. A great place to start is understanding more about yourself, who you really are, and what makes you tick. Do that, and the journey through life may just become a whole lot smoother.
Financial Advisers and Planners can build behavioural insight into their business through our unique BEACON service.
Anyone can learn about their unconscious behaviours and what this means by visiting the Apple App Store and downloading our free app, BEAM.