Fear & Greed Cycle

How fear and greed kill returns

Most of us make the same mistake with our money over and over: We buy high out of greed and sell low out of fear, despite knowing on an intellectual level that it is a very bad idea.


The easiest way to see this behavior in action is to watch money flow in and out of markets during cycles. When sectors are flying high, folks pour money into markets trying to chase performance.

Then sentiment shifts. Investments that blew up in prior years crater as investors run to escape.

We saw it during the dot-com craze in the early 2000s. Then during the run up to 2008. And again more recently with technology sectors.

Think about this pattern for a minute. At the top of the market, we can’t buy fast enough. About three years later, at the bottom, we can’t sell fast enough. And we repeat that over and over until we’re broke. No wonder most people are unsatisfied with their investing experience.

We do this again and again. At this point, there’s a story like this every month.

Can you imagine doing this in any other setting? Picture walking into an Audi dealership and saying, “I need a new A6.” The salesperson says, “Oh my gosh, you’re in luck, we just marked them up 30%!” And you say, “Awesome, I’ll take three!”

Look, I get it. We’re hardwired to get more of what gives us security and pleasure and run away as fast as we can from things that cause us pain. That behavior has kept us alive as a species. Mix that with our desire to be in the herd and the feeling that there’s safety in numbers, and you get a pretty potent cocktail. When everyone else is buying, it feels like if we don’t join them, we’re going to get eaten by the financial version of a saber-toothed tiger.

But I’m telling you, this behavior is terrible for us when it comes to investing.

Of course, it’s important to know that it’s totally normal to feel fear and greed or be scared when the markets are scary. The fact that you feel those things just means you’re human.

It’s okay to feel it. But understand that acting on it will cause financial harm.

So do whatever you need to do to not act on fear and greed. That could mean staying out of the kitchen, building guardrails, having a plan, or hiring a financial professional. Whatever you need to do, just do it.

I have found that just knowing this can help me behave better. I hope that will also be true for you.

Be Brave and Be Kind

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