Want to invest like Warren Buffett? You’ll need to recognize your emotions, not ignore them

Personal finance

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The advice: Don’t get emotional about your money.

The reality: Money touches almost every part of your life.

Unless you live off the grid, it’s a hard fact that money buys your food, shelter and transportation, not to mention current recreation and distant projects.

The possibility of losing it in the market? Upsetting.

The possibility of making the wrong investing decision? Same.

Even good financial news — winning the lottery, getting an inheritance — can bring a flood of emotions. Recently, a novelist wrote about her poor financial decisions after getting a gigantic book advance. Great news, but she was so euphoric she couldn’t think straight.

‘I’m not crying. You’re crying’

There’s a mistaken notion that women are more emotional than men when it comes to finances, says Pauline Yan, a portfolio manager in Toronto, Canada, who has a personal finance blog about women and investing.

It’s time to dump that idea, she says. “Every market crash has been caused by men having a lot of emotions,” Yan said.

The collateralized debt obligation (CDO) market was a contributing factor to the last recession. Yan points out that it was mostly men in that market who were responsible for chasing greed. Which is, after all, an emotion.

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“Men self-identify as very cool-headed, very rational,” Yan said. In fact, they have as many emotions as women. “It doesn’t serve the men in the industry or women trying to get into the industry.”

Look at the news photos of people (mostly men) on the trading room floors, and their reactions (mostly emotional) when markets are tumbling.

Yan points out that everyone agrees Warren Buffett is a great investor — and he never says not to be emotional. In fact, “he recognizes that emotions are running the game, and he’s using his insight into what the mass population is feeling to make wise investment decisions,” Yan said.

Take one of Buffett’s common “isms”: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”

Work with your emotions

If money causes an extreme emotional reaction, something deep down needs to change, says Monica Sipes, a certified financial planner and senior wealth advisor at Exencial Wealth Advisors in Frisco, Texas.

People are unhappy with their financial situation for a reason. “It’s important to explore the why,” Sipes said. “If it’s a debt, you need action steps in place to enhance the situation.”

Your emotions can be an advantage, Yan believes.

“First, recognize the emotional state you’re in,” she said. Women are especially good at being able to precisely understand how they feel.

It’s usually easy to identify the feelings that accompany financial stress. Try to reach for a productive, time-delaying strategy instead of making a rash decision or spending in an attempt to make yourself feel better.

You could take a walk or find a friend who’s a good listener, Yan says.

Yan herself likes to go for a run, and she writes down a word or theme to think about on a Post-it note beforehand. She calls this biohacking, a way to work off the stress of dealing with the topic. “I can digest it and come out with a more chemically balanced state,” Yan said.

“It’s mentally burdening to be poor,” Yan said. “You’re always having to make decisions of one dollar here, one dollar there.

“It lowers your ability to see the big picture and make the best decisions that would get you out from under.”

In fact, Yan says, studies show that the emotional response to debt actually lowers higher executive functioning in the brain.

Accept fear

Instead of denying your feelings, acknowledge them. “Feel the fear, feel the greed,” Yan said. This will help you to clear your head. You’ll likely find yourself in a better position to scout choices and understand what you are basing them on.

The same emotional strategies apply with good news.

Say someone who’s 45 years old inherits $10 million. This lucky person needs to work out a plan for extraordinary wealth. “The duration of time where you need to have that capital base last is very long,” Sipes said. “You might need more than you think.”

Understand your own investing philosophy, Sipes says, whether the situation is positive or negative. If you are investing for retirement, for instance, you probably need to remain in the market even when it is volatile.

Don’t try to quantify a short-term loss. Try to detach from the account balances fluctuating.

Monica Sipes

Exencial Wealth Advisors

“You are probably not going to meet your goals if you’re planning for a 7% return,” she said. “If you sell, you are not going to capture that.”

Accept that investing will occasionally be scary, but keep your ‘why’ in mind. “Don’t try to quantify a short-term loss,” Sipes said. “Try to detach from the account balances fluctuating.”

Bottom line, have emotions. Just don’t let them take over your decision-making.

It’s no different from being afraid to go to a doctor. “It’s not going to get better from doing nothing,” Sipes said. “If you don’t know what you need to do, it’s not going to improve.”

CHECK OUT: 3 simple ways to save an extra $200 every month via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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