If you get into anybody far enough, you’ve got yourself a partner. —Mark Twain
When dollars are transferred from our pocket to an investment, the expectation is that they’ll be worth more in the future. But when the results disappoint, we’re loath to admit we were wrong. Our natural tendency is to hold onto the losers longer than we should, because in doing so, we are deferring defeat and keeping our ego intact.
The problem with small losses is that it’s easy to hold onto them as they morph into big losses. In the world of finance, nothing springs eternal like hope. We’ll watch with indifference as a 5% loss becomes a 10% loss, with fear as it cascades to a 20% loss, and with utter terror as it falls any further. At this point, we become paralyzed as adrenaline rushes through the 100 billion nerve cells in our brain. The hypothalamus, our “fight or flight” system, suspends rational thinking.
“I’ll get out when I’m even.” Anybody who has ever bought a stock has experienced this poisonous thought floating between their ears. The unfortunate reality about declines is that the math required to make them whole requires extraordinary acts. A 20% loss requires not a 20% gain to break even, but rather a 25% advance. The deeper the hole, the harder it is to climb out; an 80% loss requires a 400% gain to make your money back.