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Lessons from Charlie Munger-VII

Dec 8, 2011

In the previous article, we had discussed the roots and the consequences of the 'doubt-avoidance' tendency. Today, we shall discuss another extremely important human tendency that every serious investor should be well aware of.

Inconsistency-avoidance tendency

Imagine what it would be like if you woke up every day and had to learn all the physical and mental tasks from scratch. It's impossible to even imagine such a situation. Thanks to the human brain, we don't have to bother about most tasks every single day. Through countless sets of programs, the human brain ensures our smooth and consistent functioning. Habits, which are patterns of behaviour which routinely repeat themselves subconsciously, are also a result of this process. While habits can be good, and good habits doubly so, there are several disadvantages as well. Habits often come in the way of any kind of change or transformation. As Charlie Munger puts it very aptly, "People tend to accumulate large mental holdings of fixed conclusions and attitudes that are not often reexamined or changed, even though there is plenty of good evidence that they are wrong."

This brings us to the inconsistency-avoidance tendency which is very rampant amongst human beings. In simple words, we filter away any piece of information which may be inconsistent to our ideas and beliefs. You may have read as students how many great scientists and discoverers were often discredited and ridiculed for their so-called lunacies. Many were acknowledged for their great work only after their death. Do you see how the inconsistency-avoidance tendency works? Not just history, even our day-to-day life is filled with such stories.

Inconsistency-avoidance tendency in stock markets

Our aim is not to profess psychology for its own sake but to attempt to relate it to human behaviour in the stock markets. Stock markets are largely driven by sentiment. So you must do your best to be as objective as you can and guard yourself from the lures of greed and fear.

Getting back to inconsistency-avoidance tendency, can you remember instances when you have used this tendency to your own peril? We'll point out a few for your benefit:

Have you lost money on your favourite stock that had once been an outperformer? The company's prospects may have changed, it may no longer be worth putting your money into, but you still couldn't let go of it. Why? Because letting go of it would be inconsistent with your original beliefs about it. So you did everything to console and convince yourself that nothing was wrong. But your portfolio losses have a different story to say, don't they?

Each investor will have innumerable such instances to share. Now the more important question, how exactly do you get rid of this tendency? There are several ways to do that, but more than anything else, you need to be very disciplined with your approach. One great way is to play the devil's advocate. If you find a prospective company very compelling, first start with rejecting the hypothesis. In other words, try to gather facts and arguments that will prove that the stock is a bad investment. After all your analysis, if you arrive at the conclusion that the stock is still good, then it has passed the bar. You can also take a good lesson from the court of law. Law courts have processes and procedures in place that tend to minimise hasty and biased decision-making, which can cost someone's life. As investors, you must learn not to be hasty. Adjourn your stock purchases till you're not clear in your mind. Always remember, stock markets will always keep swinging higher and lower. Investing opportunities will be there. We can assure you that if you can tackle with your inconsistency-avoidance tendency, money will consistently keep pouring into your bank accounts.

We will continue to discuss some more thinking errors and psychological tendencies that can affect your investment decisions in the subsequent articles of this series.

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