Now that January is over, it’s time for some tough questions. What was your New Year’s Resolution? How did it go? Are you still following through with your weight loss or billion-dollar business idea?
I’m guessing not. Most studies show that resolutions last a few weeks at best.
That’s because resolutions are goal-based. We want to lose 20 pounds. We want a $5,000 raise at work.
Goals are important, but they set a harsh psychological penalty.
Consider losing weight. If you want to lose 20 pounds, it can’t be fixed quickly. It’s likely a few months of eating right, hitting the gym, and tracking your progress. On a daily level, weight loss will be minimal—and some days will have setbacks.
That’s why it may make more sense to think less in terms of goals, and more in terms of a process.
If you set up a process that says “I’m going to get more servings of vegetables and fewer carbs with each meal,” you’re no longer thinking about the daunting challenge of losing 20 pounds. You’re just thinking the next meal at a time.
And maybe sometimes you have dessert anyway. That’s fine. If you’re furiously working to a goal, however, once that temptation hits, it’s usually the goal that disappears.
It’s true not just in one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions, but in most facets in life. If you set up a process that’s likely to get you where you want to go, a specific goal isn’t as important.
Chances are your investment process is garbage. Even if you’re great at maxing out your IRA each year, that cash still has to be invested. You’re not going to hit your goals if you’re underinvested or don’t manage your cash wisely.
Here’s a process that I’ve honed over the years that’s led to a high rate of modest, but consistent profits. It’s based on maximizing the returns of a position with the strategic use of options.
Say I buy a company that I find undervalued—something I’ve determined in advance before it falls to that price point. Most investors don’t want to buy something that’s been falling, but that’s where the value is. If it’s a great company with a long operating history and has been a leader in its industry, chances are whatever selloff is going on is short-term in nature.
Ideally, that kind of company will also be paying a dividend. While I’m not specifically targeting a yield, if I can buy a company that historically pays out 3 percent a year while it’s temporarily yielding 4 percent per year, I’m going to end up with a far better return.
While I may or may not reinvest the dividends into more shares, the next thing I’ll do is the hardest. I’ll have to be patient. That’s where most goals fall apart, in investing and elsewhere in life. Things tend to turn around. Sometimes it’s quickly, like anything bought in late 2018. Sometimes, it may take a while, like most non-financial stocks bought in 2007. If the company is leading its industry, however, the odds of things improving over time are overwhelmingly on your side.
After that, I’ll look for opportunities to start getting cash out of my trades. This typically means selling call options against shares I own. If I do it right, I’ll get extra income and get to keep the shares. In my mind, if I get called away, that’s not as good because I miss out on future dividends and capital appreciation, but I still locked in a way. So it’s win-win.
Using this strategy, I’ve been able to add another five-figure income to my cash flow each year. If I was looking to live independently of a job, the returns from this strategy alone would be getting me most of the way I need to for that goal. But I’m not focused on the goal, I’m focused on the process.
For instance, early on in my call writing days, I’d focus on weekly call options. But in order to get a decent return, there was a high chance of getting called away. So I started looking farther out. Today, I typically sell covered calls on a stock six to nine months away.
That gives me more time premium to sell. That’s awesome, as time premium always goes to zero. It also means fewer trades, so I’m giving my broker less money.
If your investment process involves buying, hoping for the best, not knowing what to do with a dividend, or how to get extra income out of a position by selling call options (or even put sales to get into a trade), then your process is less complex than the one I’ve made.
Chances are it’s more luck-based as well! Luck is important, of course, especially with the uncertainty of markets. But if you’re relying entirely on luck, you may as well convert all your assets into lottery tickets.
Markets are mean reverting, as are most stocks. Oversold stocks tend to rally, and buying oversold stocks may be painful for a while if they don’t bounce quickly, but over time, you’ll find that you make your best returns buying when things look ugly. A good process should take advantage of mean reversion, and selling calls against a position that’s now overbought tends to be helpful to take the sting away from the next decline.
In investing, I’ve found a process that works for me, but there are many others. Figure out what works for your comfort level as an investor, what your existing process is, and how to improve it. Don’t try to fix everything overnight. Play around with your process one variable at a time. Small improvements, multiplied over time, will have a huge impact on your future wealth.
Whatever you do in life, think less about the specific goal you want. Instead, consider the process that’s likeliest to get you to that goal. Work on it, hone it. By doing so, you’ll set yourself up for success.
Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and writes the monthly newsletter Crisis Point Investor.
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