Don't get me wrong. Investing is hard. It's also very easy -- it really depends on how you approach it. According to the book Zen in the Art of Archery, the archer's goal is to achieve a "purposeless and egoless state" in which the arrow shoots itself.
That might sound like a bunch of feel-good psychobabble. But I've heard great value investors (including Mohnish Pabrai) talk over and over about no-brainer investments. Warren Buffett talks about how sometimes investment ideas are so obvious it's like being hit in the head with a baseball bat. Here are some things I think we can all do to get more into this mindset.
Know thyself ... but lose the ego
No-brainers are all about your circle of competence. We're all different, and our brains work in different ways. I can understand mortgage lenders, but mining companies make my brain hurt. You know your strengths and weaknesses, and while you should work on your weak areas, you should always play to your strengths.
Also, stay humble. Buffett doesn't exhibit much of an ego and he's the greatest investor ever. I think that's because Buffett truly thinks he's making really obvious investments that don't require much brainpower.
Stupid is as stupid does
Sometimes things are right up your alley. Say you're a contestant on Jeopardy! If you wrote your doctoral thesis on World War II, and the Final Jeopardy! category is "World War II Generals," you've got a HUGE competitive advantage. Similarly, if you're selective, you can capitalize on your specialized knowledge in the stock market.
A year or two ago, I remember reading about a company called Live Nation
Literally within hours of my purchase, the company announced a huge share buyback and the stock went up the next day something like 15% to 20%. I eventually doubled my money. But I can say with 100% honesty that I take no pride whatsoever in that pick. I felt it was obvious. I didn't shoot the arrow; the arrow shot itself.
Must ... stop ... thinking ...
Unfortunately, not all of our investments work out like that. Some of the failed investments in my hall of shame include BUCA, Inphonic, Arbinet, and Drugstore.com. I've noticed that the common denominator in all of these stocks is that I had to talk myself into buying them.
These weren't companies where the financials hit me over the head with a baseball bat. Instead, I envisioned scenarios where future developments would occur that would make these stocks big winners. I got cocky and thought I could see what others could not. I was wrong.
This also works in reverse. Sometimes you do something right, but then talk yourself out of it. I'm a huge Amazon
But a funny thing happened. When the shares went up, I got obsessed over them. I decided I'd sell and then buy at a cheaper price after the next bad earnings report. So I sold at $33 for a nice 20% gain. The only problem is that those shares are now at $62 -- I missed a 100% gain because I thought I couldn't just sit still and let the arrow shoot itself.
Don't worry, be happy
Timon and Pumbaa gave Simba some awesome investing advice -- hakuna matata, as in "don't worry, be happy." Every time you worry about your investing performance, that you're not in the hot sector, or that your neighbor is doing better, you'll get anxious and start doing stupid things -- like loading up on eToys.com.
Even though I've got a ton of money in some stocks, such as GAMCO
is fundamental (investing)
I apologize that I don't have any stock picks to offer in this article, but that's exactly the point. My advice in investing is to sit and wait. Read a lot -- check out investing websites like the Fool and its investing newsletters, business magazines, and anything you can get your hands on to get exposure to a lot of different investing ideas. Learn about companies. Maybe just a few times a year, something really, really obvious will happen where it all clicks naturally in your head -- and then let the arrow shoot itself.
Fool contributor Emil Lee is an analyst and a disciple of value investing. He owns shares in Mueller and GAMCO. Emil appreciates your comments, concerns, and complaints. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.