To a man with a hammer, every problem tends to look pretty much like a nail.

The above words have been attributed to both Mark Twain and psychologist Abraham Maslow, but over the past 25 years or so, they have been uttered most prominently by Charlie Munger. Twain is best known as an author, Maslow a psychologist; Munger, the famous partner of Warren Buffett, is talking about investing, and he has hit the nail on the head.

Stocks have delivered a generous average return of about 10% annually over the long term. But that average is misleading; the market can swing wildly in either direction, and as investors over the last decade have learned, anomalies to that long-run average can persist for quite a bit longer than you wish they would. If you are expecting a smooth 10% per year for the next decade, you are in for a rude awakening.

Fortunately, the common investor today has access to more tools than ever before to combat snaky markets. Looking out at today's investment horizon, you may be doing yourself a disservice if you're not using all the tools.

Open your eyes to no-brainers
As investors, we live for the day that a great opportunity just stares us in the face. It doesn't happen every day. Then again, if you are not looking around, it will never happen for you.

Last summer, when the BP (NYSE: BP) oil spill had most investors thinking the sky was falling, composed investors were having a field day. Great opportunities abounded, but one of my favorites was Bristow Group (NYSE: BRS), which fellow analyst Bryan Hinmon thumped in my face. You might have had your concerns about the future of deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but it seemed clear that drillers would be choppering out to their rigs -- to shuttle workers, inspect equipment, and make new safety upgrades. For Bristow, the leading offshore helicopter-services provider, all that choppering would mean more business, and it did: Bristow is up 56% in the last six months.

So, what are the no-brainers of today? They might be even more obvious than you think -- in my opinion, U.S. large cap stocks are historically cheap. Investors seem to have left Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) for dead, but Mr. Softy utterly dominates the operating-systems and productivity-software markets and is still pulling in $24 billion in free cash flow annually. You could also make the case for Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) – at 7.4 times EV/EBITDA, people seem to have forgotten that the world's largest retailer still has plenty of international expansion ahead.

Widen your perspective; it's not just about individual stocks
But even with these no-brainers, if you buy individual stocks exclusively, you are robbing yourself of opportunities elsewhere -- particularly in options and ETFs.

Take, for example, the VIX, the index that tracks market volatility. It might be near impossible to determine when market volatility will spike, but betting that markets will simmer down after an explosion can be a shrewd move for a calm-headed investor. The iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures (NYSE: VXX) makes such a move possible -- to the delight of many astute investors over the past three years, including my friends at Motley Fool Pro, who made a pretty penny writing naked calls on the VXX going into last summer.

I don't see an equivalent ETF play at the moment, but with shares of one of my favorite companies, Diageo (NYSE: DEO), a bit above my current estimate of intrinsic value, writing July 2011 $75 puts might be appealing. I'd get $2.80 per share up front, and if the stock remains about $75 in July, that's the end of the story and I walk away with the cash. If, on the other hand, the stock falls below $75, I am put the shares at $75, and my cost basis becomes $72.20. I'm happy to hold Diageo stock for the long run, so that outcome is fine by me as well. But if I didn't count options as a tool, I'd never make it past Diageo's stock price.

Get some more tools!
Sure, in the long term, stocks have averaged solid returns. But how long is the long term? If you invested your daughter's college tuition money entirely in equities when she was 7 years old in 2000, the market would be landing you right where you started as she turns 18 this year.

By building out your toolbox, you become better equipped to make money in any market. If absolute returns are what you're after, you might want to consider joining Motley Fool Pro, where Jeff Fischer and his team work every day to help you make money in any market -- and help you build out your own toolbox along the way. It's opening to new members for the first time since June 2010. To find out more, just put your email address in the email box below. We'll also send you a free copy of Jeff's new report, "How to Profit from the One 'Sure Thing' Coming in 2011."

Alex Pape does not own shares of any company mentioned. Microsoft and Wal-Mart Stores are Motley Fool Inside Value choices. Wal-Mart Stores is a Motley Fool Global Gains selection. Diageo is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. The Fool has written calls on iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Bristow Group, Diageo, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart Stores. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.