Why "Don’t Panic" is Not Good Advice: Try Something More Truthful - 7investing
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Why “Don’t Panic” is Not Good Advice: Try Something More Truthful

March 23, 2020

Krzysztof Piekarski is a Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Texas, with a strong behavioral economics and transformation of consciousness hobby.

Our 7investing team has a great amount of respect for him, especially in his ability to educate investors about how to make better and more informed decisions.

He appears as a guest writer for our site this week. 

 

In my role as a professor of rhetoric at the University of Texas, I teach a class called the Non-Argumentative Rhetoric of Zen. Most of my students begin the class with some misconception that the class will be about learning to chill-out and relax.

It turns out, bless their young gentle hearts, that I teach nearly the opposite.

In our time of the Coronavirus and panic and fear and genuine hardship, sickness, and death, the advice we often hear is “don’t panic.” And that’s true to some extent: if you’re running around like a headless chicken, odds are low to none that you’re helping things.

Or perhaps if you’ve been taught that empathy is the way, you might be spending your days feeling all kinds of grief and sorrow on behalf of those badly suffering. So much so, that you might be immobilizing yourself and opting for despair and pity instead of steadfast resiliency and skillful action.

So instead of this dualistic and rigid binary of choices –– “don’t panic” or “I’m so, so, so sorry” –– what other responses do we have available during this pandemic, and how does that relate to being a more skillful investor?

The non-argumentative way is to realize that often you’re actually having a real argument with yourself.

There’s the part of you that is genuinely scared and terrified of losing your financial shirt, which represent safety and food and shelter and college funds and retirement funds and peace of mind.

And there’s another part of you, just as real and full of emotions yelling “Don’t panic!” If you’ve seen Pulp Fiction, you know what that sounds like –– “Everybody be cool, this is a robbery.”

What happens when one part of you is genuinely terrified and another part is trying to act cool and calm, is that these tensions get entangled in a ghastly knot that expresses itself as crippling anxiety. And Truth #1 is that anxiety does not a good investor make.

So instead of denying either of these parts, your job, dear reader and virtual student of the non-argumentative way, is to turn towards each of these two parts of your inner world and from a genuine place of curiosity and kindness, truly hear what these inner voices want you to know.

The “Don’t panic” part does want you to be cool because it wants you to continue making rational decisions. It doesn’t want you to feel upset because that’s an unpleasant feeling and can really mess up your equilirium. It wants you to continue to operate your abacus and calculator in a dignified fashion so that when this storm passes, there aren’t too many emotional errors on record and the numbers “on the bottom line” add up as they should.

The “Panic Immediately!” part wants you to not just sit there while the house is burning down and the temperature is a little too hot for s’mores. It wants you to know that things are urgent and there’s a lot at stake. It wants you to understand that vigilance and care and skill are essential qualities and had best start being expressed, pronto. But above all, it needs you to know you are paying attention to what’s actually happening.

So imagine having that kind of job, where there’s so very much at stake, and your role is to make everyone involved aware of the urgency of the situation, and then hearing from some other shadowy place inside “Don’t panic.”

That would feel terrible, no? Like a prophet warning the world of a coming plague, who is silenced rather than heeded. Read your Greek myths, friends, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. A potential victim never wants to hear “be quiet.”

But when both these parts of you get to tell your their perspective on things, and they feel seen and understood, you, the Wise and Compassionate Boss, will get to tell them truthfully: “Thanks for letting me know. I got this.” And they’ll relax, but in a real way.

From the looks of it, our world will be full of some devastating news in the coming weeks or months, beyond what we’ve already experienced and the skill with which you attend to this very world will be directly proportional to your investing outcomes.

But instead of heeding the clichéd advice imploring you not to panic, do something more profound, more liberating, and more skillful: Turn to each of your internal managers that have something to tell you about what’s going on, and ask them “What are you afraid will happen if you didn’t do your job for me?” And then take the time to carefully listen.

Only after that happens will you arrive at a place of calm that is deeply grounded rather than the false front of conflict avoidance or denial. And then, when you layer that with the skilled analysis of individual companies and you consider which ones will emerge stronger in the post COVID-19 era, you’ll be swinging from the branches, investment-wise, with more bananas in your coffers than you’ll know what to do with.

At that point, the part of you that implored not to panic will have found a much more enjoyable job: how to help the world in need with all the funds now at your disposal.