You can succeed intellectually, physically or emotionally. The intellectual way is how we would all like to succeed: being so smart that we understand things more clearly and see farther ahead than every other investor. The pre-eminent example, obviously, is Warren Buffett. But people like him are very, very, very rare. The physical way to succeed is simply to work harder, to start at dawn and grind away till midnight and carry home a heavy briefcase full of research and keep working right on through the weekend too. This way is the most popular on Wall Street, where nearly everyone seems to try it. And for some of them, this way works — well, I can’t say I’ve met many people for whom it actually works, but they must think it does, or they wouldn’t keep trying so hard.
The third way to succeed as an investor is difficult emotionally. When that seductive fellow Mr. Market comes around, you have to pay absolutely no attention to him, no matter what happens. You have to control your emotions, and most of the time that means the best thing to do is nothing. If you can’t control your emotions, being in the market is like walking into a heated area wearing a backpack full of explosives.
I’m not smart enough to succeed the intellectual way, and I can’t work hard enough to succeed the physical way. But the emotionally difficult way takes very little time and makes no intellectual or physical demands on you at all. Statistically, judging by how the public invests, most people don’t like the emotionally difficult path. Then again, more and more people are trying it; the amount of money in index funds has been rising year after year. The emotional path is the only reliable way that I know of to succeed.
WALL STREET’S WISEST MAN