The Detached Investor: Lessons from a Navy SEAL

November 14, 2022
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I have never served in the armed forces.

I’m no military man.

Jocko Willink is though.

Jocko is a retired Navy SEAL that now serves as a leadership instructor, speaker, author, podcaster, and executive coach. In his book Leadership Strategy and Tactics, he recounts a training drill he did with his platoon on a complex and dangerous oil rig and what he learned about leadership through detaching.

I saw the guys to my left and to my right, all doing the same thing I was: holding their weapons in the ready position, scanning for targets, and waiting for the call. 

But the call still didn’t come. 

…I could see the whole situation with complete clarity. When I was on the line looking down my gun, I was only seeing what was directly in my field of fire. Now that I had stepped back and looked around, I could see the entire deck, all its obstacles, and the simplest way to clear it. By stepping back, I had detached myself mentally and physically from the immediate problem, and now it was easy for me to see the solution, clear than even the more experienced SEALS in my platoon…

I realized that by high porting my weapon, stepping back off the firing line, and looking around—by detaching physically, even if only by a few inches, and more important, detaching mentally from the problem at hand—I was able to see infinitely more than anyone else in my platoon. And since I was able to see everything, I was able to make a good decision…”1

There are a few lessons we can draw from this as investors.

Some of you have an investment posture that is always in the “ready position.” The constant hum of CNBC in the background, checking your account online repeatedly, and the chaos of social media has you treating each day like you are taking enemy fire. Consider ceasing being so laser-focused on each-and-every tick of the markets and how that might impact your portfolio.

Don’t be a squirrely investor with a sweaty trigger finger ready to react to the barrage of economic and political news alerts. I’m definitely not saying Jocko was squirrely, but—and don’t take this personally—you probably are not exactly a Navy SEAL of investing.

Beware of your feelings. You may want to do whatever you have to do to detach physically. You can physically feel the need to react when markets are dropping. It hurts. It sends anxiety through your body. Remember investing with your guts can gut your portfolio. Breathe.

Detach mentally. Consider not filling yourself with so much political and financial information. Take a break from the 24/7 news cycle. Read a long book. Go on a walk. Fill your mind with other things.

High port the weapon of your investment decisions for a bit. Step back. Zoom out. Consider your whole personal, familial, and financial situation. Your portfolio should be more focused on your goals over the long-term years from now, than on what the Feds do next month. Consider the headlines of your life more than the headlines of the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, or MSNBC.

None of this is saying you should completely detach. Not at all. You should be involved. You do need to make changes at times based on what’s happening now. It’s just that an appropriate level of detachment equips you to assess the big picture, so you don’t make short-term mistakes that can be devastating. Detach so that you can reengage more strategically and effectively.

HOOAH!

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Sources:

1. St. Martin’s Press (2019), p. 15, 16, 17.