Mary Hagerman at a meditation retreat
Mary Hagerman at a meditation retreat. Courtesy the author.

“The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.”

This quote from Warren Buffett underscores the importance of maintaining a steady mindset in investing. It suggests successful investing isn’t about constantly reacting to market fluctuations or timing the market, but rather about sticking with a well-thought-out investment strategy over the long term.

Portfolio managers are constantly bombarded by market noise, our thoughts and our emotions — as well as those of our clients. Making good investment decisions requires thinking clearly and resisting the temptation to make impulsive decisions based on short-term market movements.

Throughout my more than 35 years of managing money, many bear markets have tested my mental strength, but the financial crisis of 2008-2009 was like no bear market I’d ever seen.

That period led me to change my portfolio management philosophy. It also marked the beginning of my dedication to meditation practice.

During the Great Recession, the bottom seemed to drop out of the stock market as it fell lower and lower over a 14-month period. Disbelief over the magnitude of the situation was widespread. Credit evaporated, nobody wanted to lend money and, most importantly, nobody seemed to know how things would turn out. Many clients, naturally, were in a state of panic.

I was dealing with stress, fear and panic, as well as the guilt that perhaps I could have done something different to protect my clients.

I have documented in a past article how this period led to my adoption of an ETF investment strategy for my portfolio management.  At the time, ETFs were not well known, but post-crisis statistics would confirm that most active fund managers underperformed their underlying benchmarks.

However, I knew ETFs alone would not guarantee solid portfolio performance. I also had to be able to shield myself from the mental chatter that can cloud sound investment decisions.

I had been meditating on and off for many years and knew that meditation could be a powerful tool for cultivating a steady mind. I had read how it helps to develop self-awareness and emotional resilience, which would help me recognize and regulate responses to financial stressors. Meditation teaches techniques for staying present in the moment, which can prevent dwelling on past financial mistakes or worrying excessively about future uncertainties.

I was sold on the benefits of a regular mindfulness practice — I just had to put it to work. I went on a week-long retreat to learn mindfulness and concentration techniques. I designated a spot in my home for my meditation cushion. I had three children at home and a busy schedule, so my meditation time was mostly in the evening, but I followed through on my commitment. Slowly, I began to feel the benefits that had attracted me to the practice.

Not only did meditation help lower my stress levels, it also improved my concentration.  I learned to regularly check in with myself and my thoughts to ensure I was properly grounded in my thinking before making important decisions.  This technique of checking in with my emotions before making portfolio changes has become part of my portfolio management and trading checklist.

Years later, when the pandemic hit and we were all forced into confinement, my cushion became a refuge I would seek out for peace of mind.  During the intense isolation of the pandemic, many came to realize how little time we spend alone with ourselves and our thoughts.

During this period, meditation became more widely adopted and slowly started making its way into the financial world. Organizations such as the CFA Institute began offering meditation coaching for their members during Covid. I was hearing more colleagues and friends saying they were trying things like online yoga, qigong and meditation.

Recently, the time seemed right for me to initiate a national meditation group for my dealer firm. The webinar concept of a meditation “sangha” or group that had gained legitimacy during Covid could now be used to help colleagues across Canada.

The reception to this new initiative at Raymond James has been very positive. From the president’s office down, we have had people join us to meditate with our teacher, to create a moment of calm in their day and learn how to steady the mind.

Not only are portfolio managers benefiting from meditating, so are members of our team and work community. Indirectly, our clients will benefit from steady and focused minds overseeing their money.