Jason Zweig interview

Some select questions and answers from the interview that SAFAL NIVESHAK conducted with Jason Zweig, author of ‘Your money, your brain’.

After reading his book, I realised that investing is spiritual or can be a very spiritual practice or can contribute to spiritual evolution. His answers below confirm this. Of course, I have picked out those questions that have this spiritual dimension.

SN: How can an investor improve the quality of his/her decision making?

JZ: Study the markets. Study history. Study psychology. Above all, study yourself. Successful investing isn’t about picking the right stocks and avoiding the wrong ones. It is about making sure that you don’t let your own emotions deflect you from your strategy at the worst imaginable time. The best investors are those who think constantly about their own shortcomings and how to overcome them.

SN: What are the most important qualities an investor needs to survive the complexity of the financial markets?

JZ: Self-control. I don’t know what proportion of people who call themselves “investors” are, in fact, just speculators, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is above 90%.

I find it remarkable that in India, the world’s wellspring of yoga, so many investors give themselves endless stress trying to chase short-term market performance.

Investing is not a 110-meter race. It is a marathon. If you want to finish the race, you shouldn’t try to go faster; you should slow down. And you need to learn how to resist investing in any asset or strategy you don’t understand.

SN: Apart from Ben Graham, Warren Buffett, and Charlie Munger, who inspires you the most when it comes to investing and investment behavior?

JZ: I would name three people: two giants and one few people have ever heard of….Second, Daniel Kahneman, whom I have known for 20 years and whose book Thinking, Fast and Slow I helped research, write and edit: From Danny I learned how important it is to try answering difficult questions by beginning with the words “I don’t know.” The admission of ignorance is the gateway to learning, and the more you learn the clearer it should become to you how much you do not know.

SN: You have inspired millions through your writing, but which are some of the books on investing, behavior, and multidisciplinary thinking that have inspired you the most over the years? If you were to give away all your books but one, which one would it be and why?

JZ: I have listed the books I regard as indispensable here, here, and here.

Your last question is painfully difficult for someone who has loved books since he first learned to walk. I suppose if you held a gun to my head and made me pick only one book to keep, it would be the Essays of Montaigne. While that book has nothing to do directly with investing, it has everything to do with learning how to think and live. I can’t think of another book that is so good a guide to what it means to know oneself, to embrace uncertainty, to live within one’s means, to value humility above all other virtues, and to remember that the two greatest intellectual endeavors in life are to learn as much as possible and to accept how little you will ever be able to learn.

SN: As I’ve read at a few places, you also seem to hold Richard Feynman in very high regard. What are some of the most important things you like about Mr. Feynman and his teachings, which readers of this interview could also benefit from?

JZ: …..From that I learned the importance of always reading the source material, rather than relying on someone else’s representation of it. It still amazes me how many people who say “studies have shown that…” have never read the studies they are citing.

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