Flight instructors often remind new students that take-offs are optional, but landings are mandatory. This axiom reminds pilots to think carefully before they push that throttle forward to head down the runway.
Once in the air, the most difficult part of flight is usually the landing. At any other time, the plane can be very forgiving of mistakes or inattention. The miles of distance between you and the ground, and other airplanes, allow for a wide margin of error.
On arrival at the destination airport, as you get increasingly closer to the ground, things change quickly and safety margins shrink. During this phase of flight pilots must pay careful attention and fly with precision. This is when pilots have been taught to use very small adjustments to keep the plane on course. The rule is, make small adjustments, give the plane time to respond, then adjust again as needed. Following this rule is a challenge as there is a natural tendency to overreact to the rapidly changing world of a landing airplane.
When I was struggling to learn how to land, an instructor wrote on a sticky note, “Look Up,” and stuck it to my windshield. He wanted me to quit looking at the runway below me and instead focus on the horizon. This was counterintuitive to me since the numbers on that runway were what I was trying to hit. And hit them I did, sometimes with great force. My instructor assured me that if I would focus on the horizon, my small control corrections would become smooth and accurate, and the airplane would land gently on those numbers all by itself. When I was finally able to trust his advice, I found it to be true. For many years I left that sticky note on my windshield.
A landing airplane is going very fast. Trying to control it by chasing the rapidly moving ground below you leads to excessive movements with constant over corrections. Looking to the horizon gives you a better perspective resulting in more accurate control as a pilot.
Investing follows a similar principle. Some people watch the news very closely and react financially to every up and down in the rapidly changing world they see. This results in knee-jerk investing moves that put them in a constant state of overcorrecting. Like a pilot watching the runway directly in front of them, the results can be disastrous. If they could only learn to look up, and focus their attention on the distant horizon, their movements would become smoother, and their course more steady. Like an airplane, their investment portfolio would become more stable and the financial destination more solid.
Investment portfolios do best when we make small corrections, watch to see how things perform, then correct again as needed. This is especially true close to retirement. All this is possible only when we keep our eyes on the horizon. The next time you find yourself stressed over the current days’ political or economic crisis, get out your sticky pad and write yourself a note. Look up!