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William Bernstein suggests that an investor can evaluate their risk tolerance based on how they reacted to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008:
Pick a risk level that lets you sleep at night. Most investors severely overestimate their tolerance for risk, only realizing their true risk tolerance during a market crash when their portfolio value tanks. It’s also been theorized that investors may be embarrassed to admit to their advisor – or to themselves – that they have a low tolerance for risk. Don’t be.
It is imperative to have realistic expectations of both the markets and of one’s own behaviors. The behavioral aspect of investing is unfortunately very real and can have significant consequences. Emotional responses to one’s environment – in this case a financial environment – are hardwired in the human brain. Are you going to lose sleep and panic sell if your portfolio value drops by 57% like it did for an S&P 500 index investor in 2008?
Let's have an honest discussion about this crucial aspect of investing.