• April 2015

The Intuitive Investor: How to Translate Intuition From Serendipity to Tool

By Jason Voss, CFA
The Intuitive Investor

In my column on Enterprising Investor, I share tips on how to tune into intuitive sensations.

In a previous posting, I focused on the importance of distinguishing between specific consciousness and its emphasis on naming and quantifying sensations, and holistic consciousness and its emphasis on experiencing sensations directly.

Yet, for intuitive sensations experienced to be useful to investors, it is critically important to translate them into quantities (rarely) or words (most common).

But how to translate intuitive sensations into information?

Expressing Yourself in Words

Here is an exercise to help you translate intuitive sensations:

  1. Think of an investment that elicits strong emotions in you. Perhaps you made a mistake and lost your shareholders’ money. Or maybe you experienced tremendous capital appreciation in an investment that brought you tremendous joy.
  2. Put the investment in your mind’s eye.
  3. Revisit your emotions about the investment.
  4. Focus only on the sensations or feelings associated with the investment and not the words.
  5. Hold your awareness of these sensations for an extended amount of time. It is likely that the sensations and emotions tug at your awareness.
  6. Now that you have a fix on your sensations, begin thinking of words that best harmonize with your experience of them. I strongly encourage you to cycle through many synonyms to see which words best express your emotions.

It is normal to experience more than one emotion simultaneously about complex objects such as investments. Repeat the exercise until you believe you have separated out the complex entanglement of emotions associated with your investment. Ideally, at the end of the exercise you have a precise translation of your emotions about an investment. As you review the words you listed, what new insights do you have about your investment?

I focused on emotions in the above exercise because until you practice tuning into intuitive sensations, it can be difficult to notice the subtleties associated with intuition. Emotions, by contrast, are easier to recognize. So if you have mastered your emotions about investing, then consider yourself either an evolved and wise investor or an in-denial sociopath!

In all seriousness, emotionless, non-prejudiced awareness is the goal of a successful meditation practice, but that does not mean there won’t still be sensations associated with an investment. If you do not experience emotions doing the exercise above, then repeat the exercise by recalling any investment that you would like to understand better. Now instead of describing your emotions, identify words that best harmonize with your sensations. What new insights do you glean?

Writing Poetry

After many years of exploring intuition and trying to create structure around it in order to change its operation from serendipity to tool, I can attest that for me the most potent practice for translating intuitive sensations into information is to write poetry. (Yes, an online investment forum is recommending you write poetry!)

Why poetry? Because writing poetry is a practice that merges the sensations experienced in holistic consciousness with language, one of the favorite modes of expression for specific consciousness. See if you can write a poem about your career, including the strong feelings generated by your successes and failures.

How does your career relate to your sense of self-worth, to your personal development, or to your family? I am not advocating cheesy poetry or the kind that imposes a rhyming structure or other artificial structure (e.g., iambic pentameter or haiku) on your emotions.

Why? Because the goal is to try to avoid specificity and structure so that you can instead focus on the sensations contained in holistic awareness.

The Shareholder Letter

Many investment professionals are required to communicate with their investors, either through a client letter or a letter to shareholders. Writing this letter also provides a wonderful practice field for translating intuitive sensations into numeric or verbal specifics.

As an exercise, write your next letter to stakeholders by recalling the previous period’s performance and the decisions you made during that period. Rather than “dialing it in,” instead choose to really tune into your real sensations and to share them with your audience. I am certain that your stakeholders will appreciate your authenticity.

Hopefully these techniques help you begin to translate intuitive insights into meaningful, actionable information. I cannot emphasize enough how important these techniques, especially non-attachment, are to practice.

About Jason Voss, CFA

Voss is a content director at CFA Institute, where he focuses on fixed income, behavioral finance, corporate finance, and quantitative methods. He is the author of The Intuitive Investor, and he also ran a successful blog titled “What My Intuition Tells Me Now.” Previously, Voss was a portfolio manager at Davis Selected Advisers, LP, where he co-managed the Davis Appreciation and Income Fund. He holds a BA in economics and an MBA in finance and accounting from the University of Colorado.

Learn more about his book, The Intuitive Investor.

Disclaimer: This article previously appeared on CFA Institute’s Enterprising Investor blog. Copyright 2014, CFA Institute. Reproduced from the Enterprising Investor blog with permission from CFA Institute. All rights reserved.