My father’s stocks are still paying off decades later. Here’s how to recover the lost art of disciplined investing – Fortune

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My father was a payroll clerk, but his real passion was investing in stocks, back in the day when you still obtained quotes from a newspaper and trading was done at a high commission through calls or snail mail to your broker. In fact, my father kept paper stock certificates in a gray metal lockbox stowed away in my closet to save on the custody charges brokers levied at the time.
He automatically reinvested the dividends and regularly added to his holdings–a true disciplined, buy-and-hold investor. But even if he wasn’t, the obstacles to gaining information and trading imposed discipline. Contrast that with today’s environment, with its constant barrage of data, noise, and hype, and the ridiculous ease of executing trades on a whim. It’s no wonder that people often sabotage their investment portfolio, either through unnecessary trades or, at the other extreme, paralysis from just being overwhelmed.
Discipline is absolutely needed when it comes to any endeavor. Can you imagine entering a marathon without months or even years of training and preparation? But, unlike exercise, dieting, and most other activities, discipline doesn’t necessarily have to be hard work when it comes to investing.
Some of that discipline is already being provided through your employer if you have a 401(k) or 403(b) plan that auto-enrolls you in qualified investments. You merely have to take similar steps with the rest of your investments:
Besides the concrete steps outlined above, there are psychological barriers that need to be addressed. Many investors fall into two extremes when it comes to their mindset, either too aggressive or too timid. Both need to be reminded that investing and gambling are different.
In gambling, the odds are stacked against you over the long run. And some investment practices and products approach gambling. Day-trading to time short-term stock movements is notoriously difficult over the long run. And the more exotic investments and strategies such as levered and inverse exchange-traded funds are designed for short-term trading, not long-term investing.     
With a traditional balanced portfolio, the odds are about even on any given day that its value will go up or down, but the odds are stacked in your favor over the long run, as investors have been historically “paid” for the risk of price fluctuations in stocks and bonds.
Of course, all the appropriate caveats apply. There are absolutely no guarantees in investing. Markets will go through their normal up-and-down cycles and there will be times when your portfolio will decrease in value. That’s why it’s important to stick to your plan, remain disciplined, and re-evaluate when your circumstances change.
My father passed away 20 years ago. However, his legacy lives on. His stocks helped with the down payment on my first home, and they are still providing dividends that help provide a comfortable retirement for my mother.
Discipline in investing has a lasting impact.
James Martielli is the head of investment and trading services at Vanguard.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.
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