The siren song of soaring stocks can send savers crashing into stony shoals. Here’s how to prevent this. (Photo: Shutterstock)

With a bird-like body and the head of a woman, the Sirens of Greek mythology famously lured sailors to their doom with the magic of their sweet singing. The only human to have escaped their enticement was the hero Odysseus, but only by having himself lashed securely to a mast as he sailed by the island of the Sirens.

His crew, whose ears were filled with wax to make them deaf to the Sirens’ song, were under strict orders not to untie Odysseus no matter how strong his pleas.

For retirement savers, there is no worse Siren than the daily headlines trumpeting the latest recordbreaking news.

Over and over sings the sweet song, tempting diligent investors to steer away from the well-planned course and onto the rocky shoals of chasing performance (see “Will Record Breaking Market be the Anchor that Sinks 401k Savers?, December 7, 2017). Fortunately, there’s a way to avoid this potentially unhappy ending.

And it’s likely to be found as close as the nearest opening act at your local dinner theater.

You might guess the problem with Sirens is that they distract from your true intent. You know what’s good for you, but the Sirens’ song is so attractive you drop everything. Lest you think you only need to be strong enough to withstand this temptation, think again. In real life, these songs are subtle.

Consider the classic “drip-drip-drip” every day of repetitive headlines. You don’t notice it at first, but after many days, you can’t not notice it. This is the premise behind what William James (aka “the father of American psychology”) meant when he said, “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.”

There’s a certain unsettling evil in this truism, for it forms the basis of all propaganda. No less an anti-hero than Adolph Hitler seized on it when he developed the concept of das Grosse Luge (“The Big Lie”) in Mein Kampf.

With deadly honesty, he wrote, “But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.”

If this passage haunts you, it should. It is the same “drip-drip-drip” technique I referred to above.

The good news is there’s a way out.


The expert I’ll refer to for this is none other than June Barrows Mussey (aka Henry Hay), the famous American journalist and translator who specialized in writing about magic and magicians. (Ironically, he was also an anonymous translator of an American edition of Mein Kampf.)

In his most famous work, The Amateur Magician’s Handbook, he wrote the secret to magic is “a manipulation of interest.” In other words, “misdirection.”

Call this “The Force” to Hitler’s Dark Side (“The Big Lie”). It turns out, while repeating lies can work against you, repeating daily affirmations can work for you.

French psychologist Emile Coué was the first to introduce the concept of optimistic autosuggestion. Does it always work? No, just like the Big Lie doesn’t always work.

On the other hand, practicing either improves the chances of attaining the desired outcome, whether that outcome is good or bad.

The key, again, is Mussey’s “manipulation of interest.”

How does this apply to retirement savers?

The distraction of record-breaking markets (aka “The Big Lie”) risks diverting savers from a sound plan of action. They must counter this distraction with yet another distraction.

This manipulation of interest must focus on positive behavior (akin to the “daily affirmation”). If retirement savers are too busy with activities that emphasize this positive behavior, then they’ll be too busy (in theory, at least), to be distracted by the extreme movements of the market (whether they be up or down).

Of course, that Siren sound can be pretty strong, and retirement savers, being all too human, can’t be trusted to keep themselves lashed securely to the mast.

It’s the job of the crew to keep them secure.

Who’s the crew?

You’re the crew.