Allow me to acknowledge first that much of this article is inspired by Dr. Bob Rotella’s book, The Golfer’s Mind (2004, Free Press), particularly Chapter Three, “Goals and Dreams.” If you are not familiar with Bob Rotella, he is a pioneer in the field of sports psychology and a preeminent counselor to players on the professional golfing circuit. He has also been a performance enhancement consultant to major corporations.

I think that The Golfer’s Mind is a great book, and that it contains ideas about positive thinking, objectives, and practices that are applicable far beyond golf, to life itself.

Rotella’s concepts are as valid in investing as they are in golf.

In his book, Rotella makes a distinction between a person’s ultimate goals and his or her intermediate objectives which will help achieve the ultimate goals. That distinction is also one of the most important building blocks in the foundation for an investor’s ultimate success.

In golf, for example, a Tour pro’s ultimate goals–which Rotella calls “dreams”–might include winning one of the four Majors, or making the Ryder Cup team. A duffer’s ultimate goals might include breaking 80 or earning a single-digit handicap. (Those, in fact, are my own goals in golf.)

Rotella distinguishes these ultimate or long-range goals from what he calls “process goals.” In Rotella’s words, “So often, success comes from patiently and persistently doing the right things over and over. Process goals are the to-do lists’ of players striving for excellence.” It is the process goals–as applied to investing–which I want to emphasize in this article.

Your ultimate goal as an investor might be to beat the Dow Jones Industrial Average by 10 percentage points, year in and year out. (This, in fact, was Warren Buffett’s goal in his first investment partnership). Or it might be to accumulate enough wealth to retire at age 50 or 55.

But how do you get there? With process goals–the sound practices that you follow day in and day out, week by week, month by month, and year by year throughout your investing life. Following your process goals gives you the best chance of achieving your ultimate goals.

What are some of the process goals that a Sensible Stock Investor might adopt in order to achieve his or her ultimate goals or dreams?

* Know your ultimate goals and construct strategies to reach them. Write them out and review them from time to time.

* Remember Buffett’s Rule #1: Don’t lose money. Maintain a fiduciary duty to yourself.

* Rate or “score” companies in an orderly, sensible fashion, every time. Never invest based on a hot tip or partial information. Some sub-goals here would include: (1) Pick only excellent companies to invest in. Avoid ones with major flaws. (2) If you are interested in a company, write out its “story” in a few sentences. If you can’t understand it enough to do that, don’t invest in it. (3) Invest only in companies with good prospects for sustained earnings growth. Companies which dominate their fields and have clear competitive advantages will be best able to sustain earnings growth. (4) Don’t trust management which has demonstrated lack of integrity. (5) Beware of companies with lots of debt. Excessive debt is as hard for companies to handle as it is for you.