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If you held Bitcoin back in 2013, you might remember the infamous BitcoinTalk post entitled, “I AM HODLING.” It was written by a drunk trader when the price of Bitcoin halved after one of its first bubbles, leading to a long Bitcoin bear market. His booze-fueled advice sparked a meme—and a trading strategy.
The strategy is simply: HODL your coins. That means not spending them, for a long time. It seems easy but it can be stomach wrenching to watch your portfolio drop by 80 percent and not do anything to stem your losses. But, Bitcoin has shown time and time again that it breaks up and out of bear cycles in the long run.
Still, humans are a fickle bunch, and hodling for the long run can feel like agony. So, how can you change your mindset to be okay with this challenging philosophy?
Jimmy Song, long time Bitcoin developer, and educator, has seen it all. Here are some pearls of wisdom he’d like to impart to you, dear reader. Just HODL on.
Take the long view
HODL for a year? Try five years years. Though it sounds dull, it actually makes sense. Bitcoin is prone to long-term bear markets that can last for years at a time. It can be hard to spot when the good times are truly about to start rolling in again. Song told Decrypt that you need to think long term in order to survive Bitcoin price’s high level of volatility. “If you hold five years you’re going to look like a genius.”
This advice isn’t exactly new. Infamous investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett—who has taken a skeptical view on cryptocurrencies—is known for saying a similar phrase about the stock market. “The stock market is a device to transfer money from the impatient to the patient.”
Ask not what Bitcoin can do for you...
Song’s second piece of advice in a Bitcoin bear market is that you should spend more time helping foster the Bitcoin ecosystem, and less time worrying about the price.
Anyone can contribute to helping educate others about what Bitcoin is and does. Even by providing good quality information on forums, like Reddit, or explaining to your friends how it works, is helpful in the long run. There are even artists who create work focused around cryptocurrencies, such as this French painter, or Trevor Jones who uses augmented reality to spread the Bitcoin gospel.
Song said that artists often ask him what they can do for Bitcoin and he recommends they focus their work on it. In this way, they can create an emotional connection between this abstract technology and everyday life. He pointed out this is what artists do anyway, even though their work isn’t usually focused on technology. “Trying to make the ecosystem better is another way to [help Bitcoin] survive.”
Diversify your finances
There’s nothing worse than investing in Bitcoin, watching the price drop 80 percent and then being forced to cash out at the bottom of the market because you need to buy food. This is usually a problem faced by those who have invested more than they can afford to lose—a key thing not to do.
Andreas Antonopoulos, an important Bitcoin figurehead who helped bring Bitcoin to the mainstream—check out his podcast with Joe Rogan—originally invested in 2013, but had to sell his investment to pay rent. The altruistic bitcoin community then donated the equivalent of $1.5 million to Antonopoulos' coffers, but that's not the point. Said Song: “Make sure you [have] income [outside of your investments so that] you’re not getting squeezed out of your bitcoin.”
I did invest, Roger. Then I sold in 2013 to pay my rent. I didn't have disposable income to work for two years without pay and invest at the same time. I should've gone into more debt, but that would have been irresponsible towards my family who I supported
— Andreas M. Antonopoulos (@aantonop) December 5, 2017
Keep your friends close, and your Bitcoin closer
It’s easy to keep your Bitcoin stored on an exchange, or a custodial wallet, where they look after your funds for you. But, there are huge security risks for doing so. Crypto exchanges have been hacked for nearly $1 billion so far, funds have been known to be frozen without warning and are possessed by courts for years and then you have things like QuadrigaCX. The Bitcoin community maxim, “Not your keys, not your coins,” is worth keeping in mind. If you don’t own your private keys, then you don’t possess your money. And why should you trust your money to someone else, when the entire point of Bitcoin is that you can control it yourself?
“Secure your keys and don’t keep your money on exchanges,” said Song. There’s one way to make sure that your funds won’t get stolen or tied up in a long court battle. Take your Bitcoin off the exchange and store it safely in your own software or hardware wallet. And don’t lose your keys.
Stick to Bitcoin
As any good Bitcoin maximalist would say in a Bitcoin bear market, Song advocates you should only back Bitcoin. He argued that other coins might be more fluid with their monetary policy whereas Bitcoin’s is written in stone. Song said: “Be careful with altcoins, because they’re all centralized. A lot of them hard fork, they can take money away, they can redistribute, they can inflate, they can do all of these things.”
Song said that other cryptocurrencies are often controlled by companies or small teams of developers who might be tempted to manipulate them, especially in the pressure of a bear market. He suggested there’s going to be a lot of financial pressure on the teams to “print more money and steal from you or do something weird. So be very careful.”
It looks like HODLing isn’t that easy after all.