4 Common Self-Talk Habits that Increase Financial Advisor Stress and Burnout

By Dr. Jack Singer

In a recent article, I discussed how the real cause of all stress, is how people interpret events and situations that take place in their lives, particularly in their advising jobs.  The culprit is our self-talk, which always determines whether or not the situation will cause us stress. To review, using as an example the market volatility events of the past month, it goes like this:

  • (A) A Potentially Stress Producing Activating Event Takes Place on the Job (e.g., unpredictable market volatility as a result of major declines in the energy sectors)
  • (B) Your Beliefs and Self-Talk About That Event Occur Immediately (You might say to yourself, “Several of my clients panic when the market drops precipitously and they will be calling me asking why I didn’t see this coming.”
  • (C) The Consequent Emotions and Behaviors Occur (You might feel all of the symptoms of anticipatory stress, frustration and even anger, waiting for calls from difficult clients)

Events are neutral. Stress and anxiety are the result of unchecked, negative self-talk patterns that you consistently use following these events.  The good news is that you can learn to control your self-talk. Once you recognize that you are engaging such thinking patterns, you can modify them, thus dramatically reducing the stress.

Four Common Negative Self-Talk Patterns

Here are four of the most common negative, self-defeating self-talk patterns that people unconsciously and automatically use on a regular basis.  (In my next article, I will include another four)

  • All or Nothing (“If any strategy I give to any of my clients fails, then I’m a failure.”)
  • Magnification (“It would be really awful to have a client lose faith in me.”)
  • Mind Reading (“I can tell that my managing director is disappointed in me.”)
  • Catastrophizing or Fortune Telling (“What if I can’t build my book of business because potential clients have lost faith in the market and in advisors during these turbulent times?”)

An Advisor Case Study:

Steve had been working in a wealth management firm for four years.  While he really enjoyed his colleagues on the team, he was intimidated by his managing director.  When he observed how calm the director remained, despite frantic calls from clients during weeks of market volatility, for example, Steve told himself that it would be awful to have clients lose faith in his “inability” to forecast such market fluctuations (Magnification). He believed that he had to be able to “always” have an answer for every question clients might ask him (All or Nothing).

When Steve’s prospecting success was slow, he assumed that his Managing Director was disappointed in him and would eventually fire him (Mind Reading and Fortune Telling).

Steve felt helpless and hopeless.  He considered resigning from the firm and looking for a new career.  Fortunately, before doing so, he engaged my coaching services.  I helped him to understand that his stress, fear, anxiety and feelings of helplessness/hopelessness were all the direct result of his self-defeating self-talk patterns that he engaged in regularly.

We began to replace these stress-producing thinking patterns with healthy, rational thoughts, such as this series of thoughts:

I will never be able to please every client because many clients insist on perfection and with the market that is impossible.  If a client has this agenda, then I have the option of gently referring him out of our practice.  The relief I will feel will be well worth the fees lost.”

“When I begin to assume that my Managing Director has an issue with me, I will assertively ask for a moment of his time to see what, if anything, is bothering him regarding my performance.  I’m sure that I’m either over-thinking and completely wrong about his beliefs about my performance or if he does have criticism, I can learn from it and thrive. I will ask his advice and the advice of other more seasoned advisors about strategies to prospect for clients during these economic times.”

Practicing exposing his negative, irrational, over-analyzing thinking habits and learning how to counter each negative thought dramatically ramped up Steve’s confidence.  Today he is among the top producers in his firm!

Action Plan:

  • Understand that every day you have choices regarding how you can think about your job and yourself. Negative, self-defeating thinking patterns are counterproductive and always lead to stress.
  • Choose to not repeat those negative self-talk patterns.
  • Keep a list of common negative, self-defeating thought patterns and observe which ones you use regularly.
  • Practice challenging your negative thinking by looking at positive, optimistic ways to respond to unfortunate events.
  • Write down what your thoughts are about each situation and be honest with yourself.