By Dr. Jack Singer
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Financial Advisor Trainer and Coach
In my initial article Advising the Advisors – Part 1, I talked about the surveys done with financial advisors right after the 2008 financial crisis and the alarming percentage of advisors who actually suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. We don’t know how many advisors actually retired or tried to change their careers in response to the stress they endured, but in an effort to avoid or escape stress many people (not only advisors, of course) change careers. That certainly introduces new stressors, and so the cycle continues.
The good news is that anyone can learn how to buffer themselves against any stressor, and thus avoid making dramatic, and sometimes disastrous, career decisions as a result.
First, recognize the real source of your stress. “Stress” is an overused term, yet in our competitive and impatient culture, and with chaos rampant around the globe, examples of stress are with us constantly. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent annually for stress-related medical insurance claims, workers’ compensation benefits, reduced productivity, poor product quality, absenteeism, spillover into marital and family problems, and even drug and alcohol abuse, which is often a desperate attempt to cope with the stress. Stress symptoms may include, anxiety, fear, depression, burnout, and a whole host of possible physical symptoms. Stress has even surpassed the common cold as the most prevalent health problem in America!
For most of us, work challenges, managing our teens, and pleasing our spouses represent daily stressors. But these potentially negative events, do not cause stress! It is our perception of the events—our thoughts about those events—that determines whether or not we will experience stress as a result.
Negative events do not cause stress. Most people assume that specific events—particularly negative ones– that they are faced with “cause” their stress. For example, the economic disaster of 2008 was a series of “events,” none of which directly caused stress for advisors. It was not the events, per se, but each advisor’s perception of those events and the simultaneous the“self-talk” that the advisor engaged in during and following those events that determined whether or not the advisor experienced stress, and how much.
Your feelings of stress, including all of the symptoms mentioned above, are not directly caused by the necessity to make cold calls, generate referrals, market fluctuations, disgruntled clients, fiduciary and compliance hassles, etc. These events may invite you to feel stressed, but they do not cause stress. Specifically, your perception of these situations and what you say to yourself about them determines whether or not you will suffer from stress symptoms. If you perceive potentially stress-causing events in a negative, self-defeating, pessimistic, or overwhelming sense, you will certainly become stressed.
However, if you perceive those same events as challenges which you will be able to master and give yourself positive, empowering, optimistic thoughts about them, your stress will be markedly reduced.
Here is an example of an event that actually took place in my life. I was booked to be the opening general session speaker for an important financial advisor’s conference. Attendees had flown in from all over the country for this conference. Soon after I landed at the first airport where I was to transfer for my final flight, a major storm moved into the area, grounding all flights for the remainder of the day and night. It became clear that I would be able to get to the conference in time to open it the next morning.
While one might consider this situation to be extremely “stressful,” the situation, per se, would not be the source of my stress. What I said to myself about the situation would determine how stressed I would feel.
For example, if I was worried about upsetting the meeting planner and leaving the audience hanging, that would cause me to feel symptoms of stress.
To continue my example, when I learned that the flight was cancelled (the negative event), I had a choice regarding what I could say to myself. One option is: “Oh, that’s just great…now I won’t make the meeting, everyone is there expecting a rousing keynote, they’ll be disappointed and the meeting planner for the conference will be so angry at me that she’ll never book me to conduct a program again.”
Such a negative, self-defeating statement would immediately activate the nervous system necessary to deal with life-threatening situations, my brain would conclude that I was in an emergency and my body would react accordingly. My blood pressure would rise, my anxiety spike, and my behavior might become irrational…all resulting from my worried perception of a situation over which I had no control.
You do have control over your self-talk. This is really important to remember. Although we are creatures of habit, we can learn to change any habit that causes stress for us. In fact, in her wonderful little book, Change Almost Anything in 21 Days, Ruth Fishel describes research that shows how quickly people can change their stress producing self-talk.
Back to my example, suppose that when I learned that the flight was cancelled, I said to myself the following: “It is what it is! This is really unfortunate and I feel badly that I will not be there on time, but it is absolutely beyond my control. I will phone the meeting planner right away and see if she would like me to find a substitute speaker who is based in the city where the conference is being held.”
Also, I could have suggested, “Perhaps we can postpone my keynote until the last day of the Conference, when I will definitely be able to get there.”
If these possibilities were not acceptable, I could have even suggested that, “I can do the keynote through a tele-conference via Skype, for example. That way, with the audience all situated in the meeting room, I can arrange to do the keynote by interactive television and have a dialogue, etc..” I could even have used this example with them when I discussed how their self-talk always determines their emotional, attitudinal and behavioral responses to dramatic events, over which they have no control!
Bringing this example into the everyday realm of the financial advisor, consider getting a message from your assistant that your least favorite client is angry about how poorly the last product/equity you recommended is doing in the current, downward market and he wants you to call him as soon as possible.
Again, this potentially negative event does not have to be stressful, depending on the self-talk in which you engage. For example, you could say to yourself: “I hate it when this client gets angry whenever the market dips and he blames me. I would like to dump him and suggest he find another advisor.” Just imagine how your stress and anxiety will spike if you give yourself that message.
But, remember, you have choices. You could tell yourself that you will use the active listening skills you have learned (as detailed in an upcoming Advising the Advisors segment) to allow the client to vent, empathize with his frustration, and once he is calm, remind him how you went over the risks with him when he purchased the product/equity and that this dip in the market is like all past dips—temporary. Explain to him that your overall strategy in helping him manage and expand his wealth takes these unpredictable market dips into account and the strategy is still viable. Gently point out to him that patience will prove to be his most valuable learned skill, etc.
Using this technique you can convince yourself that, although you still wish that you didn’t have to deal with this client, you have dealt successfully with him before and you will so once again.
To conclude, the amount of stress you feel is ultimately up to you, isn’t it? Will you listen to the rational, positive voice in your head, or will you fall prey to the irrational, negative, “Internal Critic”? The choice determines your stress level and the choice is always yours!