Financial Advisors: Recognize Distorted Thinking Habits

By Dr. Jack Singer

Recently I discussed the foundation of all stress, mood and attitude issues is your “Internal Critic,” that little voice in your head that you listen to hundreds of times each day. Sadly, most of us allow negative, self-defeating, distorted thoughts to interfere with our work every day—unless we become aware of our thinking habits and take charge of them.

As Dr. David Burns, a pioneer in the field of Cognitive Therapy, puts it: “If you want to break out of a bad mood, you must first understand that every type of negative feeling results from a specific kind of negative thought.” Left unchallenged, the “Internal Critic” and its distorted thought patterns can quickly lead to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness.

Learning about the thinking patterns that you employ whenever you encounter difficult or challenging events is the first step in making life-altering changes in your thinking. This is a critical first step in changing the thinking habits that lead to depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Here are five examples of distorted thinking habits that advisors commonly face:

1. All or Nothing

“If I can’t make money for all of my clients, all of the time, despite market fluctuations, I feel like a failure.”

These thoughts are distorted because you look at your world as strictly black or white, good or bad. Such thinking often involves attempting to be perfect, which is obviously impossible.

2. Mind Reading

“My manager has probably lost faith in me because I haven’t landed the number of new clients that he expected this month.”

Mind reading is a very common thinking habit. You conclude that somehow you have an ESP-like understanding of what people are feeling and thinking about you. Even though you have no real evidence or proof that these people are having these thoughts or feelings about you, you just “feel” it, so you conclude it must be true.

3. Mental Filter

“Even though my performance review was positive across the board, my manager said I do need to improve my customer service skills when I am on the phone with clients. He must be disappointed in me.”

This form of distorted thinking involves having tunnel vision when it comes to positives in your life. You can have ten positive things said about you or your performance, but you dwell only on the single negative comment, as if the positives count for nothing. (The example above also involves the mind reading distortion.)

4. Magnification

“I must be a terrible advisor because the product I recommended for my client lost seven per cent of its value in a week. I made a huge mistake, I feel awful and I wouldn’t blame the client if he is disgusted. I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes his business elsewhere.”

In this kind of distorted thinking habit, you blow things out of perspective and dramatically intensify what is actually happening. You use dramatic descriptions, such as terrible, awful, huge and disgusted to describe situations and outcomes that are rarely that critical.

5. Catastrophising or Fortune-Telling

“What if I continue to get turned down in my cold calling? I will fail as an advisor, and since I don’t have another career I’d like to pursue, I’ll become a failure as a husband and provider for my family.”

Fortune-telling is predicting dramatically negative things happening, as if you have absolutely no control over them and your fate is sealed. A clue to this habit is the use of “what ifs” You take a situation, such as a week full of rejections from your cold calls, and blow this out of proportion by assuming that a disastrous outcome is on its way. You come to expect a catastrophic outcome, as if you have a crystal ball to look into the future and you usually expect that the outcome will be negative.

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