Recognizing the Real “Culprit” Causing Financial Advisor Stress

By Dr. Jack Singer

Most advisors believe that their stress is caused by the whole host of potential stressors inherent in their jobs, such as:

  • Feeling pressure to build your book of business
  • Maintaining your wealth management philosophies and strategies, while dealing with difficult and abusive clients whose lack of knowledge causes them to differ with you
  • Working for a difficult and demanding office manager
  • Having to maintain constant due diligence about fiduciary and compliance demands
  • Inevitable Market volatility
  • The economy and the impact on it by world politics, terrorism, etc.
  • Competition for client business
  • Not having complete trust that your team will handle issues to your satisfaction
  • Balancing work and family because of the time demands

Certainly all of these issues are present in the life of every advisor, but none of these issues necessarily causes stress!  You see, the stress we all carry along with us is rarely caused by events and situations that take place in our work or home lives. Stress mastery research teaches us that only about 10% of our stress is caused by events and situations that take place in our lives.  The other 90% of our stress is caused by the interpretations we make in our minds about those events and situations. The culprit is our self talk, which determines whether or not the situation will cause us stress. It goes like this:

  • (A) A Potentially Stress Producing Activating Event Takes Place on the Job (e.g., the Market tanks)
  • (B) Your Beliefs and Self-Talk About That Event Occur Immediately (You might say to yourself, “Great, now I’m going to hear from my client, Fred, who always panics when the market tanks”)
  • (C) The Consequent Emotions and Behaviors Occur (for example, feeling stressed, angry, hopeless, developing a headache and telling your secretary to hold all calls for the rest of the day, etc.)

The consequences of potentially stress-causing events are primarily determined by the belief systems you maintain and the self-talk habits you have developed since adolescence.  The good news is that you can learn to recognize and modify any thinking pattern.

An Advisor Case Study:

Susan had been working in a large wealth management firm for seven years and found herself doubting whether she could continue in her career because of the overwhelming stress she felt in the office most days.  For example, when clients called with challenging questions, she feared making a mistake, giving them the wrong advice, etc.  Susan dreaded each Monday, telling herself that this would probably be another week that would be filled with difficult challenges. In short, Susan was on her way to career burnout.

After contacting me for “success coaching,” Susan and I discovered the thinking and belief patterns (common for many advisors) that were the foundation of her stress.  The “culprit” was not the demands of her job, but her belief system and the self-talk in which she engaged when facing each challenging situation.

 Susan’s Long Held, Stress-PRODUCING Beliefs

  • I need to be liked, and respected by every client
  • To be respected by my clients, I need to have an answer for every question and concern, on the spot.
  • Ultimately, I will never have control over my personal happiness and stress levels.
  • When things go wrong in my career, it’s normal to worry excessively, even about things I can’t change.
  • I am a product of my genetics and upbringing and since my father is the same way and he suffers from stress on his job, I will always be the same.
  • There is a right and wrong way to deal with any issue that comes up in my advising role and it’s catastrophic if I can’t find the right way when issues come up.

Each of these beliefs is irrational, dysfunctional and not based on fact.  After working with Susan for only three sessions, she began to recognize whenever she engaged in such beliefs and immediately reframed them to healthy, more rational thoughts, such as the following:

Susan’s New Stress-REDUCING Beliefs

  • It would be nice to be liked and respected by every client, but that is unrealistic and out of my control.
  • My competence and self-esteem is based on all of my education and experience, not on having to have an answer, on the spot, to any question asked of me.
  • I have learned how to exercise great control over my own happiness and stress. Stress is determined internally, by my self-talk, which I can control.
  • Excessive worrying is counter-productive to my happiness and well-being. I now know several techniques to employ whenever I catch myself worrying.
  • While genetics and past experience can influence my behavior, I can learn to modify a great deal of my thinking and I will practice those techniques. People certainly can and do change.
  • There are many ways to “skin a cat.” Rarely is there only a right and a wrong way.  I am learning to be flexible in dealing with the challenges my job presents and patient until I discover the best solution for each challenge.  I never panic if I don’t have a solution immediately.

Once Susan practiced these new forms of self-talk, her stress level significantly reduced, and she found joy and happiness in her career. She has now been working in the same firm for ten years, looks at each week as full of opportunities and she has even been promoted!

Action Plan:

  • Make a comprehensive list of the most stressful situations you face on your job.
  • Write down what your thoughts are about each situation and be honest with yourself.
  • Review the list of stress-producing belief patterns and discover which ones resonate with you.

Change your self-talk and counter each belief pattern, using the examples from Susan’s new series of beliefs.