The best way to eradicate fear is to begin by understanding the distorted thinking that causes it to appear in the first place.
“Imposter Fear” is based on false beliefs; believing that you are really not as competent as you appear to others and it’s only a matter of time before your incompetence is uncovered for all to see. “Imposter Fear” is a learned response to events and situations that you encounter in your job and it can lead you to feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. For a financial advisor, unpredictable stock market fluctuations, hostile calls from clients, being responsible for managing clients’ retirement nest eggs, overwhelming paperwork, and compliance/fiduciary issues are events and situations that potentially could cause such a fear. The key word here is “could,” because fear and anxiety do not have to result from dealing with such situations.
Ultimately, it’s not economic or stock market fluctuations that determine how confident or insecure you feel in your profession. It’s not dealing with disgruntled clients that determines how anxious you feel. Instead, it’s always your “self talk” about these issues that determines whether you will thrive or struggle during difficult times.
The culprit is your “internal critic.” Your “self-talk” is that little voice in your head, which I call your “internal critic,” and when that voice is filled with negative, pessimistic, self-defeating and distorted thoughts, insecurity and fear build within you. That little voice spews out thoughts which contain an average of 55,000 words per day, and studies show that for many of us, up to 77% of those thoughts are negative, self-defeating messages. Examples of such fear producing self-talk are, “My manager is difficult to deal with, and I will always have problems with him,” or “I can’t please this client because he constantly asks difficult questions. I wish I could get rid of him!”
The wisdom about how our inner thoughts and beliefs about events are critical determinants of our well-being has been proposed by scholars for centuries. The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “Men are disturbed not my things, but by the views which they take of them.” In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote, “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Famous psychoanalyst, Alfred Adler put it simply: “We are influenced not by the facts, but by our interpretation of the facts.”
Researcher Shad Helmstedder spent his career studying the impact of negative thinking on both our fears and emotions. He concluded that, “All of us have collected thoughts and beliefs and ideas about ourselves that weigh us down and hold us back from reaching so many of the opportunities that life holds in store for us.” By repeating negative beliefs and ideas, we negatively program our sub-conscious minds and undermine our confidence.
How to take charge of your “internal critic.” We now know that our “internal critic” consists of persistent patterns of negative, self-defeating thoughts that we habitually employ whenever we encounter difficult situations or events. So, as noted above, in the work life of the advisor there are daily situations that are unpredictable and which can lead to self-defeating thinking. However, once you learn how to modify and control your negative thinking, you will take charge of your goal to be the most influential and powerful advisor you can be to your clients.
How do advisors know when they are engaging in negative, anxiety provoking thoughts? There are key words and phrases that trigger negative thoughts: Examples of such trigger phrases are: “What if . . .,” “I hope I don’t . . .” “I should have said . . .” “I can’t . . .” “I always have problems with . . .” “This client is impossible…” “If I can do this…” “Maybe this would be best…”“I feel overwhelmed because…” “I will never be able to satisfy…” and “I’ll bet he is just trying to annoy me because…” Each of these triggers leads to negative emotions.
The road to changing these patterns begins by keeping a notebook next to you at your desk and every time you catch yourself using one of these trigger phrases, simply write it down. In a week you will clearly see the negative thinking patterns in which you engage. Be conscientious and write them all down. People are eleven times more likely to change a habit it if they write it down (rather than just thinking about it), so don’t skip recording any of these trigger examples.
Below is an easy-to-learn, five-step game plan for eradicating these triggers and the unfortunate emotions that follow. Just like a world champion athlete, this is how you develop mental toughness:
Game Plan Step 1: Once you recognize the specific trigger phrases that you tend to use, you can stop those phrases dead in their tracks. Put on a loosely fitting rubber band on your wrist and every time you catch yourself beginning a negative, self-defeating thought (such as, “What if I don’t know how to answer my client’s question?”), snap that rubber band, while telling yourself (with gusto) to “stop this silly thinking!”
Game Plan Step 2: Take a deep, calming breath, in through your nose slowly and deeply, holding it to the count of four, then exhale completely from your mouth, to the count of seven, pushing out every last bit of air. Repeat this a few times and you will quickly dissolve away anxiety and experience relaxing sensations.
Game Plan Step 3: Challenge every negative thought with questions, such as “Do I really have any evidence that what I’m afraid will happen, will actually happen or am I simply anticipating the worst?” Just because I have a scary thought doesn’t mean it has to play out that way. Why not visualize myself calmly handling this situation and see how relieved I will be when I accomplish that?”
Once you challenge your negative, pessimistic thoughts and change your thinking to more realistic ideas, you will recognize that most of your fears are just fabrications of the worst case scenario and you really do have more control over your situation then you ever gave yourself credit for.
Game Plan Step 4: Remind yourself of your identity statement. An “identity statement,” is a complimentary description about the value you bring to your clients and the goal of having such a statement in mind is to boost your confidence whenever you doubt yourself. For example, “I am a very successful advisor. In my career, I have overcome many obstacles and helped my clients to successfully navigate economic roller coasters. I am proud that I have helped many families to preserve and enhance their wealth and my success is not based on having to be perfect.” Repeat this statement until you strongly believe in yourself and your skills.
Game Plan Step 5: You anchor this mental toughness routine by once again taking a deep, calming breath, in through your nose slowly and deeply, holding it to the count of four, then exhale completely from your mouth, to the count of seven, pushing out every last bit of air. Once again, repeat this a few times and you will quickly dissolve away anxiety and will produce relaxation.
This is the same five-step mental toughness game plan that I teach to professional and world champion athletes. I don’t know if Joe Flacco employed this strategy every time he tried to overcome anxiety, fears and doubts, but I do know that if you embrace this strategy consistently, you will maintain the mindset of a CHAMPION ADVISOR!
Author and professional speaker Dr. Jack Singer is a licensed Clinical, Sports and Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, author, trainer and consultant. His expertise includes a Doctorate in Industrial / Organizational Psychology and a Post-Doctorate in Clinical / Sports Psychology.