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Mar 25

Financial Advisors: Recognize Distorted Thinking Habits

By Dr. Jack Singer | Advising the Advisors

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.

Mar 11

How Advisors Can Avoid Fear of Failure

By Dr. Jack Singer | Advising the Advisors , Self Improvement

In a recent post I talked about how Joe Flacco avoided the temptation to feel like an imposter in the 2013 Super Bowl. Despite few pundits giving the Ravens a chance in the game, and most of the attention focusing on the 49ers and their rookie quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, Flacco overcame any concerns that he did not belong on that stage. Any hint at feeling like an “imposter” disappeared when he scored his first touchdown against the 49ers.

“Imposter Fear” occurs when self-doubt creeps into ones’ psyche and rapidly undermines self-confidence.

As an example, I worked with an NFL quarterback who complained that he deserved to start and he was frustrated with his back-up role. When he was suddenly thrust into a starters role during a game because of an injury to the starting quarterback, he panicked and began to worry about embarrassing himself, his family and ultimately his team.

Here was a man whose goal was to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, but he had never dealt with the fact that underneath the façade of confidence was a frightened athlete, worried about whether he really had what it takes to start in the NFL. This man felt like an imposter—he looked great in practice, he was in great physical condition, he looked sharp in his uniform, but he felt as if he couldn’t back up his bravado and then he fell apart when given the opportunity. Clearly, this young man fell victim to the “Imposter Fear.”

Example number two: I worked with a financial advisor who was a very successful business major in college and he came into his interview with a brokerage firm with superb confidence. He had no problem getting hired. His confidence continued to grow, as he glided through the training program. In simulated training situations, he seemed confident and ready to go. But, when his manager ultimately tasked him to make cold calls to attract new clients, he took every hang-up and “no thank you” as a personal rejection, lost his confidence and it wasn’t long before he was suffering from what is called “telephobia,” or severe sales call reluctance (a subject I will address in a future article in this magazine).

This, of course, ate away at his confidence and he feared even calling his current clients, worried about not being able to address their questions and concerns about the market and the products he had recommended. He began to question whether this was a career path in which he could thrive. He, too, became another victim of “Imposter Fear.”

Certainly, Flacco, like most premier NFL quarterbacks, must have gone through the same doubts during or after games in which his performance suffered. But, how did he stay optimistic, ward off the fear of failing, and push through mental obstacles to ultimately win the Super Bowl?

Understand the origins of your “imposter fear.” Like professional football players, most financial advisors maintain an external persona of confidence, but if advisors are honest with themselves, many insecurities –including avoiding contacting aggressive clients during market collapses, or fearing that they will look weak if they can’t think quickly on their feet when challenged by their clients—linger beneath the surface. Such doubts raise their anxiety level every time they come to the office, especially on days the market is tanking.

Like most fears, the “imposter fear” is based on false beliefs; in this case the belief that you are really not as competent as you appear. Like most fears, “imposter fear” is learned. We are not hot wired with such a fear. And, any fear that is learned, can be un-learned! The best way to eradicate any fear is to begin by understanding the distorted thinking that causes it in the first place.

Most fears are unwarranted and irrational, but the emotions surrounding them are certainly powerful.

The late Zig Ziglar, world renowned motivational speaker, captured the essence of this when he defined F.E.A.R. as “False Evidence Appearing Real.” You see, we all have experienced distorting the reality of events and situations that take place in our lives and it’s that distortion that causes our emotions–not the events themselves. The distortion comes from our perceptions of the events and those perceptions are based on the self-talk habits that we have developed over the years. So, the key to all of our emotions is our inner dialogue about events that take place in our lives each day. And…the key to mastering your emotions and overcoming fears such as the “Imposter Fear,” is having insight into your inner dialogue patterns and how to modify them. In fact, teaching clients to understand their self-talk habits and how to modify them is the essence of the most powerful form of psychotherapy in use today…Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy.

As an example, let’s say that one morning, your assistant calls you to inform you that one of your clients left a very angry message and he wants you to call him as soon as you arrive at the office. This event does not cause your resultant emotion(s). What does cause your emotion is the internal message you give to yourself about the situation. You might say something like this to yourself after speaking with your assistant: “Oh, no, he’s going to complain about that new equity I purchased for him last week because it has lost a good portion of it’s value with the way the market has tanked in the last few days. I don’t want to feel like a teenager being chastised by his father. How can I avoid this call?”

If you fill your head with such negative, fear producing self-talk, your anxiety level will elevate dramatically and a normal response to such anxiety is avoidance…avoidance of the event that you anticipate will cause more anxiety. So you avoid the call or pass it on to someone else, if possible. From this episode, you could feel very vulnerable, and from there it’s easy to develop the infamous “imposter fear.” You beat yourself up with more self-talk about how you’re probably not cut out for this line of work, it’s much too stressful and you lose your confidence and look for an escape.

But…you have choices in terms of your self-talk and resultant beliefs about any situation. For the scenario above, here is an alternative set of thoughts you could have: “This client has an irrational expectation that every product or equity he purchases must increase in value continuously. I have explained to him the risk/benefit ratio many times and he went into this purchase with his eyes open. I will use my active listening skills (another subject I will address in a future article here) to settle him down, like I have done many times before. I feel wonderful about the care I take managing my clients’ wealth and this client’s irrationality is not a reflection on me, my skills or my expertise.”

So, ultimately, it’s not economic or stock market fluctuations that determine how confident or insecure you feel in your profession. It’s not disgruntled clients that determine how anxious you feel. Regardless of the situation, it’s always your “self talk” about these issues that determines whether you will thrive or struggle during difficult times. That little voice in your head is what I call your “internal critic,” and that critic is filled with negative, pessimistic, self-defeating and distorted thoughts.

Feb 18

What Advisors Can Learn from Joe Flacco

By Dr. Jack Singer | Advising the Advisors , Confidence

I don’t know Joe Flacco personally. But I know a thing or two about what it takes to become a champion, as he did by winning the 2013 Super Bowl.

With my 33 years of experience as a professional sports psychologist, I have counseled and trained many professional football players and world champion athletes. They all face challenges, adversities and setbacks during their careers One thing they had in common was that most “imposter fear” – a psychological obstacle that many advisors experience-

Imposter fear occurs when, no matter how much confidence or even swagger an athlete may display to teammates, opponents, coaches, or his fans, self-doubt nags at him, and he worries that he will be exposed as inadequate to the challenges he faces. In Joe Flacco’s case, he was always unheralded, first by entering the NFL out of I-AA Delaware. Pundits wondered if the unassuming Flacco could perform on the big stage of the Super Bowl, and they predicted that in the line of fire he wouldn’t compare to the much ballyhooed quarterback of the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick .

Advisors can also experience “imposter fear” – worrying that their success is owed to luck and somehow they’ve fooled others into believing they are skilled advisors. They believe that it’s only a matter of time before that luck runs out and they are exposed. This is a frightening prospect. They anticipate embarrassment and ultimate failure in their career. This fear of failure causes performance anxiety.

I have helped many athletes overcome their “impostor fear” to consistently perform at their best. The exact same set of skills I teach them can be employed by advisors. I was recently invited to consult with a wealth management firm whose president was concerned about inconsistent performance from a large percentage of his advisors. Moreover, because of the ailing economy and a roller-coaster stock market, his assets under management were declining sharply. [Note: For confidentiality reasons, the name of the firm is not mentioned and the advisor names listed below are not the actual names of my clients]

Following a series of confidential interviews with a sample of advisors in the firm, it became clear to me that many from anxiety, because of the market conditions and because of the somewhat unrealistic their president, but also because they harbored their own internal insecurities. I designed a series of training programs the advisors how to recognize and overcome their fears, maintain an optimistic and proactive approach with their clients, use active listening skills, overcome stress and anxiety related to their job and ultimately lead to their clients directing new referrals to them.

Jul 08

Advising the Advisors – Part III

By Dr. Jack Singer | Advising the Advisors , Stress

By Dr. Jack Singer
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Financial Advisor Trainer and Coach

It all Starts with Your “Internal Critic”

Recall that in my last segment, Advising the Advisors – Part 2: Buffer Yourself Against the Real Cause of ALL of Your Stress, I discussed the foundation of all stress, among advisors (and anyone else, for that matter) which is not, events, such as dealing with an angry client, having difficulty with your prospecting calls,  or the market tanking unexpectedly. it is your “self-talk” about each event that either causes stress or doesn’t.  And your self-talk habits are part of what I call your “Internal Critic.”

Your “Internal Critic” is that little voice within that spews out an average of 55,000 words per day, 77% of which are negative, self-defeating messages.  Current research in the field of Cognitive Psychology shows that self-limiting, negative and pessimistic thoughts (self-talk) inhibit your success because they undermine your self-confidence. Examples are thoughts that begin with variations of the following: “What if…,“I hope I don’t . . .” “I should have said . . .” “The client won’t like me if . . .” “I always have problems with . . .” “I probably won’t be able to close this sale,” or “I can’t believe how stupid I was to tell her . . .” 

The “impostor fear,” which I discussed in an earlier segment, and most other fears, are all learned habits.  Advisors who fear that they will fail to develop enough business to support their families were not born with that fear; it was learned by repeating negative self-statements for years.

The wisdom about how our inner thoughts and beliefs about events are critical to our well-being has been around 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.”

Negative, messages that pass through your mind immediately lead to muscle tightening, rapid breathing, and perspiring. These physiological responses are perceived as “stress,” so the more we allow these self-limiting thoughts continue unabated, the more stress we suffer.  What all advisors need is resiliency skills to counter the self-doubt and lack of confidence they frequently experience.

Overcoming the Internal Critic 

It’s one thing to recognize that you are producing stress by worrisome, anxiety-producing thoughts, but how do you avoid doing this during economic downturns and topsy-turvy market fluctuations?  The first step is to stop the negative thought as soon as you recognize it.

A trick that works is wearing a rubber band and snapping away whenever you catch yourself beginning one of your habitual negative thinking habits. Next, ask yourself some key questions about that thought, such as, “Do I have any evidence that I won’t be able to control my client’s rampage?”  “What can I do differently this time?”  Can I use ‘active listening’ (a subject of an upcoming column) to focus on his emotions and concerns, rather than justifying my recommendations in a defensive manner?”  “Can I assert myself with this client and not worry about losing him?”

Give yourself positive descriptions about who you are.  For example, tell yourself that you have helped many clients and their families to successfully manage their wealth through many market fluctuations and you can do so with this client as well.

You are, indeed, a wonderful financial advisor, but that doesn’t mean you can please every client.  Perhaps, if this client is a constant thorn in your side, it’s time to refer him elsewhere or recommend that he move on.  The income you will lose is not worth the constant aggravation he causes you. Your peace of mind is not worth the problems this client presents.  Being calmer will ultimately result in you making better decisions for your clients, so that the lost income will be quickly replaced.

Finally, take a series of slow, deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, until you feel calmer.  Simultaneously, visualize yourself feeling relief after having the upcoming conversation.

Practicing these simple techniques will help you to overcome the negative thinking habits that have caused the bulk of your stress.