What Were You Thinking?

By: John Steuernol

What were you thinking?We all have misbehaved at times. Maybe it was a fight with a sibling, a silly prank at school or some mischief in the neighborhood. Whatever it was when finally caught, some authority figure, most likely a parent would say: “What were you thinking?”

And of course we were not thinking and that’s why it happened. We were working on pure instinct, perhaps a sense of adventure or the thought: “I wonder what I can get away with today”. If my parents had ever known that I tried to commandeer a 10 car train out behind our house when I was ten years old, I probably would have got a lot more than “what were you thinking?”

As I got older I found myself moving away from a pure reactionary instinctive non thinking mode, to a condition where I would do a lot of thinking, perhaps even too much some times. A refrain from my old colleagues in military college was: “ Steuernol, you think too much!”

The shift from ‘what were you thinking’ as a pure reactionary or impulsive response became replaced with “enough with the thinking, time to get on with things.”

Ours is a business where there is a lot to think about. As I write this article this morning, the TSX has breached the 14,000 mark, a remarkable return from where it was just a few years ago. Money is literally pouring into equities around the world. Those who sat on the sidelines for the past two years are probably kicking themselves. Those who have participated in this wonderful rally may be wondering if it's time to park the money again; so many things to think about.

The investment advisory business is in my opinion 85% psychology and a little bit of math. We need to manage our own emotions well, if we have any hope of effectively corralling the inevitable emotions of our clients.

The thinking and analysis required to perform well in this business can easily lead to a lot of over-thinking and over-analysis even paralysis by analysis, a common affliction. When you combine the enormous amount of information we are required to process in any given day with the protective tendency of the brain and it’s ability to give 50 times more weight to a perceived threat than to a reward, you can begin to get a sense of the dimension of the problem. Add to this the uniquely creative capacity of the sub-conscious mind that often times just makes things up, you can begin to appreciate the challenges many advisors face.

Almost every week I coach someone who has become overwhelmed by the information and mental processing demands of this business. Here are some of the simple things I suggest.

  1. Recognize that there will always be too much information and that you cannot possibly process everything that’s out there. Learn to be discriminating in terms of what you’ll pay attention to.
  2. Limit yourself in times of the sites you’ll visit on-line and how much time you’ll spend surfing.
  3. Decide what your brand of financial advice giving will look like and purposely ignore the rest. There are many great ways to help clients accomplish their financial goals. You only need to focus on that system or process that works for you and then take on only those clients who are a great fit with your particular brand or style.
  4. Recognize when your brain has gone into over-drive with over-thinking or over-analyzing and simply tell yourself to ‘stop it’.
  5. Ask a friend to watch for the tell tale signs that you are thinking too much. Our friends always see the problem before we do. Invite them to help you.
  6. Remind yourself that clients usually do not appreciate the same level of detail we seem to enjoy. My experience has been that less that 10% of clients really want or need a high level of detail. Client’s lives are already complex enough. We don’t need to add to the complexity by giving them too much to analyze or think about.
  7. When a negative thought arrives on the landscape of your mind, refuse to give it an audience. Negatives thoughts can come and go on their own. Dwelling on the negative thought is the real problem.
  8. Remember, you can choose what you’ll ultimately pay attention to, so choose wisely.
  9. If you are unsuccessful in controlling your thought processes, consider investigating two powerful and related techniques: Emotional Freedom Technique and Thought Field Therapy. Dr. Roger Callahan, the creator of Thought Field Therapy has written a great book called ‘Tapping, The Healer Within’.

Emotions will rise and fall, thoughts will come and go and we do have control over what we choose to pay attention to. We just need to remember that we have a lot more control than we sometimes give ourselves credit for.

So remember, ‘stop with all the thinking’, and get on with things!

John Steuernol
Your ‘At The Moment Coach’
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