Over the past couple of decades, the financial advice industry has evolved from being based primarily on one-off transactions with dozens or often one or several hundred individuals that an advisor may interact with (often only once every few years), to being focused on providing ongoing advice for a tighter group of clients that the advisor meets with several times each year. One of the greatest features that has emerged as part of that evolution (and attracts people into the profession itself) is the depth of ongoing relationships that advisors develop with the clients they serve. The feeling of playing a key role in helping families reach their financial goals provides a high level of both personal and professional satisfaction, and can become deeply gratifying personally as those relationships last for several decades (and across multiple generations). Sometimes, however, advisors can become so attached to their clients that it becomes difficult to separate a client’s stress from their own… which can eventually take its toll on the advisor’s own health.
In our 58th episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and financial advisor communication expert Carl Richards discuss some of the things that advisors can do to stop thinking (and worrying) about their clients quite so much, strategies to regain some mental health balance in their lives, and ways create (and maintain) some separation from work outside of regular office hours.
As a starting point, some initial steps advisors can take in order to stop thinking and worrying so much about whatever may be stuck in their heads is by simply writing it down! Whether doing it digitally (with a dedicated note-taking app like Evernote) or by going ‘old-school’ with a pen and paper, the physical act of just typing (or writing) out the client issue on the advisor’s mind can often have a purging effect, as it gives advisors a way to get whatever it is that they’re stuck on out of their heads and into a place where they know they’ll be able to go back to it… with the caveat being that they have to make reviewing those notes (at an appropriate time) part of their routine (but at the same time, can let go of the issue for the immediate time being!).
From there, advisors can become proactive about making small changes to their routines and habits around sleep, exercise, and diet, to preserve their own mental health. Incremental steps, like going for a mid-day stroll, doing anything that doesn’t involve a screen before going to bed, and turning off notifications from work-related apps after a specific time, can go a long way. Or, in other words, taking those incremental steps can help advisors put “air in their shocks”, which can help them build up the resilience they need to better react to and manage stressful situations as they do inevitably arise.
Ultimately, the key point is that financial advice is, at its core, a helping profession, and as such, attracts people who want to have a positive impact on other people’s lives. However, it's crucial for advisors to realize that they are also important, and if they don’t protect their own physical and mental health, they simply won’t be able to help their clients. By focusing on getting some exercise, eating healthier, getting better sleep, and jotting down whatever it is that’s stuck in their heads, advisors can be proactive about making sure that they’re able to serve their clients to the best of their ability!
***Editor's Note: Can't get enough of Kitces & Carl? Neither can we, which is why we've released it as a podcast as well! Check it out on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher.
- Bill Winterberg
- Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker
- James Clear
- The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
- B.J. Fogg
- Cal Newport
Kitces & Carl Podcast Transcript
Michael: Greetings, Carl.
Carl: Michael, how are you?
Michael: I'm doing well. I'm doing well. You were...
Carl: Nice blue shirt.
Michael: Thank you.
Carl: Is that a new one?
Michael: Yeah, yes, actually. Anticipating as spring comes, as vaccines start getting going, it's like there's this visible horizon that maybe I'll get to start traveling again. Yes, I actually have a fresh batch of new blue shirts.
Carl: It shows. I like that. That is a good one. I think it's a slightly different color blue.
Michael: Yeah, it is a tiny bit crisper or just...
Carl: Or indigo. I think I'm going to call it indigo.
Michael: I'm a simple man. I've got blue and not blue. I'll have to take your word on indigo.
So, for our discussion today, we were talking last episode about just the dynamics of these clients that we get so attached to. So on the one hand, it gets really hard if they're unprofitable, we have to figure out if we're going to let them go or how to do that. And there's one set of challenges there. But we had kind of a separate question to me that ran in parallel on this theme, which is just a lot of us do this to be helpers. It's a service profession, it's a helping profession. We want to help people. We're wired to help people. And it can get to the point, for some of us, where it's so hard to let go of clients and their client issues that at best it wears on us. Their issues become our issues. Their stress becomes our stress. When times are stressful, it gets more stressful for us. So the question that come is, is the other end of this, how do you just not think about your clients all the time and get some mental life balance?
How To Stop Worrying About Client Issues All The Time And Get Some Mental Balance [02:52]
Carl: Yeah, such an important question. And that really hits home. I remember, it was really 2008, 2009, and then it continued for me for '10, '11, '12 because I was waiting for the next shoe to drop. And I always remember feeling like, "I don't know if I can handle that again." And the reason I didn't know if I can handle it again was I was thinking about Dan and Barbara, and I was thinking about Jerry and Veera, and I was thinking about specific people because they had...and I'm exaggerating a little bit when I say this, but they had cried my office. I knew what the money was for. And so, that's a really, really good question. What have you found?
Michael: For me, the biggest thing, and this isn't even just specific to clients, I feel like I live with this all the time that just, it's the ADHD in me, I just can't turn off. It's really hard for me to turn off.
Michael: Yeah, go figure. I'll say, the single biggest thing for me for working through this is just my brain gets stuck on it could be a client thing, it could be a team thing. Just literally, get it out of your head and write it down. So for me, the app of choice just became Evernote because it's what I started using eight years ago or something, and now it's a habit. So it just sits there. So I have a zillion and one different Evernotes. But just the actual act of writing it down (or thumbing it out on my smartphone) but the actual act of writing it down, it has this purging effect, I find, for the distraction or the not being able to go over things. So I wrote it down, it's there. I know I'm coming back to it. I'm not just saying I'm going to come back to it, and then it flits away because then we don't want to let it go because we're afraid we're going to forget to come back to it.
I wrote it down in a place that I know I regularly reference, because I've created that structure for myself. And writing it down gets it out of my head and then I can get my headspace back. So wherever I am, I will pull out that phone for a minute, hop into Evernote and jot it down. I've got a thing for blog notes. I literally have one that's just called random ideas of just I had a thing in my head. I've got a different one for business ideas. I've got a different one for notes for clients or other things that we're currently working on. Just a place to put it because if you don't have a place to put it, it just continues to rest in your brain and keep circulating.
Carl: Totally. No, I love that one. I love that one. I think where I would go... I think that's awesome and I do a very similar thing. And I have a similar... Sometimes people will always ask me, "Yeah, but what do you call the category? Random Thoughts."
Michael: Yeah, mine is...there is one literally called Random Ideas. There's another one that's just called Business Ideas. Don't overthink this.
Carl: I have one called Unorganized Matter. Really, it's just like where all the stuff goes instead of miscellaneous. So yeah, where I would go is the same place I would go with all mental health. And I'm using the term mental health lightly. I don't mean mental, mental health. I mean just keeping our sanity. And that's just general resilience. I think these things... And it sounds, I remember this...gosh, I remember like it was yesterday. I remember being up, whatever, in the middle of the night waiting for Asia to open or something in 2008, because I was much more heavily investment-focused back then. And my wife coming in and saying, "Hey, you should really go to sleep." Or another version of that would be in the middle of the day just buried in work and my wife would come and say, "Hey, you should take the dog for a walk."
And I remember thinking, "Take the dog for a walk?" I wouldn't react this way to her, hopefully. But it was like in my head I was like, "I'm dying!" And so, these small little things I'm going to suggest are things that I remember reacting to and being like, "Seriously, I'm not going to do that." But to me, this is all a function of keeping air in the shocks. Because when there's no air in the shocks, we all know that ride is much more...it's much bumpier. And our friend Bill Winterberg will especially relate to this on a mountain bike. Keeping air in the shocks, much, much smoother ride. It doesn't mean that the terrain changed. And so simple little things are...and the number one place I would start is sleep. Go read Matthew Walker's book, it's not hard to figure out how to... Well, sorry, it's not complicated to figure out how to get good sleep, though it might be really hard.
Michael: It might be really hard.
Carl: Sleep, getting up and moving around. I haven't found massive benefit. I think it's the best investment I've ever made, and it was expensive, of hiring a strength coach. And I go every... We just started again, we took a year off while we were in London because I couldn't find a gym in lockdown. But every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I'm lifting relatively heavy stuff, for me heavy stuff. And so sleep, lifting heavy things, and then diet. And I know it's like, "What does that have to do with letting go?" It gives you air in the shocks. And when we have air in the shocks, we can do these other things like take a note. And you got to get a little air in the shock in order for you to put the phone down before you go to bed so your sleep gets a little better. And so it's all marginal.
It's all... James Clear isn't the first one to say this, but he's done a pretty darn good job of talking about it, just these little, small marginal gains, little marginal benefits. I think it's all marginal. So the stuff that feels what I would do, and I know who asked this question, and this is good, good people asking these questions, is I would find what's the one micro action? What's the one smallest thing I could do? That's literally the first thing out of bed, I'm going to walk outside for five minutes. Just do that. I got to a place...I'm just going to review. I got to...I remember being in 2009 so paralyzed by my concern for clients. And we all had our own concerns, too, like we all do. We're also humans going through pandemics.
So you layer on that, I remember being so, and everything felt so out of control. My ability to stop thinking about them and looping, like you said, looping on Dan and Barbra, Dan and Barbra, Dan and Barbra, what happens to Dan and Barbra? I couldn't. And I remember...this is going to sound kind of California woo-woo, but I remember I was listening to Eckhart Tolle's audible book, "The Power of Now," and it got to the point where my micro action was my own breath. It was like the only thing I could get control of was my own breath. That's where I had to start. And that sense of control expanded a bit over time to where I was like, "Okay, how do I deal with that situation, or that situation, or that situation? And how do I deal with the fact that I need to set Dan and Barbara down and go on a walk so I can get good sleep?"
So I just think find one small micro action based on resilience, I think the place to start is sleep because sleep is foundational to all the rest. And then that will give you the ability because the ultimate thing that would be helpful in this situation is meditation. Simply because you can start noticing when you're looping, and you can go, "Oh, that's right. I don't need to loop anymore." But getting yourself to meditate when you're in a state where you can't even get yourself to go to walk. So just build, build, build, build, build small, small micro action, tinniest thing. I define a micro action as so small that you don't even think it matters. So it should be so small where you're like, "That's ridiculous." Floss one tooth. That's an example that...I can't remember the Stanford professor's name, “Tiny Habits”.
Michael: BJ Fogg.
Carl: BJ Fogg, right. Floss one tooth. Well, of course. So that would be my suggestion is just general resilience, to give ourselves air in the shocks, so we can do some of the mental training and the work to let clients down. And then maybe start with this, gosh, give yourself a little bit of a break. The fact that you're doing that is a sign that you care, and we need more people like that. And so, let's not beat ourselves up for that action. Let's just figure out how to put it in the right container so that we can... Because if you can't fix that, you won't be around 10 years from now to take care of those people.
Breaking The Loop [12:33]
Michael: Yeah. To me, I love the discussion of have some air in your shocks. Just have some space to be able to absorb the ups and downs and not have them knock you around so much that you can't get focus or get control again. I find so much of it is just...I think you used the right word, we loop. We get stuck in a loop because we want to help them and so it's hard to get it out of the brain and they keep boomeranging back in. To me, it's really two things, it's breaking the loop, which to me is then get it out of your head. Write it down somewhere. I know some people like to write notes, you can Evernote it if you're more digitally inclined as I am. Whatever your thing is, write it down, it gets out of your head and breaks the loop.
And the second part of that is don't invite the loop to get turned back on again. Which to me really, functionally comes down to when you're out of work and you're done with that time, turn off the phone notifications or at least turn off the work email notifications. Don't have the message pop up in the little preview. Don't even have the app show you that there's an unread message. Because if you see it, you're going to loop on, "I'm so curious to know what the unread notification is." They do it for a reason, they know when they give you the little notification, you're going to feel compelled to get the burst of dopamine when you find out what it is because you're so curious.
The cool thing for technology now is... Well, some people I know just put the phone down or lock it in another room when they're trying to create their space. Short of that or if you're a little more tech-inclined, you can set notifications down to very granular levels down of like these apps shouldn't give me notifications after these times or within these windows. You can do that kind of stuff. But turn the work-related notifications off so you don't get sucked into the loop and break the loop by getting it out of your head by writing it down or digitally writing it down. And just it helps you be more present in whatever you're doing.
And if you want to go one level further on that, as you said, for people who really get stuck on this, meditation actually is a good place to go. I know for a lot of people, particularly those who have challenges getting their mind quiet it's like, "Meditation sounds awful. I don't know how I could sit still and not focus on things for a while and meditate." That's literally the point of the exercise. It is acknowledging that it's really hard to do this and literally practicing the skill of, "How do I bring my mind back to presence and try to get off the loops that happen?" So if you want to go the next level, meditation is a cool place to go. But if you're not ready to go there yet, just the starting point, have a way to get it out of your head, like Evernote, notepads, stickies, whatever it is, commit to writing it down so it is out of your head. And don't invite the loop to get reopened again, which means turn off the notifications that can start the work loops going again.
Carl: Look, I think the work that we're seeing right now about those notifications is really...I don't think I can go too far… like Cal Newport, get a different phone if you're worried about my kids and my children need to be able to get in touch with me or whatever. The work phone gets turned off and put in a drawer, and they get in touch. That's not an investment...
Michael: It's like we're dialing back 20 years ago when you had your work pager and your family pager.
Carl: I agree. I don't have... The smartest people I know right now, the people I admire, at least, the most, they've made their smartphones dumb. There's no way for that intrusion to... And it's a little bit like expecting us... Because I love where you went with that, the idea of not opening the loop again is so smart. And we way overestimate our ability to control that. It's like showing up to a gunfight with a knife. Those people are 10 times smarter than us, and there's 5,000 of them.
Michael: They're really good at designing their apps to be addictive. They know exactly what they're doing when they make the notifications the way they do and what they show you.
Carl: For sure.
Michael: It's built to get you to engage with the tool. And that's great when you need it, and you want to be notified, and you want to be engaged with the tool. But if you're in this person's situation, you're trying to get off that ride...
Carl: So you're not thinking about your clients.
Michael: ...don't keep inviting it back in.
Carl: Yeah, and I love to remind myself, and we say this all the time internally, at Behavior Gap is we're not emergency room doctors. Literally, no one's...
Michael: It's not that urgent.
Carl: No one's going to die if you don't talk to them from 5 until 10 the next morning. This is not going to happen. And so give yourself a break, get it out of your head, build a wall around the loops. I love those suggestions. That's awesome. Thanks, Michael.
Michael: Awesome. Thank you, Carl.
Carl: Okay, brother. See you later.
Michael: Take care.