Financial advisors are on the front lines of the stress and distress epidemic in America. You’re guides, confidantes, and integral parts of the lives of your clients. And when the world presents us all with yet another profoundly disruptive event, your clients are looking to you to make sense of it and, ultimately, to assure them that they’ll be okay. In that way, you are caregivers for the families you serve. And caregivers need sufficient inner resources.
The Importance of Being Human
Humans are relational beings who didn’t evolve to be isolated. We’ve evolved to help and heal one another through social connection. Your clients could have chosen digital advice. But by choosing you (assuming they’re aware of their options), they’ve cast their vote for humans. Human connection is important to them, and they like being connected with you, at least for now.
But there’s a catch — you can’t pour from an empty cup. You need stability, clarity and groundedness, for both you and the person who has come to you for support.
If you’re anxious, impatient and distracted by the news (of Covid, inflation, the Ukraine invasion and more), you’re not being present. The same goes if you’re sleep deprived, in physical pain, preoccupied with your high schooler’s college admission process, or certain about what’s going to happen in a meeting. And when you’re not present, you’re not available for those who need you.
How do you position yourself to be a comforting presence? You know how they tell you to put your oxygen mask on before your child’s? It’s like that. You’re no good to the people you serve if your own well-being is suffering — if your tank is low and you aren’t resourced.
The Starting Point
Everyone’s starting point should be to take an honest look at their own daily habits, which tell the world, “I’m the kind of person who prioritizes these things/substances/activities. These are the things I value, otherwise I wouldn’t be spending my time and money on them, thereby opting out of the universes of other things I could be doing/spending money on.”
Furthermore, when you make a list of your daily habits, you’re describing the person you’ll be in three months if those habits continue. Why not take a tour through your habits now? It’ll only take a few minutes. Include:
- Hours/day working for money.
- Quantity and quality of sleep.
- Alcohol and caffeine consumption.
- Other beverages.
- Foods you eat and when.
- Exercise (Where and duration?)
- Meditation (Daily or spotty, and duration?)
- Social media engagement (Which platforms, how long and purpose?).
- Dining habits (If you have a family, do you eat with them or elsewhere?).
- Walking the dog and/or snuggling with the cats.
- Childcare/parenting/time with kids.
- Caregiving for parents.
- Volunteering — including boards and community service.
When you chart your habits, you’re basically describing your days, which are your lived values. If you feel wonderful, resourced, and beam with pride when you read your habits — because they’re aligned with how you want to live your life — fantastic! If not, guess what you just did? You created a recipe for crafting your future self. You now know what you need to do move toward greater wellness, well-being, and connection — to your own values.
There are big things you can do, related to sleep, eating and exercise — and you probably already know those. But what follows are tips you can use if you’re exhausted, impatient or otherwise out-of-sorts that might be new to you. They can improve the short-term state of your mind and body (if you do them once), or the long term (if they become habits).
If you read your list of daily habits and experience any kind of shame or regret, then this is the practice for you. If you notice that you’re constantly berating yourself with harsh self-talk, this is for you.
Begin by bringing to mind someone you love. You easily forgive them, your compassion flows to them, and merely being in their presence makes you feel good. What if they just became aware that their own habits were working against them? What if they were suffering because they wanted to be better and they spoke disparagingly about themselves? And what would you do? Whatever it is, whatever you would say, give yourself the gift of that kindness. Tell yourself whatever you would tell them, and maybe even give yourself a hug while you’re at it. You’re doing the best you can. Forgive yourself and move forward. Every moment is an opportunity to begin again. And each time you find yourself ridiculing yourself, heap on that self-compassion. Make a habit of it!
Pair Gratitude and Savoring
Bring to mind a moment you’re grateful for. Maybe it happened today, maybe a decade ago. Hold it in your mind and body — really feel that moment in as much detail as possible, for at least 60 seconds. Steep yourself in the feeling of gratitude while you’re reliving your moment. Do this each night before bedtime, with three to five moments. At the end of a daylong silent retreat last weekend, the participants unanimously agreed that this pairing of practices was the highlight of the experience.
Take Stabilizing Breaths
Take under two minutes for five luxurious, stabilizing breaths. (But only do this if bringing attention to your breath isn’t upsetting for you. Many people have a complex relationship to their breath and would rather not focus on it.) Breathe in for the count of four, linger briefly at the top of the inhale for a count of two, exhale for a count of eight, pause at the bottom of the exhale, and begin again. This type of spacious breath gets us back to a place where we feel safe and brave. Do a set every hour, on the hour. Make a habit of it!
Get Outside for an Awe Walk
Research suggests that awe has a way of lifting people outside of their usual preoccupations and connecting them with something greater and more meaningful. This sense of broader connectedness and purpose can relieve negative moods and improve happiness. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, there was a lot of talk of awe walks. There was even a study on them, demonstrating greater joy and prosocial emotions and decreases in daily stress over time. Even if that didn’t happen, savoring awe in the moment and then then reliving it through memory of it would be beneficial. So turn off your phone, get outside, tap into your childlike sense of wonder, and approach what you see with fresh eyes, imagining that you’re seeing it all for the first time. Bonus points for savoring your walk later and appreciating it through gratitude. This has been shown to create a grateful personality. Get out there once a week!
Take a Break From Social Media and the News
This can be a tough one for advisors, who frequently have established the habit of having the news on and/or are active on social media for business/marketing reasons. In reality, whatever the news is, the kind of support clients need doesn’t require knowing immediately what’s going to happen next. They want to know that you have their back and you’re there for them.
Taking this kind of break can be powerful, as it’s frequently the client’s preoccupation with news and time spent on social media that’s making them upset. Once you yourself have experienced the restorative power of backing away from something that’s contributing to your lack of groundedness and clarity, you can pass that lesson on to your clients.
There’s one thing that will reliably change the state of your inner resources — your habits. We become what we practice. And as neuroscientist David Eagleman says, “What you do over and over becomes reflected in the structure of your brain.”
Mary Martin, PhD, is a mindfulness educator and guide based in Jupiter, Fla. She has worked with financial advisors for two decades and teaches a course on mindfulness for advisors. Her book, “Mindfulness for Advisors: Practicing a New Way of Being,” is due out this month by Advisors’ Academy Press.