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Bullish Thinking

With the market tanking and scandal marring Wall Street, many financial advisors are feeling stuck and hopeless. This little exercise can change the way you think, and put you back on track.

For many, March is synonymous with Major League Baseball's Spring Training. It's a time of high drama, where new players burst onto the scene and those past their prime are put out to pasture. But it's also a time of renewal: Pre-season training allows many athletes to forget the failures and injuries of the previous year. They can learn from their mistakes and boost their strength and agility so that they're prepared when the games begin to count.

Considering all of the current drama on Wall Street, financial advisors would be wise to take a similarly transformative approach to spring this year. If you can put all of the financial wreckage, suffering, and scandals associated with the fall and winter months behind you, you will be better prepared to hit home runs in the year ahead.

Let's consider the case of “Dan,” a top-producing advisor for his branch in 2008. He recently came to my office for a performance coaching session to discuss his six-month production drought. He said he was “emotionally fried” because he saw himself “fighting a losing battle.” He reported that he couldn't even relax when he went home and his sleep was suffering. His ability to connect emotionally with his wife had stalled — as had his sex drive. And he was suffering from frequent headaches, higher-than-normal blood pressure and constant indigestion.

At work, he was distracted and procrastinated about calling clients: He worried that these calls would lead to conflicts, or that his clients would reject his new ideas or plans for their accounts. Once blessed with the “Midas Touch” on investment decisions, Dan began to doubt his own wisdom and expertise. He felt powerless and hopeless about the future of his business.

Basically, Dan was caught in a cycle of bearish thinking that threatened to do irreparable damage to his quality of life and his business. To help him help himself, I recommended a strategy I have developed for switching into a “bullish thinking” mode; it's a strategy all advisors can use to remain emotionally disciplined during rough times. Here are some steps we took.

Drill Down On Bearish Thoughts: Whenever an individual feels burnt out or depressed, the underlying culprit tends to be one or more negative, irrational, and often catastrophic thoughts that cycle through the mind after a stressful event. To help Dan identify his own distressing thoughts, I handed him a thought-monitoring log on which to record them. After spending some time on this exercise, he became aware that he was thinking over and over again: “I will never recover from these losses in my own and my client's portfolios,” and, “There is no point calling Mr. Thomas because he no longer trusts me.”

Bullish Thinking To The Rescue: Once Dan identified his negative thoughts, we worked together to generate specific challenges to these thoughts. When we looked back on his career, for instance, we realized that Dan had incurred terrible losses during the tech wreck and was able to rebuild his business within two years. I had him write this evidence in the “bullish thinking” section of his log: “I have been through financial hardships before, and was able to get my clients to stay with me and keep my business running. If I could do it once, I can do it again.” In addition, when prompted, Dan told me that he and Mr. Thomas had had a long productive relationship, and that Mr. Thomas had not even expressed anger for recent losses. He wrote on the “Bullish” side of his log, “I need to call Mr. Thomas to reassure him that I have not dropped the ball. He understands that this downturn is unprecedented and that his portfolio has great future potential because of the sound investments I made for him years ago.”

After shifting from a bearish to a bullish mindset, Dan was able to get back to work with a greater sense of purpose and calm. So put your thoughts through a bullish spring training regimen and your attitude will brighten, and your businesses will benefit.

Dr. Alden Cass is a New York City-based clinical psychologist and performance coach for Wall Street advisors, traders and bankers. For more info visit

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