Remember—your thoughts influence your feelings and therefore your actions. Your future success depends on your ability to meet adversity with energy and optimism. Follow this method for staying upbeat in the face of rejection and you will find that things work better than you think.
Let me ask you: How hard is it for you to stay upbeat and maintain an important positive outlook? If you are like most of us, you might tend to get down on yourself or your performance when things don’t go as planned. Once that happens, it gets harder to make sales calls, right?
If you are a financial advisor, regardless of whether you work with an insurance company or an investment house, and you struggle with this problem, know that you are not alone. It’s an occupational hazard. First, in your capacity as someone with an offering that is intangible, such as financial security, you face rejection more times in a week than most business people do in a lifetime. Second, you spend most of your time alone so you have both the opportunity and energy to easily dwell on your inadequacies. Either one is challenging, but together they can be deadly.
So you say, yeah Frank, that is the easy part; you identified a problem, but what about a solution? Actually in my coaching I have learned that there are lots of ways to deal with those two issues, but for this article, I will introduce only one. About a decade ago, a research psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, wrote a book called, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. In the book, he provides a practical way to stay upbeat while looking into the face of rejection every day.
Dr. Seligman describes the work to which he has committed his life. He started his career as a research psychologist studying helplessness in dogs. In one of his early experiments, he put the dogs in a cage from which it was impossible to escape. He then exposed them to mild shocks, and after several escape attempts, the poor dogs would finally give up and just lie down. In the next part of the experiment, he would put the same dogs in a cage that they could easily escape from and gave them the same mild shocks. To his amazement, and mine too as I read about it, the dogs didn’t try and escape. They just laid down and gave up. Tragically, they had been taught hopelessness and helplessness. Can you feel it?
In later experiments, the good doctor found that people behave in much the same way. Put in a room with irritating noises from which they couldn’t escape, they quickly give up. Then when placed in a room with a device that would turn off the noise, they didn’t even try to turn it down. Just as with the dogs, people too can learn helplessness and hopelessness. From this beginning, Dr. Seligman formulated a theory called “learned optimism.” It quite simply means that people either have a pessimistic or optimistic outlook. His book has a self-assessment to measure the reader’s degree of optimism or pessimism. I would suggest putting it on your reading list just behind Think and Grow Rich.
Self Talk: the Nasty Three
Personal, Permanent, and Pervasive.
Dr. Seligman’s theory focuses primarily on your “explanatory style.” That is the way you explain undesirable experiences to yourself. He suggests this determines your attitude. When something negative occurs, as it surely will at some point in your life, your pessimism or optimism is controlled by how you perceive the event with respect to each of following three perspectives.
Permanent. Pessimists accept that negative events will last forever or will have long-term consequences, while optimists believe they will only be short-term.
Pervasive. Pessimists believe that the reasons for negative events are universal. Those reasons will affect everything they do. Optimists believe the reasons for the negative event are specific and only valid in the current situation.
Personal. Pessimists believe they personally are the cause of negative events, and they beat themselves up for it. Optimists attribute the problem to circumstances rather than themselves.
Here’s how these perceptions might appear in the everyday life of a financial advisor.
Imagine you go to have a review of a large corporate account and your contact at the company tells you that the vice-president of finance has opted to go with another advisor. The plan and all of their business will be moved to your competitor in the next 30 days. Yep, that classifies as a negative.
As you head back to the office (hopefully not the bar), you say to yourself, ”Well, crap, I blew this one. I guess I should have seen this coming for weeks. I’ll never make the awards banquet, much less that free trip! With my luck, I’m going to blow the next one too.I guess I really do mismanage them all.”
Folks, that is a classic pessimistic explanation of what happened. “I blew it.” You have supplied yourself with this personal explanation. It is also a permanent and pervasive explanation as well. “I’m never going to make the awards banquet. I guess I really do mismanage them all.” Now take a breath…analyze just how this explanation makes you feel. Can you feel it yet? More than likely you feel dejected, defeated, depressed, and like a victim. These are definitely not the types of feelings that will motivate you to make the rest of your calls that day…right?
Ok, let’s try this again. This time let’s offer optimistic explanations for what happened. The same thing happens; you get bad news from your best account. As you hang up or walk away, you think to yourself, “That client really made a big mistake. It’s a good thing they haven’t done the paperwork yet. That gives me some time to talk with the VP and win the account back. Lucky I have time to look into their proposed plan to see if it really is good for them.”
That’s an optimistic explanation. Your statements to yourself aren’t personal, permanent, or pervasive. How does that explanation make you feel about your future? More than likely you feel better, possibly energized and hopeful. Can you see the difference? The event was the same event, only the way you explained it to yourself was different. One way was optimistic, heading you towards energy, hope, and success. The other was pessimistic, leading to passivity, dejection, and ultimately failure. There’s no magic bean; it is just your choice.
Benefits of Optimism
Dr. Seligman singled out optimistic attitudes and actions as a noteworthy trait of successful people. Even in elections, the most optimistic candidates often win.
The implications of this are mind-bending. Learned optimism is a powerful self-management tool. If you adopt a more optimistic style of explanation, you’ll create more positive energy and hope for yourself and your projects. Regardless of how difficult or unpleasant the situation, you will have to deal with it anyway, so if you’re optimistic, your chances of success radically increase.
Based on this principle, your thoughts influence your feelings and actions, and you do have a choice about how to manage your thoughts. You can choose them for yourself. It does take practice and discipline, but here are some of Dr. Seligman’s suggestions on how to do just that.
Step 1: Analyze your explanatory patterns. The next time you have to deal with a negative event or challenge in your life, stop and look at what you are saying to yourself about what happened. What things do you believe about yourself, and what reasons do you give yourself for the negative aspects about your experience? Ask yourself: Are your explanations personal, permanent, or pervasive? To what degree are they one or all of the nasty three?
Step 2: Note the results of your explanatory style. Pessimistic reasons usually lead to passivity and dejection, known as Victimland. Optimistic explanations usually head towards energy and hope. Which one you will choose to launch you from your setback to your future successes?
Step 3. If you’re pessimistic, change the way you think. Your future success depends on your ability to buck up and meet your challenges with all the energy and optimism you can muster. You can do this by mindfully selecting to think differently about what happens around you. Don’t just tell yourself, “This is the way I am.” Buddy, it’s not true unless you let it be your truth. You can change if you try. If you need to, get a coach. Dr. Seligman makes the following suggestions for you to try first.
- Distract your judgments. When you find yourself thinking negative or pessimistic judgments, tell yourself, “Now Just Stop!” You can even say it out loud, or shout it to yourself. Just stop thinking those negative thoughts. Force yourself and practice it. Then practice shifting your thoughts to something else. I suggest you think about something that brings you pleasure or satisfaction, or something you’re good at. Either way, it will change the way your mind is working at that moment.
- Argue with your own explanations. This is a longer-lasting method. Yes, argue with yourself. Reason your way out of your negative thoughts. Look at the evidence or suggest to yourself alternatives that will take you in a different direction. Reason with yourself based on the consequences or worth of what you’re thinking.
Now, let’s return to the earlier example. You sit back after the miserable news has been handed to you and you are thinking “I blew it here. Well, crap, I just blew it. I guess I should have seen this coming for weeks. I’ll never make the awards banquet, much less that free trip. With my luck I’m going to blow the next one too…I guess I really do mismanage them all.” But this time you catch yourself thinking all those negative and defeating thoughts and you argue with yourself.
“Wait a darn minute,” you say. “Yes it’s true I might have been able to do something if I had seen this coming. The truth is that the finance VP would never agree to see me. The other advisor must have had some special ‘in’. That doesn’t mean that will happen anywhere else. It’s just this account. There certainly isn’t any evidence of this happening anywhere else. And the truth is that I have good relationships with a number of other people in HR and finance and I’ve opened large accounts with some of the company’s executives, too. If I stay close to the account, I might find ways to continue to serve them and they just might find reasons to come back, or at least find other ways to do business with me. ”
What you’ve successfully done is to argue with yourself and change your thought processes. Thinking differently now, you have more energy, more hope, and, therefore, a greater chance of success in the future. Do you see it?
Dr. Seligman discovered, through his work, a truth that has been known for thousands of years. The apostle Paul, writing in the book of Romans, counseled new Christians to:
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
And Solomon said,
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
You really can change your thoughts. I work with people ever day who do just that. I teach people that they can choose to think differently. Advisors can choose to believe differently. And with that central choice about how you think, you can, more than with any other single decision, change your future. Your choices of what to think about, and how to think about your experiences, is one of the most important realizations, one of the most important choices you’ll ever make.
When you find yourself feeling depressed, dejected, and drained, look at how you are thinking and make a change. Give it a try and if you have trouble with it, give me a call. I have helped lots of advisors who make this very change.
SPEAK WITH A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.