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by John L. Evans Jr.

One of history’s greatest thinkers, Winston Churchill, once said, “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” What I take from this quote is that challenges and stress may in fact be important ingredients in achieving the optimal human experience. Why? Because a life without stress has a tendency to make us flounder and under-perform.

To the contrary of this idea is the contemporary wisdom that stress is negative and should be eradicated. But take a moment and think of the heroes or role models you most admire professionally and personally—did they live stress-free lives? Was Abraham Lincoln’s presidency a cakewalk? Was Martin Luther King Jr. living a stress-free life as he wrote letters from his Birmingham, Alabama, jail cell?

Some of the most admired change-makers in history clearly endured and overcame incredibly stressful events. They’re not alone—we all experience stressful events, and I argue that this is a good thing.

“Stress gets a very bad rap,” says Jim Loehr, Psy.D., co-founder of the Human Performance Institute and renowned sports psychologist. Without stress, we cannot even start to realize our potential. This sentiment is applicable across the board, and our industry is no exception.

Stress and Financial Services

We face myriad issues in our profession that are stress-inducing to say the least. With a highly competitive marketplace we must be vigilant; there is no time to rest on our laurels if we are to succeed. For example, think about the level of engagement that’s necessary when we’re vying for a new account. Even though stress has a bad reputation, the advisers who are most accustomed to handling it—who maintain positive energy throughout the process—are those who will come away with the win. An adviser’s energy, after all, is one of his or her greatest assets.

Stress for Success

In my role leading the practice management consulting arm of Janus Capital Group, my team delivers a seminar called “Managing Stress for Success.” The seminar includes an “energy audit,” which is a simple questionnaire that scores participants based on their present energy levels, and addresses quality, quantity, focus, and force of energy reserves. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of advisers and small business owners score low—participants in every area of the country report they are stressed out. In these cases, we diagnose these advisers as “under-recovered.”

Commit to More than Just Work

In many cases, the energy scores of advisers are under the mean because they are not committed to non-work activities. They don’t allow themselves to retreat from work, even if it’s just an hour to be home at the dinner table. All too often, the iPhone remains inseparable from the adviser, tethering him or her to work’s unremitting demands.

To prevent this energy drain and burnout, I’m suggesting that advisers follow their own advice. Just as advisers may counsel clients to own a basket of non-correlating assets in their retirement portfolio, I counsel advisers to retain a collection of non-correlating activities in their schedules. This could include exercise, music lessons, coaching little league, volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club—any activity that serves to rejuvenate, contributing to optimal performance.

Churchill, for example, credited his passion for oil painting and spiritual ­meditation as mechanisms that provided him the necessary recovery to lead through most of World War II. By systematically and fully stepping away, Churchill afforded himself the recovery that, in turn, allowed for creativity and wise assessments of the monumental decisions he faced on a daily basis.

Manage the Multitasking

One key to success, according to Jason Chepenik, CFP®, AIF®, is keeping the hand-held device in check. Crediting Loehr’s latest book, The Only Way to Win, as a “game changer,” Chepenik has learned that when we’re multitasking, like answering emails during a meeting, the engagement with each is devalued, mental stress builds, and lackluster energy results. In addition, the division of attention can negatively impact our personal relationships. (I will never again be typing away on my smartphone while on the sidelines of my child’s sporting event.)

Balance Stress and Recovery

If you want to be an elite adviser, you must create optimal rhythm. You can do this by balancing your stress activities with your recovery actions. For example, after calling on that disgruntled platinum client first thing in the morning, visit that high-profile CPA with a confident sense of engagement and mastery of your investment policy statement. Then spend some of your lunch hour on a workout (leave the iPhone at the office), and some of it surprising your children with lunch. Then, get back to work knowing you’re better equipped to tackle a nasty compliance matter because you have had some “recovery” time.

You are then in a better position to make prospecting follow-up calls with vigor. And, at the end of the day, you just may decide to call an old college friend, have a laugh, and schedule a fishing trip. German writer and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is credited with saying, “Fresh activity is the only means of overcoming adversity.”

Managing the day in anticipation of bursts in which you are fully engaged is a ritual that more and more top advisers are adopting. Your career is not a marathon, it is a series of sprints. Without proper recovery from the emotional and mental rigors of financial planning, inefficacy ensues and your kite will cease to rise.

Lock in New Habits

After this concept of balance is fully recognized and digested, change must be sustained. Habits are largely responsible for the trajectory of a career.

What is the one new habit you resolve to adopt for 40 days? One leading adviser confided in me his inability to add one seemingly simple ritual: turn off his mobile phone from 6 to 7 p.m. every night for dinner with his family. For the first three nights of adopting this new habit, he simply could not execute this seemingly innocuous task. Finally, on the fourth night, he was able to turn off the phone and fully engage with his family. Lo and behold, the world remained on its axis. As a result, not only did his relationships at home improve, so did those at the office. The power of one new ritual extended well beyond the dinner table.

Creativity Rekindled

An unmistakable benefit to working in bursts, fully engaged, is the rekindling of your creativity. Heidi Hanna, Ph.D., a performance coach and author of the cognitive fitness book The Sharp Solution, says human brains are astoundingly rejuvenative, if given the chance. “The organ will bounce back from any kind of stress, as long as fresh activity is introduced,” she says. Hanna also notes that regular exercise and activities focused “beyond self” allow certain functions in our brains to awaken.

At all levels of professional execution, there is no more important brain function than the one responsible for creativity and imagination. Financial advisers are selling in commoditized environments, and the one true differentiator will be the ability of the adviser to systematically come up with great ideas to delight clients. This theme was central to the late Steve Jobs’ philosophy. According to Jobs, imagination is more important than intellect for the contemporary business person. The alternative is that great ideas that serve clients and prospects will evade advisers when emotional and mental energy reserves are marginalized.

Take Action and Foster Recovery

By engaging in fresh activities, you will be able to foster recovery and heighten your engagement as an adviser. Here are some suggestions for reducing stress and getting on the path to recovery:

  • Write a letter to a teacher, mentor, or coach who had an unmistakable impact on your life
  • Enroll in oil painting classes
  • Consume small portions of nutrient-dense food five times a day; the fewer processed foods the better
  • Do eight, 30-second interval bursts of running, swimming, biking with every ounce of energy, three times a week
  • Hand-deliver flowers to widowed clients or those who have lost a loved one
  • Learn your assistant’s children’s names, and offer to take them to a sporting event of their choice
  • Sign up for dance classes within a music genre that stirs your soul

These few suggestions may not suit you specifically, but the key is to find just one new habit and commit to it. It’s also helpful to share it with a friend or two as a method of remaining accountable. After 40 days of implementing your new habit, add another. Continue on this path and you make a habit of making great habits.

John L. Evans Jr. is executive director of Janus Labs. He is pursuing his doctorate in organizational leadership at Pepperdine University with a dissertational focus on driving extreme client loyalty in the financial services space. He is a former RIA and author of two books on practice management.

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