One of the mottos I live my life by is that optimism is the only realism. I am, by nature, an optimist, which has created quite a few interesting scenarios in a field that seems to be dominated by pessimists. Many financial planners seem to think that projecting doomsday scenarios on their clients (What if the market crashes? What if you die tomorrow? What if you lose your job?) is the way to sell more products. They might say that they’re just watching out for the clients, but I don’t really believe this. If they had their clients’ best interests in mind, they would be guiding them toward their goals, not scaring the crap out of them.
Many people make their lives a whole lot more difficult (and less enjoyable) with excessive worry. They worry the kids won’t get into the right colleges, that they’ll never find a job they love, what the neighbors will think of their new fence…and on and on. When it comes to their financial lives, they worry they won’t have enough to retire, that they invested in too risky of a stock, or what the latest headline will mean for their portfolio. In too many situations, their financial advisor is an instigator in this type of worry instead of a guide to help them through it.
Although I don’t know why most people worry as much as they do, I do know one thing for sure: worrying has never resolved a problem or made a situation better. Ever. Excessive worry leads to stress, and we all know the havoc stress wreaks: poor sleep, depleted immune system, increased risk of disease…you see where I’m going here?
So what’s the solution? It’s easy to tell people to stop worrying so much, but that rarely helps. If you’ve been a worrier your whole life, you need some strategies to change your thoughts and put an end to this damaging habit. Here are a few tips to get you started:
TURN OFF THE NOISE
It’s easy to worry about what’s going on in the world when you hear awful stories on the news every morning. If you’re a worrier, the worst thing you can do is watch the news or expose yourself to online news sites. Start being mindful of the types of information you let into your life and turn off the noise that sparks your worry.
A powerful cognitive behavioral therapy technique is ‘thought-stopping’. It pretty much amounts to this: as soon as worrying thoughts enter your brain, visualize a stop sign. Don’t allow yourself to think about it anymore. Either think about something positive, or distract yourself by going for a walk, reading a book, or listening to a podcast. The more you practice thought-stopping, the easier it will get.
HAVE A MANTRA
Replacing worry with something else is sometimes necessary for those of us who always have to be thinking about something. A mantra is a word or phrase that you can repeat over and over to drown out the worry and ease stress. There are plenty of mantras you can steal from meditation or yoga techniques, or you can come up with your own. Just make sure it’s easy to remember and gives you peace when you repeat it to yourself.
REPLACE WITH GRATITUDES
An effective anti-worrying technique is replacing the negative thoughts with gratitude. As soon as you feel yourself go down the worry rabbit hole, switch your thoughts to something you’re grateful for. It could be as little as the feel of sunshine coming through your window or as large as your family is healthy. The trick is to condition your mind to focus on the positive.
Worry seeps into every part of your life, making what should be a joyful journey into one that’s littered with stressful landmines. When you make a conscious effort to monitor your thoughts and employ the above techniques when worry creeps in, you can start changing the way your brain is wired and start on the path to a happier way of thinking.
Patrick Tucker, owner of True Measure Wealth Management, has over 20 years experience in the industry and has spent the last 15 years learning the ins and outs of the fee-only advisory business. He focuses on client behaviors and what ‘wealth’ means for each individual client to provide caregiving plans that lead to a mindful fulfillment of financial goals. A lifelong learner, Patrick uses his continued knowledge to become a valued partner for his clients and help them explore the wisdom of true wealth.