I don’t know Tom Brady personally, but I do know a thing or two about what it takes to become champion, as he displayed by winning his fifth Super Bowl in stunning fashion.
In my 33 years of experience as a Professional Sport Psychologist, I have counseled and trained many professional football players and world champion athletes. They all face challenges, adversities and setbacks during their careers. With all of them, the key to winning the big one is always based on the habitual internal dialogue that they embrace, when they face such adversity and setbacks.
Being down by 25 points, many quarterbacks and their teams would accept defeat and try to finish up the game as quickly as possible, remaining uninjured. They could easily rationalize that they had a bad day—it happens. “So, I’ll be embarrassed for a while, apologize to our faithful fans, and go on a much needed vacation.”
But, Tom Brady has had a career full of bouncing back from adversity, and never giving up, despite the score. This is the definition of “mental toughness,” a necessary ingredient for consistent, championship performance. It is this group of behavioral habits that separates athletes like Tom Brady from the rest of the pack.
Advisors/producers also deal with adversity, much of which they cannot control, such as governmental regulations, compliance and fiduciary demands, and difficult clients. Add to this the need to constantly prospect in order to be successful, and the daily grind can be overwhelming for some. So what behavioral skills that separate the “champion” level advisor/producer from the rest of the pack?
I was recently invited to consult with an insurance brokerage whose CEO was concerned about inconsistent performance from a large percentage of his producers. The CEO was interested in understanding how to select the producers with the best potential for success and training his current producers to have consistent, champion-level performance. [Note: For confidentiality reasons, the name of the firm is not mentioned and the advisor names listed below are not the actual names of my clients]
Following a series of confidential interviews with a the producers in the firm, it became clear to me that many were suffering from anxiety, for a variety of reasons, some personal and some related to the demands of their career. I designed a series of training programs to teach the producers how to recognize and overcome their fears, maintain an optimistic and proactive approach to their business, use active listening skills to develop new clients, and develop a mental toughness routine that they could use every time they felt stressed by the circumstances in which they found themselves.
It’s important to know that situations and events NEVER cause emotions, such as fear of failure, feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, etc. It’s not the event that leads to the emotion. It’s your internal dialogue about the event that always determines the emotion. This internal dialogue, or your “self talk” about these issues, determines whether you will bounce back and thrive or continue to struggle during difficult times. That little voice in your head is what I call your “internal critic,” and most of the time it fills you with self-doubt.
Three Steps Toward Mental Toughness
1. Keep your thoughts in the present, not the past or future.
Tom Brady deals with disappointments, such as his pass interception for a touchdown, as temporary setbacks, rather than as indicators of the final outcome. He sees these events as flukes, from which he can recover, given more time. It is this kind of thinking that kept him from getting overwhelmed, getting down on himself and losing energy.
2. Keep your expectations optimistic, regardless of the adversity.
Every athlete experiences adversity, as does every advisor. You lose clients; you struggle with a challenging question or an office quota. Successful advisors don’t expect to be perfect, but they fully expect to do well, regardless of the economy, new fiduciary regulations – whatever stumbling blocks will inevitably lie in their way. They recognize that losing a client is all part of being in the business. They don’t let setbacks overshadow their accomplishments. In short, winners view defeat as a fluke and temporary.
Advisors with positive expectations develop positive self-fulfilling prophecies and succeed most of the time. Reflecting on recent successes and achievements is a much better idea than obsessing over failures or setbacks. With practice, thought-stopping can help you convert negative thought processes into this kind of positive thinking.
Tom Brady knew from past experience that he could score more points if his defense just gave him the ball. He also knew that Atlanta’s defense was on the field twice as long as the Patriot defense, so it was only a matter of time before fatigue would weaken Atlanta’s defense. He did not allow negative thoughts to fill his mind.
3. Remember the special skills you possess are still there.
I’m sure that Tom Brady has confidence in his ability to lead his offense down the field and score points when the game is on the line, because he has done so many times. I would imagine he was telling himself something like, “I can do this. My defense will get me the ball and I have trust in my ability to find my receivers consistently. They have trust in me and will work their behinds off to get open for me.”
Let’s take an example of my work with producers at the firm I mentioned earlier. Matt worked in the firm for seven years. His performance was inconsistent, and his manager put him on notice that he needed to improve. Like many people with “imposter fear,” Matt admitted to me that he frequently told himself: “Maybe I’m not as good a producer as everyone says I am. Now my boss has figured that out.” This is a textbook example of self-limiting thoughts, a crucial mental roadblock that many encounter when they experience stress.
Other examples of negative, self-limiting thoughts we often use are those that begin with…“What if…” “I hope I don’t…” ”I should have …” “I always have problems with…” and “I probably won’t be able to…”
I taught Matt to catch himself thinking such negative thoughts. In response, I had him make a fist as a reminder to “STOP thinking this way,” then take a few, deep, calming breaths, release the fist, relax, and proceed to substitute a more positive and optimistic thought. This technique only takes seconds, and it works instantly!
The key here was Matt’s ability to recognize his negative thinking. That recognition let him consciously substitute a more realistic counter-thought about what makes him special:
“The fact that my manager has put me on notice doesn’t mean I am not cut out for this career. I’ve had many successful years in this business. I can use my creative ability to work with my clients in a proactive way, finding products that will fit their needs perfectly. As a result, they will continue to trust me, do business with me and will refer me to new clients. My numbers will grow and will be much more consistent.”
Kristen, another producer in the firm, would think negatively whenever she was prospecting for new clients. She might ask herself, “What if the prospective client doesn’t commit to working with me after I discuss his situation with him?”
I taught her to change this negative thinking habit with the following: “STOP this foolish thinking right now. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to attain a client.” (Make a fist. Take a few relaxing breaths. Release the fist.) “Just relax. I don’t have to have 100% success in order to feel good about my skills. It’s a numbers game. If this one doesn’t pan out, I will have another opportunity. Just keep plugging away, I know I will get more clients.”
Just like Matt, once Kristen practiced this thought-stopping technique, she found herself much less anxious and much more confidant. The proof was in the pudding. After practicing this 3-step mental toughness routine for 3 weeks, both Matt and Kristen enjoyed a turn-around in their productivity. You can easily develop the mindset of a champion producer with a few weeks of practice!
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