Change is a constant reality of our lives. In some cases, change beyond our control occurs in the world, and we have little choice but to respond. In other cases, the change is something that we wish to initiate to improve our own situation. Yet, the reality is that, in either case, change is hard. So much so that it is not uncommon for us to fail in our initial efforts to make a change. Unfortunately, though, such experiences with failed attempts at change (or lapses after a change had seemingly taken hold) can result in feelings of dread and frustration when we consider a future change, as we potentially get stuck thinking about past efforts that may have been unsuccessful and lose confidence that we’ll be successful this time. Which raises the question: when change is hard, and failure and relapses are common, what can financial advisors do to help clients overcome fear and reluctance, negative self-talk and doubt, and actually implement the action steps they need to take to achieve their goals?
In order to address the negative self-talk that can preclude clients from taking action on their financial plans, financial advisors can encourage their clients to openly share and discuss their frustrations, feelings about their past efforts at change, and the things that make them nervous about moving forward. While these conversations may be difficult to initiate, worksheet tools adapted from the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of change can provide advisors and clients with a valuable opportunity to examine specific reasons that create frustration for the client. And by closely examining how the client’s feelings and attitudes around past efforts influence their ability to implement change, advisors can help clients understand how considering unsuccessful past efforts as lessons and planning opportunities (rather than as failures!) can be highly effective in removing negative self-talk roadblocks. By adjusting their perspective around past attempts and the opportunity for planning that they present, clients may also improve their self-image and, ultimately, build financial self-efficacy.
Advisors can also help clients by exploring the emotional significance of their goals to strengthen their commitment to change. Because understanding the emotional reasons behind a goal tends to be a much more powerful motivator than simply relying on willpower and trying to tackle goals that have little (if any) personal significance for clients. Goals that are based on the notion that they simply seem like the sensible or ‘right’ things to pursue will be much harder to commit to, in contrast to those that have personally significant reasons that bring some form of emotional satisfaction. To this end, another worksheet tool adapted from TTM offers advisors a resource to initiate conversations with clients to elucidate why pursuing their goals is personally meaningful to them and the reasons that implementing change to achieve those goals is so important on an emotional level. And this conscious understanding and contemplation of the emotional significance of goals can reveal highly compelling reasons for clients to stick to their commitment to implement change over the long run.
Ultimately, the key point is that by understanding the various roadblocks typically associated with each stage of the change process, such as negative self-talk and dread that arise in the Preparation stage, advisors can engage their clients in specifically structured discussions that help them navigate through change. Helping clients successfully move past the Preparation stage will reward financial advisors with seeing their clients through to the final Action stage, where clients will be fully prepared to finally take action to implement the changes they need to realize their financial goals!