Imagine: It’s 2008; the stock market is hemorrhaging; and your head is aching from an endless stream of calls from frantic clients. You feel scattered and drained, and the confidence you usually exude has melted away. What can you do?
“You can meditate,” says Maria Gonzalez, a mindfulness coach and president of Argonauta Strategic Alliances Consulting Inc. in Toronto.
For most advisors, that wouldn’t likely be an obvious solution. Nevertheless, Gonzalez, who is also co-author of the book The Mindful Investor, says that incorporating meditation and mindful practices into your business can help to transform your life – for the better.
“The benefits are undeniable,” she says.
Meditation and mindfulness – practices that descend from Asia roughly 2,500 years ago – involve calming the mind. Those who practice mindfulness tend to have greater calmness, decision-making ability, judgment and overall wellbeing, according to Gonzalez.
These are all qualities that can make you an advisor that will stand out from the competition, says Graham Byron, a certified financial planner, portfolio manager and vice president with CIBC Wood Gundy in Toronto.
Byron, who is also a co-author of The Mindful Investor, has been practicing mindfulness for the last eight years and says he doesn’t have the same visceral reaction to problems, such as market corrections.
“I don’t get high-jacked by emotion like I used to,” says Byron. “That’s what being a mindful advisor is all about – being able to step back and be calm and rational in bad situations. If you can do that and see the big picture, and not get drawn in by emotion, you can be much more useful to your clients.”
Embracing mindfulness, he says, is to hone your concentration, clarity and build equanimity, which is the simple understanding that you cannot change — and must go with the flow of — things beyond your control.
“It isn’t about being passive or a doormat,” says Byron.
For example, mindfulness during the market crash of 2008 could have helped you recognize that what was happening was beyond your control, allowing you to find ways of guiding your clients through that situation, rather than panicking.
“Everyone makes bad financial decisions when they are nervous,” says Byron. “If your clients are upset, there is no point in having both sides of the equation freaking out at the same time — clients wouldn’t expect that behaviour from a doctor, and they shouldn’t from their advisor.”
Bill George, a professor of management at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Mass. has been meditating and practicing mindfulness since 1975. He says he mediates about 20 minutes twice per day — and always on airplanes.
“It was a process I found extremely helpful in focusing my mind and throwing off a lot of the trivial stuff that wasn’t important,” says George, who, prior to teaching at Harvard was the chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic, Inc., a major Fortune 500 medical technology company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“You come out of meditations with clarity, energy and creative ideas to keep you strong for the rest of the day – it is time very, very well spent, particularly in a very high stress job. Done right, you will be calm under pressure and won’t overact to [things that] slow you down.”
Experts agree that there is no “magic formula” to mastering mindfulness. Each advisor should come up with his or her own plan and stick to it.
“Becoming a mindful advisor is about taking the elements you learn as a rookie advisor – about making a plan and sticking to the priorities and following them through,” says Byron.
“So every advisor has the ability to be a mindful advisor inside them already. All they have to do is have the discipline to train themselves and follow through in their every day lives.”