Advice That Sticks: Newsletter

Got clients or workers in distress? Got people who are distressing you? You’re in luck!

When it comes to accessing mental health treatment, timing can be everything… AND NOW’S THE TIME! (But not for the reasons you might think.)

Nothing says “Time for Therapy” more than the last few months of the year. You can likely guess some of the more common reasons why that’s so. Here in the northern hemisphere, for example, when the days grow shorter and the skies get gloomy, moods can darken, too. All around the globe, work stress mounts as people scramble to finish major projects before year end. And then, of course, there’s all that extra time spent in the warm prickly embrace of extended family. (That’s why my favourite seasonal game is Martha Beck’s Dysfunctional Family Bingo. You only win if your family is crazy, and I always win.)

But one of the major benefits of getting therapy at this time of year has to do with paying for treatment. Most private benefits plans run on the basis of a calendar year. Any funding that hasn’t been used by December 31, 2019 simply vanishes. On January 1, 2020, employees with benefits packages have access to a new pool of funds that will have to see them through the next 12 months.

By booking a series of therapy appointments between November of one year and February or March of the next, your employees or clients may be able to access two years’ worth of benefits in a short period of time. Timing wise, that’s the equivalent of doubling the number of sessions they’re eligible for. (A typical benefits package will cover 2 to 3 sessions for 2019 and 2 or 3 for 2020. These can all be used in a period of a few months.)

Admittedly, that still falls short of the 8 to 10 sessions typically required to treat depression and anxiety; nevertheless, a lot of good work can be done in a compressed period of time with a practitioner who is (a) skilled in short-term treatment approaches and (b) aware of the client’s funding limitations. If the therapy has been proving useful, many people then find ways to self-fund additional sessions. (An encouraging word from family, friends or financial advisors can help them feel confident of their ability to absorb such costs, especially when considered against the costs of NOT getting help.)

Some of the readers of this article are in positions of power within private industry, insurance companies, and Human Resources departments, and it’s to them that I address this paragraph. Most employee benefits packages are woefully inadequate when it comes to coverage for serious mental health concerns (e.g. suicidality, addictions, etc.).Typical packages that I see in Canada provide only $350 to $450 of psychological treatment per calendar year. That amount hasn’t changed appreciably in 25 years. Meanwhile, what is the fastest growing cause of short-term and long-term vocational disability? You guessed it: mental health issues. Disability insurance companies should be throwing money into psychological health care benefits packages if they’re serious about reducing longterm costs, and HR departments should be demanding much more mental health coverage from their benefits providers. If you’ve got the power to influence such matters, please do. This article might give you some ideas.

For the rest of you, let me just encourage you to be champions of mental well-being. Take care of your own mental health and happiness. Look into taking a mental health first aid course so you can sit more compassionately with people in distress. Consider giving time and money to community organizations that are on the front lines of service delivery.

Eggnog plus year-end reports plus psychotherapy. It’s a winning combination. You might want to suggest it at your next family gathering.

My Best-Ever Productivity Hack

What do a retired navy captain, a rubber duck, and a women’s leadership expert have in common?

They’re all productivity superheroes – at least, they are for me.

Like many of you reading this newsletter, I have to create new content on a regular basis. Not producing is not an option. My executive coaching clients need me to follow up on our calls with assignments and written reflections. The conferences that hire me need new keynotes and workshops. My website howls for blogs and updates.

But after I published my book, Advice that Sticks, I hit a slump. Perhaps it was the writer’s equivalent of post-partum blues, but I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to write. Unless there was a gun in the form of a deadline pointed at my head, I was finding it really hard to produce anything.

I needed that to change. I decided to take a page out of my own doctoral thesis on procrastination (which I did, indeed, finish!), and stop relying on the fickleness of willpower and/or the stress of last-minute brinksmanship to get things done. I needed, instead, to harness some more reliable human strengths – say, the power of habit, or the power of positivity.

So it was that, several months ago, I invited an unlikely trio to form a virtual writing group with me. We settled on Friday mornings as the time to get stuff out of our heads and into the world. Permit me to introduce you to the crew who have become my productivity hacks:

Dr. David Kloak is a former Navy Captain and chaplain. He’s now an executive career coach with a great big intellect and an even bigger heart. Dave sees synchronicities and creates connections between seemingly disparate fields of work and ideas and people. The guy is an incubator for ideas.

Dr. Mira Brancu is an expert in women’s leadership development, with special savvy in navigating large and complex organizations. She’s a blogger and writer of remarkable quality, someone who has the great gifts of encouragement and insight in equal proportions. Mira gets kind of ferocious, however, when she catches even a whiff of perfectionism. She’ll have none of that.

A yellow rubber duck with an orange beak

Then there’s my buddy, the rubber duck. I don’t know much about him, sorry to say, other than he’s a Chinese expatriate. Unlike Mira and Dave, he’s intellectually dense and doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot. But he IS cute and he IS a superb listener, and thus has a vital role in my Friday mornings.

We’ve figured out a great routine, the good doctors and the duck and I. First, we connect on Skype for five minutes to set our intentions for the next two hours. We check in an hour later to give an update and ask for any quick help we might need. We Skype again at the end of the second hour to report on progress and wish each other well in the week ahead.

The duck doesn’t actually participate IN the calls; he is, however, ON call to haul me out of trouble in my writing. Talking to the duck is a strategy I learned from Daniel Pink in one his earliest Pinkcasts. When I am getting bogged down in my tendency to be abstrusepedantic, or byzantine, I explain the passage to the duck, who insists on plain and simple and direct. He’s annoyingly relentless about it. That’s a good quality in a productivity superhero.

Accountability, routine, delightful companions, and an uncompromising insistence on keeping it simple – these are the elements of a writing practice that feels less like gun-to-the-head and more like so-glad-to-be-here. They’re the reason I don’t even think about blowing off writing time any more.

I’m currently experimenting with similar ideas for getting to the gym more often. The duck is willing to give it a go. Both of us need to slenderize our thighs. (It’s probably all that time we spend writing.)

The Shocking Reality of Giving Financial Advice

The more that I work with people and their money, the more I am reminded of electricity. Money carries with it an incredible emotional charge, with the result that financial professionals must work daily with the emotional equivalent of live electrical wires. Most days, we emerge unscathed. Other days, we arrive home somewhat scorched.

In my practice as a wealth psychologist, I find that the emotional charge around money most often goes into the High Voltage Zone when parents talk about financial issues surrounding their kids (especially adult kids who are struggling in some way). It also makes itself known as clients talk about taxes, fees, inheritances, rates of return on investments, which party in the marriage is “right” in his or her view of things, and all manner of purchases, gifts, and expenditures.

We can all get zapped by the emotional current that flows through money. We can find ourselves tensing in anticipation of meeting with clients who have given us static during previous encounters. Our excellent financial advice can get burned to a crisp by the emotions surrounding money AND by the unskilled handling of them.

It’s not just clients’ emotions about money that can zap us; our own feelings can, too. I was zapped unexpectedly just this week while visiting a beautiful hotel, when my experience of delight and gratitude did an abrupt back-flip into guilt and unworthiness.  Advisers tell me about having strong emotions of their own, triggered by events including clients’ overspending or underearning, a colleague’s landing of a big account, or their own teenagers’ apparent lack of appreciation for how good they’ve got it.

Whether talking about clients or themselves, financial professionals have a tendency to view emotion as the enemy. One of my own favourite books, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, has contributed to the unfortunate demonizing of emotion in our community. Emotions mess with good financial decision-making, we are told. They make us short-sighted, they contribute to bias, and they lead us to overlook vitally important information.

Yup, they do. And electricity causes fires and can blow holes in a body. No doubt about it.

But just as we don’t dispute the tremendous benefits of electricity, so, too, we shouldn’t demonize the energy that exists around money. Emotion itself is not the problem, here. It’s just the sway of short-term emotions that we need to be on guard for, so that we don’t over-react to temporary or irrelevant stuff.

Emotion is a valuable force that can be harnessed to accomplish important goals in clients’ financial lives. It undergirds their beliefs and their values, and signals them when something is threatening those things. It provides motivation to begin their journey towards financial security, and helps them persist in the face of setbacks. Emotion leads people to buy life insurance and write wills. It funds symphonies and ballets and theatres. It feeds the hungry.

So what should you do when you get zapped? The most important thing is to acknowledge the presence of strong emotion. If you’re with clients, say something like, “It seems that we’re onto something important here. Tell me what this issue means to you. What do I need to understand about this in order to be a good adviser to you?”

If you’re on your own when you get zapped, resist the urge to dismiss, blunt or even analyze your reaction. Just notice it with curiosity and compassion. Give it the full force of your attention, and wait for it to subside. Then you can begin the work of figuring out what, if anything, you are being signalled to pay attention to. It might be really important. Or, as Ebenezer Scrooge says, it could just be a bit of undigested beef.

Best not to confuse the two.