We're all familiar with the destructive nature of self-limiting beliefs. We've been warned about them; scolded about them; shown how to eradicate them. But what we don't hear much about are the equally-if not more-dangerous self-limiting habits that we all have.
Most sales trainers, managers, and motivational speakers preach to no end about the evils of self-limiting beliefs and give a plethora of positive thinking exercises to counteract them. The core belief is that what we believe-what we really in our heart-of-hearts believe-must manifest itself in our actions. So if we believe that we are lousy at prospecting, we'll find a way to guarantee that we are lousy at prospecting-we sabotage ourselves in order to verify one of our basic beliefs about ourself as a salesperson, i.e., that we're lousy at prospecting.
The idea behind recognizing and changing our self-limiting beliefs is that when we change our belief from a negative (we're lousy at prospecting) to positive (we're an effective, productive, skilled prospector), our actions will also change to reflect our new found belief-instead of sabotaging our prospecting efforts, our positive beliefs will force us to find ways to succeed at prospecting.
In theory that's a pretty fair philosophy. Except it's shortsighted because it only addresses part of our problem-our actions are influenced by our beliefs but the actions that hinder or prevent our success are more than just reactions to what we believe about ourselves as salespeople and sales leaders.
Need an example?
Well, let me first give an example of an action that MAY be a direct response to our belief that we are lousy at prospecting. Since we are lousy at prospecting, we decide that before we start cold calling we'll take a few minutes and surf the Internet in order to "relax" and get "ready." We start by spending four or five minutes surfing around a couple of news and sports sites. After a few minutes we make a couple of cold calls and discover that we hadn't relaxed enough. As the days pass, without noticing, we're spending more and more time trying to relax in order to get mentally prepared to cold call. Before we know it, our relaxation exercise is our prospecting time. Did we develop this habit simply because it's easier to surf than make cold calls or did we fall into the habit as an unconscious response to our belief that we're lousy at cold calling-and besides, it's a waste of time anyway?
Does it really matter since either way the habit is killing us?
Well, how about an example of a habit that will also kill us but is very definitively not a result of our self-limiting beliefs about ourselves as a salesperson? From our earliest age we've been late for everything. In fact, we're one of those preverbal people whom people claim will be late to our own funeral. At work we're always rushing to get to our appointments but no matter what, we always seem to walk into our prospect's office two, three, five, sometimes ten minutes late. We never have enough time to put our presentations together. We have to slap something together at the last minute and never have time to practice before we have to meet the prospect. Surely this isn't a self-limiting habit developed in order to validate our belief that we're a lousy presenter or lousy salesperson. Maybe it just says we're crappy at time management or that we're arrogantly self-centered or that we are just plain sloppy about everything we do.
Again, does it matter? Wherever the habit comes from, it's killing us and must be dealt with if we want to succeed.
Although we hardly ever hear about identifying and eradicating our self-limiting behavior-our destructive habits-it is just as important as changing our belief system.
How, then, do we eradicate our self-limiting beliefs?
Let me quickly give four steps to identifying and eliminating self-destructive behaviors that I've used with dozens of sellers and sales leaders-and myself-that have proven to work:
1. Replace Negative Beliefs: I'm not going to go into this in any detail as all you need do is Google "self-limiting beliefs" and you'll get over 217,000 links to articles, books, ebooks, seminars, workshops, and anything else you can imagine about dealing with your self-limiting beliefs. Simply let me say that positive self-talk, positive affirmations and other techniques to deal with negative beliefs do work and should be incorporated into any effort to deal with negative habits.
2. Identify Your Self-limiting Habits: Of course, this goes without saying. The hard part is how do you do it? My experience has been that we can discover a number of our self-limiting habits ourselves by simply becoming attuned to what we do, especially what we do just prior to things that we dislike or are uncomfortable doing. Over the next few weeks pay close attention to what you do. Since habits are most often unconscious behaviors, you'll probably have better luck if you keep a log of those things you catch yourself doing over and over. It could be something as simple as stopping for a cup of coffee every morning on the way to the office or as complex as creating a personal emergency that must be attended to every time you're asked to work late or retorting with a smart remark anytime someone questions something you say.
Unfortunately, we usually can't find all of our negative habits on our own. We need help. Enlist assistance from those close to you: spouse, manager, coach, mentor, or close friends. More than one observer is ideal. Observers must be people who know you well and who you trust. Explain what you're doing and ask them to observe you over the next weeks and give you feedback on the habits-good, bad, or indifferent-they notice, as well as any habits they are already aware of. You may not like what you learn, but if your observers are really trying to help, the information you get will be valuable.
Simply recording the habitual activity isn't quite enough. Can you figure out what the action is attached to? For instance, stopping and getting a cup of coffee is associated with going to the office. Discovering an emergency that must be attended to is associated with being asked to work late.
What might be the reason for the action? Getting a cup of coffee might just be something pleasant-or it might be a way to delay going to the office. Creating a personal emergency is a way of getting out of staying late.
Ultimately, you have to decide if the action is negative, positive or neutral-and whether it is a habit that you need or want to change. I've found that if you're not really committed to eradicating a self-limiting habit you won't succeed. If you're not committed, move on to another habit that you will be committed to eliminating because if you only half way try to break a habit and fail, all you'll be doing is reinforcing your self-limiting belief system. Instead of gaining on your belief problems, you'll be feeding them.
3. Replace a Negative Habit with a Positive Habit: Instead of simply trying to eradicate a negative habit, proactively work to replace it with one that will help you advance toward your goal. Trying to eliminate a behavior leaves a space, a void where the action used to be. If you're like me, if I have a time void I'll find something to fill it and often that something is something negative. Why put yourself in a position where you're consciously trying to create a void that could easily create stress and anxiety? Instead of creating a void, change the negative behavior with a predetermined positive behavior.For example, instead of wasting time surfing the net in order to "relax," purposely set aside two or three minutes prior to cold calling to sit quietly with eyes closed and envision yourself making three successful cold calls. Or instead of waiting until the last second to create your next presentation, schedule your presentation creating time several days prior to the scheduled presentation date and then give yourself a reward if you finish the presentation X days prior to the presentation date. Move from chaos to proactively managing your time and reward yourself for successfully doing so.
4. Don't Accept Failure: Allow yourself the freedom to backslide without becoming discouraged and giving up. Habits, no matter what their origin, weren't created overnight and they won't be changed overnight. You'll probably find yourself slipping back into old habits. That's fine. It'll happen. But just because it happened doesn't mean you've lost the war. You just lost a single battle. If you give up you'll be guaranteeing you'll have that much more to overcome to reach your goals-and reinforcing a self-limiting habit of giving in when things get tough.
It's been said that we humans are creatures of habit. So we are. The great thing is we get to decide if our habits are going to be positive or negative. No one else can make that decision for us. Let's make them habits that work to fulfill our wants and needs rather than ones designed to sabotage us.
Paul McCord is the president of McCord and Associates, a Texas based international sales training, coaching, and consulting company. He is the author of the Amazon and Barnes and Noble best-selling book on referral generation, Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income: Sales Success through Client Referrals (John Wiley and Sons, 2008), and SuperStar Selling: 12 Keys to Becoming a Sales SuperStar. He may be reached at [email protected] or visit his training website at http://www.powerreferralselling.com/