"To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe."—Anatole France, Nobel Prize-winning author
The power of belief
Gandhi made a remarkable observation about the psychology of belief: “Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn't have it in the beginning.”
Henry Ford echoed that notion, with his words of wisdom: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”
The ability to achieve your highest aspirations and taste victory depends on two things: belief and action. Belief is the foundation. It shapes our thoughts, which determine the actions that lead use to the final outcome. In fact, belief is so powerful that it also influences the thoughts and behavior of people around us.
In his book, “Pygmalion in the Classroom,” Dr. Robert Rosenthal published the results of one of his experiments involving an elite group of teachers who were told by the principal that they would be specially assigned a group of the brightest students in the school because of their teaching excellence.
The teachers were told not to mention to the gifted students that they were selected for a screened class. The teachers were to use the exact same curriculum they were teaching their other students and were told that very good results were expected from this high IQ class of students.
At the end of the year, these students topped the entire school district in academic achievement. Not much of a shocker, except the “elite” group of students and teachers were randomly selected from the general school population!
This true story conveys the raw power that belief has in forging people’s destinies. What beliefs and expectations do you have of yourself? How about your employees, bosses, peers, and teammates?
How can you strengthen your own belief system?
I’d like to share with you some key strategies I’ve used that are based on some unorthodox training I received in the “School of Hard Knocks”: door-to-door sales!
I did door-to-door sales for a period of about two years to help finance my university education. And I can tell you with conviction that I received a world-class degree in the psychology of belief that no educational institution can offer.
Most of my schoolmates who came on board to sell did not last the first week after training; the constant rejection was too much for them to bear. I particularly remember one cold winter day I spent knocking on doors and not making a single sale. On days like these, I too felt like quitting! I knew I could get other less demanding work, but I decided to stick it through. It became a challenge, but provided me with a terrific education in mental strength training, resilience, hard work, and most of all—Belief 101. Here’s what I learned:
- Visualize a successful outcome. When you’re on sales commission, you notice very quickly what works and doesn’t work. What didn’t work for me was wasting time in the coffee shop with other depressed sales reps sharing stories of loss and rejection.
What did work was mentally rehearsing a successful outcome before the start of the day. I noticed my sales increase on days I visualized myself approaching prospects confidently and watching their faces light up with smiles at the great opportunity I was offering. I saw them signing contracts, handing me deposits, and warmly shaking my hand. I visualized myself with a clipboard overflowing with contracts. During my visualizations, which took about 5 to 10 minutes, I intensely felt the rush of excitement well up inside me as I had a successful day and high-fived my peers.
Before heading out to sell for the day, I’d look at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, smile, and say enthusiastically, “I feel fantastic! I’m going to make a lot of sales today!”
I also found that I had a better sales day when I meditated early in the morning for about 30 minutes. People are stressed enough as it is and don’t have the time to chat with a tense, nervous-looking sales rep standing outside their door. When people noticed my calm, serene presence, they’d welcome me in. My energy helped reduce some of their own stress.
As hokey as all this may sound, the important thing is it worked. My sales increased and I was consistently #1 in my sales crew. And you can apply this same mental rehearsal technique for almost any activity to help you enjoy more success in your field.
- Check negative thoughts at the door. In this line of work, unsubstantiated negative thoughts have a habit of creeping up: “It’s too cold (or too hot) to sell today;” “It’s a bad territory;” “I’m not cut out for this job”; and so on.
I soon learned that the best way to keep up my sales momentum was to check any negative thoughts as soon as they emerged by saying to myself, “Cancel, cancel. Negative thoughts and negative suggestions have no influence over my mind.”
I used other methods as well to keep the negative thoughts at bay, but this inner dialogue was sufficient to stop many negative thoughts from overpowering my mind and allowed me to sell successfully on a consistent basis.
- Don’t take rejection personally. Working on straight commission, it didn’t take long for me to realize that sales is, to a large degree, as the cliché goes, “a numbers game.” Each “no” simply led to a “yes” and the more “no’s” I got, the more “yesses” I’d make. Babe Ruth hit the most home runs, but he also had the most strike outs.
Of course it was difficult at first not to take rejection personally. And I spent a lot of time and energy in the early days replaying each rejection in my mind. But I soon realized that I had no way of reading other people’s minds. They could be having a bad day, or might have had an argument, or maybe they got burned before in a bad deal. I really had no way of knowing. So I adopted the emotionally neutral position: “Some will, some won’t. Who’s next?”
If someone rudely dismissed me, instead of being rude back, I simply thanked them for their time and went on my way. I no longer expended so much time and energy wallowing in so called rejection, and my sales increased as a result.
- Assume the sale! If you knew you could not fail, you’d certainly act very differently than if you expected to fail. A quality product that’s competitively priced in a hungry market should be an opportunity for most sales people and entrepreneurs. And yet, every day, I saw reps who came to the door expecting to fail: drooped shoulders, shifty eyes, little eye contact, limp-fish handshakes, weak, choppy presentations, exuding an apologetic look that said, “Sorry to trouble you, Sir, Ma’am. But, you wouldn’t want to buy anything from me today, would you?”
I know, because that’s how I started out, and my sales were miserable! But when I assumed the sale and expected to win, my sales more than doubled. I simply “acted as if” I had already made the sale: shoulders square, a warm, confident smile, firm handshake, steady eye contact, strong, fluid presentation, nodding my head often in an affirmative “yes.”
Expect to win! Assume the sale! Believe you can! You’ll be amazed at the results.