In this series on building sales character, we have been following a proverb that I believe comes from ancient Jewish tradition (Mishnah):
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
We’ll now take up the third line: Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Habits Learned Early
We know one thing about habits, both good and bad: they are learned very early on. A prime example is eating—when parents are careless and children end up being raised on a diet of sugar and junk food, children grow up with these habits into obesity, diabetes, and other health issues. It’s also something that creates a great deal of dissatisfaction with life as demonstrated by the billion-dollar weight loss industry (diets, gym chains, exercise equipment, and even drugs).
Yes, habits learned in childhood can affect your whole life. Habits come out of actions. What does that mean? Habits are what our computer (mind) recognizes and saves on our “hard drive.” These are always added one on top of the other—they don’t replace anything.
Habits become pretty much automated. An example is driving. If you’ll recall your first driving lesson, you were totally absorbed in trying to keep track of shifting, accelerating, braking, parking, backing up, and the many other actions that go into operating a motor vehicle. At the same time, you were irritated by all those other drivers! But once people have learned to drive, it becomes such second nature they do many other things while driving, such as have deep conversations, eat and even put on makeup. Driving has now become a habit.
Another habit for many of us is making that morning coffee. We don’t even have to think about it. We know where everything is—the coffee, the water, the pot, the cup, the sugar, the milk. Putting together that first cup of coffee is very automatic.
Good Habits, or Bad Habits?
Human beings “automate” repeated actions, good or bad. The question becomes, what kinds of actions can we “automate” that are positive?
On television recently, I saw a 100-year-old woman at the Viennese Opera Ball. She was dancing and looking incredible. The TV reporter, of course, asked for her secrets to such a long life. She said, “Getting up early in the morning, and working hard.” These are actions that had become long-term habits for her every day.
Every habit, in fact, grows out of multiple actions. For example, if you set your mind on becoming a world-class swimmer, the actions you take are to regularly practice swimming, and training. If your goal is to have a “life of ease,” you end up sitting in front of a TV for hours a day and eating fast food.
When you take actions, how do you know if they will lead to good habits? This is a very valid question, in my opinion. The answer lies in the result the action produces. The habit is the summary of the actions you take. Great actions repeated become great habits.
Do They Come Naturally?
Now the question becomes: do good habits just come naturally to a person? My answer would be, “No.” Everything is learned. The real qualifier would be the willingness to create an action.
Some people believe that having done something once, it will somehow become a habit. No! It takes repeated action. There are all kinds of opinions on how long an action must be repeated before it becomes a habit, but the bottom line is that it must be repeated over time.
Repetition also makes the action easier. When a rocket is fired into the air, in the beginning, it takes a huge amount of effort requiring tremendous amounts of fuel and energy to break the Earth’s gravitational pull. But as the rocket goes higher and then finally into space, it becomes easier and needs less and less propulsion.
The same is true for a habit. Let’s say you want to start getting up earlier to exercise. The first day you do it, it’s probably easy because you’re full of energy. But on the third or fourth day, older habits start kicking in and start pulling you down to your previous mindset. It requires a lot of energy to blow through that mindset—like the rocket—and push away from the old habits and make it through to the new, more desirable one.
Source of Energy
Where does the energy come from to make this push? Many look to exterior sources for energy, such as diet and vitamins, energy drinks, inspiration, and motivation. All these things might provide some assistance, but the real source of energy is you. Every person has that ability. It’s in you-you just have to activate it.
Going back to the beginning of your current physical life, you began as a sperm racing against millions of others. That energy brought you through. Then when you were born you cried for food. Then you brought yourself to stand up and walk, time after time until you got it right. And now you’re here! You won!
The survival instinct is intrinsic in us. No one ever told a child to “Stand up and walk.” We have the instinct and the power to do so, all on our own.
Where does this survival instinct and power get blunted? By bad habits taken on from our parents, and from others around us. And I know from personal experience how hard it can be to recognize bad habits in yourself and then decide to take on new, more positive ones.
Going back to our earlier example, let’s say you’ve grown up with bad eating habits, and by the time you’re into your teens or twenties, you’re in bad shape. You decide you don’t want to be in that condition. To change it is, indeed, going to be hard,. But you can make a decision. You have a choice. It’s not a matter of destiny that cannot be changed.
Meaning for Sales
Now, what does all this mean for salespeople? What kinds of actions should salespeople undertake to develop positive habits? The first action should be to decide that rejection (a major part of sales life) is not killing you.
In your pursuit of new customers, you should consistently view the “glass as half-full instead of half-empty” because roughly 20 percent don’t reject you. Taking that as a habit, you can perhaps work that into 25 percent that say “yes.” And then 28 percent. And then 30 percent.
But if you take the “glass half-empty” approach, you’ll only focus on the 70 to 80 percent rejection—and that’s all you’ll see. A very bad habit, which leads to an attitude of “Why even try?” So the first thing, for a salesperson, is to focus on what you’ve already achieved.
The second thing is to realize is that you need to develop habits that will consistently bring you closer to success. Note that word “consistent”. You can’t do something like deciding “Today I must call 10 people.” No, you have to do it every day! You see the results, and perhaps next week you call 20 people daily.
You shouldn’t set your goal so high you can’t possibly achieve it, because you don’t have any energy left from trying to do the impossible the previous day. Do that, and you’ll never have the habit. Take it incrementally step-by-step to get better, and only then can you achieve it. In an analogy, if you’ve never climbed a mountain, you couldn’t go off and climb Mt. Everest. But if you start with mountains that are, say, 14,000 feet, you can eventually work your way up to the point of trying Everest on. There’s nothing wrong with setting tough goals—just make sure they’re realistic, too.
Being Judged for Habits
All achievements require actions and remember that actions speak louder than words or anything else. Actions either underscore your words or betray them.
It’s interesting that if you only do something once, you may not be judged for it. But if you do something regularly, people will see it and recognize it as a habit. Nobody would say that a single instance of being unfriendly would mean someone is unfriendly—we’re human beings, and we’re all unfriendly from time to time. But if you’re unfriendly all the time, it will be seen as a bad habit and people will likely avoid you.
You can conduct an experiment with your own family. Ask living relatives about a few who have passed on. “What kind of person was Grandfather? Grandmother? Great Aunt Sofie?” They’ll say something like, “Oh, she was so nice! She was funny!” Or, “He was awful. He was always criticizing and complaining.”
You could speculate that if one person has an opinion like this, it’s just an opinion. But if four or five people all say similar things, it’s quite likely you’re hearing a summation of the habits of that person.
What would people say about you?
Be Who You Would Want to Deal With
Now, coming back to sales, take a look at your habits as they relate to your behavior. One by one you can evaluate each habit: Is it something that would be charming for a future buyer or prospect? Would it invite them to engage with you? Would it leave them saying, “I want to hang with this person!” Or would it leave them thinking, “This is not a person I want to be around? Why would I want to buy something from them?” These might be habits you want to change.
You (as well as everyone else) have a core understanding that you want to be someone, or should be someone, that you would want to engage with. No one wants to engage with someone who is nasty, unfriendly, miserable or rude. We all want to engage with people who are open, friendly, nice, engaging and empathetic.
Are you that kind of person yourself?
“Character is destiny” is a quote from Heraclitus of Ephesus (c535-c475 BC).