Can Olympians' Motivation Tricks Work for Sales People?

7 min read

A recent article from The Atlantic by Olga Khazan, “How Olympians Stay Motivated” investigates how these word-class athletes stay engaged, motivated, and keep their eye on the prize during the rigorous training process. The question is, can Olympians’ tips and tricks also help Sales people stay motivated? 1.“Talk yourself through the stress” Khazan’s article references a study done “In 1993, [where] researchers interviewed 17 national champion figure skaters and identified 158 unique coping strategies they used. The most common, used by 76 percent of the skaters, was ‘rational thinking and self-talk.” Simply put, these athletes were using positive affirmations to encourage their performance and keep them going during their toughest tests and trials. Many of the figure skaters alluded to the fact that although the medals were important, they had to be doing it for themselves, and for their love of the sport. As a Sales person, this tip can work for you as well. Next time you’re working on a deal that feels as if it will never close, remember why you got in the game. You’re good at what you do, you enjoy building relationships, and you believe in the product your selling. Reminding yourself that you’ve closed difficult deals before, and you will close this one makes all the difference. 2. “Love—or at least accept—the grind”  It’s easy to feel down when you’re making calls all day and being continuously rejected, but if you accept the rejection as part of the process and take it as a challenge to continue to hone your skills, or change the way you’re approaching prospects it will work to your advantage. “Teri McKeever, the head swimming coach at UC Berkeley who has also trained Olympic swimmers [said] ‘they enjoy the working out as much as they enjoy the competition. They love that idea of pushing the limits and learning and being challenged emotionally and physically.’” Taking on this mentality could help you as well. Push yourself to attain new goals; even if you always make quota, strive to exceed your quota by ten percent, or even twenty percent. When you ‘love the grind’ having difficult goals will spur you on and greatly increase your confidence when you reach them. 3. “Stick with a coach who’s more like South, not North, Korea” Khazan references “a 2000 study, [that found] Division I athletes were shown to be more motivated when the coaches were neither too easygoing nor hard-charging—they reinforced consistently, but with a democratic style of instruction. (‘Autocratic’) coaches, meanwhile, are the ones who shout orders with no explanation. It also helps if the coach provides rationale for each point of feedback.” While you can’t choose your boss, you do have the power to influence their leadership style. If you’re the type of person who needs a lot of feedback and encouragement to inspire your performance, let your manager know. Be explicit in your discussions with them so that you know what’s expected of you, and vice versa. If you feel like your boss is so laissez faire he could care less if you even show up, maybe point out that you’d like to be held accountable for your actions through clear goal setting and communication. 4. “Try mindfulness”  Before you write off this tip as more relevant in a yoga class than in the corporate world, consider its effectiveness for elite golfers. A study found that the ones that “had been trained in mindfulness techniques, such as greater awareness of breathing or accepting emotions without judgment, all increased their national rankings, compared with only two golfers in the control group.” So how can you go about being mindful? Stay in the moment. If you’re talking to a potential customer, don’t let your mind wander to what restaurant you’re taking your wife to for dinner, and resist the urge to scroll through other emails. When you put energy and focus solely into what you’re doing in the present you might be surprised at the power and efficiency it inspires.  5. “Think about the next big event” Throughout their training Olympians keep their eye on the prize, and you should do the same. While images of gold medals dance in hopeful competitors’ heads, you should focus on the next President’s Club trip that you could be a part of. Next time you’re having a particularly stressful day imagine yourself sipping a Mai Tai while lounging on a white sand beach. That should be enough to get you through a grueling day. Khazan asserts that “Even some renowned athletes don’t intrinsically enjoy practice—they just see it as a means to win the next competition.” Very few people (if anyone) love their job every day. On those days when you wish you could dramatically quit and walk out of the office à la Jerry Maguire focus on the end game and remember the prizes that await top performers. Many of us enjoy watching the Olympics with nationalistic pride for ‘our’ teams. We watch in amazement as people contort their bodies in ways that don’t seem humanly possible, and we marvel at their dedication to their craft. On days when you need a little extra motivation than usual remember that you, too, are a master of your craft. Take a cue from these inspiring individuals: think positive, be mindful, and accept the grind. Before you know it you just might love it.