Meditation, Sales, and Behavior Change

I just returned from another 10-day silent meditation retreat. As always, this experience provided me with an opportunity to truly disconnect from the world and be with my own thoughts - the good and the bad. On the one hand, it’s very intense. But on the other hand, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Retreats give you a chance to think about the bigger things in life. In my case, that included my motivations and goals for my business.

One of the ideas I discussed in my last blog post about meditation continued to resonate with me throughout my latest experience: the reality that meditation is a valuable tool to facilitate behavior change. It’s a way to learn the important skills of awareness and equanimity, which I’m increasingly convinced are the key ingredients to successful reinvention. Let me explain.

Awareness, Equanimity, and Returning to the Present

Meditation is like exercise for the brain in developing both awareness and equanimity. Awareness is about being in the present moment. It means not allowing your mind to wander aimlessly - to the past, the future, or a fantasy - as our minds often do. Equanimity is about remaining calm despite the thoughts that pop into our heads and the multitude of stimuli that surround us. The goal is to engage with the world without getting triggered by our feelings or circumstances. In particular, mediation allows us to learn not to be too attracted to the positive thoughts that show up in our minds nor too averse to the negatives that often appear. Instead, we should try to be content seeing the world as it is rather than how we want it it be.

What complicates this journey toward awareness and equanimity - and something you realize over and over during a meditation retreat - is that you can’t really control your mind. If you sit for longer than 30 seconds or so, you’ll find that it’s very difficult to focus on the present and keep your mind from wandering, despite your best intentions and attempts. It’s very easy to get frustrated. But by continuing to practice, you learn to accept the fact that your mind goes in all different directions, and you remember that you have the ability to bring yourself back to the present. When you get distracted, you catch yourself and return to the present with equanimity.

Two Wings of a Bird

If you are aware, equanimous, and nonreactive to whatever comes your way, you’ll slowly, but inevitably, be able to change whatever behaviors you set your mind to. I know this is a radical statement, but I believe it wholeheartedly. People rarely change through carrots and sticks. Even when incentives are presented, research shows that as soon as they’re taken away, people return to their old ways. Beating yourself up (unfortunately, the tactic adopted by most people) also doesn’t work. You can’t build the sustained effort and courage necessary to change if you consistently tell yourself you’re not good enough.

The secret is in combining those two ingredients, awareness and equanimity. Awareness alone will not work. Simply being aware of your propensities and reactivity to different stimuli is not enough. Think about people you know who are heavy drinkers or smokers or perhaps have some other negative behavior they’d like to change. Their acknowledgement of these problems is just the first step in a long path that often doesn’t work out.

The Emotions That Complicate Sales Success

Likewise in sales, we are all aware of the rules we should employ in various sales situations. We should listen to customers, follow the scripts we developed, ask the right questions, and schedule the next step at the end of the conversation. We should be mindful and responsive to the customers’ needs. These little things aren’t difficult; any salesperson knows these are best practices. But awareness is not enough.

When we find ourselves in an intense or important sales situation, distracting, powerful emotions can arise that take you away from your intentions. You go into the meeting with a plan. But something happens that throws you off. Maybe you’re intimidated by an aggressive client or the value of the deal. Maybe you’re stressed out about meeting your quota for the quarter and your pipeline is a little dry. Your mind often shifts to pleasing the client rather than challenging them with insight. Customers can throw you off as well. They have their own agendas. Conversations with real humans never stick to the script.

As in meditation, the solution is to recognize that you’ve deviated from the script, catch yourself, and return to the present moment (and your plan for the call). Maybe you started talking about yourself too much or let the client control the conversation. It happens. But we must develop the habit of realizing we’re off the correct path and bring everything back to the present, calmly and with equanimity.

Coaching is Invaluable

You can’t do this all by yourself. Meditation is a very singular activity but even the best yogis can’t make progress alone. They seek community and teachers to help guide them through the inevitable doubts and challenges they encounter.

Similarly, you’ll be more successful as a salesperson if you have a supportive coach - one who guides you, practices with you, and role plays different scenarios so you aren’t caught completely off guard when they arise. That coach, through their presence and feedback, can help strengthen your ability to remain on track and return to the present moment. With support you’ll improve over time.

Coaches can also help you see behaviors and patterns that you can’t see yourself. They can help you practice your conversations so that good habits become more automatic. Just like every good yogi needs a guru, every good salesperson needs a coach.

Research is already showing that mindfulness increases the performance of corporate executives. I believe it can do the same for sales people.