In the book Boundaries For Leaders, Henry Cloud shares a fascinating story about a study that was done on two different camps of insurance salespeople. More than a thousand insurance agents were given a simple aptitude test to separate each camp on how smart they were.
They pitted the smart agents against the one who flunked the test. Next, they looked to see which agents sold more insurance. The results were surprising.
The agents that flunked the aptitude test outsold the smart agents that passed the aptitude test!
Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, originally carried out this study. Positive Psychology looks at the reasons why people thrive or flourish and seeks ways to replicate these outcomes. As opposed to studying the sick, which is the traditional focus of psychology.
What was the contributing factor of the outperforming salespeople?
Optimism Leads to Higher Production
The study found that the smarter agents didn’t have a “can-do” like the agents that flunked the aptitude test.
Salespeople that have a positive mindset are outperformers.
In my last post, I talked about some of the dangers of positivity. The propensity of putting a positive spin on everything can lead you further from reality. Brutal honesty is the key here. It is not about ignoring reality. It is about processing negative realities in the way that I lay out later in this post.
In the Bible, this “can-do” attitude or “anything is possible” positive mindset is very much similar to faith. The best biblical narrative where this is on display is in the characters of Joshua and Caleb.
Scoping Out The Promised Land
When Moses led the Israelites out of captivity, God displayed his power and tender care for his people by delivering them at the Red Sea. Before they went into the Promised Land, Moses directed 12 men to go into the region that God was giving them to see what the land entailed. The story is documented in Numbers 13-14.
The 12 spies were scoping out the land for 40 days. 10 of the 12 spies complained about the land, saying the people were too big, the cities were fortified and Ank’s fearsome descendants were there.
But not Joshua and Caleb. They saw things differently.
Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
All of the spies saw the same things. They got the same data and the same facts. But how Caleb and Joshua saw things, with eyes of faith, made all the difference.
The pessimistic spies continued to complain. They didn’t want to go into the Promised Land. They compared themselves to the others and said they seemed like grasshoppers in comparison. The people proposed finding another leader that would take them back to Egypt, where they were in captivity!
Then Joshua went on to say:
The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.
Numbers 14: 7-9
What is amazing here is how Joshua is not leaning on his strength. He is stating what God can do for them.
Isn’t is amazing how our outlook on life and our possibility of thinking is enhanced when we are full of faith! With God on our side, anything is possible!
That an outlook and attitude I want about life. How do we get there?
Thinking about Our Thinking
Neuroscientists have found a couple of amazing things about the human brain. We can look at our regular patterns of thinking. When we analyze the way we think about things, our perceptions, over time we can change them to ones that serve us better. This actually rewires the typical thinking patterns in our brains.
Isn’t that amaizing! We can change how we think and perceive events that life brings our way. Our typical ways of experiencing events and responding to them are not set in stone.
To start this process, we need to become aware of our thinking patterns.
The Downward Spiral of Negativity
In doing this research on optimism, Dr. Martin Seligman found that when a negative event happens, we create a narrative that descends negatively. The three deepening layers are where we “personalize” the event, see it as “prevalent” and then see it as “permanent.”
Personalize – we judge ourselves in light of the situation. We put ourselves down. This event happened because “I’m such a looser,” “I am no good at sales” or “I’m a terrible leader.”
Prevalent – the critique we made about ourselves in one area of our lives go to every area of our lives. It can sound like “I’m worthless,” “I’m good for nothing,” or “I don’t just suck at work, my marriage sucks, and I’m a terrible parent.”
Permanent – we resign ourselves to the fact that it will always be this way. We descend into hopelessness; nothing’s going to change, this new reality is here to stay.
When we descend to the bottom of this, which is called Learned Helplessness, we stop doing the things we know that will get us ahead. We stop taking action because we think its pointless. We feel paralyzed and our performance tanks.
Why take action when nothing is going to change anyway?
Bringing the Dark into the Light
When we become aware of our typical, negative thinking pattern. We need to bring it out into the open.
By giving voice to negative thoughts and helplessness, by writing in a journal, talking to a trusted friend or coach, we take back the power this thinking pattern has over us.
On a recent coaching call, my client told me about a situation where this downward spiral was occurring. He had a prospect on the phone that was very interested in his recruiting services. They had a great initial conversation, and he promised to follow up with more information about their services.
Then the prospect went cold. Would not respond to emails. Wouldn’t answer the phone and return voicemails over the next couple of weeks.
When I talked it through with him, he was disheartened and talked about the way he explained the situation. We went through each of permanent, prevalent and personalized reasons for the lack of response.
Before long my client said that maybe the guy was just busy and overwhelmed. He had a lot on his plate and was letting things fall through the cracks.
It gave him the realization that this prospect was more in need of his services than before. It gave him the resolve to keep reaching out and be pleasantly persistent. To let the sales process play itself out and continue to follow up and try different avenues to reach him.
Our Faith is in Christ
This is more than just looking at our thinking and trying some mind tricks.
The faith that Joshua and Caleb displayed was not in their abilities. Their faith was in the Lord, the one that would make a way and the one who fight on their behalf.
And likewise, our faith is in Christ. The one whose strength we can hold on to, even when we are weak.
May the God of hope fill you with
all joy and hope in believing,
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit
you may abound in hope.