If you work in sales or customer retention, if you run a business or manage a team, you probably deal with a lot of failure. Professional athletes also deal with failure all the time, and their work depends on them not letting that pressure get to them. They have to get up every day and compete again. The same goes for sales.
Whether you’re an Account Executive or an Account Manager, a business owner, even a recruiter, you’re constantly selling. You make calls, you pitch clients, you try to save the deal, you woo investors, you attempt to hire rockstar employees.
In sales and in sports, you take a lot of shots and they don’t all go in. You play a lot of games, and you won’t win them all. Because even the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors lost 9 games. Even the very best players still lose sometimes.
Losing sucks. It can feel soul-crushing to put in all that work just to hear a prospect say no. Especially when you get on a cold streak, and you get multiple rejections in a row.
So what can we learn from how elite athletes manage their psychology to help us manage our own? How can we learn how to better deal with performance pressure, and not cave to the anxieties that can come from missing a shot or losing a deal?
Nervousness is normal, so use it. When I taught university courses on public speaking, I was constantly reminding students that nerves are your body’s way of letting you know to take something seriously. If you feel nervous, it’s because you know something is important. That’s good! Pay attention to that feeling, try to channel your nervous energy into productive energy. It’s a form of adrenaline, and it can actually help increase your performance. Either way, don’t let your butterflies, increased heart rate, or sweaty palms distract you.
Preparation matters. Practice your pitch. Refine it, hone it as you go. Do it over and over and over, so that you get a little better every time. The more work you put in before your pitch, the more likely you are to do well when it comes to game time.
Learn from your mistakes. If you bomb a pitch, try to figure out what went wrong. Is there anything you can change next time? Analyze, learn, and improve. If you record your calls, listen to the ones that didn't go well. Athletes watch a lot of game tape, and so should you.
Practice mindfulness. Sales, like sports, is mental. You're in your head all the time. Try not to overthink things, remember that negative thoughts are just thoughts, and focus on what you're doing right now, in the moment.
Focus on hydration and nutrition. You feel less anxious when you’re well hydrated and not hungry. Don’t let hanger contribute to your anxiety.
Get back up. Ever since my daughter was a few months old, her dad and I have told her that when we get knocked down, we get up again. You get up and try again, every time. Just like Chumbawumba's been telling us for 24 years.
Do your best every time. Give every call everything you’ve got. Know that you tried as hard as you could, so that even if it doesn’t work out, you put in your full effort.
Breathe. Breathing is scientifically shown to help calm a stress response and trigger a relaxation response. Focus on taking deep, even breaths to calm your physiological stress response. It works. Seriously.
Trust the process. Try to focus on your process, not the outcome. Take a long-term view of your goals, and know that it may take time to reach them. But just keep chipping away at it, and you'll get there. It's working for the Sixers, and it can work for you.
Don’t let losses make you doubt yourself. Don’t let yourself start thinking, “I’m no good at this.” Try to reframe your thinking as, “I didn’t hit that one, but I’ll get the next one.” Don’t let the negativity settle in.
Take a future orientation. Remind yourself why you’re in this, what you’re working toward. Losses now will set you up for wins in the future. Just keep working.
Remind yourself where you started. Lebron James once said that he's exceeded expectations his entire career, because he's "a statistic that was supposed to go the other way." What were you doing 5, 10, 20 years ago? Past you would probably be incredibly proud of you now. And current you will be proud of future you later.
You’re not gonna hit them all. In fact, you might even miss a lot in a row. That’s okay.
You’re not alone. Everyone feels like this! No one likes to lose. But everyone does lose. No one hits every shot. No one closes every deal. Find people to commiserate with. Normalize it, and move on.
Billie Jean King is famous for saying that pressure is a privilege. We feel pressure because we have an opportunity in front of us. It can be hard to keep going in the face of failure, but if athletes can do it, so can we. Just remember, we're always going to be dealing with adversity.