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Clients often come to me seeking ‘better’.

“I want to be better at…”

“I want to do… better”

“I want to be better”

To achieve a goal, that goal must be clear and specific, so our next step is to discuss together what these statements really mean. As we explore what ‘better’ looks like, some more defined concepts start to emerge.

Among top of the list for people I work with (card-carrying A-Types and over-achievers all) is time and energy management. So is discipline and motivation.

Whatever the goal, at some point the subject of resilience will emerge.

They might not use the word itself, but resilience shows up in the questions that we aim to solve at the beginning of a coaching conversation.

“How do I power through?”

“How do I be more disciplined with my workouts and my planning?”

“How do I care less what other people think and take things less personally?”

The answers to these questions are of course highly personal. The work of a Coach is to ask questions that create fresh perspectives and new thinking around an old problem, and help the Coachee to sort out the best answer for them, because everyone is different.

That said, some of the barriers that prevent progress are universal. One major barrier to building resilience is impatience; not being willing to work and to wait for it.

Everyone wants to build resilience, but those who move closer towards it are the ones who understand that the path is long, difficult and often very dull. To quote Al Pacino in Ocean’s 13 , most people “don’t want the labour pains, I just want the baby!”

Most people just want the result, not the work.

Just give me the answers

The people I coach always want to know what I’ve seen have success, or what has worked for me. First, a definition.

Resilience is the ability to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

I don’t consider myself to be the most resilient person on the planet, but compared to where I was 5 years ago the improvement is vast.

There are many factors that have contributed to this process, but if I had to choose one thing that got me to my current level it would be getting into sales.

Much of my career has been and continues to be working with sales teams to improve their performance. Not only that, but I have tended to work for small businesses where one had to both sell and deliver, which is only more true once you own a business.

The nature of being a business owner is that you are a salesperson first. Fellow business owners that I meet recoil at this notion (“No I’m not — I’m a [insert profession here with a superior tone])!”

Yes, you are.

No matter what you do or how you earn your living, sales is the prelude to the main event. If you can’t sell it, you can’t do it, and you can’t get paid for it. End of.

Assuming you have now been persuaded by my articulate and nuanced debating strategy above, let’s talk about why sales is so good for building resilience. To do so, I will focus on three elements that help with a resilient mindset — Strategic Thinking, Discipline and Detachment.

Sales is good for Strategic Thinking (and Strategic Thinking is good for sales)

In most roles work is given to you, (often in abundance). By contrast, a salesperson starts with a blank canvass. On Day 1 of your sales career you’re armed with… nothing. Maybe a leads list and a vague idea of the product of service’s main features.

My definition of Strategic Thinking is the creation of a future.

That’s why it’s hard to do — you’re literally magicking a world that does not yet exist out of thin air, and you’re starting off with an idea, a pen and some paper. A salesperson’s job is to create money where there was none before, thus securing the company’s short or long-term future for the whole team.

By definition, there is risk involved in strategic thinking; your strategy may not work. To keep going in spite of this uncertainty takes grit and builds resilience, and if you don’t have it going in, you’ll learn it if you stick at it for long enough.

Sales is good for Discipline (and Discipline is good for sales)

To me, discipline is simply the act of choosing. Choosing to do something (or not), even if you’d rather do the opposite.

As already discussed, sales is the creation of a desired future, but that does not happen instantly.

Those who have never done sales or spent any time around it are prone to the perception that salespeople are the cowboys of a company; rolling in and out of the office between coffee meetings and lunches, talking the talk. In some cases they may be true, but a professional salesperson backs up that talk with a highly structured process and approach to their time.

Behind any deal is days, weeks, months or even years of calls, emails, meetings and followups, most of which is not fun, flashy, glamorous or exciting. And when you also consider that most of this activity ends with the prospect saying ‘No!’, this activity is a complete chore.

But is has to be done. The salesperson has to choose to do it. They must have the discipline to pick the phone up as many times as it takes to make their future happen — no-one will do it for them (especially in a small business).

Sales is good for Detachment, (and Detachment is good for sales)

Detachment is a Mindset Skill that I spend a lot of time talking about with coachees; the ability to not care so much that you are paralysed with fear or overwhelm, but at the same time make the result meaningful enough that you put your full effort into it.

Detachment is a balancing act that is hard to achieve and harder still to maintain, but for those who know how to effectively detach, the gains in time, energy and peace of mind are mighty.

If you can put distance between yourself and a problem you face, you can remain in the state to which the All Blacks refer to as ‘Blue Head’ — calm, collected, focused. Fail to do this and your emotions will get the better of you, clouding your judgement, causing you to overreact, and more often than not, make the problem worse.

Sales requires detachment. Whilst it is an art, sales is also a science. It must oftentimes be surgical, clinical, mechanical, removed from the personal feelings and emotional involvement.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the fear of not knowing where your future money (and therefore security) might come from can paralyse you — and this is exactly what you cannot afford to happen.

The second is because salespeople can be treated horribly. You are stood up for the pitch meeting you spend days preparing. People make false commitments to you just to get you off the phone. You and your work are insulted (sometimes from within your own company).

If you can’t detach from this, it will bury you. Learning to let go of such things keeps you mindful of the big picture, the future you are trying to create, and ultimately, more successful.

So, what now?

As I said before, the bad news is that there is no quick-fix to build resilience — you have to work at it, consistently and over time. And when you’ve built it, you need to work to maintain it. Here are a few ideas to help you on your way to a more resilient mindset:

  • Be uncomfortable — A good place to start is to expose yourself to incrementally larger doses of adversity. Of course, in our society we do not face real adversity — most of us are in no danger of starvation or pestilence. Remembering this alone should give readers a quick hit of perspective (also good for resilience). When I say adversity, I am referring to taking on a new challenge at work or in your personal life at which you stand a fair chance of failing.

  • Meditate — I am a huge proponent of meditation. I only do 10 minutes a day, most days, but have done so for years. It teaches the skill of rescuing yourself from being lost in thought and refocusing on the present moment, and this skill is essential for detachment.

  • Read the Stoics — Stoicism is about seeing things for how they are, not how you would like them to be, and thereby reacting less emotionally, and more objectively. A great primer is “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday, or for those who like something more chunky, “The Tao of Seneca” (an audiobook presented by Tim Ferris). Another great book for resilience is “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield (who inspired the title quote for this article), who talks about the resilience required to do great creative work, but whose lessons can apply to anything.

The road may towards a resilient mind may be long, but it comes with its unfair share of rewards. If you seek them out, each day presents opportunities to get comfortable being uncomfortable.