Sales and Sales Management Blog

May 12, 2008

Science, Your Brain, Imagination, and Success and Failure

How often have you heard that what you think and what you believe is one of the most important factors in sales success? I imagine you’ve heard that preached so often you’ve almost become numb to it. It’s a theme preached by most sales trainers and managers. You find it in sales books, on training CD’s and DVD’s, you hear it at every conference you attend.

You’re told to repeat positive affirmations, to give yourself positive pep talks, to think positively, to envision yourself being successful, and to imagine yourself giving the perfect presentation or the closing the mega-deal.

Despite the preaching, a surprisingly large number of salespeople take these admonitions with a grain of salt. Some simply think its junk science and blow it off, others don’t believe they need it, others acknowledge they should be doing it but don’t do it, others just let the words go in one ear and out the other, and many others argue that it is what you do–not what you think–that determines your success or failure.

There is, however, solid scientific evidence for the impact imagination and thought has on performance. What you think does translate to some extent to what you do, how you act, and ultimately, what you achieve. Your brain is the single most powerful tool you have and what you feed your brain is translated by your brain into action. Feed your brain negative material and it will generate negative actions. Likewise, feed it positive material and it will generate positive actions.

Subject-Expectancy Effect
The Subject-Expectancy Effect (also known as the Placebo Effect) is an observation by scientists primarily involved in medical research that the recipients of placebos reported the same positive and negative effects as the subjects who received the actual drug being tested. In addition, there are documented cases where the placebo recipient experienced the same physical changes as the recipients of the drug. Scientists have no other explanation than the power of the placebo recipient’s belief changed their physical state. The belief of the recipient in the healing power of the drug they were presumably taking produced the actual physical changes the drug would have produced.

This phenomenon has been observed in the social sciences as well. In experiments, subjects who believed they could not successfully perform even simple tasks managed to unconsciously find ways to sabotage their actions, assuring their expected outcome—failure. The subject’s belief about their abilities influenced their actions to such an extent that they guaranteed they could not do what they had convinced themselves they could not do.

Reshaping the Brain
An experiment at Harvard demonstrates that our imagination not only changes our abilities, but actually changes the shape of our brain in the same way as performing the actual act.

Researchers at Harvard placed a group of people who could not play the piano in a room with a piano and a teacher who gave intensive lessons for five days. A second group was placed in another room with an identical piano but told to have nothing to do with the instrument. A third group was put into a room with another identical piano but told to do nothing but imagine practicing the piano—they never touched the instrument.

After five days, the first group had a rudimentary ability to play. The second group, of course, couldn’t play a lick.

The third group who had never touched the piano could play almost as well as the first group. More astounding, the brains of the third group had undergone the same physical change in the area that controls finger movement as the first group.

Simply imagining performing the act had almost the same affect as actually performing it.

Changing Your Sales Business
Salespeople and managers who argue that actions—both positive and negative—determine success or failure in sales are correct. You either make the sales or you don’t. You either connect with qualified prospects or you don’t. You either develop the relationships with your prospects and clients or you don’t.

Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that the actions you take aren’t independent of your belief system or your thoughts. The ultimate determination of your success lies in your head. What you think, what you imagine, and what you believe about yourself will find its way into your actions. If you feed your brain success, it will demand you take the actions to become successful. On the other hand, feed your brain defeat and your brain will accommodate that outcome also.

Excerpted from SuperStar Selling: 12 Keys to Becoming a Sales SuperStar by Paul McCord, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all find bookstores.


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