How to Change Limiting Beliefs

Last Updated Jun 20, 2007 3:26 PM EDT

The beliefs that drive your sales behaviors are the keys to becoming a successful sales pro. Change the beliefs, and you'll change the behaviors and get better results. Now, that's easy to say, but most sales pros have no idea how to change a belief. Instead, most people wrongly think that beliefs are "true" and therefore changing them means believing a lie. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Facts are stone; they're immutable. Beliefs are not. Example: the state of the economy is a fact. How you feel about that fact and what it means to you personally is a belief. One person might believe that a "bad" economy means it's going to be harder to make a sale. Another person might believe that a "bad" economy means you can now win lots more business with a "buy now before things get worse" sales pitch. How can two people interpret the exact same fact so differently?

The answer lies in how beliefs are formed and reinforced. A belief forms when two facts - your temperament and an accident - come together. When any random event takes place (that's the accident), your mind, based upon your temperament, creates a rule to explain what that event means to you. A pessimist and an optimist thus see the same events (accidents) and, based upon their temperaments, interpret the meaning of those events very differently.

For example, you may have made your first cold calls without any sales training whatsoever (the accident), and therefore concluded that cold calling is a miserable, boring activity. Now imagine the same accident, but instead, due to a basically sunny temperament, you concluded that cold calling is like training to become an athlete. Neither belief is "true" in any objective sense. However, they will create very different selling behaviors.

Beliefs start out tentatively; they're more like guesses. However, these tentative beliefs act as a lens through which additional events are viewed. (This is similar to the phenomenon that when you buy a red Honda, you start seeing red Hondas everywhere.) The belief filters out evidence (facts) that doesn't reinforce the belief and emphasizes evidence (facts) that does reinforce the belief. This filtering process causes the belief to get stronger until, in your mind, the belief appears to be entirely "true."

For example, if you have the tentative belief that cold calling is boring, you'll tend to notice when calls go badly and ignore calls that go well. Over time, you'll become absolutely convinced that you're no good at cold calling, which is now the bane of your sales existence. Similarly, if you have the tentative belief that cold calling is like athletic training, you'll tend to notice when you do better and try to reproduce that behavior. Over time, calls that go badly will just be seen as an excuse to hone a particular skill.

The big question is: why do people hold onto beliefs that make them completely miserable? Turns out that holding any "important" belief - whatever it is - has an emotional payoff. In the example above, the sales pro who sees a "bad" economy as an excuse to fail need not blame himself for failure - a big emotional payoff. Similarly, the sales pro who sees a "bad" economy as an opportunity to switch gears need not suffer beneath a load of worry - a big emotional payoff.

Emotions, then, are the "glue" that keep a belief intact and constantly reinforcing itself. Emotions are therefore the key to changing from an ineffective belief (one that creates sales failure) into an effective belief (one that creates sales success.) Change the emotions that you associate with a belief and the belief will change. Here's how it's done:

  1. Write down the old belief and the new belief side by side.
  2. Under the old belief, write down all the behaviors and results that the belief creates.
  3. For each result, write down how those results makes you feel.
  4. Under the new belief, write down all the behaviors results that you think the belief would create.
  5. For each result, write down how those results make you feel.
Now, read over the "old" column and force yourself to really feel all the emotions that the old belief generates. Get into it. Get miserable. Think of failure, job loss, boredom, etc. and how you'll feel when that stuff happens. Then read over the "new" column and imagine yourself feeling the emotions that the new belief will probably create. Get into it. Think of the president's club, the new car, a sales award, etc. and how you'll feel when you achieve those goals.

Read (and feel) the two lists every morning for a week and your new belief will be firmly installed in your mind. As with your old belief, the new belief will start filtering out facts that don't correspond to the new belief and emphasizing those that do. Over time (say a month or so) the new belief will seem so "true" that you'll wonder how could have ever believed that load of baloney that you used to think was completely true.

Here's an example, tied back to the previous post:

OLD: "After about the fifth bad cold call, I'm ready to call it a day."

  • I hate cold calling and dread doing it every day.
  • I'm ineffective and tongue-tied.
  • I don't make the sales that other people are making.
  • I feel stupid and dull and wonder whether I should be in sales.
  • I'm certainly losing commissions and might even lose my job.
NEW: "Every cold call is a new opportunity; the past is the past."
  • I can laugh off the occasional crabapple.
  • I'll feel renewed and relaxed as I call.
  • I'll be more effective and sell more.
  • Even if I don't make any sales, I'll feel good about my performance.
  • I could even end up in the President's club. Miami, here I come!
This method really works, and not just for sales beliefs, as I can testify from personal experience. I left a corporate job and built my own highly-lucrative practice because I changed my core beliefs about job security. (I used to believe that working for somebody else meant job security; I now believe that working for yourself is the only real job security.) Similarly, I went from a guy who was so painfully shy around women that I tended to hook up with losers to a guy who dated several very intelligent, desirable women -- and finally married the best of the bunch. (I used to believe that I was a loser if a woman didn't want to date me; I now believe - or did before I married - that I was only a loser if I didn't get up the courage to ask for a date.)

Before moving off this topic, I wanted to explain that it's important that you compose your own "new" beliefs (rather than just borrow mine or somebody else's) because those beliefs must reflect your individual temperament. If you're naturally an extrovert, for example, you're only going to be able to fully incorporate beliefs that reflect that way of thinking about people. Similarly, if you're temperamentally religious, your improved beliefs about sales will need to incorporate and integrate your religion. The more personal you make your new beliefs, the easier it will be to install and reinforce them.