4 Exercises to Increase Mental Toughness

Aja Frost
Aja Frost



Sales is a high-stress job. Salespeople face the following conditions: Unresponsive prospects, tough competition, demanding quotas, and modern buyers who treat them like a last resort in a purchasing decision rather than an invaluable resource. In addition, many of them are dealing with more stakeholders -- and more personalities -- per deal than ever before.


But you can’t let this stress stop you or even slow you down if you want to be successful. The best salespeople have a lot of grit. They experience the same obstacles as their peers, but they’re far better at reacting to and ultimately overcoming these obstacles. The four exercises below will help you increase your own mental resiliency.

4 Ways to Amp Up Your Mental Resilience

1) Reframe Your Setbacks

“People who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local, and changeable,” writes Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychology professor and author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.

This optimism allows them to transform their toughest experiences into “catalysts for improved performance,” instead of viewing them as debilitating obstacles, according to Seligman.

Next time you fail, take a step back and evaluate how you’re thinking about the misstep.

A less resilient salesperson might think, “This problem is going to last a long time and affect multiple aspects of my life or work -- and there’s nothing I can do to fix it.”

On the other hand, a resilient one would think, “This situation isn’t ideal, but I can resolve it quickly with minimal consequences.”

2) Use the ABC Model

Some people respond to adversity with anxiety, which usually leads to self-defeating behavior. Others stay calm and identify if there’s anything productive they can do to improve their situation. Unsurprisingly, resilient personalities usually follow the second behavior pattern.

If you get overly stressed when you encounter issues, try psychologist and researcher Albert Ellis’s “ABC” model. Ellis designed this model to help people cope with adversity.

  • Identify the ‘A’: The Activating Event, or trigger for your negative emotions.
  • Recognize the ‘B’: Your Beliefs, or explanation for why the activating event happened.
  • Establish the ‘C’: The Consequences, or how you feel and what you do because of the event and your emotions (i.e. A + B).

This writing exercise distinguishes productive reactions from unproductive ones. Here’s an example:

  • A: A major deal falls through at the last minute.
  • B: I didn’t spend enough time during discovery figuring out how my prospect’s buying process works, so I was blindsided when she needed a signature from an unexpected stakeholder. I’m not a good salesperson. I’m not going to meet quota this quarter.
  • C: I feel panicky, insecure, and embarrassed. I don’t want to call any new prospects.

Once you’ve finished writing, classify each belief as “reasonable” or “unrealistic.” While it’s fair to say you failed to fully investigate your prospect’s buying process, that oversight doesn’t make you a bad salesperson. It also doesn’t mean you’ll miss your quarterly quota.

Next, separate your reactions into “healthy” and “unhealthy.” Feeling negative is normal; however, you can’t let those feelings stop you from calling prospects.

Analyzing your mindset helps you calm down, gain perspective, and avoid responding irrationally.

3) Identify the Silver Lining

Repressing negative feelings isn’t healthy or productive, so if you’re worried, upset, angry, frustrated, and so forth, don’t tell yourself you’re fine.

What you can do? Recognize the upside of the bad situation. For example, if one of your biggest accounts goes to your competitor, you might think, “Losing this customer is going to significantly impact my numbers for the next year. At the same time, they were growing at a rate our services team and platform couldn’t really support. Now we can focus on smaller accounts who are a better fit for our business.”

According to Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, author of Positivity, Identifying one or two silver linings to every situation instead of focusing only on the consequences you’re not happy about increases your resiliency.

Fredrickson also says that to thrive, an individual’s “positivity ratio” (their ratio of noticed positive to noticed negative experiences) must be at least 3:1. She recommends making an effort to identify random positive experiences in day-to-day life.

A study from Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami suggests writing down things you’re grateful for from the past week improves your mood and optimism.

Try writing down positive experiences every night or at the end of the week. The free Happier app (available for iPhone, iPad, and Android) is an option as well and lets you record happy moments on-the-go.

4) Be Literal

Are you prone to generalizing statements, like, “I’m a horrible negotiator,” or “I’ll never be a top rep”?

Frederickson says this type of thinking triggers emotional patterns. In other words, one gloomy thought can trap you into a loop of pessimistic thinking.

Fortunately, you can break out by getting literal. Next time you think something like, “My rapport-building skills are awful,” ask yourself, “What proof do I have for that statement?”

Maybe you struggled to connect with the buyers on your last two calls, but you had a great connection with the prospects you spoke to this morning and last night. You can clearly build rapport -- you just struggled in those two meetings.

You could also ask yourself, “Has my ability to put people at ease and get along with them improved since I started selling?” If yes, you can expect your rapport-building skills will continue to improve with practice.

The importance of resiliency in sales can’t be underestimated. With these four exercises, you can survive and even thrive in trying times.

Topics: Grit in Sales

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