In a recent workshop, a participant asked, “How can I stay focused and positive during difficult times, when no one is answering their phones or conversations aren’t resulting in booked appointments?” While I’m by no means an expert on creating optimism and enthusiasm, a recent setback taught me some important lessons.
Many of you already know that I got my driver’s license very late in life (age 54). While this delay was influenced by living in Toronto for 20 years (where a car is not a necessity), it was mostly the result of … terror. I was a passenger in several car accidents as a child and I had a huge resistance to being responsible for a moving vehicle.
I was so focused on the goal of getting my license, it wasn’t until I was behind the wheel and driving to a meeting that I realized I hadn’t spent any time preparing myself for being alone on the road. I had a major panic attack. If you’ve never had one, know that it does indeed feel like you are perhaps having a stroke, or about to pass out, or … you get the picture.
Once I realized it was panic, I figured out how to deal with it. I’d roll down the window on the driver’s side – regardless of rain or cold – and I’d talk to myself out loud. I’d remind myself that I am a good driver. I’d talk about my successes on the road (long trips, avoiding accidents, etc.). I’d become my own coach to move through my panic and believe in my skill.
Fortunately, within a few months, those panic attacks stopped happening. The more I drove the car, the more confident I became, the more lengthy my treasury of success stories.
Then, it happened, the thing that was central to my initial fear. I was rear-ended at a red light. Only inconveniences – no injuries – resulted from this accident except … the panic attacks returned. I found myself once again rolling down my window and talking out loud.
This is exactly what I recommend if your “phone work” hits a rough patch. Whether you are making outbound calls and not reaching anyone, or accepting inbound calls from folks who are cranky and stressed (think about airline staff during winter storm delays), keep consulting your own treasury of success stories.
There’s a lot of research which indicates that 80% of our daily thoughts are negative toward ourselves, our accomplishments and future outcomes. (I recommend social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood’s talk at TedxUCDavis.) While that seems extreme to me, it does indicate that once negative thoughts appear, we tend to embrace them and allow them to multiply.
But if you are in sales, you have a career of metrics to consider. How does a short period of inactivity stack up against all you have accomplished in the past? It’s the same with customer service. While today’s calls may be a challenge, how do they compare with the number of calls in which you de-escalated, delivered and delighted?
The trick here is to make sure your success stories are easy to access. Once negative thoughts start to multiply, it becomes difficult to remember your positives. There’s no doubt that as my driving panic returned, it crossed my mind to quit altogether, but … I have celebrated every driving success I’ve had in the past 6 years. From a perfect parallel park to braking on time for a pedestrian who ran out in traffic to navigating the Cobequid Pass in the fog … I have shared and kept all these stories close at hand (much to the complete boredom of husband, David).
Cherish every success; don’t take them for granted. They are essential to navigating your inevitable setbacks.
So … if you see me driving with my window down and talking to myself, you’ll know that I’m being my own coach, drawing on my success stories. I hope you’ll start doing the same.