Like you, my inbox has its fair share of articles relating to high performance. Olympic athletes come to mind as the ultimate high performers who demonstrate the relationship between action and result, cause and effect. Olympians perform under the highest of pressure. Whether they win or lose, we only witness 5% of their skill. The outcome we see when they take the podium was shaped during the other 95% of practice time we never see. The 5% success results from the 95% of action and process. Flow is the performance level that separates the elite from the consistently great. Athletes don’t dedicate and sacrifice everything to be consistently great. They do it to perform in the flow, at their best, to push their personal limits as far as they can. Flow is best described as the combination of technique and mindset to perform under the most pressured situations.
The Importance of Building Sensory Memory
If you’ve been paying attention to performance research, you’ll recognize the difference between process and outcome. The 5% is the outcome, and the 95% is the process. If you have any interest in learning how to compete at the highest level, you will focus everything on your process, not your outcome.
For many, this may feel counterintuitive. Your company pays you to perform and bring in new business (revenue) and here I’m telling you to stop focusing on the outcome. Three main ideas come to mind when considering the importance of process to elite performance.
Create Sensory Memory
For elite performers, process helps create muscle and sensory memory. For an athlete, things can happen quickly, so they have to be adept at converting information, recalibrating situations, and reacting in the moment with efficiency. The more muscle and sensory memory they’ve developed through their practice and process, the more likely they are to perform in the flow. This feels the same in sales. Conversations and attitudes shift quickly. You need to develop your sensory memory to respond in the flow. If you don’t know the answer, you’re probably inconsistent at best.
Let Go of the Outcome
No matter how extensive the process, if the individual spends too much time focusing on the glory and gratification of an outcome, they won’t be able to perform in the flow and will likely “choke” under pressure. Again, sounds a lot of like sales. You can role-play scenarios to create muscle and sensory all day, but if you don’t learn how to recalibrate your energy or excitement, you won’t find flow. Your actions should not be driven toward a conversation outcome at the cost of performing in the conversation moment.
Researchers have found that humility plays a huge role in elite performance. Those who identify with egocentric rewards like “winning” and “pride-glory” based outcomes fail to invest the energy in the practice needed to excel during clutch situations. They may win when competing against inconsistent competition, but tend to crumble when the stakes are higher. This has a direct correlation to sales. For example, it’s easier to compete when the prospect is willing to acknowledge their challenges and the gain from making a change is obvious. Add in minimal competition, and you can get by with inconsistent – consistent sales performance. Add in quality competition, and it’s no longer a walk in the park. If your energy is tied up in the glory of winning, it’s not focused on the process that will help you perform at a higher level to win.
If the idea of moving your performance from inconsistent to consistent to flow sounds compelling, you’ll have to answer this question. What should you do to commit yourself fully in order to flow. A skier has skis. A soccer player has a ball. A musician has an instrument. What does a salesperson have? Salespeople have conversation. How do you flow with your conversations?
Like an elite athlete, you will need to build and commit to a process that improves your conversation sensory memory and your mindset. The good news is, unlike the Olympics where everyone is elite, as a sales individual you are competing against amateurs, professionals, and very few elites.