EPISODE 619: Breaking Through Self-Limiting Beliefs with Sales and Performance Coach Carrie Esker

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Carrie Esker is a sales and performance coach.

CARRIE’S TIP: “Remain curious, to stay childlike in your desire to learn, to explore, to ask questions of others and of yourself. I guess that falls right into being coachable. But just in your daily life, it will pull you out of the loops in your brain that we’ve discussed today that aren’t serving you, and it will open up the space for you to grow, increase sales, and really be fortified and flourish in your life.”


Fred Diamond: Carrie, we talk a lot about mindset. We talk a lot about dealing with anxiety and stress. I’m excited to talk to you today. We’re going to be talking about increasing sales through a regulated nervous system. Before we get into some details, what does that mean? What is a regulated nervous system?

Carrie Esker: Good morning, Fred. First of all, I want to thank you. I’m so excited to be here with your listeners and I’m honored to be sitting here with you. Also, I wanted to thank you for all of your work at the Institute for Excellence in Sales, Love, Hope, and Lyme, and this amazing podcast.

Regulated nervous system. Let’s start with just what is our nervous system? What does that even really mean? Specifically we’re looking at our autonomic nervous system. It’s one branch, one part of what keeps us functioning adequately, I’ll say. That part of our nervous system is our heart, our lungs, our digestion. It’s everything automatic. We’re not necessarily thinking about it, but as you’ll come to learn today, it’s really important that we do look at it and come to understand the nervous system.

I’m going to keep this really broad, but there are three basic parts of this nervous system. The easiest way to explain it as it functions in our lives is, think of a ladder. On the top of the ladder, we have the portion of the nervous system that is calm, it’s relaxed, it’s able to connect, it listens very well. We’re at peace and we’re engaged. Now, that’s a really sweet place to be. It would be awesome if we could be there all the time. But if we drop down a notch, we come into the next stage of the nervous system, which is the sympathetic nervous system. There is the fight, the flight, the cortisol. Then when we look at this from a business and sales respect, we can see what else falls there. We got quotas, we have volatility, we have stress. We had a deal, didn’t have a deal. We have all of that living in that space. If we drop down even one further, we become into what I’ll call the shutdown stage. It’s just everything starts to feel way too much. We go deep within inside ourselves, and we have come to a long way, we descended quite far from the space right up on top where we’re going to be functioning best in our daily lives and in sales.

This system was created to flow between these three states real nice and organically. We need to be able to react really, really quickly. We also need to protect ourselves sometimes and go slow and shut down, and observe. But the place where we want to work towards is getting back always to the top. Again, in sales, if we can listen well, if we can be engaged, our nervous systems, I feel yours right now, you feel mine. I’m really excited. You probably feel that. Same thing with the listeners and their clients that they’re working with, the state they bring into the boardroom, into that sales meeting, it has a great effect on the results.

Fred Diamond: We’ve done so many shows on sales tactics, but we’ve done so many shows, Carrie, over the last three years on mindset. We even did a whole show on how sales professionals need to deal with trauma in their lives from their childhood in order to super exceed. Every great sales professional is looking for answers and looking for ways to get an advantage over the competition. As tough as it’s been from a macro perspective, you’re still competing. You still have to bring in sales, there’s macro issues, there’s micro issues. I’m excited to get deep into this topic. Tell us a little bit about you and sales. Tell us a little bit about how you have grown your career into coaching sales professionals to achieve this perfect state.

Carrie Esker: I really love this question. As you can see, I was smiling even really big when you asked it, because it takes me right back to many, many years ago. This might seem a little unbelievable for the listener, but I’m going to go back to maybe six years old. We’re talking brownies and selling Girl Scout cookies. When I go back to that time, I see the younger version of Carrie and she’s out on the streets. I lived in the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, and I was knocking on doors and I had my sheet of paper, and that was the beginning, signing up those people to buy those cookies from me. I fell in love with the process, but I didn’t even know what I was falling obviously in love with at the time, the connection with people.

I think freedom was a big one. I felt so free and confident. These were things at times I didn’t have in my own home growing up. There was a lot going on there. The freedom for me to be out and to explore, to be creative, I learned what to do with resistance, and I learned resilience. Being creative. All the things, selling Girl Scout cookies and then peanuts and peanut crunch for gymnastics, and I can go on and on. But through those primary years, finding that I loved competition, it gave me a place to focus and it came so easy to me. Basically, I did sales starting at that age. Then any job that I had, whether it was working at the state fair and selling, I think they were Styrofoam airplanes, and standing there and selling them. I worked for the local newspaper selling subscriptions. I fell in love with the process.

I went to college. I actually wanted to study, which is so interesting, psychology. My dad wasn’t so sure I’d be able to support myself with that degree, so I got a degree in English and business. I graduated and went to work for AT&T and began selling business solutions. That brought me right back to that five-year-old little Carrie again. I loved what I did. I was completely free. I was very successful. Just again, going back to those basics that I learned when I was so young.

Fred Diamond: It’s interesting, when we interview sales professionals, particularly in our Women in Sales show, we ask the question, how did you get into sales? It’s either one of two answers. It’s either something like you, “I’ve been selling my whole life. Girl Scout cookies.” I have vivid memories of taking my younger daughter, Abby, out when she was six and having her sell Girl Scout cookies. She was a little nervous at first, and then the next four years she was just killing it. Or they saw their parents who were in sales and they wanted to move that way. Or the other side is people who were engineering majors or accounting. Once they got into the workforce, you mentioned AT&T, once they got into the workforce of whatever the companies might be, they said they enjoy helping people solve problems and they enjoy working with customers to build out solutions. That’s how they moved into sales.

I want to get deep into the brain, and we’ve had a couple of shows, and I was excited to talk to you because I know you’re an expert on this. Can the brain be retrained? It’s an interesting question because a lot of times when we find people have left sales, for example, it’s because they got to a point where they just had these limiting beliefs, which we’re going to talk about as well, that they couldn’t get past. Every great sales professional has moments where they’re in a slump, or the industry has changed, or whatever might have happened. Their company has made some policy changes, so they need to flex, but they usually eventually figure out how to deal with it. But there’s some people we’ve met who are no longer in sales because they reached these limiting beliefs and couldn’t get themselves past it. I guess we could start talking about both topics, but well, why don’t we start with limiting beliefs? Talk about what those are, and then let’s talk about how we can break free and how our brain can be retrained.

Carrie Esker: Another one that I love so much, and especially when I’m working with my clients, because most people haven’t stopped and taken the time to work through to identify and to process what might be holding them back. Feelings of being stuck in certain areas, where there’s an internal frustration, but they can’t put their finger on it, yet they know that there’s a gap and they feel it between where they are today and where they could be. What is a limiting belief? A limiting belief is really any belief or something that we have embraced and accepted as a truth. Something that we believe, either someone has told us this or through life experience, and it can be positive things. There can be beliefs that aren’t limiting, that are positive. The ones that are limiting are the ones that are holding us back. That’s what we work to identify. What are examples of limiting beliefs? You had a guest recently. She talked about limiting beliefs.

Fred Diamond: You’re talking about Sarah Walton. We’ll put a link into her show. I’m glad you brought that up because she talked about some serious ones that happened to her as a teenager, which then framed her career for the foreseeable future, which eventually she was able to get past.

Carrie Esker: Yes, that was amazing. Hers was a limiting belief, which can be a common one, which is scarcity, which is, I can’t have this and I can’t have this at the same time. I can’t have a career and be successful and also be a loving mother and a nurturing mother. Anything that brings you to that black and white can often be a limiting belief. Another limiting belief. A client that I’m recently working with didn’t believe that he was smart early on. He’s not a good student. He needed to be pulled out of class, or he wasn’t getting the grades. He needed extra help. He believed he wasn’t smart. Once we worked through that and discovered, you are really, smart, and actually you’re an awesome student, that changed everything for him.

The real question is, and what I ask my clients is, what do you believe to be true about yourself? Who told you that? We’ll find things. People will say, “Well,” they’ll come up with their limiting belief. I’ll say, “Well, who told you that? Who are you with that thought? Well, what if we take that thought away? Now, who are you?” There’s a lot of power in that. Once we can break through those, we show up different in our life, in all of our life, in our family, our friends, all relationships, and again, in particular at work, in our career. As you mentioned there’s actually people, I bet many people, who leave sales that were right on the edge. They could have just continued if they could have made that turn, that pivot, having discovered what is it that’s holding me back at this moment?

Fred Diamond: Talk about that for a second. You obviously help your clients. How do you help? Because I’m thinking about sales professionals in their 50s and 60s who are successful and then something happens. You told us a story about how when you were a child and Sarah Walton told a story about how she was a child as well, and it took her 10, 30, 40 years later to figure this out. Tell us some of the things that you do when you work with sales professionals to uncover what these limiting beliefs might be.

Carrie Esker: Well, one of the things I’ll tell you is I listen really, really well to how they describe themselves. We talk a lot about their strengths and we also talk about their challenges. I’m very interested in the story of their life. That usually is the first place we start. “Tell me all about yourself.” I care about everything that happened back there. We won’t spend a lot of time back there, we’re not going to stay, but I say we’re going to build a campfire and we’re going to look at those key pivotal moments in your life, the turning points in your life. Some of them are amazing, they are wonderful stories, and others are turning points that are very emotional and maybe not. We go in there and we find what attached to you, what attached to you during that time in your life, and we’ll look for what we call I-messages that became you-messages. You-messages that became I-messages. Those are things that people say to us or that we just start to believe and then we embrace them and it becomes who we are. For example, if a child is told, “You are slow. You don’t move fast enough. Gosh, again, you’ve got a C on your paper?” Those are you-messages. You grow up, they become I-messages. I’m looking almost surgically for these types of things, identifying them, and then working through, well, what is true? Let’s talk about the truth.

Fred Diamond: I know we’re going to do an exercise in a little bit, but talk about some of the things that you do. It’s like, okay, you have this aha moment. It’s like, “Oh my God, that’s my self-limiting belief.” I don’t think I’m smart enough, or I don’t think I can earn enough, or whatever the reasons were, like you said, you figure them out and then you address them. Once you have the aha moment, it’s like, okay, that’s where the work begins. That’s like, okay, now that we have uncovered that you can do this, because you had these limiting beliefs, talk about some of the things that you do to help them retrain the brain, some ways that you can get past this limiting belief.

One of the interesting things is that they often reappear. Now, the good thing with working with a coach like you is you could figure out, “There it is. I’m not going to spend a month dwelling in this limiting belief.” I identify it and then I move to the next stage. “I remember thinking I wasn’t good enough, but you know what? I am and I can close this deal because I’ve closed it before and I’m of value,” et cetera. Talk a little bit about retraining the brain and what some salespeople listening can think about.

Carrie Esker: Awesome question. Well, the first step is identifying, what you said, and your listeners will be able to do some of that even on their own by writing down, “What do I believe? What are my beliefs? What do I believe to be true? What do I say to myself when I look in the mirror? What do I say to myself before a presentation?” You’ll start to pick up on these beliefs. Then what do we do with it? We start to ask ourselves. I’ll ask my client, “If you didn’t have that belief, what would your life look like? Tell me all about you. What would your day look like? What would your family, what would your vacations, if you didn’t believe that about yourself?” Through this process, the client starts to imagine and see themselves in a whole new way.

Once they can do that, the way the brain works, it is going to start highlighting that limiting belief as it pops up, and it’s going to pop up, “There it is.” I ask them to start capturing it, to take notes, to write down. “These were the times I heard myself telling myself these messages.” Once you can identify and capture the thought, then we need to put something back in. If we take away, we need to put in the truth. That would be the third step is then, well then what is true? And the reminding of themselves, maybe making a list and in the morning going through, “This is true. I am strong, I am capable, I am worthy. I am a fighter. I am great at blank.” There’s many variety of ways that we work with this.

Fred Diamond: I like the way you said, what would it look like if you achieved the success? What would your life look like if you had this, you’re a million-dollar sales performer? We have a lot of people listening to the Sales Game Changers Podcast who are sales professionals, and they probably make decent money. They work mostly for large or medium and successful business-to-business enterprises. Even if you’re having a bad year at a company like Oracle, you’re still going to do pretty well, make a nice six-figure amount type of thing, but you can always get to the next level. A lot of the great elite sales professionals that we work with, Carrie, they want to get to that next level. Almost like professional athletes, they keep honing the skills. I just want to ask you just one more time, I really love this line of thought, what are some things that you do to coach sales professionals to stay there?

Carrie Esker: It’s called the polyvagal theory. Going back to that ladder, we’re working to try to find the ways that we can move up to that top, the social, the engage. We know we have to be able to float, but especially in the sales world, people can get stuck. Now we get to the stuck, they get stuck in that middle. How are we going to get you up? Everybody’s different, how they get themselves back up to that social engage, but we look for that, or we create. Is it 10 minutes of journaling in the morning? Does that bring you peace? Or is it doing exercise in the morning? Is it sunlight in the morning? Is it dinner every night with someone special to you? All the different ways, but it’s going to be different for you, Fred, than it is going to be for me. That’s part of my job, is identifying, what is it that gets you back?

Now the listener can ask themselves. The question they would ask is, “Okay, when is the last time I remember feeling what Carrie’s describing? I was engaged, I was listening, my heart rate was calm. Where was I? Who was I with? What was I eating? What was I doing the day before and the day after?” Really pinpointing how we get ourselves to that place, and then implementing those habits into our daily life, more so we can live up in that space.

We do a lot of somatic work, so I do exercises with my clients. I’m going to share one in a little bit, a very simple one, but bringing them back to the present moment is a big one because we can become detached with stress and anxiety, and when we come back, that’s where we can make really good decisions. You mentioned your successful salespeople that are listening. When we’re in that place, we can make better decisions about money. We are responsive, not reactive. It’s going to come more organically to pause. I want to emphasize again that who we are with feels this and it impacts whether they want to spend more time with us. You might think, “It’s fine. I had this crazy morning, I’m so stressed out, my kids, my car, my this, but I can pull it together and walk in here. I’m just fine.” They feel it. Exercises and techniques are really impactful to drawing you closer to the person that you’re working with and that you’re trying to serve.

Fred Diamond: We talk a lot about being mentored and being coached, and being mentored, I believe is completely different than being coached. There’s not as much commitment. You’re just seeking some advice, an idea or two. Usually it’s not on the schedule. It’s when we can meet type of a thing. Coaching is a deeper investment. When someone says, “I want to be coached,” they have to accept the coaching. You’re not just giving advice. You’re not just saying, “I want to talk to you about a regulated nervous system. Go work on it.” Give us some advice, Carrie Esker, for the people listening, on how they could be more coachable.

Carrie Esker: Another awesome question, Fred. What I’m going to say is that in coaching, I tell my clients that as the coach, I am able and I am willing. I am capable, I’m able, I’m going to come in 120% alongside you and I am willing. I need them to be the same. I need you to be a hundred percent capable, able, and a hundred percent willing. If one of those is not there, then there’s a responsibility gap and it doesn’t work, because I’m carrying and investing more than them. How do they become more coachable? I think it’s really a heart condition, a deep desire. Most of my clients come to me with, “I am so ready for this, Carrie. Let’s go deep,” and we go deep. That’s my typical client. Because I find out very quickly, and they probably wouldn’t desire to work with me knowing my style, if they weren’t really. But I think it’s that openness, that heart. Are there walls around my heart? Am I still protecting some areas? Are those areas perhaps holding me back that I’m protecting? Am I willing to take down those heart walls and go to the next level with my family and my career with sales and in my life in general?

Fred Diamond: There has to be that commitment. A lot of times people will say, and we talk about this all the time on the over 600 some odd episodes we’ve done, the whole purpose of the Sales Game Changers Podcast is to help sales professionals get better. It’s to help them get better at sales, which makes them happier, which improves their life quality, their relationships, et cetera. We believe that. The great ones want to accept coaching. They will accept, and I agree with what you just said, it’s if you want to get to that next level and you engage a coach like Carrie Esker, you have to go all in. Maybe you take a little bit of time to make sure it’s the right coach for you, et cetera, but once you make that commitment to the coaching, you have to do it, and you really have to get about it.

Carrie, before I ask you for your final action step, I know you want to take us through an exercise, and I’m actually very excited about this. You’re going to be talking about some ways to ease our mind and lead us back to focusing on the moment, while avoiding all these distractions, and there’s plenty of distractions. Every day there’s a new macro level distraction. We’re doing today’s interview, by the way, in spring of 2023. If you’re listening sometime in the future, there’s plenty of things happening. Salespeople are more challenged right now because we’re coming out of the pandemic at some level, where companies are thinking, “How do we be as a sales force?” Because our customers are still struggling with how do they be as an organization, and our customers’ customers are struggling with how do they be? Let’s go through this exercise I’m excited about. Tell us a little bit of why we’re going to do it and then take us through it.

Carrie Esker: We’re going to do this exercise because I think it’s an awesome example of something that can be done. It doesn’t take a lot of time. You can bring it with you anywhere you go. It will help bring you back to that clarity, that focus, and eliminate distractions. It could be called a grounding exercise. Something like coming back home, as I say to yourself, exercise when it feels like there’s so much chaos around you. It’s called a sensory, a five-step sensory exercise.

We’re going to begin just by putting a hand on your heart and a hand down on your belly. I want to say right here with this, even if this is all you could do, you just did a somatic exercise. You just signaled to your nervous system, “I’m here, I’m okay, everything’s all right.” That’s the message, just by general touch back to yourself. Then we’re going to take a big breath in. breathe in deeply, fill up your belly, and then give yourself a nice sigh out. Let your shoulders relax.

I want you to name five things that you can see. Look around and just in your mind, just name five items that you can visually see. Next is touch. Four things that you can touch. Go ahead and touch them. Just feel them. Notice the temperature, the texture. There we go. Listening. Three things that you can hear. Next is smell. Two things that you can smell. Two items. That might mean you could smell the wonderful detergent on your shirt. Just be creative, anything you can smell. Then last is taste. One thing that you can taste. If you have a water near you, you might take a sip, or just take a nice swallow, just come into taste. Then we complete the exercise by just taking another big breath in. Exhaling, sighing it out, letting the shoulders drop again. We have just recentered ourself. We’re back.

Fred Diamond: That’s fantastic. It really gets you into the moment because you’re doing those five things, and you have to taste and you have to touch, that’s a great grounding exercise. It’s interesting, people who’ve listened know that I like to do hot yoga, it’s one of my go-to exercises, and I like to walk as well. But in the hot yoga, before you go into the last stage of Shavasana, that’s my favorite part by the way. It’s the dessert of yoga. A lot of times my instructor, I only do hot yoga by the way, they’ll have you put your hand on your heart and then the other hand on your belly. I don’t always do that because I’m like, “I don’t really get the value.” You just explained it for me. Now, I appreciate that.

Carrie Esker: Right there, I just want to add, Shavasana, there you are on the top of the ladder. There you go. You’re right there.

Fred Diamond: I want to thank Carrie Esker today. This is a topic, Carrie, we really haven’t gone into too deep in the past, and I know it’s going to be valuable to a lot of our listeners. Carrie, give us one final action step. You’ve given us so many ideas. If our listeners only employ one of these things, they’ll definitely get value. Give us a final action step that people listening to the podcast today should take to take their sales career to the next level.

Carrie Esker: My final action step is to remain curious, to stay childlike in your desire to learn, to explore, to ask questions of others and of yourself. I guess that falls right into being coachable. But just in your daily life, it will pull you out of the loops in your brain that we’ve discussed today that aren’t serving you, and it will open up the space for you to grow, increase sales, and really be fortified and flourish in your life.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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