EPISODE 627: Building a Confident Mind for Sales Success with Dr. Nate Zinsser

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Today’s show featured an interview with Dr. Nate Zinsser, author of “The Confident Mind.”

Find Nate on LinkedIn.

NATE’S ADVICE:  “Get to the understanding that I control my own mind, not my customers, not my boss, not my last experience. I control my last line. I have what the great writer Viktor Frankl refers to as the last human freedom, the freedom to determine my own choice and my own attitude regardless of circumstance. I challenge you to act on that hour, by hour, by hour. Let’s see how far that conviction can take one.”


Fred Diamond: I read the book, “The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide for Unshakable Performance,” by Dr. Nate Zinsser. We’re going to refer to him today as Doc Z. I actually read the book twice, it was fascinating. Doc Z, it’s great to have you here. We’re going to be talking about confidence. Even though at the Institute for Excellence in Sales we interface with some of the elite sales professionals at companies like Amazon, and Salesforce, and Cvent Software, and HPE, and Monumental Sports, confidence is critical. Mindset is critical. As I’m reading the book, it was deep. You went into some great examples. You gave science behind the examples. First of all, congratulations on the book. I said, “I got to have this guy on the show.” We talk about mindset a lot, but we really have never focused on confidence. Let’s get cranking on that too. Congratulations on all your success. You also ran an amazing program on supplied sports psychology at the United States Military Academy Center for Enhanced Performance. Tell us a little bit about yourself, tell us why you wrote the book, and then give us a definition of confidence, and let’s get cranking.

Nate Zinsser: Thank you, Fred, so much for the opportunity to have this conversation and reach out to your listeners. I’m flattered and delighted to hear that you actually read the book twice. Maybe that’s because you’re a slow reader, or maybe that’s because the book was fascinating enough. Either way, I am so flattered and so happy to be here. I wrote this book because of the repeated requests and the repeated entreaties I received from all kinds of performers, cadets at West Point, some of the other athletes and business professionals and medical professionals that I advise in my private practice. The number of people who would walk into my office, be it the physical office or the virtual office, and say, “I just don’t seem to have the confidence that I used to have.” That was the impetus. I put together the book over many, many years, looking at what confidence really is, as opposed to some of the popular misconceptions that are very misleading and ineffective. What it is, how it can be built up, enhanced, increased, maximized, and then how it needs to be protected from just the ups and downs, the simple imperfect nature of the universe that we all inhabit. Then how do we bring it, how do we manifest it, how do we express it in the various performance arenas that we all inhabit? Whether that performance arena is an NFL stadium on a Sunday afternoon, whether it’s a testing room for a medical student, whether it is the sales encounters that many of your listeners enter into every day, that is an arena. That is where you bring your developed skills, express those skills, perform those skills, where there are consequences.

Very much every one of your listeners, everyone in the sales game is indeed an athlete, an athlete who is contending for a prize, which is the origin of the English word, athlete. It comes from the Greek athlon meaning contest, and athlos meaning prize. You are contending for a prize. You’re trying to achieve an outcome with your product, with your services. You are contending for the prize of bringing that product or service to a wider audience, the prize of your own financial security. For many of my clients, it’s the prize of serving the community, serving the world. I work with a lot of firefighters and first responders. Not to mention, in the 30 years I spent working at West Point, hundreds, if not thousands, of young men and women who are going to go on and be lieutenants in the United States Army and serve the country.

Fred Diamond: You talked about misconceptions about what confidence is. Talk a little bit about that. What do you mean by that?

Nate Zinsser: There are plenty of misconceptions about what confidence is. It’s often interpreted as this outspoken chest-thumping bravado, when confidence is really just your internal sense of certainty about yourself, your internal sense of certainty about your ability that allows you to express your ability more or less unconsciously. You don’t have to remind yourself how to do it. I know enough about it. I’ve practiced it enough. Now I can be more or less, I use the word unconscious. The way you are when you perform a very familiar activity, tying one’s shoes. This is a very complicated technical activity requiring all kinds of anatomy, joints, muscles, nerves, et cetera, but we do it unconsciously. Once upon a time, we struggled with it, but then we said, “Okay, I know this, and I can do it automatically.” That kind of certainty is what confidence really is, as opposed to the misconception of confidence being this outspoken, brash exterior.

Another important misconception is that confidence is this all-encompassing quality that you have, and it applies in every aspect of your life. Nothing could be farther for the truth. Confidence is very situation-specific. Your confidence in a certain academic subject can be high, and then another subject not nearly as high. Your confidence in your golf game as opposed to your sales competency, and even your confidence within different parts of your sales competency, all of these can be different. It’s important to be self-aware. What am I certain about? What am I uncertain about? How do I build my certainty? It’s very important to understand that you can build confidence in any particular aspect of your life that you want.

Which brings us to an even bigger misconception, is that confidence is some genetic quality that you are just endowed with at birth, and there’s nothing you can do about it throughout the course of your life. Boy, if there’s one thing I would like to dissuade your listeners of, it’s that particular misconception. Confidence is a quality that you build. It’s a skill. You can think of it as a muscle, and it grows, it develops with the proper practice, and it will fade and diminish with neglect. Those are three of the big ones, Fred.

Fred Diamond: You gave the example of tying your shoes. I don’t know of any sales professional who’s going to a seminar this weekend on better ways to tie shoes, or people who are even perfecting. They perfected it when they were four probably. Like you said, it took a little bit of time. But here we are spending the 600 and whatever number it is episode of the Sales Game Changers Podcast, and the people that are listening are high-performing sales professionals. Give us some insights into why they would be listening to an episode today about confidence when most people who are listening to the show have sold hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars’ worth of stuff. They’ve been in challenging situations.

It’s interesting, you do a lot of analogies in your book about athletes, and obviously as athletes get older, for most professional sports, their ability to compete wanes obviously, at a relatively young age for most of them. For sales professionals, they could be successful until the age of 70, and especially now as people can work on their health and stay mentally healthy, et cetera. Why did you have to write this book for high performers, and why are we talking about this today?

Nate Zinsser: That’s a great question. Just purely from a scientific neurological basis, that sense of certainty that we’re talking about influences the way you pick up information from the outside world. It affects your sensory apparatus. Secondly, that sense of certainty affects the way you automatically recall options and ideas from your collected experience on the basis of that sensory input that you’ve received. Third, that sense of certainty helps you deliver the right comment, the right movement at the right moment when you are in your performance arena. That sense of certainty helps you bring in the right information, recall the right response to said information, and then deliver that response.

The literature is very clear on how that works neurologically. The lore of human performance is also replete with stories about two evenly matched competitors facing off. The more confident competitor won. Everybody at a certain level has great fitness, great learned skills, great tactical understanding, but it’s who believes in him or herself most at the moment of truth. You can think of that in an athletic context. You can think about that in a sales dynamic. There is point and counterpoint going back and forth, who believes in who they are, who believes in themselves, who believes in their product. That person typically wins the argument, if you will.

Fred Diamond: I’ve had some elite basketball performance coaches on the show. I remember we had a guy called Alan Stein Jr., who used to talk about how to be a high performer. One of his common things to say was next play, that the elite performers in sports, they don’t dawdle on the missed catch or whatever it might be. Again, you did a lot of work in the military. I want to ask you about people who probably are at the highest level of confidence, special ops, Navy SEALs, et cetera. With your experience with them, do they have any moments of lack of confidence, or have they gotten to the point where it’s 100%, “Nothing’s going to get in my way”? Like when you’re on a sales call or something, and it’s going great, and then you see the customer look at his watch, it’s like, “What am I doing wrong?”

Nate Zinsser: “I don’t have the connection that I’d like to have.” To your question, Fred, special operators, Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Air Force, Power Rescue, they are remarkable individuals. They are very highly trained. They are very dedicated to their success. But they are also human beings. They are susceptible to moments of self-doubt, little flickers of doubt, but they’re really good at getting past it.

One of the stories that I begin my book with is the story of a West Point grad flying into a combat encounter, a very significant combat encounter. He had the momentary thought, “Well, I think this is where I’m going to die.” Then he said, “Wait. I am the leader. I make the decisions where it counts.” He went into a breathing routine that he had learned as a cadet at West Point, and then he started envisioning exactly where he was going to move once that helicopter sat down, where each of his soldiers were going to go, and how the engagement was going to proceed. He took control of his mind in the presence of a flicker of self-doubt. We’re all human, we’re all going to have some self-doubt, some worries, some fear, but we have the ability to self-regulate and return to a desired degree of certainty. That capability is within all of us. We just have to exercise it.

Fred Diamond: Let’s go deep into that a little bit. The reason I read the book twice, I’m actually a very fast reader, but I went back because I said, it’s interesting. I said, “I want to read this again, because these are some ideas,” and we talk a lot about mindset. Dr. Z, we used to do a show, Optimal Sales Mindset, was a chapter of the Sales Game Changers.

Well, let’s talk about two things. How can you build this confident mind for unshakable performance? Then secondly is, what do you do when you have those moments of doubts? Like the one I just said, you’re in the middle of a presentation, it’s the most important presentation of your life, it’s the customer that you need. Then you see the customer looking at their watch, and you’re like, “What do I got to do?” Talk about how do you build the mind, and then what do you do in those moments where it might go astray?

Nate Zinsser: Building confidence is a matter of basically creating for yourself a large repository of thoughts and memories that support optimism and enthusiasm. I coach my clients, and I would urge all of your listeners to do this as well, get in the habit of reflecting on the small accomplishments of each day. Where did I put in quality effort? I made the call. Where did I succeed? What tiny little successes did I achieve today? What kind of progress am I making in terms of learning more about a product, learning more about a system, learning more about an industry? What little things am I getting better at? It’s that attention to the best in oneself. Again, we’re not talking about winning the Nobel Prize or the World Series here, but those small increments of quality effort, small successes, and personal progress. Think of those reflections as being deposits into a mental bank account that you’re building, building, building every day. You have to be very good at filtering the experiences of the day and drawing from your daily experiences those particular memories.

Secondly, you have to be very good at telling the proper stories to yourself about yourself. It’s so simple, so easy, so tempting for any human being to be preoccupied with his or her inadequacies, his or her imperfections. You keep telling yourself, “Well, I’m not good at making this point,” or, “I’m not good at this technique,” or, “I’m not good at this process.” Well, if you keep telling yourself that, you’re basically encouraging yourself to act in a certain way that’s going to continue to produce that same degree of excellence, or lack of excellence in this case. It’s very important to think about how you want to be as if you are. This is not self-delusion. This is just a way of establishing a standard for oneself that you then pretty much work up toward, as opposed to establishing a very low standard for oneself that you continually work toward. Moderating the stories that you tell yourself about yourself is a crucial way of, again, building that mental bank account, that repository of thoughts about oneself.

Third, you have to filter how you think about your future. Do you create, in that wonderful movie studio that is your imagination, the kinds of short videos of a successful encounter, a successful negotiation? You have to keep your eyes on the prize, but you also have to create the scenes that are going to lead you toward that prize. I give a whole series of exercises in the book about how to operate that wonderful movie studio that you have in your imagination. It’s really being careful, really being selective about how you think about your past, how you think about yourself in the present, and how you think about your future. That’s the building process, and that’s the protective process, as you mentioned, Fred, super important. Because we live in an imperfect world, we’re going to make some mistakes. We’re going to be up against resistant potential customers. I love the way you put it. You’re in the middle of a presentation, when somebody starts looking at their watch, well, their eyes rolling and they gaze toward the ceiling, and you have the potential to think, “Oh-oh, I’m losing it. I’m not there.”

Fred Diamond: It’s interesting what you just mentioned before. I came up with a saying about a year ago that we should celebrate the 99 wins and not focus on the one loss. We see too many people who it’s like, “I’m good at this, but I’m really not good at this.” Your brain hears you say that. A lot of times when I have a negative thought to myself, I recognize it and I say, “Okay, Fred, your brain just heard you say that. That’s not really who you want to be.”

I have a question for you, this just came up. Comfort zone and confidence. A lot of times people talk about you need to get out of your comfort zone, but other people say you need to explore your comfort zone and grow within it. There’s a guest we had on our show, her name is Stacey Hall, who wrote a book about you shouldn’t be out of your comfort zone. You should be optimizing it, growing from it. I’m just curious on, do you ever bring up the concept of you got to get out of your comfort zone to grow? What is your opinion of that general thought?

Nate Zinsser: I guess it all depends on how we are using the term comfort or comfortable. For a lot of people, the practices that I just mentioned, being selective about memory, being selective about personal self-talk, being selective about what you envision, for a lot of people, doing those things are new and different, and henceforth uncomfortable. I guess in that sense, getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing when you think of it in that context.

I would say, I would agree with the lady that you were just mentioning, that when you are in your arena, you pretty much want to be comfortable within yourself. You want to have a sense that, “I am enough just the way I am. I am knowledgeable enough, I am persuasive enough, I am polite enough, I am articulate enough, I’m okay just the way I am.” As opposed to this idea that you’ve got to dig down deep and find some new level about yourself. No, that does not happen in human performance. We do not rise to some challenging occasion. We sink to our level of training and competence. That incidentally is a maxim, going back to military, especially special ops. We don’t magically manifest success. We simply perform. We revert to the level of our training. That’s why we got to train right.

Fred Diamond: You mentioned the guy who was going into war who practiced some breathing techniques. I want to talk about ground level things that people can do, like breathing, meditation, affirmations, whatever you recommend. But before I do, we have a lot of sales leaders who listen to the Sales Game Changers Podcast. What are some of your advice for sales leaders to build the confidence of their team?

Nate Zinsser: Help them reflect upon their success and progress. You’re basically a coach. You may have to remind particular individuals at regular intervals, “Look at what you’ve done, look at how far you’ve come. I’m impressed with this. Whatever you did to build that competency, keep doing it.” If you are a leader, your job is to educate and inspire and help people find the best in themselves. I would also say you can’t do that genuinely, authentically, unless you as a leader are doing it yourself. Because let’s face it, everybody has a good built-in BS detector, and a junior salesperson will detect the BS if the senior salesperson is indeed not being genuine in the practice of a technique that he or she is advising a junior member of their organization to practice.

Fred Diamond: Like you just said, it’s not just about like, “Hey, I’m confident, but I didn’t do the training.” It’s like, “I’m going to win this deal, but I didn’t do any research.” Or, “I’m going to pursue these new accounts, but I’m going to wake up at 9:00 and just wing it.” There’s some words that come up all the time, Doc Z, on some of the Sales Game Changers, like preparation and study. One of the advice that I give people, when people say to me, “How do I be as successful I can be at sales?” I say, “Well, you got to understand the process and things you need to do, but you also need to become a student of your marketplace.” Customers are not looking for people to sell them things. They’re looking for people who can help them achieve their mission.

Talk about some of the specific things. Again, you mentioned breathing exercises. Talk a little about breathing, meditation, affirmations. What are some tools that you would recommend? Again, I highly recommend people get the book. A lot of these are outlined in the book, but just give us two or three things you would recommend people to do to build their confidence.

Nate Zinsser: A very simple process for building that mental bank account that I referred to previously is think about a skill that you would like to have, an actual technical process, and then create an affirmative statement about that. “I easily complete my daily reports,” or something specific skill-related. Then you can come up with a similar present tense, first person statement about a quality that you would like to have in performance. “I am comfortable fielding difficult questions,” for example. Then those two statements just become an ongoing mantra for oneself.

One of the techniques that I share in the book is simply repeating that kind of simple statement throughout the day as you walk through a doorway. If you think about it, ladies and gentlemen, we walk through a heck of a lot of doors in the course of our days. If you are repeating a statement like that 50 times, 100 times in the course of the day, you’re making a lot of deposits into that mental bank account. That is a technical process for increasing your confidence day by day.

Now, in terms of bringing that confidence to the arena, if you’ve done a lot of what I refer to as effective thinking about yourself in the present, in the past, if you’re about to walk into an encounter, you have plenty of ammunition, you have plenty of personal capital, and you can queue up a little bit of conviction for yourself. “This is my chance. I am the person,” the example of the military officer we’re just talking about, “I am the leader who makes the decisions.” You enter your arena saying that to yourself, maybe two or three times as you breathe, deliberately squeezing your midsection to push out carbon dioxide, and then allowing your midsection to expand as you bring in more oxygenated air. A quality breath is in and up on the exhale, down and out on the inhale. It’s not breathing up into one’s shoulders and face. No, that’s not a quality breath. That actually encompasses the opposite.

Repeating to yourself one of your affirmative statements, while you are slowly but deliberately exhaling, slowly deliberately inhaling, you do that three or four times, you have the opportunity to create a pretty grounded, pretty solid sense of yourself. Then it’s a matter of opening your eyes, attaching your attention to the environment, to your customer, to your client, to the room. I think of it as cue your conviction, C. Breathe your body into the moment, B. Attach your awareness, A. CBA. Charlie, bravo, alpha, CBA. If you can just think of that as a routine, it’s something that you can do to bring yourself to a pretty decent state of confidence as you enter your arena.

Fred Diamond: Actually. I say BMCAF, breathe, meditate for a minute, call a friend, whenever I find myself stuck. Before I ask you for your final action step, I want to ask you one last question. Actually, one thought that comes to mind. In the book, and I think earlier in today’s show, you talked about someone who was going into war and the thought crossed their mind that they could be going to their death. Some people ask, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Here’s somebody who was saying, “I’m possibly going to go to my death doing what I’m valuing in my life, being of service to my country and my fellow men,” and et cetera. When you’re in the sales call, we’ve asked that sometimes too, it’s like, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? You lose the deal.” You don’t want to lose the deal, you’re not going to die. You want to do whatever’s necessary. Even if you lose the deal, there’s still a chance to how do we then get it back or whatever it might be.

I want to talk to you about support. We talked before about what sales coaches can do. What is your experience with sales support? What I’m thinking about is a mother who said, “You’re never going to amount to much.” Or a coach who said, “I don’t know why I have you in the starting lineup.” You talk about the mental bank, and a lot of times we talk about this. We don’t talk about it too much on the Sales Game Changers Podcast because it’s not pertinent. But in other places, people talk about how those moments have impacted their growth. I’m just curious on your thoughts too, to build the confidence is one of your recommendations also that you need to have a supportive spouse. You need to live in a comfortable living area. You need to have your little extraneous things handled. Talk a little bit before I get your final action step on the whole concept of the supportive environment for you to have the confidence to be successful.

Nate Zinsser: I think you’re really hitting on an important point, Fred. A “supportive environment” is one’s responsibility. We have all had the experience of being criticized in our past by occasionally people who were influential. Parents, teachers, mentors. We got to be really careful how deeply we interpret, how personally we take that, how emotionally significant we make those comments. In terms of supporting yourself, creating your own supportive environment, your own support system, make sure that you, each individual, are really good at separating information from emotional criticism. Maybe this person is telling me something about how to do X. They’re also implying that I’m a big jerk. Can I separate the potentially valuable information from that personal aspect? We can all do that. That’s important. Just that’s an individual task. It’s our responsibility as humans, as individuals.

Secondly, by all means, build yourself a little team. Hang out with people who support your dreams. Hang out with people who have dreams of their own. Create your own little three, four, five-person core network. I think that’s huge. We’re social beings. We don’t live in isolation. We’re not like bears. We live in packs. We’re like wolves and lions and other social animals. Surround yourself, have two or three really close friends that you can rely on, that you can go to, cultivate that. All you need is a few. We’re not talking about a huge battalion’s worth, we’re talking about a couple of folks. Unfortunately, there are people in this world who can only feel good about themselves by putting other people down.

Fred Diamond: Those are the people we typically don’t deal with on the Sales Game Changers Podcast.

Nate Zinsser: I hope so.

Fred Diamond: Again, we talk with high performers. We have some designations at the IES, our Premier Women in Sales Employer, Premier Sales Leader, Premier Sales Employer. You can’t get there by being negative. You really got to see possibility. They’re great performers that we deal with here. The reason I brought you on the show is everybody has moments, and it seems in the last three years, we’ve been through the pandemic, of course, and now there are some macro level issues, some layoffs, and people being concerned with the economy. That then throws another confidence monkey wrench. It’s hard to maintain that when those external things, and then you allow the internal things happening as well. Fascinating conversation. I recommend the book, The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide for Unshakable Performance. I read it twice, not because I’m a slow reader, but because I wanted to understand what he was talking about, and it’s quite fascinating. Doc Z, give us one final action step. You’ve given us so many ideas, give us one specific thing that the listeners listening to today’s Sales Game Changers Podcast could implement right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Nate Zinsser: Fred, thank you so much for allowing me to have this time with you. It’s been great. I would urge all of your listeners to simply get to the understanding, I control my own mind, not my customers, not my boss, not my last experience. I control my last line. I have what the great writer Viktor Frankl refers to the last human freedom, the freedom to determine my own choice and my own attitude regardless of circumstance. It may sound cliché to some people, but I challenge you to act on that hour, by hour, by hour. I challenge you to do that. Let’s see how far that conviction can take one.

Fred Diamond: A lot of people who listen to the Sales Game Changers Podcast know that I often refer to Man’s Search for Meaning as one of my two favorite books of all time. I’m going to add your book to that. The other book that I like to refer to also is The Big Leap. Do you know Gay Hendricks? Have you worked with him ever?

Nate Zinsser: I have not, no.

Fred Diamond: The book is called The Big Leap. But then he followed it up with The Genius Zone and he basically talks about getting past upper limits, having great success and then sabotaging yourself, and how to be on the lookout for that. I’m going to add your book to my trio of three. Again, I always recommend The Big Leap, and I’ve bought that for many people. I’ve also bought Man’s Search for Meaning for many people as well. Once again, Doc Z, I want to thank you for being on today’s Sales Game Changers Podcast. My name is Fred Diamond.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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