The hair on the back of your neck stands on end and you feel strangely spooky. You have just seen and heard something that you are sure you have experienced before. Was it a dream? Was it a premonition? Was it an event just forgotten about? Science is still struggling to explain and reproduce the déjà vu phenomenon.

There is a different form of déjà vu that is simple to reproduce, although slightly less easy to explain. Top performers in most walks of life and especially in sport use it every day. It is a standard ability that we are all born with and most people use fleetingly without realising its true potential. It’s the ability to use your mind’s eye to repeatedly imagine what you want until it happens. At the highest level of sporting achievement, in activities as diverse as golf, football, running, karate, and even table tennis, sports coaches are seeing the dramatic improvements in performance that can come from using mental rehearsal. In this article we look at how you can start to harness the power of mental rehearsal to further boost your sales results.

Daydream your way to success

Mental rehearsal is as natural as daydreaming and a powerful resource to any sales person open minded enough to begin experimenting with it. Using mental rehearsal regularly, little and often, can have a profound impact on results. Mental rehearsal can be easily learned and can help improve many different areas in sales performance, such as:

Integrating newly learned skills and techniques so they become habitual;
Improving self image and boosting confidence;
Making personal and performance goals more compelling and increasing the likelihood of success;
Changing automatic emotional responses to certain events (including rejection);
Increasing performance levels of new skills, especially inter-personal skills; and
Preparing for sales meetings including potentially difficult circumstances.

Making sense of it all

The unconscious mind is the realm of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. When we experience things, they get stored in the five senses. When we recall a memory, we recall these senses. The secret that sports psychologists have discovered is that imagination works with the senses too and where performance is concerned, the unconscious does not differentiate between an experience that has really happened and one that has been imagined. Your mind is the only place where you are guaranteed to do things perfectly whilst you are still developing your skills. Real experience plus mental rehearsal can greatly accelerate your skill level. Amazingly, you can actually programme your neurological system to do an activity just by rehearsing it in your mind’s eye over and over again.

Sports coaches also encourage their performers to mentally rehearse winning competitions and events as they have found that we unconsciously begin to move towards compelling goals that we vividly imagine. The practice of mental rehearsal is supported by decades of research into personal success factors from all walks of life, including sales.

Become a director of your own movies

When mentally rehearsing, it is good to think of the process similar to creating a digital movie in your mind. This is not an ordinary movie where you are just a character. It is a virtual reality movie where you experience everything as if it was real. You have all the options available to movie makers such as freeze frame, cut and paste, fast forward. Changing some of the qualities of the mental movie can have a dramatic impact on how compelling the virtual reality experience is. Things like colour, brightness, zooming in and out, sound, texture, smell and sensations are all a matter of personal preference and something to experiment with.

In your movie you can slow down things that are normally performed for real in a split second (such as making eye contact) to a frame-by-frame basis if necessary. Alternatively, you can speed up things that take time to do in reality, such as giving a sales presentation. This way you can give the presentation in your mind perfectly hundreds of times in the time it would take you to do it once for real.

Design a happy ending first

Unless you are mentally rehearsing a fixed procedure, it is normally easier to start to design your movie by selecting the final scene first and work back to the beginning. The great thing about designing your own movies is that you can make sure you always have a happy ending! Here’s an example of a final scene from an important meeting with a hot prospect:

Workmates

Now go back in time and create some more scenes from key parts of the meeting. Keep working backwards until you get to the beginning. Once you have all the scenes in place, play the movie from beginning to end. After running through the whole movie a few times you will be able to run through it much faster whilst still getting the same impact.

You imagine you are sitting in your car driving out of the customer’s car park. You glance over to the passenger seat where you can see a copy of the signed contract. You are on a high as everything has worked out just right. You congratulate yourself at how you skillfully managed to overcome the objections that arose and still managed to close the deal. You are looking forward to celebrating this significant deal with your

Getting into the mood

While you can do mental rehearsal anywhere, it seems to work best when you are relaxed and in a slightly dreamy state – Just like daydreaming. First thing in the morning is a great time – when you are just beginning to wake up and before you are fully awake. Snooze alarms are great devices for mental rehearsal! For most people mental imagery will come most easily in this state and for that reason it is prime time. There are other ways of getting into a dreamy state, however, which do not require a period of sleep first!

One method of getting into the right state for mental rehearsal takes less than five minutes for most people. Sit in a quiet area with your hands lightly on your knees, close your eyes and take some slow deep breaths from your diaphragm area. Breathe in slowly through your nose and breathe out slowly through your mouth.

Focus your attention on the sound of your breath. As your breathing begins to get slower you will notice the sound of your breathing, you become aware of the sensation of your knees beneath your hands, the feeling of your legs on your seat and your feet on the ground. As you continue to relax, and focus your attention on your breathing you will notice how breathing becomes increasingly still and effortless.

Getting down to it

Mental rehearsal is easy for anyone to do and can produce powerful results. The down side is that it is also easy not to do. Just like in sport, non-directive coaching from a supportive and encouraging sales manager or external coach can really help to develop and nurture this all-important habit in others. The best way for sales managers to coach in mental rehearsal is to use the process themselves. Mental rehearsal can be just as useful as a tool for sales managers as for sales people. Whatever type of performance you are engaged in, why not make déjà vu experiences work for you?

With a little practice this state can be achieved very quickly, anytime and anywhere. This means you can use time before appointments, on a train or any spare moment you have to mentally rehearse something many times over.

Richard White