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Do You have a Brain for Sales… and Success in Life?

by John Chapin

Last month my article was on motivation when it comes to selling. This month we’re digging into another psychological aspect that once you understand it, you may find it easier to make prospecting calls, do other difficult parts of the job, and maybe even make some significant changes in your life.

Here are some facts about the human brain and human nature that may shed some light on some areas where you seem to be stuck. Because this is a relatively short article, I’m not going to go into all the psychology and background.

  • The brain's primary focus is survival. Survival for right now, not even one minute from now, survival for the present moment.
  • The brain constantly looks for negative things in the environment that threaten your survival. Because of this, the natural human tendency is to be negative and pessimistic. News agencies take advantage of this.
  • The brain also focuses on conserving energy. It does this by forming habits and, for the most part, avoiding physically or mentally difficult tasks, at least over the long-term. Once our brain has developed a habit, the brain's default setting is to keep doing that habit, whether it’s good for you or not.
  • The brain is focused on pleasure, right now at the moment, and avoiding pain, right now in the moment.
  • Because of the above, the brain seeks comfort. It does not like any discomfort.
  • Because of both of the above, the brain searches for the path of least resistance.
  • The brain likes a predictable, controlled environment because it is the safest and gives us the best chance for survival. Because of this, it’s human nature to dislike change or anything different, even when that change is positive.
  • By nature we are herd creatures, so we have an innate need to be accepted by others and included in the group. This one is where most of our ‘sales’ issues come into play.

There are also some other brain settings that may have been conditioned in us over the years. One of these is related to food. The brain's default setting for food is: if it’s in your environment, eat it. That’s because our brains have developed over millions of years, and for almost all of that time not only did you not know when you’d have access to food again but, if you didn’t eat it, it usually spoiled within hours because there were no refrigerators or freezers. When you live in an affluent society, where food is constantly around and available, weight and obesity issues skyrocket, as they have in the U.S.

We have also developed a ‘live for the day at the expense of tomorrow’ belief due to the fact that for most of the time life has existed on planet Earth, it’s been short. In 1900 life expectancy in the U.S. was 47.2 years. The world average was 31! Today life expectancy in the U.S. is 79.8 years.

Humans also relate much better to short-term versus long-term consequences. That’s why when there’s an e.coli breakout in spinach with a .0000001 chance of immediate death, people stop eating spinach, and yet they continue to eat foods that pose a 75 to 100% chance of serious health issues and a definite earlier death because the problems and death are years off.

Because of both of the above, the default setting of the brain is to overestimate the short-term pain, assuming it will be worse than it actually will be, and underestimate the long-term rewards, assuming they won’t be as good as they will be. We can see this in salespeople who almost always imagine that rejection will be worse than it is. People screaming, calling them names, and slamming doors in their faces. Rarely does that happen.

Finally, your brain is super-creative and will create blind spots, fears, and conjure up ridiculous beliefs, theories, and stories to adhere to the above rules. In a nutshell, your brain is set up for you to survive today in a way that is as easy on you as possible.

So, those are your brain's default settings when you’re born. By now you might be able to see where some of your issues are. We’ll get to sales in a moment, but let’s take another area first. Let’s say you want to get into better shape. You decide to get on the treadmill for 20 minutes a day. Look at the above settings of the brain and human tendencies and look at where you might have problems. Pain, discomfort, change, a hit to your energy, I could go on.

Now let’s look at prospecting. Pain, discomfort, change, if you haven’t been doing it, rejection by other members of the herd. Again, we can find more angles of the subconscious brain.

So, how do we overcome these settings to be successful in sales and get what we want in life? Simple, but not easy. First, awareness of the above settings is a good start. Once you realize that the default settings of the brain work best in a world that existed about 10,000 years ago versus today, a world which you survived today versus thrived tomorrow in, many times that realization alone is enough to break people out of the spell. When engaged in a difficult task, ask yourself, “Okay, I know my brain is telling me to stop, and I now know why but is stopping in my brain's best interest in the short-term, or my best interest over the long-term?” 

Second, come up with some compelling reasons for the short-term pain and discomfort. This is otherwise known as coming up with a powerful WHY. This could be for your kids, to prove someone wrong, or to achieve some other goal you deem significant and worthy. It’s something you desire greatly enough that allows you to in effect say to your brain, “Shut up brain, the reward will be worth it!”

The good news is: most of us are able to overcome at least some of these default settings in some or all of the areas of our lives. 5 to 10% of the population have actually conditioned themselves to like change and are positive and optimistic by nature. In many cases, these people, who tend to the leaders, top athletes, and the movers and shakers, have learned to endure years of rigorous physical and mental pain in the achievement of monumental goals. They are masters of mindset. They have learned to overcome the brain's default settings either by awareness and/or they are more focused on their long-term outcomes.

The bottom line is: you can do the same thing. Understand what’s going on in your brain and decide that a lot of that no longer serves you. If you’re going to have the best future you have to work against your natural tendencies. Similar to working against gravity when you work out or eating foods that maybe not taste great but are much better for you than ones that do taste great. Now get back to prospecting, and when your brain tells you to stop, say, “Shut up brain, the money, confidence, and rewards will be worth it!”

John Chapin is a motivational sales speaker, coach, and trainer. For his free eBook: 30 Ideas to Double Sales and monthly article, or to have him speak at your next event, go to  John has over 33 years of sales experience as a number one sales rep and is the author of the 2010 sales book of the year: Sales Encyclopedia (Axiom Book Awards). You can reprint provided you keep contact information in place. E-mail:

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