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Whether you are salesperson of the year or a rookie, you have probably experienced those low points: the loss of a hard-fought competitive battle or a constant stream of customer "No's."

In such challenging circumstances, some salespeople, despite considerable talent and potential, find it difficult to pick themselves up and jump back in the game. They seem to lack the elusive quality of motivation—the ability to soar above these temporary obstacles and keep moving forward.

They lose momentum, avoid making calls, and take refuge in the safe havens of their offices or automobiles.

On the other hand, there are salespeople whose motivation and resilience enable them to make every customer call as enthusiastically as if it were the first. These individuals' desire to succeed allows them to leverage even "ordinary" skills and abilities to achieve extraordinary results.

For the majority of us who, perhaps, fall somewhere in the middle, there is an opportunity to increase "motivational intelligence" by keeping in mind five simple principles.

1. Motivation is completely and entirely an inside job

No one, no matter how inspirational, has the power to motivate others. Motivation—the movement to action—is a decision that can be made only by the individual. Many things can cause a lack of motivation, but the most common are fear and lack of confidence. The solution—courageous action! Consistently summoning the courage to move forward in the face of fear is unquestionably the most important difference between highly motivated achievers and those who give up too easily when confronted by a challenging situation.

2. Motivation requires a meaningful "motive"

For many Olympic athletes, a medal is their clear, meaningful motive. For some, however, the opportunity just to participate in the games is enough to keep them dedicated to years of disciplined, rigorous training.

What is meaningful varies with individuals and their circumstances. This personal sense of "why" we act often gets confused with the "what" we need to do, which, for salespeople, is often defined in terms of external goals such as making a quota or closing a particular sale.

Getting truly motivated begins with willingness to get to the truth of what we want for our lives and careers. It's important to ask what has meaning and long-term value for you. Is it growing and developing your skills and knowledge? Is it meaningful to know you can genuinely help your customers solve problems?

Whatever it is, the real power of personal motive comes from a deep connection to your values and who you are as a unique individual, not from short-term external incentives.

3. Motivation is propelled more powerfully by faith than by fear

Fear can be a powerful motivator and is a highly appropriate response to threatening circumstances. But waking up fearful every morning is debilitating, highly stressful, and, ultimately, soul-destroying.

Faith, on the other hand, is the belief that what you aspire to is attainable. Moving forward in faith, however, takes courage.

As always, we are left with a choice: between being motivated by fear that stifles imagination and leads to stagnation, or motivated by faith—in ourselves and our abilities—that frees us from limitations and leads to great expectations.

4. Motivation is influenced by the vision we have for our lives

The idea of having a powerful, personal vision might seem naïve, unrealistic, or even egotistical, yet research tells us that we tend to move toward that which we picture in our minds and desire in our hearts.

Successful sales managers know that when they set high standards and expect the best possible performance from their salespeople, they are far more likely to get it than if expectations are low.

There is great power in setting challenging personal and professional goals and being committed to do what it takes to attain them. When you set expectations that stretch you and expand your knowledge and skills and then hit your mark, there's nothing more satisfying—and motivating—than that inner sense of accomplishment.

5. Motivation is inspired by a larger purpose

It's normal to respond positively to incentives such as a bonus, a big commission, or the reward of a trip to Hawaii after a great year. As gratifying as these external "motivators" may be, they are short-lived and provide precious little fuel to the motivation engine when you've just lost a big sale.

One of the secrets of self-motivation that sustains you through good times and bad... is a larger purpose that defines what your life is about—how you contribute through your work, your relationships, and your family to making the world a better place to live.

Combined with high expectations and a sense of what is truly meaningful for you, your sense of purpose can be a constant source of renewed commitment to act and to perform at your best.

* * *

These five keys to a "motivational system" will carry you forward to achieve immediate results and long-term life and career success. But they require constant attention, reflection, and renewal.

Here are five questions to ask yourself, especially when you feel your motivation slipping and your enthusiasm waning:

  1. Am I tapping into my own inner resources? Is there a courageous action I should take right now to overcome an obstacle?
  2. What's my "meaningful motive?" Am I focused on what has meaning for me?
  3. What's driving my thinking right now? Is it fear? Or is it faith in myself?
  4. Am I setting high expectations for myself? Am I challenging myself to reach my personal best?
  5. Is my purpose clear? Do I have a clear image of how I want to contribute and to whom?

As you answer these questions clearly and with conviction, you will ignite the motivational engine to drive success in your life and career.

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David McNally ( is an international business speaker and author of Even Eagles Need a Push: Learning to Soar in a Changing World and The Eagle's Secret: Success Strategies for Thriving at Work and in Life, and coauthor of Be Your Own Brand. Reach him via

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