Control your breath. Calm your chaos.

"Control your breath. Calm your chaos."

It was perhaps the best advice I’ve ever received from a coach.

He was encouraging me, and a few others, to push through our pain on a particularly steep, nasty and brutish climb on our bikes up a mountain that had stubbornly refused to get out of our way.

I was being challenged to the max.

And, despite the coach's assurances that the pain was going to last for only 11 more (agonizing) minutes, my vision was blurring around the edges, my lungs were burning with every intake, my muscles were beginning to tremble under the stress and my concentration and desire were beginning to wobble like a bike with a flat tire.

Perhaps sensing that I was teetering near the mental edge, Coach quietly urged, “Control your breathing. Calm your chaos.”


The impact was immediate.

Instead of worrying about the pain coursing through every limb I turned my focus on relaxing and slowing my breathing. Gone was the erratic rasping struggle for air. In its place was a more mindful, controlled and rhythmic cadence of breaths.

Now I could turn my attention back to my form which had fallen to pieces. Slowing my breathing helped me hose down the fire of chaos in my brain which was swerving wildly between quitting on the spot or turning my bike back down the hill. Neither of which was helping me achieve my goal of reaching the summit. Which I did.

“Calm your breath. Control your chaos” is great coaching advice for sales professionals too.

When the going gets rough in sales it is easy to give in to your chaos and mentally spin out of control.

It happens when buyers are full of objections; when competitors jump into your deals at the last minute; when decisions stretch out or are postponed; when good prospects stop returning your calls; when negotiations for your biggest order hit a big snag; and when it’s the end of the quarter and your numbers don’t look good. Cue the panic and chaos.

You feel it when your breath begins to quicken. You start to feel a bit jumpy. Time feels like it’s closing in on you. And you get a little too defensive when your boss asks about the status of an important deal.

You wildly rummage through your tactical options to get your deal(s) back on track. But it seems like nothing is going to work. You freeze up. You suddenly feel the need to distract yourself with the Internet or go for a walk to get some air.

Which reminds me of a former colleague, Marc, who was a good sales person. Except when the selling got tough. Every time he’d negotiate a deal, he’d flee the room in the middle of the discussion. Any time a customer brought up an objection Marc would start eying the door. He couldn’t deal with the uncertainty of the moment. His chaos would overwhelm him.

However, it doesn’t have to overwhelm you. When you find yourself in a tough spot, first focus on controlling your breathing. Concentrate on just one breath at a time. Don’t worry about the next breath. Focus your thoughts on the one breath you’re taking right now. Relax. Lower your shoulders. Close your eyes for a second. Smile.

Now, open you eyes and confront the issue that triggered your chaos. With your breath under control you can think with a clear head about the solutions to problems, and answers to questions, that your buyers need from you in order to make their decision. You’ll be able to stay focused on the customer instead of scanning the room for the nearest exit.

Learning how to stay resilient and focused in the heat of the moment is an important selling habit to master. Control your breath; calm your chaos.