Your business practice has two components to it.

One is knowledge of your business. This includes knowing your products thoroughly and having a clear understanding of how they will benefit your clients. It includes knowing how to conduct a needs analysis for your clients. And it includes perfecting your presentation, time management and practice management skills.

But there is an even more important part of your business that largely determines your success: what is going on inside of you.

Tom had been a salesman for years. He was never a superstar, but he didn't want to be. He made a decent living, so he was content. But in 2008, things began to change. It was subtle at first. At the beginning of the year, he noticed his sales closing ratios were off a little and that he had failed to schedule his usual number of appointments. Then he noticed that his revenues were down by 10%. As the year went on, his appointments, closing ratios, and referrals all dropped markedly.

Tom took this turn of events hard. He became more and more discouraged, could feel the lethargy in his step when he went to a sales appointment, and eventually became seriously depressed. He finally decided to make an appointment with a coach and called me.

"It isn't my fault," he sighed. "Everyone is having a hard time right now because of the economy."

In response, I told him that he had to decide.

"Decide what?" he asked.

"That this bad business cycle is over," I replied. "That you're done. That whatever happened in the past and why it happened has nothing to do with what will happen in the future. You must decide today that your future is going to be different."

I watched Tom's eyes as the light suddenly dawned in them. In that moment, he made a pivotal decision: to change the way he viewed his business and his abilities.

Over the coming days, Tom put new energy into generating sales appointments, making sales calls, and marketing. As a result, he began to feel better about himself and the future. Soon after, he was walking down a hallway to a sales appointment when he suddenly noticed there was a spring in his step again. He knew he had put together a proposal that was good for his client, and he was eager to present it.

He also noticed that something was different. He didn't feel tied to the results of his upcoming sales call as he would have been in the past. He walked into the appointment anticipating the joy he would feel just spending time with his client—whatever the outcome might be. The time flew by. Although he was working hard, he exuded confidence, easily answered every question, and addressed every objection perfectly. He knew his presentation had hit a home run.

And he quickly made the sale.

Flow Defined
What Tom experienced is called flow. It is what athletes call being in the zone or being in the groove. Flow describes the sense of seemingly effortless movement that occurs when we are in an optimal state. While it lasts, our thought processes work smoothly, and one action seamlessly follows another. We become so involved in what we're doing that the activity becomes spontaneous, almost automatic; in other words, we stop being aware of ourselves as separate from the actions we are performing.

One reason for this is that the concentration inherent in the flow process provides order to our thinking. Although it appears to be effortless, the experience often requires strenuous physical exertion, or highly disciplined mental activity. Any lapse of concentration will erase it.

A common feature of the flow experience is a sense of discovery or the excitement of finding out something new about ourselves, such as our ability to meet and excel at challenges. When we're in the flow, there is no opportunity to reflect on or analyze ourselves because we're immersed in the activity in the present moment. Once it has ended, we often find that our sense of self emerges much clearer and stronger than before. We also discover that we've changed because our lives have been enriched by new skills, new awareness, and new achievements.

Recognizing Flow
You'll know you are in the flow when:

You are so absorbed by an activity that your focus is completely in the present and your mind is clear, concentrated, and alert.
You feel motivated, self-confident, and skillful.
You have a sense of well-being and control, so you are completely open to whatever is happening in the moment.
Enemies of Flow
In contrast to the confidence we feel when we're in a flow experience; our day-to-day lives are often characterized by doubts, questions, and a preoccupation with ourselves. Because we feel threatened, we repeatedly question the necessity or wisdom of our actions and criticize our reasons for carrying them out.

Why am I doing this?

Should I be doing something else?

Without flow, everything we do is an effort. We constantly have the feeling that we are pushing a boulder uphill, that achieving our goals takes an inordinate amount of time, energy and effort. To develop the ability to stay in the flow, it is important to avoid the following:

Caring what other people think
Being tied to the outcome
Becoming so comfortable with the status quo that we stop learning, growing, and setting new goals
Being surrounded by negativity
Creating Flow
Almost anything can produce the flow experience providing that you:

Choose to act. Decide to get your energy moving any way you can. Tom forced himself to keep making appointments and seeing new clients; after a while, the momentum began to build and this step got easier and easier.
Visualize the end result. It's not necessary to visualize how a particular meeting or presentation will go. Simply focus on the end result, such as what level of business you will have achieved by the end of the year and how confident and successful you feel as a result.
Have confidence in the outcome. Don't simply tell yourself that "it would be nice, but..." Make a decision and then confidently expect a positive outcome.
Enjoy the journey. Above all, enjoy the process. Focus on how great it feels to build relationships with your clients, knowing how much you can help them. Remind yourself why you got into the business to begin with, how much you enjoy it, and how fun it is to reach your goals.
Develop clarity. Write down your goals so that you clearly understand what they are, why you want to achieve them, and what you need to do to get there.
Make a decision. Set your intention. Tom didn't tell himself that it would be nice to get his business back on track but... He decided that he was going to get his closing ratios back to where they were. Period. This is a game changer.
Make a commitment to yourself. Commit yourself to excellence. If your skills aren't good enough to achieve the outcome you desire, develop them.