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The Art of Neuroplasticity and How to Use it to Close More Deals in Real Estate

We keep hearing about how the real estate market has changed and how we need to change with it. But most agents seem to be trapped doing the same old things. Sure, most agents are now on Facebook, but to what effect? Most have simply taken to posting their listings on their wall – new forum, same message. The problem is they don’t have a good grasp of the Facebook sales model, so they simply do what they have always done because that’s how they are conditioned. As the saying goes, old habits die hard.

This article is going to explore the power of your habits and how these habits can both help you and hurt you in your real estate career, and in virtually every area of your life.

The concept is extremely simple: A habit is formed by doing something over and over again.

When you learned to drive a car, you had to think through every step. But the more you drove, the more you repeated the same things over and over, executing the proper actions subconsciously. Today, you get in the car and drive without thinking about what you are doing. You can carry on a conversation, listen to music, sip on a Starbucks and munch on a snack all at the same time.

Old Habits Can Block Our Progress
With driving, this habitual, unconscious approach can become dangerous if we get distracted and don’t stay alert and in the moment. The problem worsens with habits that have an even greater negative impact on our lives. Let me share a little story about my background. My father is a minister, and when I was a kid, my father always shifted into a preacher mode when dealing with problems. He is a large man with a deep, resonating voice and can be intimidating when he gets into his preacher mode. If he is upset with you, he stops listening and simply talks over you. I love my father, but I have to admit, as a kid, I found him a little scary; and as a young man, I found communicating with him very frustrating.

A number of years ago, my wife and I went to visit my parents. On the trip home, I complained to my wife that my father never listened and always talked over me. She looked at me and said, “Well there’s no doubt where you learned that habit from.” Of course, I automatically protested that I was not like my father. But her comment stayed with me, and over the next couple of months, I caught myself doing to others the same things my father had done to me time and time again. That’s when I told myself I needed to change.

With this heightened consciousness, I would catch myself in the midst of talking over people but just could not stop. It was so important to me to change this behavior, I went to a psychologist for help. The techniques I learned did help, but I still found it very easy to slip back into the bad habit. I wondered if it was something in my genetics, that I must be hard-wired this way. Still, I always hated that this behavior, which I did not like in myself, was something I could not seem to control.

Then I read a great book by Sharon Begley called, “Change Your Mind Change Your Brain.” She introduced me to the concept of neuroplasticity.

The Brain Will Change if You Let It
Neuroplasticity is a neuroscientific term for the idea that the brain can change as a result of environmental input. This is in contrast to the idea that brain structure is relatively unchangeable after early childhood. Many neuroscientists today believe the brain retains a high level of plasticity, or the ability to change, throughout adulthood.

I went on to read: The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton; The Social Animal, The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks; and Excuses Begone by Wayne Dyer.

You may be asking, what does this have to do with building my business as a Realtor®?

Well, all these books explore a similar concept: the vast majority of people over the course of their lives have been exposed to sound advice that if followed would dramatically improve their lives. Yet, time and time again, they simply fail to take the actions that would create positive change. When surveyed about why they did not make these changes, most people come up with a variety of excuses to explain their lack of action. They say things like, “Doing that is just not in my DNA,” “I don’t want to come across as being too pushy,” or “The timing for me has never been right.”

The research in neuroplasticity shows that none of the justifications people articulated were actually based in truth. It also shows that anyone at any age can change long- established habits and patterns and replace them with more productive ones if a few basic steps are taken. The amazing thing is that quite often the steps needed to make change are simple, common sense actions. But that’s just the problem. The actions seem so basic they are often rejected on face value as being too simplistic to solve such problematic behavior.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
We often rely on the fallback perception that the older we get, the more set in our ways we are. You know, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” The error in our thinking is that being set in our ways is not caused by age, but is actually caused by doing the same things over and over again. New learning actually forces our brains to make new connections, and if we reinforce those new connections, they will take root and grow. Over time, the old patterns, if used less and less, get weaker and weaker.

Once you understand this, you realize that new learning only comes from forcing the mind to be a bit uncomfortable. Let me ask you to do a little exercise. Grab a pen and sign your name on a piece of paper. Now, change hands and sign your name again—notice how uncomfortable it felt. Research shows that if you keep practicing with your “wrong” hand, you will, over time, deepen the neural connections and learn to sign your name equally as well as your dominant hand. This is how habits are formed.

Our brain is pretty amazing. It is always looking for a pattern of behavior to follow or respond to. If you want to change, you have to give your brain a new way of responding, a new pattern to follow. In my case, I knew I did not want to respond like my father, but I had never taken the time to sit down and imagine how I did want to respond in those situations. Your brain cannot tell the difference between a real life experience and something you vividly feel and envision.

Excuses Get in Our Way
Recently, I was following up with a client who’s a good, high quality real estate agent, but has been struggling with sales over the last few years. The agent had his personal brochure printed about threes months before, and I wanted to see how it was working for him. He hemmed and hawed around my questions. Finally, he said, “ I don’t think it has really done anything for me so far.”

For our clients, we have a game plan to follow to achieve results with a personal brochure. In that plan, we instruct clients to mail their brochure to friends and family and provide a cover letter to send along with the brochure. I asked the client what kind of feedback he had received from mailing out his brochure? He told me he had not yet sent out the brochure because the wording in the letter did not sound right to him, and he had been trying to change it, but still has not rewritten it to his satisfaction.

Next, the plan says to send your brochure with the “Public Relations Cover Letter” to every real estate editor and blogger in your area with the goal to get free media coverage. He said he really didn’t think that would work in his area, so he passed on it.

Next, the plan says to send the brochure consistently with a provided cover letter to five new expired listings each day, Monday through Friday. He said all the expireds in his area were way overpriced, and he didn’t want any overpriced listings, so he decided not to send his brochure to expireds. I asked, “Whenever you speak with a prospective buyer or seller, do you offer to send them a copy of your brochure so they can decide if you are a Realtor® they would like to work with?” He said he had tried it once, but he felt uncomfortable asking the prospects if it would be okay to send the brochure. As we talked, he had an explanation for each step in the game plan he did not follow.

I said, “Well, if you are not going to distribute your brochure it will never help you attract more business. You need to commit to a new habit. Every day, force yourself to pass out five brochures to strangers you come into contact with or people you meet. At first, this process will feel totally unnatural and uncomfortable. But the more you do it, the more natural it will feel and the better you will get at it—which makes the uncomfortable feel more comfortable. Once you have handed out your brochure 500 times, it will start to become an automatic response, and you’ll do it without conscious thought. Passing out your brochure will be as second nature as driving a car.”

This subconscious behavior happens automatically—until something changes. You’re a great driver until you travel to London, and you’re forced to drive on the other side of the road. You find yourself almost driving head-on into traffic, because it’s difficult to override the subconscious mind, which instinctively wants to drive on the right side of the road. This is why we often continue past behaviors that at one time may have served us well but now create obstacles to what we want to achieve. The ingrained repetition makes us fall back into our routines even though we know the routine is no longer creating a positive outcome.

How to Change Habits that Hold You Back
So how do you change old, limiting habits? First, I suggest starting with a relatively easy- to-accomplish goal. If you start with something that’s easy to accomplish, you will gain confidence in the process and then you can move on to bigger and bigger issues.

Here are three habits and goals toward breaking each habit. 1.) The behavior you want to overcome: your family never knows when to expect you each evening and you rarely have dinner together. The goal: be home for dinner every night at 6 p.m. 2.) The behavior you want to overcome: you do not stay in touch with your past clients. The goal: call one past client each day. 3.) The behavior you want to overcome: you have a personal brochure, but you’re not comfortable distributing it. The goal: hand out five brochures each week to people you’ve just met.

Start by putting down on paper what you want to accomplish. Then, write down why accomplishing the goal is important to you. Now take about 5 minutes and visualize the activity. Write down, “When I do _______________, I know it is moving me toward my goal. I know I have the discipline to make my goal a reality.”

For the next week, pull out the piece of paper and read aloud the statement you had written. Visualize yourself doing what you want to accomplish.

At the start of week two, again read what you wrote and then get to work: don’t go a night without being home at 6 for dinner, call the one past client, hand out at least five brochures. After you’re done, repeat to yourself, “I am creating a new habit that will get easier and easier over time.”

In week three, double your activity level: add a new personal goal (one date night per week with your special someone, etc.), make two past client calls each day, and/or hand out ten brochures.

In week four, double it again. Once you achieve the level of productivity you want, repeat that level for 28 days and you will soon find you’ll be doing it out of habit. After 90 days of doing this, it will become so second nature you will not even have to think about it. You will no longer be nervous or afraid, and you will find procrastination in these areas a thing of the past. This is how you reprogram your brain – small daily activities repeated every day.

Create a New Pathway of Thinking
The key is mentally rehearsing the new behaviors—getting a clear vision of your objective and creating a new neural pathway, so, over time, you will create a new and productive habit that will move you toward your goal. You may know the story about English runner, Roger Bannister. In the 1950s, the 4-minute mile was thought by many to be humanly impossible. But Bannister, who had only finished fourth at the 1952 Olympics in the 1500 meters, set out to break this monumental barrier. In 1954, he became the first human to run faster than 4 minutes in a single mile. And then what happened? Within a year, 37 runners had broken the 4-minute mile.

Understanding this historical lesson helps us understand why so many people get stalled in their goal for growth – limiting beliefs and old habits hold them back. Here’s a good example. I have what has proven to be a highly effective strategy for generating new business from open houses. Who do you think gets the best results from executing this strategy? The agents who have held the fewest open houses. Why? Because they don’t have habits formed, and it’s easier for them to follow my plan step by step without feeling compelled to follow a previously followed path. The more experienced the agent, the more old habits interfere with trying new or different ways of doing things. This is why we get stuck with formed habits that once worked well for us but now have become traps that keep us from growing and moving forward.

Surround Yourself With Positive People
Surrounding ourselves with positive people in a positive environment that encourages change and growth aids our ability to grow. Research on neuroplasticity shows that we change quicker and more effectively if the social environments we are in support the desired change outcome. We see others growing and changing around us, and it inspires our own disciplined commitment. My message to agents over the years is the importance of aligning themselves with the right real estate company and manager to support their career objectives. The choice of whom they align themselves with is more impacting than most agents ever imagine.

This also highlights the value of aligning yourself with like-minded agents. For instance, if you are a believer in the strategies and approach we take at Hobbs/Herder, align with other agents who share your thinking. Participate in our conference calls and engage on Facebook with agents on the Hobbs/Herder Facebook fan page. The key is to surround yourself with people who share your desire to try new methods and break new ground.

I love Wayne Dyer’s book Excuses Begone because he forces us to realize that every time we make an excuse for our actions, we give up control of our lives.

Hopefully, this article provides inspiration and the framework to change anything you want to change, especially anything you feel is limiting your progress in real estate.

It’s important to stop and analyze your daily activities and ask yourself, “If I keep doing this action every day, will it take me to where I want to go?” If the answer is no, then you owe it to yourself to change the behavior. You can do it. The power is within you.

I would love your feedback about this article, please email me at Greg.Herder@HobbsHerder.com