—Theodore Roosevelt, (1858—1919), 26th U.S. President
Succeeding in real estate, like most every field of endeavor, is predominantly about self-mastery. It is those with discipline who consistently rise to the top. The disciplined rule the world.
High achievement requires hard work. In fact, as Booker T. Washington once said, “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” And, yet, one of the primary reasons people don’t work hard is because they lack self-discipline. They consistently fail to develop mastery over themselves, their schedules, and their lives. They may even love real estate, real estate marketing, buying and selling homes, and networking with new people, but they like sitting on the couch, gossiping, reading the “news,” or surfing the web even more.
Of course, the work of a real estate agent does not have to be this way. But most new realtors lack the knowledge and tools to overcome their lack of willpower, and develop the habits of successful real estate agents. If you know you lack discipline, but you understand its importance and genuinely want to become more disciplined, here are ten of the most useful strategies and tactics for developing discipline and self-mastery which I have found to be highly applicable to running a successful real estate business.
Succeeding in Real Estate—Tip #1. Find Some Solid Accountability.
Find an accountability partner, someone that you have to answer to about the progress toward your goals. Alternatively, join a mastermind group, or hire a coach. Just knowing that you are going to have to share your progress with someone else is often enough to make a difference.
Succeeding in Real Estate—Tip #2. Create a Supportive Environment.
We all slip when our willpower is weak. The key is to build an environment that supports you when you’re down. In other words, remove the temptations entirely. Use technology, physical barriers, psychological constraints, or distance, to make it difficult to break your promises when your willpower is depleted. Your willpower is like a muscle and it tends to tire out as the day passes by, or as you exercise willpower doing something else that requires restraint. For example, if you know you need to work on your lead generation strategy from 7 to 11 in the morning everyday, and that the internet is your biggest distraction, then install some website or internet blocking software and set it up so you can’t browse during those times.
Succeeding in Real Estate—Tip #3. Exercise Regularly, Eat Healthy.
We don’t really have to talk about the value of exercising? Do we? Hopefully, we all know by now that you should be exercising for at least 30 minutes, a minimum of 3-4 times a week. Eating healthy can be a little more complicated, but most all adults also understand the basics here. We all know what “junk food” is and why it’s bad for you (and your goals). What is probably not as well known yet is the value of keeping your blood sugar in check, and how your diet effects your willpower. Believe it or not, low blood sugar has been found to weaken people’s self-control. The human brain is a workhorse, and it requires sufficient fuel to continue running in an optimal state. According to Ohio State (my alma mater) psychologist Brad Bushman, “Self-control is a limited resource. With less glucose the brake on self-control is weakened.”1 The human brain, of course, is complex and diet is only one way to help improve self-control. A few book recommendations on the topic of exercise and eating healthy include: Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, Clean Gut by Alejandro Junger, and Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey.
Succeeding in Real Estate—Tip #4. Eat Your Vegetables First.
Start each day with the most critical tasks first. Research reveals that our willpower is strongest at the beginning of the day and progressively decreases as the day goes by. The key, therefore, is to focus on the most critical parts of your real estate business (generating leads), as early in the day as possible. Get all of the critical tasks (the 20% stuff—see the Pareto principle), or the painful, annoying, or distasteful stuff that has to be done out of the way before your body and brain start making it easier and easier for you to brush it aside.
Succeeding in Real Estate—Tip #5. Make and Keep Promises with Yourself.
Build the integrity you have with yourself. This idea comes from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits work. By learning to make and keep the promises you make to yourself, and learning to never over-promise and under-deliver), you build up the trust or integrity that you have with yourself, which makes it easier to make and keep bigger promises as you go along. The key is to never make promises that you aren’t certain you can keep. This often comes down to being very careful about what you say to yourself, and others.
Succeeding in Real Estate—Tip #6. Plan Your Day the Night Before.
Another tactic that you may find useful is writing out your task list—including specific times—the night before. And make sure that list is in a place where you can see it right when you wake up. Also, make sure you’re clear about your priorities for the following day. Ideally, you should have no more than 2 or 3 top priorities for any given day (e.g. #1. lead-generation [both prospecting and marketing], #2. mastering your local real estate market, and #3. learning and development time).
Succeeding in Real Estate—Tip #7. Master the Power of the Start.
The most difficult part of most any task is getting started. Once you’ve started, however, it’s easy to keep going. One Jedi mind trick for taking advantage of these facts is to make the task seem as non-threatening as possible. One way to do this is to only commit to some small fraction of the task, or time involved. In other words, make only a small promise, something you know you can easily keep (See above: “Keep Promises with Yourself”).
Imagine, for example, that you know that the top real estate agents are putting a solid 4 hours a day in on their lead generation work, and you want to work up to that benchmark yourself. Rather than promising to complete those 4 hours everyday no matter what, promise yourself instead that you will always do lead generation for a minimum of 15 minutes a day—no matter what. Then be sure you keep that tiny promise no matter what happens! Now, the chances are (and the research shows), after the first few minutes, you will find the work is not so terrible after all, and you will simply keep moving along until you put in an hour or 2 or more.
The two key factors here are: (1.) Always deliver on the promise (e.g. complete your lead generation for 15 minutes every day) and (2.) Never make a promise so big that it proves too difficult to keep (e.g. promising yourself to do 8 hours of lead generation at one time). Remember: If you want to quit after 15 minutes or an hour, it’s not the end of the world (and reminding yourself of this before you start is part of how this tactic works). It’s far more important that you put in another 15 minutes tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, etc. That is how you will succeed at generating leads for your real estate business. Eventually (usually after 20 or 30 days for most people) your 15 minutes of real estate lead generation time will become a habit. Then, you can work up to 30 minutes or an hour a day or more, until you reach your ideal goal.
You can also keep your “15-minute rule” in place even after you work up to 4 hours. This way, even after you have mastered the daily habit of four hours of lead generation, even on the craziest, most hectic day, you know you will always do a minimum of 15 minutes. With this fallback rule in place, you significantly minimize the risk of ever falling off the bandwagon entirely. There are a lot of other good ideas like this—all backed by social science research—found in books on writing, such as How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silvia, and Write Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker.
Succeeding in Real Estate—Tip #8. Make It a Habit:
Develop healthy habits, rituals and routines around your real estate business. The attrition rate for new real estate agents is remarkably high. But the good news is that it’s not because succeeding in real estate is too difficult. At least not if you understand the power of habit. If you really want to succeed as a realtor, and you’re willing to pay the price, then you can and will succeed. The thing to do is to create a plan of action, have a mentor check it out, and then execute on that plan of action every day until it’s a habit. And I mean the word “habit” seriously (as in social science serious). In other words, you want to get your work plan—particularly the most critical parts of your real estate business (including lead generation, marketing, and learning and development)—to the point where it happens automatically.
The key here is to put as much of your life on automatic pilot as possible in order to eliminate as much thinking and decision-making as possible (which opens you up to emotion and willpower depletion). Habits, rituals and routines require virtually no willpower, which will allow you to preserve it for any other challenges that come up in your day. This is how you can easily avoid falling into those high attrition rates of new realtors that I mentioned earlier. If you’re not convinced, or you need more information on this topic, I highly recommend the following three awesome books: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, and The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.
Succeeding in Real Estate—Tip #9. Commit to Invest the Time:
First, adjust yourself to the reality that to succeed in real estate you have to put in the hours. Once you get over this small mental hurdle, and then make the decision to commit, you will have overcome the obstacle that keeps 80% of new agents from success. That’s right, a whopping 80% of those real estate agents that don’t make it past the first year, fail because of a lack of commitment. This includes being open and available to new clients and other opportunities regardless of the time of day, or the day of the week. Most of your clients work regular hours and, therefore, they will need an agent who is available early mornings, evenings, or even weekends. Decide now that you will be available whenever your clients need you and you’ll be taking another significant step toward success in real estate.
Succeeding in Real Estate—Tip #10. Rest and Rejuvenate.
Take a break. Take a day off. We all need time to recharge. It’s part of being human. More to the point: Adequate sleep and periodic breaks throughout the day have repeatedly shown to increase productivity and lead to more intelligent decisions.2 And if there is never any time off for vacation, then what really is the point here?
Bonus: The following are some other useful concepts around the self-mastery side of real estate success:
- Bright-line rule—clear, unambiguous rules (e.g. “I will work on lead generation in the mornings.” [Okay.] versus “I will work on lead generation from 8 AM to 12PM everyday” [Much Better.]).
- Parkinson’s Law—the job will expand to fill the time allocated to complete it. In other words, if you allocate 4 hours for lead generation you are likely to use those 4 hours even if you only needed 3 to hours to make the same number of calls. (e.g. “I will work on lead generation from 8 AM to 12PM everyday” [Good.] versus “I will call 50 FSBOs every morning starting at 8 AM” [Much Better.]).
- Hofstadter’s law—things always takes longer than you expect, even when you take this fact into account (This is one reason why benchmarks are so useful, but also monitoring and tracking your own specific experience.).
- Engelbart’s Law of Bootstrapping—the better humans get at something, the better they get at getting even better. This helps explain why it is so important to stick with it in real estate (and why the attrition rate for new realtors decreases dramatically over time). As you start to pick it up, your performance as a realtor will improve exponentially.
If you have a specific question for me about becoming a realtor, I would love to hear from you.
And if I don’t know the answer, I will find a realtor who does. Click the “Ask John” button to ask now:
- Kohn, David (2014, May 6). “Sugar on the Brain.” The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/sugar-on-the-brain
- Jabr, Ferris (2013, October 15). “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime.” Scientific American. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/