How Benchmarks Might Hold Back Your BusinessTony Robbins said, “The single greatest force in the human personality is its need to remain consistent with how it defines itself.” I think he’s right—that we are prepared to take any and all measures to ensure we reach or obtain our minimum standards. For instance, if you regard yourself as an A student and discover you’re on target for a B or C in a particular class, just watch, you’ll do what you must to get back on track for that A—because after all—you’re an A student.

However, most matters in life and business aren’t so clear-cut as one’s school grades. An A, for example, is the highest mark you can earn. Now, if you’re aiming for a C and start getting B’s or A’s, things could get weird… that may seem inconsistent with the identity you’ve formed about yourself (i.e., how you define yourself).

So think, for instance, about the nature of your business benchmarks—such as, “I won’t sell fewer than X number of homes this year.” From here on out, everything you do—all your activities, practices, and thinking—will be predicated on merely satisfying this benchmark. Like a B student getting higher grades than expected, how might you respond if your sales volume is exceeding its anticipated performance by say 40%? It would seem unnatural or bizarre to you, wouldn’t it? Perhaps even unnerving. Why? Maybe it’s because the identities we form about ourselves and the minimum standards (or benchmarks) we live by—whether they be set consciously or unconsciously—cannot be separated. The limitations we self-impose (which we sometimes refer to as goals, albeit misguided ones) are often windows through which we may catch a glimpse of our respective identities; the stories we believe about ourselves.

There’s a psychological condition called, “Anchoring,” a cognitive bias in which we hazardously base our thinking around some initial data point while making decisions. A common illustration of this condition involves the act of purchasing a used car, whereby I, the buyer, am told a given vehicle cost a certain amount of money, say $10,000. This figure, unless it’s purely absurd, becomes the anchor point for all subsequent negotiation… the dealer asks $10,000 for the car, I offer $8,000, he then counters at $9,000, and so on it goes. Most likely (unless I knew the car was underpriced by $5,000, for example), my decision to offer the dealer $8,000 initially was based on what I believed to be a reasonable and favorable adjustment from the anchor point, which is $10,000… not necessarily what I believed the vehicle was truly worth. Then, I evaluated the legitimacy of the dealer’s counter offer of $9,000 relative to, once again, the anchor point and not the vehicle’s true value.

Bear in mind, in this illustration, the anchor point is also the maximum amount any buyer (in reasonable mind) would be willing to pay, unless say another buyer makes an offer, thus invoking a bidding war. For other scenarios involving numbers in which the Anchoring Effect is present—such as guessing somebody’s age, the temperature outside, or sales quotas, to name a few—an adjustment from the anchor point could be a higher or lower number. The critical point to realize is it will be made subject to the anchor point.

So, following this line of logic, if I resolve to sell 20 houses this year (noting that I sold 15 last year), I might feel like that’s a healthy jump in my anticipated performance—and, of course, it would be… but only relative to last year’s performance. What if I’m capable of selling 100 houses this year? Why shouldn’t I be? Others do it over and again! But remember, from here on out, everything I do—all my activities, practices, and thinking—will be predicated on merely satisfying the benchmark I’ve created, which in this case, is now 20 sales.

Continuing his presentation with respect to how we define ourselves, Tony Robbins told a story about how circus elephants are trained, which I believe he may have borrowed from Gavin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear: Survival, and Signals that Protect Us From Violence. Regarding the training of circus elephants, Becker writes: “When young, they are attached by heavy chains to large stakes driven deep into the ground. They pull and yank and strain and struggle, but the chain is too strong, the stake too rooted. One day they give up, having learned that they cannot pull free, and from that day forward they can be ‘chained’ with a slender rope. When this enormous animal feels any resistance, though it has the strength to pull the whole circus tent over, it stops trying. Because it believes it cannot, it cannot.

After telling this story, Robbins asks his audience to contemplate the time at which they defined themselves—the very moment when they chose to submit to certain limitations. Maybe like the elephant, you too possess the power to accomplish more than you have been led to believe or have consented. Or perhaps you are gripped by the anchor of past performance, unable to see the possibilities of the present or future. Only one thing stands in your way—”because you believe you cannot, you cannot.”

Jason Pantana, Realtor, Speaker, NashvilleJason guides real estate professionals through current and emerging trends in consumer behavior, sales and marketing, and entrepreneurship. To invite Jason to speak or to schedule a consultation, visit: