Elite AgentOPINION

9 Stoic principles to help agents thrive in real estate’s ups and downs

The Stoics turn their attention to two questions; how can we lead a fulfilling, happy life, and how can we become better human beings?

And who doesn’t want both those things? 

When embraced and enacted, Stoic principles encourage your entrepreneurship and talent, direct your workflow, and enrich your mind. 

The real estate industry requires us to be persistent, motivated and dynamic, and that calls upon an outlook that can willingly counter distractions so we can focus on what’s important.

It’s not easy, but without a philosophy to steer our work, it’s even easier to give in to our moods and excuses. 

These principles are some of my most influential from the Stoic school of philosophy. 

Look within; the key to handling emotional triggers 

The Stoic mindset isn’t one of emotional whitewashing.

It’s quite the opposite, Stoics understand that emotions are part of the puzzle that makes up the mental terrain.

We give them their rightful merit – we just don’t think we owe them much.  

Stoics take a clear approach to how we consider and acknowledge the impact of our emotions.

For example, we don’t consider emotions to be fair guides for our actions.

Consider this, you wake up to pouring rain and while you’re going to have to hunt down your umbrella and perhaps reconsider your footwear, the fact is you still need to get to work.

Apply this approach to emotional deluges. Stoics believe we can still act appropriately even when feeling a perceived ‘negative emotion.’

“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

If you bite your colleague’s head off and when questioned why, you respond, “Because it’s cold,” you’re going to get some odd looks.

Stoics don’t believe it’s outside influence that makes us feel something, rather it’s the narrative we take on that gives rise to our feelings.

A barely touched to-do list, another email, another phone call isn’t by nature stressful – it’s your thoughts that are making you stressed.

Identify what you can control and what you can’t by keeping a journal.

Each day you note the crucial things that went to plan, what didn’t, and what remains to be done. 

When it comes to tough conversations with clients or negotiations, remember you can’t control what the other person says or how they act.

You can only control how you receive the information and reply.

You take your power back this way and start to manage your emotions. 

It’s easy to cast blame and burden on outside matters because it’s the quickest, easiest way.

But turmoil begins on the inside, in our own minds.

When we try to escape from reality – a challenging email, a quickly approaching deadline – all we do is diminish our purposefulness.

The quality of our lives really does stem from the quality of our decisions.

If we can enhance our ability to make decisions, we can enhance every part of our lives.

So, the next time a hurdle comes your way and you feel aversion, don’t focus on what surrounds you. Focus within. 

The invaluable role of mentors

Whether you’re new to the real estate industry or you’ve been around the block (literally) more than a few times, there will always be someone you can look to and learn from. 

Whether it’s their work ethic, their portfolio or the online presence they have created, choosing someone whose career and character aligns with your aspirations is crucial. 

Study their work, their methodology, wins and losses.

If they’re a public figure, devour their interviews or even reach out directly with your questions.

You will soon understand their roadmap to success. Take it and implement it into your own life. 

“Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. This is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.” — Seneca, Letters From a Stoic.

It’s not a matter of comparison, but a method of motivation.

If you don’t sell X number of properties in your first 12 months or gain X number of clients like your role model, don’t brand yourself with the failure iron.

Rather, use it as a learning opportunity and bask in their principles, beliefs and tutelage. 

In the long term, having a respected influence or mentor will help you achieve your full potential.

Seek one out or become one yourself; you will be amazed by how much more fulfilling and productive your life becomes. 

Failure can’t keep you down 

Just as in life, in real estate there are an abundance of things that we can control – and arguably just as many, if not more, that we can’t.

To curb stress and anxiety, we need to only exert energy focusing on the things that we can control, change and better.

After all, the fact is you’re going to fail regularly, but you’re going to improve at it and you’re going to get the results you want to see. 

Imagine you’ve arranged an open house, you’ve advertised it effectively, everything is to the tee – but no-one comes to that front door.

Short of wrangling some poor, unsuspecting stranger off the streets (not recommended), this isn’t something you can control.

Stressing about it is wasted energy.

Instead, redirect your focus and analyse why there were no attendees and alter your strategy or plan for next time.

If you make 50 cold calls, and not a single person answers, that’s out of your control.

Don’t spend energy fretting about it, just make that 51st call. 

“Some people boast about their failings: can you imagine someone who counts his faults as merits ever giving thought to their cure?” – Seneca, Letters From a Stoic

As the thinking goes; no failure, no growth.

If you forewent the open house or cold calls entirely on the premise of doing something less significant, stress could be a useful tool in motivating yourself.

Harness that stress to motivate yourself, organise more open houses, spend even more time advertising them, making even more phone calls, however intimidating it may seem.

If you’re an inch from securing a listing that doesn’t come through, you can waste time dwelling on the seemingly unfairness of all that effort gone up in smoke, or you can see it as a chance to move forward on a different line than planned, but one that will allow you to do X or take on X instead.

Don’t shelve action alongside the book 

Reading books on business or marketing will give you infinite information but when you shelve that book in your highly decorated bookshelf, it’s crucial your newfound knowledge and insight doesn’t stay trapped within its pages.

Ultimately, you need to actually apply awareness to become more powerful in your craft. 

“Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalised their contents.” — Epictetus, The Art of Living

Books help you flourish, they develop your mind and give you access to some of the best mentors, but the challenge is applying that information into actionable insights.

One of the most powerful ways to get the most out of every book I read is to ask myself two questions:

  1. What are three takeaways from this book? 
  2. How can I use this in my daily life?

These questions are applicable to any situation where insight needs to transform into action.

The purpose of education is to absorb knowledge but above all spur action and aid better choices.

Of course you’re going to be enlivened and inspired in the moment when you’re reading a self-help book, but it’s following through on those principles when you’re faced with a tough situation that really matters. 

Rise and shine through brutal honesty

It’s difficult to change a habit or a familiar way of doing  something (or not doing it) if you don’t recognise why you chose that path.

It doesn’t happen naturally either, you’re not born with some amazing talent to instinctively fine tune your self-awareness. Instead, it’s a muscle you need to use and strengthen every day. 

Stoics practise looking for the opportunity in each hurdle.

It’s not about only seeing what you want to see or refusing to take off the rose coloured glasses.

Rather, it’s about being honest with yourself to seek out the opportunity in every difficult solution. 

If you’ve been working to attract a future client, or a long-term client makes the decision to leave and work with another agent, this is a chance for self-evaluation.

What could you have done differently so as to prevent this situation happening again?

Could you have communicated more? Less? More effectively? 

“For a person who is not aware that he is doing anything wrong has no desire to be put right. You have to catch yourself doing it before you can reform. Play the first part of prosecutor, then of judge and finally of pleader in mitigation.” –  Seneca, Letters From a Stoic

After reflecting with brutal honesty, if there is nothing you would change nothing in your dealings, then the client moving on opens an avenue for you to form relationships with other clients or go after bigger and better deals.

Grab this new time that has opened up as an opportunity to expand your business or network. 

We’ve all worked with challenging clients. There’s no two ways around it.

But it’s also an avenue to practice your patience and resilience. If you’ve had a client drop you because your negotiating skills weren’t up to scratch, you’ve been given a chance to learn and fine tune a valuable skill that will be pivotal in your career. 

How much is your time worth to you? 

If you consider your time in monetary terms, as clinical psychologist and professor Jordan Peterson encourages his students, what’s its value to you? Would you say $25 an hour? Maybe $50? 

Between four and six hours a day was the majority of wasted hours among Peterson’s students.

Ineffective study, mindless scrolling, just one more TikTok.

Add it up and over a year and this comes to between $25,000 and $100,000 in lost wages, depending on what you consider to be your time’s hourly value. 

“Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.” — Seneca, Letters From a Stoic

If someone walked up to us on the street and asked for your phone, your car and your hard earned savings, you’re going to say no.

But under the hold of our habits we can easily spend hours reading the comments of complete strangers, quickly forgetting that time is the one thing we can never get back.

And it’s the effortlessness with which it can be snatched from us, that makes it even more important to safeguard it with all our might. 

The Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelis said we need to protect the “time to learn something good and new, and cease to be whirled around.”

The people who give their time to the things that really matter are the people who do brilliant work, who really master their craft. They treasure every hour in the day.

Keep the procrastination at bay 

Twenty centuries ago the Roman Stoic philosopher remarked that fools have one thing in common – they are always getting ready to live but never actually do. 

What’s changed today? People are still putting things on the back burner, burying their head in the deadline sand.

All it brings is stress, anxiety, annoyance to your colleagues and families and the biggest grievance of all – squandered time.

Keen to put an end to wasted time? Here’s three Stoic strategies to defeat procrastination

  1. Routine is key 

“Life without a design is erratic,” Seneca wrote. It’s also plagued with uncertainty and there’s nothing that fuels procrastination more than uncertainty. The antidote? Routine.

If you spend the first hour of your working day checking and replying to emails, voicemails and arranging your schedule to meet clients or show properties, don’t waver from it. You know what to do, when to do it and procrastination is shown the door by the clarity and structure you set from the beginning. 

  1. One gain a day keeps the procrastination away

Let’s not overcomplicate things; one of the most effective pieces of advice Seneca gave was very straightforward. “Each day,” he told Lucilius, you should “acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes, as well.” Make the challenging phone call to a client, enrol in the course, complete the listing. One win. Done. 

  1. Demand the best of yourself

The Stoics took a hardline approach to procrastination. Epictetus once said, “Putting things off and always deferring the day after which you will attend to yourself, you will live and die as someone quite ordinary.”

Apply for the new position, dive into new opportunities, seek out a mentor. Just stop deferring. 

Tools down 

Multiple tabs are open on our browser, an email from an interested buyer is vying for our attention, another text message from a vendor has just come through.

We multitask, attend to questions, complete the to-do list, and finally, a fleeting moment to be still – so we reach for our phone to entertain us. 

Our phones connect us to our work and to people, but they can also be the thing that takes us away from our job, our loved ones.

It’s instinctual, the reach of the hand, the unlocking, the browsing. But how would your day, and your life, transform, if you took the time to just sit in stillness when the opportunity presents? 

There’s been a stage in all our lives where we’ve found ourselves enjoying a new game on our phone, a new social media platform.

At first it’s enjoyable, it gives you a little thrill as you verse an AI and strengthen your moves.

But as the days go on, you find yourself picking up the phone and without even thinking about it, opening the game or scrolling through more videos when you have a little time to spare.

A little time can often turn into an hour or more. You can respond to conversations around you, but how well?

It’s only after you realise that the game or app takes away more from your life than it gives you and you delete it that its impact becomes clear.

In the weeks following, you may realise how much time you were giving it by how often you reach for your phone before remembering it’s gone. 

You can now use this time to sit with your own thoughts with no distractions – but this can be challenging.

If that’s the case for you, get your thoughts out via voice memo, write them down or just say them out loud for a few minutes.

When they’re out of your head you can let them go and be in the moment.

When you’re working, being entirely present is key to accomplishing your goals and the job at hand. 

Time is our most valuable asset

A lot of us find it challenging to think about death but it’s at the forefront of thoughts for stoics – and I Iove it. 

One of the most memorable Stoic concepts is “Memento mori” translating to “remember that you will die”.

It’s a simple practice that you can do each day. By remembering that you will one day die, you will enjoy life’s treasures more.

You will appreciate your friends, family, strive for a meaningful career and happiness. 

We’re not guaranteed endless hours – we’re not even guaranteed the next one – and this gives us the gift of urgency.

It may sound a little cliché, a little too desktop calendar quote-ish, but it really does mean that everyday is a chance to better ourselves, our lives and really achieve big.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.” —Marcus Aurelius

 It’s an incredible privilege to be able to change the quality of our lives and this makes our diligence in our careers, self-worth, benevolence, and development eternally meaningful. 

When we solely focus on the things within our control, we create a life of progress, of contentment and happiness.

On the other hand, focusing on the things we can’t control is a surefire way to live in misery. The fact is things aren’t always going to go your way.

Bad weather will ruin an open home, you will get sick in the middle on an important deal. As the Stoics emphasised, this is out of our control. 

We’ve all imagined what we’ll ponder on our deathbeds and the very last thing you want is to be awash with regret.

The principles of Stoicism put things into perspective. It’s humbling, awe-inspiring and more than a little motivating.

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Adrian Knowles

Adrian Knowles is the CEO of Harcourts Australia