5 Great Pieces Of Advice About Success

August 17th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

FBI agents are expected to be successful investigators. When a child is kidnapped, success in finding the kidnapper is not a desired outcome; it is a requirement.

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When facing distraught parents, you know deep down that you will do whatever it takes to bring that child home. Success is possible, but it takes mental toughness to sort through the hard facts about what it takes to succeed.

Here are five great pieces of advice to keep in mind about success:

 

 1. SUCCESS REQUIRES AN ABUNDANCE OF WILLPOWER

For years we’ve been told that willpower is limited—it’s best saved for a sprint, not the race.

Psychologist Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, strongly disagrees. She believes that willpower is limited only if we believe it is. We put boundaries around ourselves when we believe willpower is limited.

But if we are mentally strong leaders who believe that if we work hard, we will be energized to work more, then we are creating willpower. 

As FBI agents working on child kidnappings and other crimes, we worked long hours in strenuous conditions and forged ahead to embrace even more challenging activities.

It turns out that willpower is in our head! 

 

2. SUCCESS COMES EASIER IF YOU MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

We are significantly more productive when we’re feeling positive about our situation, even during tough times. 

One of the most important characteristics of mental toughness is the ability to find positive aspects in the middle of negative situations. Positive thinking does not give up or shut down when we’re hit with an unexpected roadblock. Just the opposite—positivity nudges our brain to seek out more possibilities. We’re smarter and more creative as a result.

Creative thinking was often the difference between success and failure in many of my FBI investigations.

Even pessimists can learn to be positive thinkers. 

For each negative thought you have, write down 5 positive ones to counter it. If you cannot find 5 positive thoughts, write down 5 things for which you are grateful. Do this for several weeks and you will see begin to see changes in your behavior: not only will you connect better with others, you will also manage your stress.

 

3. SUCCESS IS ABOUT FAILING AS MUCH AS WINNING

If we want to be successful, we must learn how to fail.

Another way to build mental toughness is saying “yes” to situations where you know there is a likelihood you will fail. FBI training continually put new agents in situations where failure was imminent. 

This may seem counterintuitive to anyone who strives to be successful—after all, why would you intentionally place yourself in a situation where you might make a mistake or fail? 

There are three reasons: 

  1. Success comes from stretching yourself toward peak performance. If you do not keep moving into your discomfort zone, you will stop growing. And when that happens, you surround yourself with mediocrity.
  2. Success requires that you analyze and critique your failures because you learn something about yourself that you did not know before. Strong minded leaders allow this knowledge to show them how to be successful next time around.
  3. Success hinges on choosing to put yourself in situations where you will fail or come up short so you’ll be aware of your reaction. This is incredibly important in today’s volatile work environment since your ability to predict your response to a disruption will allow you to land on your feet, rather than be caught off guard and simply react, and perhaps not in ways that help your leadership move forward.

 

4. SUCCESS IS THE PRODUCT OF HAPPINESS, NOT VICE VERSA

Most us believe just the opposite—that success will bring us happiness, but the reverse is actually true.

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, says that if we work harder to achieve our goal, we think we’ll be happier. But research is clear that every time we experience success, our brain changes the definition of what success means. In essence, success will always be an elusive goal, so if we’re expecting happiness to be the result of our hard work, we’re most likely never going to get there!

Instead, increase levels of happiness in the midst of a challenge, and you will find that your success rate will increase as well. It’s important to remember that joy is a deeper emotion that is connected with well being, living a life of meaning, and living according to values.

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones—Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)

 

5. SUCCESS REQUIRES A GOOD KICK IN THE BUTT EVERY SO OFTEN

It’s tempting for us to whine and complain when life doesn’t turn out the way we expected or planned. We feel life isn’t fair when we compare ourselves to others.

Here is the bitter pill for you to swallow: what you’re feeling has nothing to do with fairness; it’s all about entitlement.

You have total control over your attitude, so if something is wrong put that mental energy into making the situation better—unless you plan to whine about it forever.

Your words have power, especially over you. Don’t talk about what’s wrong. Talk about how you’ll make things better, even if that conversation is only with yourself. Positive self-talk is a cornerstone in training for Special Forces, FBI agents, and anyone who wants to be successful.

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, “I used everything you gave me”—Erma Bombeck

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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5 Toxic Beliefs About Perfection That Ruin Careers

August 10th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

I am a recovering perfectionist. I set high goals and beat myself up when I fail to meet the mark. The verbal attacks I’ve unleashed upon myself would be categorized as emotional abuse if they were inflicted by a parent!

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5 Toxic Beliefs About Perfection That Ruin Careers

I’m not the only one who struggles with the toxic and negative messages that our mind produces in the relentless pursuit of perfection.

Great leaders strive to achieve excellence for many reasons. For some, the need for perfection is deeply embedded in a personality type that feels compelled to keep moving toward goals with a high level of integrity. Some are are trained to believe perfection will take them to a high level of success. Still others try to quiet a strong inner critic.

Perfection is seductive because it hints at the promised land; however, it’s more about the ideal than the real when leaders let it sabotage their business and life.

Here are 5 toxic beliefs about perfection that will ruin your career:

 

1. PERFECTION COUNTS MORE THAN COMPETENCY 

Leaders ruin careers when they confuse perfection with competency.

No one expects you to be perfect; they do expect you to be competent. When you lead from a place of competence, you lead from a place of strength. 

Competence alone can’t make you a leader, but being an incompetent leader provides unlimited opportunities for you to be ineffective. Knowing what to do—professional competence—is vital. Being competent doesn’t mean that a leader knows how to do everything, but rather that they know what to do and how to get it done.

Your competence will instill confidence not only in yourself, but in those following you as well.

 

2. PURSUIT OF PERFECTION IS A GOOD USE OF TIME

Leaders ruin careers when they fail to realize that their time is worth money.

Successful people make decisions on how to make the best use of their time. They do not focus on perfection or being the best; instead, they work on doing what is needed to get the job done.

Henry Ford once was quoted as saying: “It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste time.”

Do not waste your time trying to be perfect; instead, invest your time in addressing the issues that are creating roadblocks in your path toward success.

 

3. PERFECTION MEANS HAVING ALL THE ANSWERS

Leaders ruin careers by thinking that they need to have all the answers. 

Once you give up the need to have all the answers, you will be able to appreciate the feeling of freedom that comes with it.

As a leader, you don’t need to have all the answers or have superhuman traits. The difference between you being a successful or not so successful leader depends on how you deal with the questions you do not have an answer for. 

Resist the urge to be a perfect know-it-all and step back. Do not be afraid to respond by probing and asking even more questions—but focus on asking the right questions so the answers will lead you closer to finding success.

 

4. PERFECTION IS IMPRESSIVE

Leaders ruin careers by believing that others will be impressed if they turn in perfect performances. 

You do need to be impressive as a leader, but if you rely upon perfection to make those good impressions, you will be living beneath a mask. The reason? When you spend so much time manipulating everyone’s perception of you, you are forfeiting something far more important—your authenticity.

Don’t worry about what others want you to be, or their judgments of you. You know in your heart who you are, what provides meaning and value to you, and where your journey is taking you.

You do not need to be perfect to be impressive. Instead, let others be inspired by the way in which you deal with your imperfections.

 

5. PERFECTION INCREASES CHANCES FOR SUCCESS

Leaders ruin careers when they start believing perfection will lead them to success. 

Often, success is learning on the go so we can pivot to meet new challenges or demands of our environment. The desire for perfection will cripple our need to adapt to fast-moving situations where minds need to remain nimble and flexible. 

The rules of the game change every day, as new information is taken in and processed. Leaders who are mentally strong are constantly moving and adapting until they find something that works.

When the path ahead is not clear, the desire for perfection is a hindrance to eventual success because it impedes a nimble mindset.

I have always found that Mary, mother of Jesus, was a great example of a person with a nimble mind. When the virgin discovers that she is pregnant, all she asks the angel is one simple clarifying question, “How will this be,” Mary asked (Luke 1:34 NIV). 

Not if but how, and then she trusts the how even though it defies logic and pushes the boundaries of her understanding of what can and should happen.

Her example is a one of confidence, grace, and calm—and that is perfect freedom.

What other toxic beliefs about perfection can you add?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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Most Important Tip For Building Mental Strength—Keep Moving or Die

August 3rd, 2014 by LaRae Quy

While at the FBI Academy, I worked with a coach to help me train for the physical fitness test. After a few weeks, I reached the magic number of 25 pushups and then fizzled. Hard as I tired, I couldn’t move beyond those 25 pushups.

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I was stuck. I had hit a plateau.

Athletes understand that plateaus are normal, as do CEO’s, scientists, and other successful professionals. When we are stalled, we’re often left with the question: what to do next?

The answer to this question matters a lot. Leaders who keep moving often find that the way they  made their way through plateaus ended up teaching them very important lessons about themselves.

The only way to survive when you’re stuck or stalled is simple: keep moving or die.

Here are 5 steps to keep you moving:

 

STEP ONE: TAKE RISKS

Leaders with mental strength keep moving forward by taking on challenges that will help them grow. These challenges are guaranteed to be unpleasant and will push them into their discomfort zone. 

The biggest reason we stay stalled is because we don’t like to fail. We stick with activities and goals that we know we will be successful in achieving. We would rather protect our ego than do something wrong, make a mistake, or be seen as a failure.

To be successful, you must keeping moving or die of mediocrity. There is little or no chance you will move out of your current level of competence or success unless you take a risk and move out of your comfort zone.

 

STEP TWO: EMBRACE THE SUCK FACTOR

Leaders with mental strength know that failing sucks. But if they want to be anything more than mediocre, they also understand they need to give themselves permission to fail. Many times.

Successful leaders do not avoid the things that are hardest for them. Instead, they focus on those areas in which they need to improve. They do not avoid their mistakes or failures—they make the most of mistakes and failures by learning what they have to teach. 

Rather than looking at your failures as a negative thing, look at them as steps toward your success. 

It is your choice as to whether you learn from your mistakes and failures, or if you let them go to waste. 

Never let a good crisis go to waste—Winston Churchill

 

STEP THREE: USE A SCRIPT

Leaders with mental strength who are serious about moving through transitions or breaking through barriers are ready when new opportunities come up. One of the best ways to do this is by writing and practicing their script—they do not just start babbling when opportunity knocks. 

Their preparation gives them both poise and confidence.

You never know when an opportunity to further your career or embark on a new challenge will present itself so be prepared.

Your script is a two-minute speech that summarizes your life, skill set, and aspirations. It is a personalized approach that plays up to your strengths and presented to the person in front of you.

 

STEP FOUR: VISUALIZE YOUR SUCCESS

Leaders with mental strength vision their success when faced with difficult or stressful situations. It helps take them beyond their self-limiting beliefs about themselves and move them beyond their current circumstances. 

Visioning helps open the doors of possibility and opportunity by encouraging you to prepare for meetings by asking yourself: “What questions are likely to come up?” “What objections can I expect?”

Visualize your answers and the way in which you will answer them. The very act of giving your brain a detailed portrait of your end goal ensures the release of dopamine, a powerful mental toughness tool to steer you toward success.

 

STEP FIVE: SURROUND YOURSELF WITH OTHERS WHO ARE GOING THROUGH THE SAME THING

Leaders with mental strength experience the same feelings of demoralization that come with failure and taking risks that everyone else does. That’s why they rebuild their morale by hanging out with others who are experiencing the same situation. They compare notes, trade tips, and remind each other that they are on the right path.

If you want to be a mentally strong leader, you must keep moving forward. If you wait for success to come to you, you will die of mediocrity.

Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running—African Proverb.

I eventually did move past the 25 pushup plateau, and I did it by visualizing my success.

How do you keep moving toward success?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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Read my book ““Secrets of a Strong Mind,” available now on Amazon.

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7 Reasons You Will Never Become A Mentally Strong Leader

July 27th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

A reporter once asked me whether the FBI provides textbooks for agents to study so they can become mentally strong. The answer is no; FBI agents become mentally strong by facing their situation head-on—no sugarcoating allowed.

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As an FBI agent, I learned that mental strength is not something you are born with. It is something you can learn. If I learned it, so can you, but only if you’re willing to put in the discipline and effort it takes.

You will not become a mentally strong leader if you:

 

1. HAVEN’T A CLUE ABOUT WHAT BRINGS YOU VALUE AND MEANING IN LIFE

Mentally strong leaders live their life with purpose and meaning. They are an active participant in where their life is going. They have found a direction in life and set overarching goals for what they want to achieve.

Without goals to anchor us, we find ourselves adrift in life. We may think we know what our goals are, but if we aren’t living our life around them, then we’re not living our life on purpose.

 

2. REMAIN IGNORANT ABOUT YOUR BLIND SPOTS

Mentally strong leaders understand that they need to frequently, and critically, analyze their performance, especially their failures. When they do, they identity those patterns of behavior that are not productive and nip them in the bud. Unfortunately, “teachable moments” are usually accompanied by feelings of frustration, disappointment, and embarrassment. 

Psychologists find that we tend to repeat the same mistake, and repeat it in endless variety. That is the definition of a blind spot

 

3. BELIEVE YOU WILL ALWAYS LIVE A CHARMED LIFE

Mentally strong leaders accept the fact that life evolves, and are smart enough to not be surprised when it does. It is natural to react with anger and skepticism because these emotions are trying to ensure your survival. But new situations can provide you with opportunities to learn important lessons about yourself such as your reactions, values, vulnerabilities, triggers, and how to take better care of yourself.

 

4. PRETEND TO KNOW EVERYTHING

Mentally strong leaders have a beginner’s mind that does not need to prove or disprove anything. It has the humility to hold “what I do know” with “what I don’t know.” Holding this kind of tension leads to wisdom and not just easy answers.

When we allow ourselves the luxury of trial and error, like a child learning to walk, we experience a feel-good neurological response. Similarly, when tackling new and difficult challenges, we experience a rush of adrenaline, a hormone that makes us feel confident and motivated.

 

5. AVOID CHALLENGES THAT WILL ULTIMATELY MAKE YOU GROW

Mentally strong leaders have a growth mindset that looks at success as hard work, learning, training, and having the grit to keep moving ahead even when faced with obstacles and roadblocks.

A growth mindset anticipates transitions that come from uncertainty because it interprets failure as nothing more than an opportunity for learning and improvement.

 

6. REFUSE TO KEEP EGO IN CHECK

Mentally strong leaders know how to keep a tight rein on ego. The ego is always asking “How will this make me look? How will I benefit?” It looks for ways to prove it is right and others are wrong.

When we keep ego in check, there is room for the wisdom of others to get in. We are able to listen more deeply, learn with an open mind, and adapt new skill sets.

 

7. HAVE A COWARD’S HEART

Mentally strong leaders have the courage to move out of their comfort zone and into their zone of discomfort where they may feel awkward, clumsy, and alone. 

When we get into a comfort zone, we often strive to stay right there—where we have found success. But it is the average leader who stops at success, because success and peak performance are often two different things. Whole lives are spent reinforcing mediocre performance.

“Mental toughness is believing you will prevail in your circumstances, rather than believing that your circumstances will change”—LaRae Quy

Are you ready to become a mentally strong leader?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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How To Get Your Voice Heard When Leadership Doesn’t Listen

July 20th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

Dean had a tendency to dominate every meeting or briefing he attended. As a supervisor, he surrounded himself with other like-minded male FBI agents who frequently ignored, dismissed, or interrupted others whose opinion they did not respect.

Woman with bullhorn

As a woman I was tired of not getting my voice heard in meetings where louder voices drowned out what I had to say. How could I change the behavior of leadership?

When I looked around the room, I saw that Dean and others of his ilk were also ignoring some of the other male agents who did not stand out as exceptional performers or leaders. While being a female agent may have had some impact on their behavior toward me, it clearly was also a matter of who was perceived to have anything important to say.  Here is how I used mental toughness to get my voice heard:

1. FIND SOMETHING POSITIVE—EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO LOOK REALLY, REALLY HARD

I had my list of complaints about Dean, but now was the time to focus on the positive aspects of the supervisor, not his faults. For every 1 negative trait, I looked for and found, 5 positive traits about him. As a former U.S. Marine, he was:

  1. Disciplined and conscientious
  2. Possessed clarity of purpose
  3. Used humor to defray tension
  4. Relied upon a high standard of integrity to guide his decisions.
  5. Loyal to his friends

 

2. USE EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

Emotional intelligence is being savvy about the what is important to not only ourselves, but others as well. Awareness is being alert and honest about my feelings of frustration and disappointment that I felt when ignored by Dean and others like him.

Mental toughness is letting go of our ego after we’ve acknowledged our feelings and focusing our attention on someone else instead of ourselves.

When I focused on Dean, I identified one characteristic that seemed to dominate every decision he ever made—integrity. If I wanted to get my voice heard, I needed to appeal to his sense of integrity, not his sense of equal opportunity.

 

3. NETWORK STRATEGICALLY

There is a saying: if you can’t beat them, join them. While collaboration is increasingly important, the silo mentality has arisen for a reason: people naturally tend to form safe tribes with colleagues and avoid those they don’t know well. This is because collaboration with people they don’t know is a threat to their brain. 

The emotional limbic brain is survival-driven, and it tends to trust those with whom we’ve developed close ties or have shared experiences. 

I intentionally sought out Dean, and his buddies, to ask for advice about my cases. I buried my pride and made them partners in the direction I took my investigations. Since Dean and his friends had developed deep relationships, I suspected they would talk about me in my absence, and I wanted those conversations to be complimentary and positive.

 

4. WATCH BODY LANGUAGE

Our emotional limbic brain system leaks all sorts of information through body languageWhen I approached Dean, his eyebrows arched, indicating a genuine feeling of warmth at seeing me. Few people notice this, but an “eyebrow flash” is an automatic reaction when you see someone you like.

Smiling is a sign of submission, which is why many dominant individuals don’t smile. Dean always smiled when he saw me, however, and it was a genuine smile—there were crow’s feet and the cheeks were pushed up.

Perhaps more importantly, is how he didn’t react the same way to others. What was it about them that did not generate warm feelings? It was then that I realized none of them were the first to smile at Dean. They were so focused on being seen by leadership as serious professionals that they lost their ability to smile and have a good time, especially the women who wanted to come across as tough.

Smiling activates our mirror neurons; our brain sees a reaction in someone else and it wants to mirror those same emotions. I always approached Dean with a smile, and he naturally wanted to smile back.

 

5. MAKE PITHY, STRONG STATEMENTS

Dean was a busy guy and very quick witted. I didn’t dawdle when chatting about a case—I came straight to the point with pithy, strong statements. I didn’t waste his time by trying to ingratiate myself in a way that he would not appreciate. 

In our next meeting, the discussion circled around to a topic that Dean and I had previously discussed. He knew he could rely on me to be succinct and make an impact, so he asked for my opinion. I didn’t let him down—I made my statement and then shut up, not using this opportunity to make sure everyone else in the room knew how competent I was. 

That day was a turning point. While I have never developed a loud voice, I have developed a strong one.

That is something you can do as well. Use it well.

What suggestions do you have to make your voice heard when in a room with louder ones?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter Sign up for my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

SRead my book ““Secrets of a Strong Mind,” available now on Amazon.  Coming soon—my second book: Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths. Available in interactive eBook, hard cover and paperback.

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4 Easy Ways To Get People To Cooperate With You

July 13th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

Igor was a Russian spy in the United States to steal proprietary economic information. I was the FBI undercover agent assigned to recruit him to work for the United States. My job was to sell Igor on the merits of moving forward with the FBI instead of the KGB.

Collaboration - horse & goat

 

 

It was a tough sell. If caught and his perfidy discovered, Igor risked imprisonment, loss of pension, and abandonment by friends and former KGB colleagues.

For 24 years, I made my living by getting people to cooperate with me. If it wasn’t Russian spies it was supervisors, colleagues, and members of the business community from whom I needed cooperation if I wanted to keep moving ahead in my career.

While the chance of you crossing paths with a foreign spy are minimal, you will encounter investors, financiers, clients, prospects, and other team members you will need to elicit cooperation from if you want to keep your business moving forward.

Here are 4 easy ways you can get people to cooperate with you:

 

1. UNDERSTAND THAT COLLABORATION IS NOT OUR FIRST REACTION

Success in most jobs today requires the ability to develop strong collaborative ties with others. Kare Anderson shares a potent reminder in this quote: “Speak sooner to a strong sweet spot of shared interest to strengthen our friendship and generate more opportunities for us.” 

The key word is “sooner”, and here is why:

Our emotional limbic brain system is survival driven. It’s sole purpose is to keep us safe by warning of us potential threats in our environment. Its first reaction to the unknown or the uninvited that shows up in our life is—to run away!

Obviously, not everything that is new or different is a threat to our safety; however, the limbic brain system does not know that. Furthermore, it doesn’t differentiate between events and people. 

In the absence of positive information about an individual you meet, the limbic brain system warns you to distrust that person. This happens subconsciously, before you have time to think about it.

This is why you must move quickly when collaborating with others to alleviate the innate instinct to react negatively. This also explains why icebreakers are so important at workshops when people are meeting each other for the first time.

 

2. REFLECT WHAT YOU’RE THINKING

The way the brain connects and relates to others is through a series of mirror neurons that light up when we see others perform an action that has specific intent behind it. For example, when we see someone smile in delight, our mirror neurons light up, too, and we smile back. Our brain likes to share the emotion of the person in front of us.

This is why facial expressions are so important. When we see someone experience an emotion, it activates the same circuits in our brain.

If you want a positive response, show it to the other person. Their mirror neurons will register your emotion and their automatic limbic brain response will not be to move away from you.

Remember, the flight emotional response is always the easiest to arouse, so be careful in what you say and how you say it if you want the other person to collaborate with you.

 

3. SHARE PERSONAL STORIES

Positive social connections help you perform better on the job. 

Sharing personal stories activates the mirror neurons and deepens connections between people. Not only will these increase the likelihood of meaningful collaboration, but people with good social connections do better at planning, thinking, and regulating emotions.

When we tell stories that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on others too. According to Uri Hasson, the brains of the person telling a story and those listening to it can synchronize. Not only are the same language processing parts of the brain activated, but the same emotional parts as well. We can plant ideas, thoughts, and emotions in the brain of the listener. 

 

4. USE THESE TWO WORDS TO DISARM ANY DISAGREEMENT—AT LEAST TEMPORARILY!

Marie Forleo gives great advice on how to win an argument or move away from a confrontational situation. Our natural instinct is to become defensive if our point of view is challenged because our limbic brain system is trying to protect us, but Marie suggests we disarm the potential argument by saying two words: “You’re right.” 

This immediately neutralizes the situation by showing respect for the other person’s point of view—even if it does not coincide with your own. Once the other individual is disarmed, you can follow up with something like, “I see how you feel (or think), but here is another way to look at the situation…”

Try role-playing with a friend and ask for their input. Disarm a heated argument with those two words, “You’re right.” Ask your friend if you are coming across the way you want.

I have found that mental toughness often has less to do with being tough than with being emotionally savvy about what is going on in the brain of those around me. I have used these 4 techniques to get people to cooperate with me, but there are many others. 

What would you add to the list?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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5 Science-Based Tips For Building Your Resilience

July 6th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

My brother almost died from a heart attack a few years back. Both his mind and body were resilient, and he is now in great health. Nothing gets your attention quite like a life or death situation. 

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Struggles - tiger in waterWhether a person hangs in or gives up during tough times depends on their mental toughness and ability to bounce back. Resilience is harnessing your response to stress when you’re faced with adversity. Since setbacks are part of any endeavor, success hinges on resilience.

Here are 5 science-based ways you can increase your level of resilience when faced with stress and trauma:

 

1. REINTERPRET YOUR SITUATION

Columbia University Psychologist Kevin Ochsner has found that when people intentionally reinterpret a negative situation as being less negative, they experience fewer unpleasant emotions. This technique has worked successfully for former Vietnam prisoners of war. Most of the veterans had been brutally tortured during their imprisonment. Instead of feeling despair or engaging in self-pity, they reinterpreted their situation and found meaningful ways in which they could grow stronger, wiser, and more resilient as a result.

They were also able to see possibilities in the future, relate better to others, and appreciate life.

The key is to teach ourselves how to observe our own behaviors and thoughts, challenge our negative assessments of stressful situations, and replace them with more positive points of view. 

Do this by asking questions such as, “Is there a less negative way to look at this situation?” “Am I exaggerating my circumstances?” “Is there something I can learn from this experience?” “How can I grow stronger as a result of what I’m going through?”

Mental toughness is choosing how you respond to your situation.

 

2. ENGAGE IN MINDFUL MEDITATION

If we can consciously live in the present moment, we can stop fretting about either the future or the past. This is important because it trains us to become an observer of our own life who learns how to watch, and not judge, what is going on.

The mind tends to follow familiar conditioned patterns of thinking that, because of our negativity bias, tends to focus on the stress in our life and our failure to cope. Mindful meditation helps cultivate our ability to focus on the positive and develop more flexible thinking so we are better able to deal with anxiety, pressure, and trauma. 

Both reinterpretation and mindful meditation activate the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is associated with greater emotional control, a boost in positive emotions, and faster recovery from feelings such as fear and anger.  

 

3. REGULATE YOUR STRESS RESPONSE

Boosting your ability to bounce back from difficult situations also promotes mental and physical health. These benefits provide you with a far greater ability to regulate your stress response. 

We have a natural negativity bias that has kept us alert for dangers since the caveman days. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has found that negative emotions tend to narrow our focus of attention and restrict our behavior to that more suited to the emotions associated with survival, not dealing with day to day stress.

Conversely, positive emotions have been found to broaden our focus and produce more creative and flexible responses to stress and trauma.

It’s important to note, however, that mental toughness and resilience are associated with realistic positive thinking—not fantasies or wishful thinking. The key is being able to filter out the drama that often derails our decision making process. 

 

4.WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING

Aerobic exercise reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. It improves attention, planning, decision making, and memory.

Workouts need to be challenging to be of the most benefit to both your body and your brain. Stress inoculation is the theory behind peak performance. It is based on the idea that if a person deliberately takes on increasingly difficult challenges, they will gradually learn to handle higher levels of stress and produce at higher performance levels. 

The graded exposure to stress can apply to physical, emotional, and cognitive resilience. This means your experiences will need to be outside your comfort zone, but not so intense that they are unmanageable.

This is a quote from the U.S. Navy Combat Stress Control Handbook: “To achieve greater tolerance to a physical stressor, a progressively greater exposure is required. The exposure should be sufficient to produce more than routine stress reflexes…In other words, you must stress the system.”

 

5. GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS

Many studies have confirmed that the strength and depth of our relationships is a primary component in developing mental toughness. Relationships with others weaken the impact of stress and bolster our courage.  

Support from friends and family is important because it increases our self-confidence and provides a safety net if we should fall. As a result, we tend to be more aggressive in meeting challenges and embracing risk. Social ties stimulate oxytocin, the hormone that is known to reduce anxiety and fear.

A resilient leader is not someone who avoids stress but someone who learns how to master it. Science is showing us how we can boost our resilience. Setbacks are part of any endeavor, and those who react positively will be the ones to keep moving forward.

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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Why Grit Can Predict Success Better Than IQ (PODCAST)

June 29th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

My grandmother was born on the kitchen table. She was a very sensible woman who had a special baseball cap reserved just for wearing into town, once confused Dom Perignon with a mafia leader, and told me to “suck it up” when I complained about my teachers.

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Mental toughness - blue eyed tiger

I resented the fact that she didn’t take my part when I came home crying that Mrs. Archie was telling—not asking—me to finish my math homework. It wasn’t that grandma couldn’t be sweet when she wanted, it was more than she did not suffer fools; learning can be tough at times and she didn’t have time to waste on a cry-baby who couldn’t take a few knocks.

Not everyone may agree with my grandmother’s attitude toward life, but science is actually proving that grit is a far more reliable predictor of success than intelligence. 

Grit is an important component of mental toughness.

Lets take a close look at what grit really means:

 

1. FAILURE IS AN OPTION

Getting the job done on our Wyoming cattle ranch had less to do with failing than learning the best way to do it. It wasn’t until I was hit in the face with college entrance exams and job performance appraisals that failure took on such an ominous meaning.

When I was younger, I was told that failure and trying again was simply part of the learning process. Failure presented a “problem” to be worked out and it was often a game of trying something new that might work. 

I grew up believing in the power of Plan B. My grandmother was very good at brushing off failure and taking the steps necessary to try again. Stupidity, in her eyes, was going back out and repeating the same mistakes. Her second, third, or fourth attempts were transitions from failure to success.

Grit looks at Plan B as a powerful next step.

 

2. GRIT TRUMPS TALENT

University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth has found that grit—defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals—is the best predictor of success. In fact, grit is unrelated, or even negatively correlated, with talent. When working with West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher in grit had the mental toughness to keep going when times got tough.

The high score on grit surpassed other tests such as SAT scores, IQ, class rank, leadership, and physical aptitude when it came to predicting retention rates.

Leaders who score highest in grit and mental toughness are those who are positive thinkers. My grandmother was a positive thinker who looked for solutions and wasn’t afraid of working hard to find them.

 

3. PRAISE CAN MAKE YOU WEAK

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has done amazing research on how children who are praised for getting good grades because they are “smart” are less confident as adults than children who are praised for getting good grades because they are “hard workers.”

The praise that insinuates a child gets good grades because they were born smart also sends the message that “you are what you are” and that hard work will not change their situation.

Praise that implies that you did well because you worked hard at it produces a growth mindset that understands you have the ability to change your situation—if you put your shoulder to it.

 

4. STRESS CAN MAKE YOU STRONG

My grandmother warned me against avoiding the negative things in life, whether it was Mrs. Archie’s math assignments or sitting on a spool of barbed wire in the back of the pickup truck when there was no room to sit on the front seat. “Suck it up” was her favorite phrase.

Now I realize that facing the negative aspects of life prepared me to be more resilient. It also equipped me to deal with everyday stressors. Pain, along with drudgery, will most likely be experienced on the way to success.

Eric Kandel, who shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 2000, discovered the phenomenon of synaptic plasticity. As we try something new, we have to work at it. The nerve cells involved in that learning process fire a neurotransmitter to get the process started. The more effort we exert, the larger the synapses enlarge and the connections strengthen.

The more we stress our brain, those neural pathways get stronger. That is why practice—the repeated firing of neurons—leads to improved performance. 

We rarely embrace hard work that stresses our brain, but our brain actually get stronger from it. James Loehr, an expert on peak performance, says, “Stress (in moderation) is not the enemy in our life; paradoxically, it’s the key to growth.”

I have not always appreciated my grandmother’s approach to life, but she had the mental toughness to understand that routine stresses make us stronger. She knew that the development of grit was just as important as the development of my math score.

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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Sign up for my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

Read my book ““Secrets of a Strong Mind,” available now on Amazon.

7 Ways Strong Minds Tackle Big Goals

June 22nd, 2014 by LaRae Quy

Our ranch house was located at the bottom of a canyon, cut deep into the earth over the years by the North Laramie River. Several times a year my Dad would climb the steep south mountain of the canyon to visit an elderly neighbor woman named Sophie. The cliffs of the canyon rose 2,000 feet on either side of the ranch house, covered with boulders and littered with the debris from an occasional landslide. 

Adversity - climbing mountains

When I turned 8, Dad finally relented and allowed both my brother and me to climb with him on one of his visits to Sophie. He had not heard from her for a while and she had no telephone. Anxiously, I wondered how we would “stick” to the rocks and not fall off.

He told me not to worry about that as I looked up from the bottom toward our goal—the mountain top.

Instead, he told me to keep my eyes on the few feet of mountain around me so I could find places to put my hands and feet. The places to pull ourselves up with our hands and steps that led upward would reveal themselves as we got closer. 

Even though the mountain side looked sheer from the bottom, there were lots of crevices and places to climb once we got started. They were invisible from below, lost in the grandeur of the larger view.

By breaking down my goal of climbing the mountain into small steps to be taken one at a time, I was successful and able to reach the top.

Leaders with strong minds are successful because they not only establish their goals, they know how to break them down into tiny, clear chunks.

If you spend too much time contemplating the huge distance between where you are now and the goal you want to achieve, there is a risk you’ll never get started.

Too much information can be as intimidating as it is inspiring. Chunking is breaking down larger goals into achievable steps. This will help you understand all the tasks involved in achieving a big goal as well as create a timeline to get them done. Chunking tasks that are related is an efficient way to create a strong mind because the brain loves to make connections. 

By breaking down a huge project into smaller chunks, you can also experience the sense of achievement and progress.

Here are 7 ways:

1. Chunking often works best when you work backwards from your goal. Think about the obstacles you need to overcome, barriers you need to break, customers you need to contact, or product you need to produce if you want to be successful.

2. Investigate further to see if each goal you’ve listed above can be broken down even further into mini-goals. Take a closer look at each goal and see what steps are needed to achieve that specific goal.

3. Create a visual map if you’re a visual person so you can get a picture of a) where you are, b) where you want to end up, and c) what needs to be done to accomplish it.

4. Put your tasks in chronological order, working out what jobs need to be done a) first, b) alongside others, and c) alone.

5. Identify those tasks that will require more effort or additional training in order for you to accomplish them. If possible, choose the time you can tackle them rather than waiting until they are foisted upon you when you are least prepared to deal with them.

6. Build a timeline of your tasks. Decide when you need to reach your goal if you have the luxury of setting your own deadline. If you do not have that luxury, write the deadline down and then identify how much time you will need to accomplish each step and mini-goal. If you’re pressed for time, how much of the work can you assign to others? Think about getting professional assistance if you need.

7. Keep your eye on the next step. Chunking allows us to create small, achievable steps so we do not lose our confidence as we move toward the larger goal.

Successful people understand that clarity gives us certainty. Small, clear goals keep our attention focused and yet are not enough to stress us out.

After I made it up the mountain, I felt as though I was sitting on top of the world! Sophie was there and made us lunch, and then we headed back down. What I learned that day was that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when confronted by a big task. However, by keeping these steps in mind, you create a way to reach the top.

What suggestions do you have for tackling big goals?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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How To Develop A Strong Mind and Bounce Back

June 15th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

While assigned to my first FBI Field Office, I believed that life had finally settled down for me. I loved my assignment and had made lots of friends. It felt like home. Then one day I was called into the office of the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) and given orders to transfer across the country.

PODCAST: 

A rotating animation of the human brain showin...

A rotating animation of the human brain showing the left frontal lobe in red within a semitransparent skull. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is sometimes also included in the frontal lobe. Other authors include the ACC as a part of limbic lobe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I felt as though the air had been kicked out of me. A transfer would mean pulling up roots and starting all over—again. 

Whether it’s starting over in a different environment, losing a job, or a failed relationship, we have all experienced the tug of war between our thinking brain and our emotional brain. It feels as though each brain has it’s own agenda, and at some point a certain amount of paralysis sets in.  

Different parts of the brain fight for control. Technically, this is what happens in post-traumatic stress disorder—the prefrontal cortex of the cerebral thinking brain loses its ability to regulate the emotional limbic system.

When we’re knocked down in life or go through tough times, our emotions become overly sensitized to fear and danger. While we may not experience the full impact of PTSD, we are feeling enough discomfort that our ability to make the best decisions for ourselves is affected.

Many of us go to therapy or take medicine to remove our symptoms when we’re feeling distress, but that is doing nothing more than either lecturing the thinking cerebral brain or suppressing the emotional limbic system.

Instead, we can develop a stronger mind when we find ways to get both brains to cooperate equally. Mental toughness is the ability to experience discomfort yet still feel comfortable.

Understanding how to control our different brains when we’ve been knocked down is an essential component of mental toughness. 

Here are 4 steps to develop a strong mind so you can bounce back when life strikes a heavy blow:

STEP ONE: Tackle A Minor Source of Uneasiness

The first place to start is by identifying a minor source of uneasiness that clearly places you in a discomfort zone but not in a panic mode. Since you are training your brains to communicate with one another, starting small will not be enough to put your emotional limbic system into survival mode but will be enough to generate a physical reaction.

For example, if you fear public speaking, the thought of your performance can cause palms to sweat and heart rate to increase. These physiological responses are triggered by your fear response—which is housed in your limbic system.

 

STEP TWO: Call Attention To Where The Fear Is Coming From

The limbic system is so powerful because we often have a visceral reaction to a situation before we have a conscious awareness of it. This is called gut reaction.

Studies have shown that we can use our thinking brain to control our limbic system if we do two things:

  1. recognize what is happening
  2. intentionally tell ourselves that there is no reason to react with fear

By forcing ourselves to use our cognitive function, we are activating the prefrontal lobe of the cerebral cortex which is responsible for generating positive thoughts. Interestingly enough, when we call attention to our fears we are able to see them in a different, and often more objective, light.

The longer our fear lurks in the darkness, the greater its chances of growing and sabotaging our efforts to move forward.

No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” NIV, The Bible, Luke 11:33

 

STEP THREE: Get Comfortable With Discomfort

The secret to a strong mind is learning how to get comfortable with discomfort. 

If you can walk on hot beach sand as you make your way to the cool water of the ocean, you’ve got the gist of a strong mind. The discomfort is there, you are aware of it, and it does not feel great but it is co-existing with the pleasure of a day on the beach.

As the discomfort increases, and you experience anxiety, stress or pain, you begin to see your experience as more absolute—you are either comfortable or miserable. While there will be miserable moments in your life, not all of them need to trigger fear.

Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” – Buddhist proverb

Once you are able to control your fear by using your thinking cerebral brain, the limbic system simmers down so you can deal with your situation and make decisions utilizing both brains.

 

STEP FOUR: Label Your Discomfort

Studies have found that when you call your emotion by name, it lessens the limbic system’s activity. When you accurately identify and describe your discomfort, you lessen the power of the fear associated with it.

Similar research has found that it is important to limit your description to one or two words, however. If you engage in a long soliloquy about your emotion, it will only increase your response to it and produce adverse effects. 

I have found that by following these four steps, I can increase my tolerance for discomfort. 

By using these same steps, you can develop a strong mind and bounce back from life’s adversities.

What additional steps would you add?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

You can follow me on Twitter

Sign up for my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

Secrets Cover - thumbnail

Read my book ““Secrets of a Strong Mind,” available now on Amazon.