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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Mental Toughness - lightning in hand

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.

 

You can follow me on Twitter

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.

 

You can follow me on Twitter

Sign up for my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

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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.

 

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Living With Purpose Is The Secret To A Long and Healthy Life

June 8th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

I met Oleg a few years back while I was working as an FBI undercover agent. Oleg was a Russian spy sent to the U.S. to steal proprietary economic intelligence. My job was to find the answer to two questions: 1) what specific technology was he trying to steal, and 2) would he be amenable to working with the FBI as a double agent?

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Purpose - got purpose?I wasn’t sure how to go about pursuing these questions at first, but Oleg provided one of the answers soon after I met him.

I made arrangements to attend a seminar that I knew he would be attending. The seat next to Oleg was empty, so I wasted no time in gently shoving a gentleman out of the way so I could get there before anyone else.

As Oleg and I chatted, one thing became obvious: he was bored with his job. It wasn’t that Oleg couldn’t talk about certain aspects of his overt job (not the spy part),  it was that he didn’t want to talk about them. He couldn’t drum up enough enthusiasm about it to even keep up a good conversation. His lack of engagement in what he was doing was a clue that he was not doing something he felt passionate about.

Oleg was a great recruitment for the FBI, and a great win for me professionally as an FBI agent, but Oleg isn’t the only one who was dissatisfied with his career.

A recent Harvard Business School survey indicates that we have a 23-year low in job satisfaction and 84% of Americans say they want a new job.

Most of us are passive spectators in our life. We plan careers, retirement nest eggs, and vacations, but we do not plan our life. 

Mentally tough people live their life with purpose and meaning. They are an active participant in where their life is going.

Here is the real clincher—having a sense of purpose may add years to your life. Recent research has concluded that purposefulness is a strong predictor of longevity. In the past, behavioral scientists have understood that having a positive outlook and strong relationships contributed to living a longer and healthier life. 

New studies, however, suggest that purpose itself is what drives longevity.

Finding a direction for life and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you live longer. 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.

Over 80% of Americans do not have goals; 16% say they do have goals but don’t write them down. Less than 4% actually write them down. 

Research has shown that people who regularly write down their goals not only life longer and healthier lives, they also earn as much as nine times more than their counterparts who do not write down goals.

Start living a longer and healthier life by thinking about your own experiences and the things that are important to you.

Here are some simple ways to dig down and find your purpose:

 

1. WHAT ACTIVITIES AND SITUATIONS FROM YOUR PAST HAVE LED TO TRUE SATISFACTION?

  • Start a log.
  • Jot down activities, people, circumstances, and experiences from your day.
  • Notice when and how your attitude changes.
  • Look for patterns.

 

2. WHAT YOU ARE YOU ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT?

  • Make a list of what you’d do if money weren’t an issue.
  • Remember what brought you joy as a child.
  • Enjoy those memories for a few moments.
  • Reflect on what brings a smile to your face today.

 

3. WHAT IS DRIVING YOUR RESTLESSNESS?

  • Pinpoint your attitudes and habits of behavior.
  • Acknowledge your fears.
  • Accept your strengths.
  • Identify your desires.

As the psalmist says, “Search your own heart with all diligence for out of it flow the issues of life.”

What is standing in your way of finding your purpose? How can being authentic help you be a better leader? 

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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6 Persuasion Tips From FBI Charm School

June 1st, 2014 by LaRae Quy

FBI counterintelligence agents, such as myself, recruit foreign spies to work for the U.S. government. It’s not that we are selling anything; instead, we are using persuasion to make our point. Very often, we are successful.

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You may never find yourself in a situation where you’ll be confronted with a Russian spy trying to steal classified information, and chances are even slimmer that you’ll be asked to recruit him to work for our side, but there will be times that you will absolutely need to make your point.  

Persuasion is not just for spies, salespeople, and teenagers.

You may need to persuade your boss to take a closer look at your proposal or persuade employees to perform better.

Here are 6 tips from FBI charm school on how to persuade people effectively with grace—and even a little dignity:

 

1. LISTEN TO SOMEONE BESIDES YOURSELF

This is difficult because it means you need to take the focus away from yourself and concentrate on the person in front of you—and this is true whether you’re knee-to-knee with a person or in front of a computer screen answering emails. 

It means being present with both sides of the conversation—not just your side. Do not lapse into planning tomorrow or checking items off your to-do list.

 

2. ADAPT TO THE PERSONALITY OF THE OTHER PERSON

An essential element of mental toughness is the ability to accurately read the emotions of others and then adapt your behavior accordingly.

Match your personality to your boss, employee, or client. Assess whether they are introverts or extraverts, analytical or a visionary, purpose-driven or security-driven, goal-oriented or people-oriented. 

If you’ve been a good listener, you will be able to make these distinctions.

 

3. SINCERITY IS THE KEY TO BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Only by taking the time to develop relationships, can you fully understand people’s needs, desires, and fears. Until this happens, it’s very difficult to engage them in any meaningful way. 

 

4. SHOW A LITTLE RESPECT

In a culture that at times seems to be losing its ability to have respect for the opposing point of view, it’s important to give others the respect that is due to them without trying to belittle them in the process.

When making our point with others, we have two options: we can either manipulate people into adopting our view, or we can use different measures of persuasion. 

Manipulation is a favorite of bullies like Adolph Hitler—and the tactics used by slick advertising.

Persuasion, on the other hand, is the ability to charm and influence others using subtle methods without denigrating the other person.

 

5. TACT REQUIRES THAT YOU THINK BEFORE YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH

A person with tact knows what to say or do to avoid giving offense. Tact is essential when dealing with difficult or delicate situations. Do not ask embarrassing questions that put people on the defensive.

Perhaps the biggest tip for developing tact is this: think before you say something.

Try role-playing with a friend and ask for their input. Are you coming across the way you want?

 

6. BE POISED TO ADD VALUE TO THE CONVERSATION

My years in the FBI were a grueling course in learning good manners because people were not going to talk to me, let alone follow me, unless I could engage them in a way that was meaningful and productive.

Demonstrate warmth first when connecting with others, develop a bond and then be competent in the work you do together.

It’s impossible to change people’s minds unless you take the time to develop more than shallow, fleeting relationships with them. It comes down to this: in a world of mass media you must learn how to charm people if you want to persuade them to take your point of view seriously.

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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What Emotional Intelligence Reveals About Your Personality

May 25th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

As an FBI counterintelligence agent, the key to recruiting a foreign spy to work for the U.S. government was forming an accurate assessment of their personality. Once I understood their personality traits, I could move forward with confidence that I had everything I needed to craft a successful approach.

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Forming a personality assessment allowed me to understand the foreign spy better than he understood himself. The reason is because many people do not possess the emotional intelligence to accurately interpret their own personality—let alone the personalities of others. 

Emotional intelligence had a powerful impact on my career as an FBI agent. 

The nugget of a personality assessment is uncovering the basic fear and desire of each personality type. This helps in interpreting behavior—both good and bad—as well as understanding the motivation behind it.

You cannot be mentally tough if you are not emotionally aware of your environment. 

As leaders, it’s important to build your emotional intelligence skills because tuning into the emotions that control different personalities will help you gain a more accurate view of your surroundings. This awareness impacts both relationships and the bottom line. 

Here are tips on how to use emotional intelligence to interpret and understand how nine personalities types express their emotions:

 

1. THE PERFECTIONIST or “REFORMER”

These folks want to improve the world by using whatever influence they have. They tend to be idealists who use phrases like “Because I say so,” and “You should.” This personality type believes there is a right way to do things, and they are more than willing to teach you. Thus, they can be very judgmental.

Think: Hillary Clinton or Martha Stewart.

Basic fear: being bad, defective, or corrupt in some way; they tend to overcompensate to make up for it. 

Basic desire: to have integrity because they believe that they are OK if they are doing what is right.

 

2. THE HELPER or “CARETAKER”

Leaders of this type genuinely want to help other people. Going out of their way to help people brings meaning to their life. They see themselves as supporting and empowering others and they often believe that others couldn’t succeed without their help.

Think: Mother Theresa or Eleanor Roosevelt

Basic fear: being unloved and unwanted for themselves alone.

Basic desire: to feel loved because they believe they are OK if they are loved by others.

 

3. THE ACHIEVER or “PERFORMER”

They know how good it feels to develop themselves and contribute their talents to the world. They enjoy motivating others to greater personal achievement than other thought they were capable of. They often feel that the world is a contest they can win if they work hard and appear successful.

Think: Donald Trump or Tony Robbins.

Basic fear: being without value apart from their achievements.

Basic desire: to feel worthwhile and accepted because they believe they are OK if they are successful and others think well of them.

 

4. THE INDIVIDUALIST or “ARTIST”

Leaders of this type see themselves as both uniquely talented and uniquely flawed. They seek the truth of their experiences and can process pain that might overwhelm others. They seek to be graceful and stylish, and yet feel something is missing.

Think: Vincent Van Gogh or Judy Garland

Basic Fear: having no personal significance or identity.

Basic Desire: to create an identity out of their personal experience because they are OK if they are true to themselves.

 

5. THE INVESTIGATOR or “THINKER”

People with this personality type want to know why things work the way they do. They are always collecting information, searching, asking questions because they feel a strong need to test assumptions for themselves. They strive to become master of their own world built around special knowledge.

Think: Warren Buffett or Bill Gates

Basic Fear: being helpless and useless.

Basic Desire: to be capable and competent because they are OK if they have mastered something.

 

6. THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE or “TROUBLESHOOTER”

These leaders are incredibly loyal to friends and belief systems. They will defend their communities and others more tenaciously than they will fight for themselves. They tend to see the world as a dangerous place and that they need teams they feel are trustworthy allies. 

Think: J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon

Basic Fear: having no support and being unable to survive on their own.

Basic Desire: to find security and support.

 

7. THE ENERGIZER or “ENTHUSIAST”

Leaders of this type are enthusiastic about almost everything that catches their attention. They approach life with a sense of adventure, optimism, and curiosity. They flit from one idea to the other to stimulate their minds. They see the world as full of exciting possibilities.

Think: Richard Branson or John F. Kennedy

Basic Fear: of being deprived or trapped.

Basic Desire: to be happy and satisfied because they are OK if they get what they need.

 

8. THE CHALLENGER or “BOSS”

This personality type has tremendous willpower and vitality, and they feel most alive when they are exercising these skills in their environment. They cultivate the qualities of persistence, will, and strength and these are the qualities they look for in others. They see themselves as strong and in control of their environment.

Think: John Wayne or George W. Bush

Basic Fear: being harmed or controlled by others.

Basic Desire: to protect themselves and determine their own course in life because they are OK if they are strong and in control of their situation.

 

9. THE PEACEMAKER or “NEGOTIATOR”

These folks are devoted to the quest for internal and external peace in themselves and others. They work to maintain peace of mind just as they work to establish peace and harmony in their environment. They believe that everything will work out if they remain calm, affable, and connected.

Think: Jerry Seinfeld or Ronald Reagan

Basic Fear: to be separated from others.

Basic Desire: to maintain inner stability and peace of mind because they are OK as long as those around them are OK.

Emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned by anyone, regardless of personality type. The more accurately you can understand yourself and those around you, the more effectively you can motivate them to perform at top levels of performance.

What is your personality type? How can you move forward with more self-awareness?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

You can follow me on Twitter

Sign up for my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

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