The FBI requires all agents to qualify with their firearm at least four times a year. Part of this training is taking turns arresting fellow agents and putting them in handcuffs.
As I tried to handcuff one of the senior agents on my squad, I found he didn’t have the flexibility to place the back of his hands together behind his back. Over time, he had lost a great deal of the suppleness in his shoulder muscles.
While he took great deal of ribbing by fellow agents, I remember thinking: “If only he’d made the effort to keep limber, he would have more flexibility.”
If stretching and yoga can promote healthier bodies, we need to find similar ways to keep our mind flexible and agile for top performance. Rigid thinking cannot help us adapt when we are faced with the complexity of today’s workplace.
We are required to adapt and move through transitions at faster and faster paces. Whether it is a new assignment, a new supervisor, or a new career, to succeed we need to find ways to keep both our minds and hearts supple.
Mental toughness is about maintaining flexibility in the way we respond when faced with the uncertainties of both life and work.
Here are ways to make your transitions and periods of uncertainty a little easier so you can start living the life you want:
GROW A LITTLE EACH DAY
When facing uncertainty, you have two choices:
- You can dread it because you are afraid of failing—you believe that failure sends a negative message about your abilities, or…
- You can anticipate it because you interpret failure as an opportunity for learning and improvement.
The first choice describes a fixed mindset that does best when there is a heavy hand running the show. That way of leading may have been efficient years ago, but today’s leaders are learning that the brain power of their workforce is a terrible thing to waste.
The second choice describes 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.
Research has shown that a growth mindset will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life.
DISCOVER WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL STRONG
As an FBI agent, one of the first things I did was surveil the target of my investigation. I analyzed and assessed their strengths, weaknesses, needs, and wants. This gave me tremendous power, because I usually came to know more about them than they knew about themselves.
Harness that same power by making yourself the target of your own investigation.
Discover your own patterns: what are you always doing or thinking about? What can you not help do, think, or feel? Even if someone asks you not to?
Keep track of how you spend the next week. What are you doing, feeling or thinking about daily? Write down everything that energizes you and makes you feel strong. It could be a particular physical activity, or a book you read, or people you meet.
When you find a few things you repeatedly do and love, dig deeper and see what part of that particular activity makes you feel good.
As you transition out of your current situation or move into a time of uncertainty, lean into those things that make you feel strong. Not only will they give you confidence to be more flexible in your approach to your situation, they are the heart’s listening posts that will provide you meaning and purpose.
MIX IT UP
FBI training is relentless and continuous. The reason is that it kept our minds flexible and agile so we could adapt to the unknown when confronting an arrest situation.
When a roadblock or obstacle confronts us, we often have no Plan B. Instead of moving around a roadblock in a deliberate and flexible manner, we continue to assault it using the same tactics that have already proven ineffective. Our default explanation is blaming others.
The only thing worse than getting into a rut is staying in one. Often, our patterns of thinking become rigid because we’re fixated on thinking about achieving our life’s goals in one way.
Mix up the way you think. Combine focused thought with periods of play and scattered attention. Changes in your environment, attitude, and behavior influences how you think.
When you’re feeling happy or optimistic, you are more inclusive and more creative. When you are fearful, your focus narrows down to specific details.
Mental toughness is having the flexibility to make a mental shift without remaining stuck in a particular mindset.
SUMMON THE COURAGE TO TRY NEW THINGS
Finding our courage is no small thing, but once we find it, it takes over everything in its path. A flood of courage is exactly what we need when faced with transitions.
The goal is to move fluidly between specific and abstract thought patterns so you can flex and bend with the changing circumstances of your life.
Start with making small changes in your routine. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator or listening to different music can boost your mental agility.
Variety is also good. Try different foods and different methods of exercise. Call a friend and go to a place you’ve never visited. Watch your thoughts become more expansive as you break out of old patterns and develop your brain.
These ways can make times of uncertainty and transitions in your life easier. A flexible and agile mindset is essential if you plan to get past the roadblocks and obstacles ahead of you.
Remember this: everyone can get smarter about how to overcome obstacles if they work at it.
How have you pushed through periods of uncertainty to live the life you’ve always wanted?
© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.
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