Vulnerability —The Road To Courage And Success

July 26th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

When people meet me, they expect me to have the kind of bravado that is portrayed by FBI agents on TV and in movies—confident with no signs of weakness or vulnerability. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Vulnerability

The happiest and most successful FBI agents with whom I worked alongside had the self-awareness to know that it takes a great deal of courage to be vulnerable. To be authentic and seen for who you truly are is not for wimps.

Less courageous leaders pretend they are strong and will never break. They never acknowledge their weaknesses or vulnerabilities.

The possibility of greatness opens up when we are are truly prepared to move through our fears—in other words, allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Too often, it is much easier to settle for highly functioning mediocrity in our life rather than to risk exposure to criticism and the possibility of failure.

Humiliation is what you feel in front of others; shame is what you feel alone—LaRae Quy

According to Brene Brown, the root of shame is fear. “The questions we are living by—what are we supposed to fear, and who is to blame?—are exhausting for us spiritually, emotionally. Fear consumes an enormous amount of energy in our lives…we are spending so much time and energy being afraid that we are not fully walking into our power and our gifts.”

Our culture tells us that in order to be successful, we cannot live an ordinary life. Unless you are grabbing lots of attention and have lots of followers, you are not successful. Just look at the wildly popular “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.”

But in truth, success has become another word for narcissism. No wonder vulnerability is so scary—it has become synonymous with failure and things to be avoided.

SWAT, Navy SEALS, Special Forces, and FBI agents are trained to understand that fear is a healthy gift because courage is the product of our vulnerability, not of our strengths.

Here are 4 reasons vulnerability is the road to courage—and success:

1. Forces Self-Awareness

Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes―Carl Jung

For those who think that self awareness is a touchy-feely approach to leadership and that emotional intelligence is a waste of time, think again. The tough guy blasting his way through obstacles is very popular in movies and books, but it’s fantasy.

In a 2010 study by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.

Emotional awareness is a requirement for mental toughness. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that successful leaders who are aware of their weaknesses are in a better position to hire people who will compliment them and make up for those areas in which they are weak.

Assuming that is, the leader is willing to admit they have weaknesses—in other words, acknowledge their vulnerabilities.

What we do not accept about ourselves can often be the very thing that derails us, so bringing awareness to this is important for your future success.

2. Builds Resilience

Vulnerability is the combination of uncertainty, risk, and challenges. Welcome to life! To pretend you are not vulnerable would leave you in a perpetual state of denial and stress.

Resilience is our ability to withstand challenges to our established way of life—to bend without breaking. As such, vulnerability may be considered the soft underbelly of resilience. Our ability to be vulnerable stimulates the brain to find ways to adapt to our constantly changing environment.

Allowing a vulnerability to surface creates a disturbance in our environment, and our autonomic brain responses are mobilized in order to provide stability.

When the brain detects a threat to our status quo, it triggers increases in chemicals like cortisol and metabolic hormones. This is a healthy, albeit primitive, stress response that ensures our survival. The ability to adapt to stressors in our environment allows us to bounce back when we hit the unexpected.

3. Grow—Or Wither Up And Die

We are so afraid of suffering or feeling pain in any form that we would prefer to live unfulfilled lives rather than experience discomfort.

It takes courage to invite pain, suffering, and discomfort into our life. We cling to the old way of doing things because we lack certainty and fear the unknown. Instead of taking a closer look at why we feel so vulnerable, we gun our engines and stay on course.

That means you stop learning, stretching, and growing. In essence, you die, although your body may not be buried until decades later.

Innovation and creativity demand vulnerability. Every entrepreneurial undertaking is courageous and risky. Experimentation is at the heart of innovation, so instead of feeling powerless by this vulnerability, replace it with the wisdom earned from each of your experiences.

Until you realize that innovation and vulnerability are played by the same hand, you will always balk at moving past your comfort zone.

4. Reins In Your Ego

The small mind is binary—everything is either good or bad, yes or no. It looks for comparisons and judgments.

The great mind synthesizes new information and alternative points of view. To be great, you must allow yourself to be vulnerable.

The ego hates this! The ego always wants to be right. New ways of thinking, about ourselves and our situations, threatens it—and that is exactly why change is so hard for so many people.

The most successful people I know have realistic assessments of their own abilities—strengths, weaknesses, and their affect on others. They do not let their ego interfere with identifying what gaps need to be filled or admit that someone else on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own.

Vulnerability can be scary. But if you are mentally tough, you will develop the courage to be vulnerable about who you really are—because that is the only way to be truly successful.

When has your vulnerability allowed you to be more courageous and successful?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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4 Key Behaviors Of Resilient People

July 19th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

At ten years of age, I rode my bike on a cow trail near our ranch house in Wyoming. I sped along at a good clip, too fast to notice a coiled rattlesnake on the other side of rock—until the snake struck out at full length. My bike flipped, and as I landed, I felt dozens of pricks all over my arms and hands. My mind raced with fear because I thought the rattlesnake had bitten me.

4 Key Behaviors

We lived on a remote ranch in the mountains and it was a two-hour drive on dirt roads to a hospital.

At ten, I prepared myself to die of snake poisoning.

Right about the time I was mourning the loss of what could have been a spectacular life, I noticed that I had landed in a pile of cactus. The wreck of my bike told me the rest of the story—the snake had struck the spokes of the front wheel and was now struggling to get out of the broken and bent spoke wires.

My first instinct was to run home to safety, but my parents had taught me that nothing can be accomplished by running, so I found a good sized rock and made sure that particular rattlesnake would never terrorize my cow lane again.

Then I loaded the bike on my shoulders and carried the sorry mess home.

Our reaction to adversity plays a big role in determining how fast we get back on track with life. New research shows that resilience to adversity in our life may be linked to how often we face it. The number of blows a person has taken may affect their mental toughness more than any other factor.

The School Of Hard Knocks has been around for awhile. The early Christians learned this lesson when they were being thrown into dungeons by the Romans. The apostle Paul wrote the following in a letter: “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4).

Resilience is not only the ability to bend and bounce back from adversity, it is the strength to bounce though them as well. When I was an FBI agent, I realized that it is a person’s level of resilience that determines who succeeds and who fails.

A person with a strong mind is someone who can predict the way they will respond to events in life so they can choose the better alternative. They can look back at how they’ve responded to situations in the past, learn from those experiences, and apply that knowledge to future ones.

Living through adversity gives you the confidence that you can come out at the other end of almost anything. Here are 4 key behaviors of resilient people:

Tip #1: Decide Who Is In Control

My first reaction to the rattlesnake was a healthy dose of fear. At some point, however, I had a choice of letting that fear control me—or not. If it did, it meant I ran home and waited for my parents to take care of both the snake and my bike. If I didn’t let fear control me, it meant I got myself out of the situation using my own resources.

Develop an understanding of your fear. Chances are good that your fear sprouts from feelings of insecurity or doubts you may have about yourself.

It takes courage to look inwardly into the darkest part of your personality. We all contain bits of light and dark; we all contain bits of gold and lead.

Tip #2: Face Down Reality

If you want to be resilient, you must be able to look the reality of your situation square in the face.

There is a big difference between optimists who believe that everything will work out OK in the end, and positive thinkers who do not let optimism distort their sense of reality. Positive thinkers hunt the good stuff and look for positives in the middle of adversity, but they do not expect their situation to change; instead, they find ways to prevail in the middle of hardship.

Resilient people have a very sober understanding of what it takes to survive. This requires the ability to anticipate the worst of outcomes while staying cool at the same time.

My FBI training prepared me to be resilient by showing me how to truly stare down reality. It prepared me to act in ways that allowed me to endure when I was thrown into unpredictable and unstable situations. I trained how to survive before the fact—that was the essence of the FBI’s training program at the Academy.

Tip #3: Find Meaning In Your Life

If you look at yourself as a victim, living through a hardship carries no lesson for you. But, if you are resilient, you will squeeze meaning from your adversity and build a bridge to a better, and more fulfilled, future.

No one exemplified this better than Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor. In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl describes the pivotal moment in the concentration camp when he became disgusted by how trivial and meaningless his life had become. He realized that to survive, he had to find a purpose. Frankl imagined himself giving a lecture after the war on the psychology of the concentration camp.

When he gave himself a concrete goal, he rose above his sufferings of the moment. He said, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation.”

Possessing strong values creates an environment of meaning because they offer ways to interpret events. The most successful people, and businesses, have a purpose beyond just making money.

Tip #4: Make Do And Get On With It

Life never deals a perfect hand. Perhaps it was never meant to—as Meister Eckhart once said, “If humankind could have known God without the world, God would never have created the world.”

We learn, grow, and stretch by not just surviving adversity, but by thriving in the midst of it. When hardship does hit, resilience is the ability to make do with whatever we have available. Resilient people improvise and experiment until they find a solution to the problem. The key is to make improvising a way of life.

Karl E. Weick, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Michigan believes there is good evidence that when people are put under pressure, they regress to their most habituated ways of responding.

Again, the way we train ourselves to think, feel, and behave during our regular daily life is exactly the way we will respond when hit with hard times.

What other key behaviors have you noticed in resilient people?

© 2011 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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5 Surefire Ways To Break Bad Habits

July 12th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

When I attended an undercover in-service at the FBI Academy, several of my training sessions included a mock trial with cross examination by a hostile public defender. The normal human response to a verbal attack is to become angry—maybe even strike back. But that is exactly what I could not do when testifying against the target of an undercover operation.

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My training helped me to develop the self-control I would need to do my job professionally, even when provoked, by staying calm and not reacting with anger in hostile situations.

Self-control separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Rather than responding to immediate impulses, self-control is the ability to act the way we want to act when we find ourselves in challenging situations.

When we’re stressed, we tend to rely on ingrained habits—whether they are helpful or harmful. To manage ourselves well, it’s important to know our habits well enough that we’re not surprised by our reactions when we hit tough times.

This is surprisingly difficult because our habits are, for the most part, invisible and hidden in our unconscious mind. For example: you get into your car and drive to work without thinking about it—you operate on autopilot. Autopilot habits allow us to live on low brain-strain.

We don’t need to pay conscious attention to the countless habits that keep us going from day to day. The brain conserves energy this way and makes us more efficient. The problem is accessing this part of the brain when we become aware that our habits are no longer working in our best interests.

Mental toughness is managing our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set us up for success. This requires self-control as well as emotional awareness if we are to know which habits need to be strengthened, changed, or jettisoned.

Here are 5 surefire ways to break bad habits:

1. Change The Way You Think About Habits

If you want to develop good habits, it takes willpower.

In his book, “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” social psychologist Roy Baumeister concludes that willpower is limited and depends on a continuous supply of glucose to power the brain.

For years we’ve been told that willpower is needed for sprints—but that it will not last for the entire run.

Now, this claim is being challenged by Stanford psychologists Greg Walton and Carol Dweck.

They believe that willpower can indeed be quite limited—but only if you believe it is. On the other hand, if you believe that willpower is self-renewing—then you will successfully exert more willpower.

If you believe you have the willpower to keep going, it is not a limited resource.

2. Identify The Triggers

When we are stressed, bad habits can be triggered.

If you don’t know what your triggers are, you will never succeed in changing bad habits. In moments of frustration and vulnerability, we often reach for alcohol, drugs, or food. Likewise, boredom, anxiety, and anger can trigger a bad habit that we’ve developed over the years as a way of coping with those negative emotions.

It is essential to identify the state of mind that triggers your undesirable habit.

3. Eliminate Choices

Don’t put yourself in temptation’s way.

If you love chocolate, stop buying it so it’s not in your kitchen. Make a plan ahead of time for how you will not succumb to the temptation.

If you want to control impulse spending, stop carrying a credit card with you. This will force you to rethink the purchase. If the item is over a specific amount, talk it over with someone else. Chances are good that you’ll think twice about making the purchase.

Willpower is all you need to make sure you stick with it! If you are motivated, you can make a list of the good habits you want to incorporate into your lifestyle and prioritize them.

Baumeister states that “People with low willpower use it to get themselves out of a crisis. People with high willpower use it to not get themselves into a crisis in the first place.”

4. Notice The Way The Habit Operates

Simply put—pay attention!

Notice not only the factors that trigger the bad habit, but also become aware of the behavior that leads up to your habit.

For example, let’s say that you’ve had a bad day at work. You know that you act out your frustration in aggressive driving behavior on the way home. So, instead of letting a white BWM into your lane, you stomp on the gas pedal and almost cause a collision.

You experience a sense of satisfaction at having made someone else’s day miserable. It feels good at first, then it feels bad. But the next time you have a bad day at work, the habit starts all over again.

5. Reward Yourself

Many of us develop bad habits because they make us feel good!

Once you have the urge to indulge in a bad habit, experiment by doing something different instead. What you choose isn’t important. The point is to drill down to determine what is creating the need for the habit.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit,” suggests that once we identify a trigger, the key  to changing a habit is to link a new behavior to the old one, and the best way of reinforcing a new behavior is to reward it.

Often success is not about learning a new skill or talent; instead, it’s stopping or altering our current bad habits.

What suggestions do you have for breaking a bad habit?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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10 Questions Every Successful Person Needs To Ask About Fear

July 5th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

The first time I pulled the trigger on a shotgun at the FBI Academy, but the recoil was so powerful that, I not only thought one of my tooth fillings had been jarred loose, my right shoulder felt like it had been hit with a sledgehammer! I didn’t fall backwards, but I needed to regain my balance before I lowered the nuzzle and prepared for the next shot.

10 Fear Questions

Instinctively, I became afraid of a weapon that could literally kick my butt. As I hesitated, my firearms instructor started shouting, “Lean into it! Treat it like a lover. Hold it close and hold it tight—NOW!”

I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to jump back into it so soon, and surely holding it tighter would only produce a stronger recoil? But the instructor was inches from my face and he looked pissed so I did what I was told.

That day I learned something important about fear—to increase safety, move toward the threat.

While this may sound counterintuitive, research has shown that new memories which produce fear remain unstable and malleable for a short period of time—so the sooner I moved toward my fear of the weapon, the more successful I would be able to overcome it.

If we don’t intervene during this window of time when the new fearful memory is still unstable and not fully formed, it becomes embedded in our mind.

My fear on the firing range with the shotgun is nothing compared to the chronic fear faced by soldiers in combat and women in abusive relationships. Special Forces instructors suggest we can all learn how to face our fears if we use mental toughness to focus on both our thinking and our behavior.

Everything you want is on the other side of fear– Jack Canfield

Whatever situation you are in, here are 10 questions that every successful person needs to ask themselves to overcome their fear:

1. How Can My Fear Be A Guide?

Before we can master our fear, we must first acknowledge it. Rather than avoiding it, become aware of it and use it as a guide to sharpen focus and decision-making. Do not let fear get out of control and become panic.

2. How Can My Fear Be Turned Into An Opportunity?

A little fear keeps you on your toes. It keeps you from becoming complacent. It can be an excellent opportunity to develop courage, confidence, and discipline. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”

3. How Can I Focus On My Goal Rather Than On My Fear?

Do not let your precious energy be wasted on fretting. One of the characteristics of willpower is the ability to focus, and once you focus all your energy on your goals, you are less likely to see failure as an acceptable alternative.

4. How Has Fear Prevented Me From Doing What Is Important To Me?

If you are letting fear keep you from doing what you really want to do, it is paralyzing you. Break it down into small steps. Focus on progressing toward your goal a little more each day. Memorialize each step as a victory to help you keep moving ahead.

5. How Can I Acquire Information About What I Fear?

Most of our fear is generated when we are faced with the unknown. One of the best ways of beating back this fear is to continually try new things so you become comfortable with moving into the unknown. Then we won’t be as surprised or overwhelmed when something new or different presents itself.

Most successful people want to push themselves beyond past accomplishments. In order to do this, they push themselves outside their comfort zone. This means facing the fear of failure continually so they can predict their own responses when stressed and stretched.

This self-awareness provides valuable information about what they fear, the circumstances under which their fear rears it’s ugly head, and how they can best move forward when faced with it.

6. How Can I Learn The Skills Necessary To Master My Fear?

Whether you are in Special Forces, on a high school football team, or an FBI agent investigating a case, the answer is the same—train! Practice the skills you will need repeatedly until they become second nature.

When you’ve trained how to respond to a crisis, you respond automatically to a checklist of skills that you’ve already mastered. You do not become fearful; you become intense and focused.

7. How Can I Go It Alone?

You can’t! Facing fear is easier when you’re accompanied by other people whom you know and trust. Strong ties with other people are important. When we have supportive friends or colleagues by our side, we are more confident and better able to cope with problems.

8. How Can I Stop Feeling Fearful?

Remember that your limbic brain system is programmed to pay more attention to negative information that produces fearful responses. It’s our survival instinct at work. And we tend to remember negative or traumatic information better than neutral or even positive experiences.

To counter this, you will need to hunt for the good stuff in every situation. Find at least 5 positive responses to every 1 negative response.

9. How Can I Retrain My Brain To Look At My Fear Differently?

Every time your fearful memory is retrieved, it becomes unstable again for a brief period of time. Just as my memory of the shotgun recoil was unstable, it opened a window during which the memory could be updated and changed.

It is possible to modify fearful memories when they are retrieved if you “get back in the saddle” and confront the very thing you are afraid of.

10. How Can I Modify A Fearful Memory?

Researchers agree that we must expose ourselves to our fear—but in a safe environment! The exposure also needs to last long enough for the brain to form a new memory. Your brain will recognize that the fear is no longer dangerous in your current environment.

Look fear in the face. You will be amazed at how unscary it really is.

OK, now it’s your turn! What questions or actions do you find help you move past your fears?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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7 Science-Based Ways To Find Happiness

June 28th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

My family were cattle ranchers in Wyoming. Every bit of extra money went into cattle, veterinary supplies, and spools of barbed wire. Whenever I’d feel unhappy about not being able to buy something for myself, my grandmother would remind me that it didn’t matter how much we owned as long as we enjoyed what we did have.

7 Science-Based Ways

Happiness is about a lot more than laughing and being silly. It is a profound feeling of satisfaction of a life well-lived. It is not pretending to others, and ourselves, that we are content and fulfilled in life.

If we are mentally tough, we are able to identify where, and how, we can change our emotions, thoughts, and behavior so we choose to live happier lives.

My grandmother was right—happiness is a choice. And here are 7 science-based ways to find happiness:

1. Help Others

To make yourself feel happier and enrich your life, help others.

According to Adam Grant, “When I looked at one end of the success spectrum and said, ‘If Givers are at the bottom, who’s at the top?’  I was really surprised to discover, it’s the Givers again. The people who consistently are looking for ways to help others are over-represented not only at the bottom, but also at the top of most success metrics.”

A recent study indicates that good deed-doers, or altruists, are more likely to be committed to their work and less likely to quit their jobs. Those who help others are also happier at work than those who don’t make helping others a priority.

Helping others may have a ripple effect that makes not only those who are performing the good acts happier, but may also boost happiness among other members of the community.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson told PBS, “By creating chains of events that carry positive meaning for others, positive emotions can trigger upward spirals that transform communities into more cohesive, moral and harmonious social organizations.”

2. Plan Experiences And Savor The Anticipation

With busy work schedules it is sometimes difficult to plan ahead for vacations or breaks. But research shows that the highest spike in happiness comes during the planning stage of a vacation as people savor the sense of anticipation.

Even if you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, put something on the calendar. It can be a month or year from now. So whenever you need a boost of happiness, you can remind yourself of it.

There’s also a logical assumption that most people make when spending their money: that because a physical object will last longer, it will make us happier for a longer time than a one-off experience like a concert or vacation. According to recent research, it turns out that assumption is completely wrong.

Studies have shown that when making purchases, the anticipation of purchasing items resulted in significantly more happiness and excitement than waiting for the purchases to arrive. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed.

Why?

Immediate rewards cause soaring levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel good. Those levels start to level off, however, while receiving the reward. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.

Whether it’s a vacation, time spent with friends, or a new purchase, you will be happier if you can savor the anticipation of the actual event.

3. Be True To Yourself

According to Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives, the most common regret of the dying is that they wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.

When people understand that their life is almost over and look back, they see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. The regret comes from dying while knowing that they had not honored their dreams by the choices they made, or not made.

To be happy, we need the courage to express our true feelings. Too many times we suppress them to keep peace with those around us. But when this happens, we end up living a mediocre existence and never become the person we were capable of becoming.

As a result, bitterness and resent grows—both toward ourselves and others.

When we are true to ourselves, we are being authentic. Our identity comes from within, from our core. It is not dependent on what we achieve or possess or the opinion of others.

4. Nurture Relationships

One of the conclusions of the Grant Study (a 72 year study of the lives of 268 men) was this: “The only thing that really matters in life is our relationships with other people.

This response does not surprise behavior psychologists who want to understand why simply existing—why being merely housed, fed, safe, and alive—is empty and meaningless to us. What more do we need in order to feel that life is worthwhile?

The answer that comes up again and again is that we all seek a cause beyond ourselves. Human beings need relationships which do not always produce happiness, and sometimes produce pain, but we all require devotion to something bigger than ourselves for our lives to have value and meaning.

Nurturing relationships improves our happiness, even for introverts. Those deep relationships can be with either family or friends. Daniel Gilbert explains it:

“We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.”

Modern psychological research shows that being kind and nurturing relationships has benefits for everyone involved—they tend to have better psychological well-being, fewer depressive symptoms and higher life-satisfaction.

5. Practice Gratitude

Gratitude increases happiness and satisfaction with life.

The reason?

Gratitude changes your outlook. It is closely linked to positive thinking and optimism.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty—Winston Churchill

A conscious focus on blessings produces emotional benefits. Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope with adversity. Grateful people are happier, receive more social support, are less stressed, and are less depressed.

Recent research by Martin Seligman indicates that optimists and pessimists approach problems differently, and their ability to cope successfully with adversity differs as a result. Pessimistic people tend to view problems as internal, unchangeable, and pervasive, whereas optimistic people are the opposite.

6. Pursue Work That Has Meaning

Do you ever find yourself so completely immersed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time? Think a minute about this. When does this loss of time and total engagement typically occur for you?

The loss of self-consciousness that happens when you are completely absorbed in an activity— intellectual, professional, or physical—is described as “flow” by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

In order for a flow state to occur, the activity must:

  • Be seen as voluntary
  • Be enjoyable
  • Require skill and be challenging (but not too challenging)
  • Have clear goals towards success.
  • Let you feel as though you have control
  • Provide immediate feedback with room for growth

The new field of Positive Psychology shows that the happiest people are those that have discovered their unique strengths and virtues—and then use those strengths and virtues for a purpose that is greater than their own personal goals.

Viktor Frankl, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, once said “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.”

7. Keep Moving

The importance of exercise in pursuing happiness is based in hard-nosed neuroscience. Most of  are aware of what happens to our body when we workout, but our brain is also affected.

Once we start exercising, our brain recognizes this first as stress. Our blood pressure increases and the brain thinks we are either fighting the enemy or fleeing from it. To protect ourselves, our brain releases a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor).

BDNF is a reparative element to our memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. That’s why we often feel so at ease and things are clear after exercising—which leads to happiness.

At the same time, endorphins, another chemical to fight stress, is released in our brain. Endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria.

According to Gretchen Reynolds, author of “The First 20 Minutes,” the first 20 minutes of moving around provide most of the health benefits.

How do you find happiness?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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7 Steps to Create A Resilient Mind

June 21st, 2015 by LaRae Quy

When I first joined the FBI, I was informed about the FBI’s transfer policy—which meant I could be sent anywhere in the U.S. As an agent, this was just as important as the squad to which I was assigned. So I pulled back from developing relationships and buying a home until I had been assigned to my permanent Field Office.

7 Steps To

After a couple of years of living in transfer-hell limbo, I learned that every few years the FBI’s transfer policy changed!

At this point, I decided I needed to live my life like a normal human being. I could not continue living in fear of the change that would be produced when I got transferred.

Change frightens us because they are voyages into the unknown. But the unknown is ultimately an invitation to grow our talent so our potential can continue to unfold. To refuse to begin our journey of change can be an act of great self-neglect.

Because to change is one of the great dreams of every heart—to move beyond self-limiting beliefs, boredom, and lack of confidence.

If you have mental toughness, you will do anything to break the cycle of behavior that disempowers you. You will need to push your limits and that takes resilience—moving into your discomfort zone crosses a threshold that awakens a variety of emotions: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, and dreams.

There should always be a healthy tension between the life we have settled for and the potential that still calls us.

Why Is Change So Hard?

We opt to continue the old pattern rather than risk the danger of difference.

Research by social psychologists indicate that we are comfortable when our thoughts, feelings, and behavior are consistent, and uncomfortable when they are not—which produces cognitive dissonance. Change, and moving into our discomfort zone, means admitting that our past behavior was either wrong or that somehow we are now making a break from the past.

And this triggers anxiety.

Our brain is uber alert for change of any kind in our environment. When our limbic brain detects an abnormality, our animal instinct takes over. As a result, our first reaction is to either fight or run away.

Resilience is not only the ability to bounce back from obstacles, it is also the ability to bounce through them as we continue to move into the unknown that change often brings with it.

When you are mentally tough, you have the ability to interpret your emotions. When you do this, you understand that the anxiety you are feeling is normal—and even to be expected.

Questions Are The Most Important Tool In Your Mental Toughness Toolbox

Psychologist Marilee Adams suggests that questions can virtually rewire our emotions, thoughts, and behavior. According to her research, questions that we ask ourselves can open our mind up to learning, connection, satisfaction, and success.

Questions are piercing little darts that expose hidden anxiety, and once they elicit an honest answer from us, we are able to name the beast in the room—that is, the fear we are experiencing.

It is, however, essential to honestly name what is going on before you can trigger change in emotion, thought, or behavior.

Mental toughness is the ability to look into your mind and call it the way it really is—with no sugar coating or apologies.

Resilience is the ability to take it all in, without losing heart, without judging yourself, and keep marching forward.

Just as our soul responds to truth, so does our brain.

7 Steps To Create A Resilient Mind

STEP ONE: Create A Sense Of Urgency

If you cannot accept an urgent need to change, you never will.

STEP TWO: Put Together A Personal Board of Directors

Think about how you might connect with people who are wiser and more experienced than yourself. Identify two or three (or more) people you admire and respect with whom you can sit down with on a quarterly basis to review your progress. Turn these mentors into your own personal Board of Directors. These are the same people you can turn to when times get tough as well.

STEP THREE: Make A Plan

If you are going to change by moving into your discomfort zone, you need to have a strategy in mind of how you’re going to do it. Keep it simple, and review it often to make sure you’re still on course.

STEP FOUR: Talk It Up

Self-talk is incredibly powerful because our brain wants those inner dialogues to be consistent with our feelings and behavior. When we ask ourselves questions about why we are experiencing anxiety about the change in front of us, we open the option of finding positive responses to them.

STEP FIVE: Hunt The Good Stuff

Positivity is essential if you want to be resilient in the face of tough times. This does not mean ignoring the negative, but it does mean you will have to hunt the good stuff if you want to remain positive.

STEP SIX: Take Small Steps

Small wins are critical because they make the change real. Most importantly, small steps produce confidence as we smash outdated self-limiting beliefs.

They also create the opportunity to build momentum. Again, this is critical because each small step creates more confidence.

STEP SEVEN: Be Diligent

Habits are hard to break because they are found in deeper structures of the brain. This leaves much of our working memory available to deal with everyday surprises and situations. Habits don’t need as much of the brain’s energy, so changing them takes a lot of attention. Stay aware of a change until it becomes a new habit.

Resilience is the key to producing the confidence, joy, and fulfillment that lies on the other side of the discomfort zone.

How are you resilient when faced with change or when moving into the discomfort zone?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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How To Use Mental Toughness To Face Down Stereotypes

June 14th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

All Hell’s Angels members wear black leather biker jackets, right? That’s what I thought when I accompanied my fellow FBI agents into a grubby bar where an old Don Williams song was playing.

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How To Use Mental Toughness

I had been shown a photo of the Hell’s Angel guy we were looking for—he was described as tall, shaved head, with a single silver hoop in his left ear.

My fellow agents and I were wearing suits and carrying concealed weapons—we stuck out like a sore thumb in the biker bar. Only a few continued their conversations as the bartender greeted us—the rest were waiting for our response.

Suddenly, a guy in a black leather jacket got up and started walking out the door. His head was shaved, but he was a little shorter than the man we were looking for. Still, he looked like a Hell’s Angel and I stepped in front of him, raising a questioning eyebrow at the case agent.

The case agent shook his head so I stepped out of the way. The guy in the leather jacket smirked and headed out the door.

The Hell’s Angel we were actually looking for was sitting at the bar in a white t-shirt, khaki shorts, with the single silver loop in his left ear. The case agent had seen him the moment he walked in.

I had a stereotyped idea of what a Hell’s Angel guy should look like. Stereotypes can become a burden—or in my case, an embarrassment.

The truth of the matter is that we all stereotype and generalize—we have to! Generalizations make our lives easier to manage because they help us manage the constant information that bombards our brain. Generalizations are conclusions we make about people and situations that come so fast that we don’t have to spend time thinking about them.

But negative stereotypes that are dangerous and inaccurate are alive and well, so how can facing them down make us mentally strong enough to overcome them?

Here are 3 ways you can use mental toughness to face down negative thoughts, bias, and stereotypes:

1. Recognize Your Brain Has A Built-In Confirmation Bias

That means your brain stores information that is consistent with your own beliefs, values, and self-image. This selective memory system helps keep the brain from getting overloaded with too much information.

Research suggests that while we like to think that our beliefs are rational, logical, and objective, the truth is that our beliefs are usually based on the information that confirms our ideas while we ignore other information that challenges them.

Generalizations are unstable because they change over time. As more information becomes available, make it a habit of educating yourself on what is new and different. Too often, we create a rule of thumb at one point in life and never take the time to re-evaluate its credibility. Times change—and so do you.

  • Which generalizations have helped you make smarter choices?
  • How important are hunches in setting rules of thumb?
  • How do you probe further into issues to make your generalizations?
  • Are these rules of thumb can you rely upon in the future?

If we’re aware which generalizations influence our choices and responses, we can identify the ones that help us to react with resilience and accuracy.

2. Understand How Stereotypes Can Affect Your Performance

A stereotype threat occurs when a negative stereotype about your situation or your abilities weakens your confidence in yourself and interferes with your effort to move toward success.

If we know that we’re not expected to perform as well as others, this increases our stress levels and hampers performance.

For example, in the U.S. women are very scarce in math-centric fields. Girls are told from an early age that they do not have an aptitude for Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) so they opt for other professions.

This is a stereotype threat that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy since most women opt out of STEM careers because of the bias and isolation.

On the other hand, in a research study that presented a positive racial stereotype concerning their superior quantitative skills, Asian American women performed better than men or non-Asians on math tests. In this case, the stereotype boosted their confidence and behavior.

3. Acknowledge Your Barriers And Burdens

When you face down a negative stereotype about yourself, your situation, or others on your team, you are developing the mental toughness to acknowledge your burdens and barriers.

A 2012 study indicates that when we have to stretch our minds to come up with less predictable and mundane solutions, we stimulate creativity and mental flexibility. When we are mentally strong, we are able to acknowledge the burdens and barriers in our life without giving up hope of our future success. When we do, several things happen:

  • Develop effective strategies to deal/cope with negative stereotypes
  • Encourage flexible thinking and improve cognitive performance
  • Change the way women see their careers
  • Stimulate creativity
  • Cultivate a flexible mindset capable of counteracting a stereotype threat

Women in STEM careers who challenge the stereotypes they encounter in their field actually develop the same cognitive skills that are so highly valued!

Research shows that the mental effort of imagining someone behaving in non-stereotypical ways can actually make the mind stronger and more resilient. Just as the body eventually adapts to increased physical demands so that muscles become stronger, the mind adjusts to the burden of deflecting stereotypes.

Mental toughness is learning how to control our mind, rather than letting our mind control us. Awareness of how positive and negative generalizations affect our behavior is essential for our success. 

How have you faced down negative and dangerous stereotypes? I’d love to know!

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

FBI Firearms Tips To Focus Your Mind For Success

June 7th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

FBI firearms instructors bark out reminders that maintaining front-sight focus is essential if we want to hit the target. Front-sight focus is concentration and single-mindedness when aiming a weapon on the firing range or at a terrorist. 

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FBI Firearms Tips To Focus

You can use the same focus to work through a mess when things go wrong at work as well.

Front-sight focus is the ability to look at the front sight of a weapon after lining it up with the target. A good shooter remains aware of their surroundings and always has their objective in mind, but their attention narrows to that single piece of steel a few inches in front of them.

I learned how to focus on the front-sight, engage in one shot at a time, and not worry about either anticipating the recoil or where the next bullet would hit.

Because of my FBI firearms training, I’ve also learned how to practice front-sight focus in my investigations so I could distinguish between what was important and what was a distraction. This type of focus leads to success in both business and life.

Distractions often occur when our inner nag starts fretting about all the things that need to get done. As a result, intrusive thoughts constantly interrupt our productivity, and we end up second-guessing our choices.

In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about the importance of making a Next Action List rather than a To-Do List. Instead of writing down the thing that needs to be done, write down what action needs to be taken.

1. Write Down Every Item That Gets Your Attention

Sit down in a quiet place with a pen and paper and let your thoughts ramble.

What is on that To-Do List? Whether it’s small or large, important or not, write down every single thing that either needs a decision or has your attention.

Do not take the time to prioritize the items. Listen to the voice of that inner nag and write down whatever pops up.

2. Identify Your Action Step

Cross out each item on the To-Do List, and instead, identify the specific next action to be taken regarding that item.

For example, if you need to buy a birthday present, write down “Drive to Nordstrom.”

Now, carve out the time and day that you will take your action step. “I will drive to Nordstrom after work on Tuesday.”

3. Clarify The Actions

Many times the actions you need to take won’t be able to be accomplished in the near future.

For example, one of the items on my current To-Do List—“Write an article on why emotional awareness is essential for mental toughness.” Even now, there is a part of me that wants to skip over that item and ignore it.

Why? I experience low-grade anxiety over the fact that it will take a big chunk of time to research the topic and pull together enough information for a decent article.

To avoid the anxiety, I need to break down the action to be taken into small steps. This item as it is written is far too vague and broad. As a result, my brain feels overwhelmed by trying to tease out all the elements that will be needed to finish the article.

If I attack the problem using a Next Step List, I will write down the following: action “I will spend Friday morning writing the article.”

If I clarify the actions, I will add, “I will spend half an hour Thursday afternoon preparing an outline for the article so I’m ready to start writing the next morning.”

As with FBI firearms training, I narrowed my focus to one action step to be taken immediately, while at the same time registered awareness of the bigger picture.

The Science Behind The Need To Focus: The Zeigarnik Effect

Science explains why this approach works in helping you to focus your mind for success. Research behind the Zeigarnik Effect proves that the unconscious mind needs the conscious mind to make a plan on how to finish a task or accomplish a goal.

The unconscious mind signals the conscious mind, which may now be focused on new goals, that a previous activity was left incomplete. This lack of closure that comes from an unfinished task creates intrusive thoughts that don’t go away until the person returns to complete the task.

So writing down an item on a To-Do List creates anxiety for the unconscious mind because it needs more than a goal—it needs a plan!

It’s also important to note that the persistence of intrusive thoughts is not an indication that the unconscious mind is working to finish the task, nor is it the inner nag pushing us to finish the task right away.

The unconscious mind needs specifics like time, place, and opportunity. Once the plan is formed, the unconscious stops nagging with constant reminders.

If you have a presentation to make at 8:00am, your unconscious mind wants to know exactly what needs to be done. You may have 100 other items that also need attention, but you can relax and not worry about the inner nag bothering you again about it if you make a plan to review your notes at 7:00am that morning.

It is human nature to finish what we start, and front-sight focus is how we pay full attention to one goal at a time to get the best results.

What tips can you add on how to focus your mind for success?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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5 Rules To Sharpen Your Mental Toughness

May 31st, 2015 by LaRae Quy

After 9/11, hundreds of FBI agents were pulled from their assignments and reassigned to counterterrorism squads. Leadership was not concerned that these agents had no experience with terrorism cases, because they are taught in the FBI Academy to have mental toughness—the confidence to know that you will prevail in whatever situation you find yourself.

Competitive

In truth, everyone can benefit from mental toughness training—athletes, executives, and anyone in leadership positions.

Why?

We all need to find ways of turning negative thinking into positive behavior. Athletes can psych themselves out by seeing other athletes that are in better shape. Entrepreneurs and leaders can become overwhelmed by the competitive demands of the marketplace.

To be successful, we need to develop the mental skills to carry us beyond our current situation and create breakthroughs that take us into the winner’s circle.

Here are 5 rules to follow that will sharpen your mental toughness:

Rule #1 Develop Emotional Awareness

To be mentally tough, you need to have a deep understanding of what makes you tick so you can follow your calling and create a richer life.

Mental toughness is often associated with sports activities where athletes need to bulldoze their way through to the finish line. And yes, strong minds are needed to build strong bodies that are physically competitive.

But any top coach worth their salary will tell you that the will to win has to come from within. That requires athletes to have mental toughness so they can control their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set them up for success.

Mental toughness is accepting our feelings without being controlled by them.

The Rule of Emotional Awareness states that we need to be acutely aware of our emotions, and the emotions of others, so we can follow our calling and create a richer life full of meaning and value.

Rule #2 Push Through Your Limits

Mentally tough people know that to reach their potential, they need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

World class experts fail a lot. They like to play at things that are too hard for them and accept challenges that are too big.

But this is key: In the process, they’re always getting valuable feedback.

You cannot be mentally tough if you cry like a baby because it’s scary when left in the dark. Guess what? Life frequently throws a wad of darkness into our midst—even when we aren’t expecting it or don’t want it!

We are confronted with the unknown everyday, and we choose to either navigate it with success or avoid it like a wimp.

Mental toughness requires us to push through the limits that we’ve imposed on ourselves, or have been imposed upon us by family, teachers, or society. We need to practice moving into our discomfort zone—frequently. Each time we fail we need to take the time to stop and analyze what we learned from the experience. With these experiences comes the confidence that we won’t break like a china doll in the process.

A message to all wimps: You cannot grow if you don’t move out of the center where it is safe and well-lit.

Instead, follow your calling and celebrate each time you break a new frontier. It is ironic that you must move to the edge to find your center.

The Rule of Push Limits states that becoming comfortable with new challenges and embracing things that are hard is key to building mental toughness.

Rule #3 Transform Your Mind

To be mentally tough, you need to keep a tight rein on your thoughts.

We become what we think.

We are impacted by our thoughts because neuroscience is proving that we can actually rewire our brain by changing the way we think.

Recent research in the field of neuroplasticity explains how new neural pathways and synapses can be created by changing our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. In other words, mental toughness is not something you were born with, it is something you can develop!

Neuroplasticity replaced the former opinion that the brain was a static organ that stops growing by the age of 25. Now we know the brain is capable of changing throughout our lifetime.

Norman Vincent Peale made the expression “The power of positive thinking” very popular several decades ago. Instinctively he knew, without the benefit of neuroscience, that if we change our attitudes we can empower ourselves to achieve the impossible.

The Rule of Transform Your Mind states that by changing the way you think about self-limiting beliefs and other obstacles in your life, you can rewire your brain in such a way that it is always working for you and not against you.

Rule #4 Focus Your Energy

If you want to be mentally tough, you must be able to focus your mental and physical energy.

When we focus, we are present to what is happening right now, not in the past or the future. It’s important to keep the mind and body completely engaged in the actual performance and NOT the outcome of the performance.

Olympic athletes are excellent examples of how to channel talent into success. They do not rely on luck to take home the gold medal. World class experts practice with laser focus with a specific goal in mind. But it’s not just repeating the same task over and over—it is deliberate practice, and that has certain features:

  • Break down each task into individual parts
  • Work on the hard stuff
  • Get feedback so you can get better
  • Put your ego on the back burner
  • Remain steadfast in your goals

The Rule of Focused Energy states that deliberate practice takes willpower, persistence, and training to achieve personal mastery.

Rule #5 Pursue Personal Growth

If you are seriously interested in sharpening your mental toughness, you need to read. Books. Articles. Blogs. I have never met a mentally strong person who was not a voracious reader.

The reason?

The mentally tough are learners who understand that the world is not made of up of winners or losers; instead, the world is made up of learners or non-learners. If you have mental toughness, you learn new skills and expand your horizons, study to become more intelligent, and find ways to make yourself more likable and attractive.

If we were born smart and talented, we don’t know to work hard because it all comes naturally to us. So when times get tough, we give up.

Mentally tough people are scrappy folks who know that just because you started out the smartest, it doesn’t mean you’re going to end up the smartest.

The Rule of Pursue Personal Growth states that we never stop learning, improving ourselves, and growing our mental strength.

Are there any other rules of mental toughness that you would add?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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Why Self-Compassion Is An Essential Skill For Great Leadership

May 24th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

One of the most difficult things I had to do when working a fraud investigation was look a retired couple sitting across from me in the eye and tell them that the FBI would not be investigating the criminals who had scammed these people out of their life savings.

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Emotions - hard on yourself

It was truly one of the worst days of my life. The old folks had been duped into investing their entire retirement fund into a scam, and while it was all they had to live on, it still did not meet the threshold for an FBI investigation.

How could I tell them that their life’s work was not enough to capture the FBI’s attention?

A negative voice in my head kept saying that somehow I should have been able to tie their case to another scam—anything to make it work! But the truth of the matter was that I had no evidence to take it to the next step.

I criticized my ineptness and lack of creativity; I mercilessly judged myself for shortcomings when that voice in my head would not shut up. Ironically, while I felt compassion toward the retired couple, I could not extend that same kindness toward myself.

Leadership training courses and workshops on emotional intelligence spit out quotes and inspirational messages on how to be empathic, collaborative, and self-aware. But they rarely delve into the stickier issue of self-compassion. Why not?

Because self-compassion is seen by many as being too self-centric. As leaders, we are exhorted to be servant leaders, lead by example, put others before ourselves, and nurture the well-being of the team.

Meanwhile, leaders like Elon Musk and Donald Trump thrive as bullies in the work environment because they surround themselves with suck-ups who feed their ego.

Where is the healthy balance? No one wants the personal life of either Musk or Trump—losers when it comes to a relationship with self. And based on divorce rates, with others as well.

Try these 4 tips to dampen the voice of your inner critic and express more self-compassion:

1. Remember You Are Not Perfect

Stop lying to yourself that you are awesome and perfect. Because you are not. You are human. When you remember this, it is easier to forgive yourself, and when you do, you also feel less anxiety about your performance.

2. Differentiate Between Self-Esteem And Self-Compassion

There is a big difference between self-esteem and self-compassion. There’s been an explosion of literature and workshops on how to build self-esteem but the unintended result has been an epidemic of narcissism.

In Jean Twenge’s book, Generation Me, she shares the results of a study that examined the narcissism levels of over 15,000 U.S. college students between 1987 and 2006. During that 20-year period, narcissism scores soared, with 65 percent of modern-day students scoring higher in narcissism than previous generations.

Ironically, as we try to see ourselves as better than others, our sense of worthiness takes a dive. This emotional rollercoaster can lead to depression and anxiety—a reminder that we are not perfect.

In fact, a striking finding of Twenge’s study was that people with high self-esteem were much more narcissistic than those with low self-esteem. In contrast, self-compassion was completely unassociated with narcissism.

3. Reframe Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts are horrible things that are really tough to beat into submission. When we succumb to them, we automatically think the cause is permanent, pervasive, and personal.

It’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything, and it’s my fault.

Martin Seligman is the author of Learned Optimism and he is quoted as saying, “I am a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist. The techniques that I write about are ones that I use every day.”

So what are those techniques to ward off negative thoughts? He has a three-step process:

  • Recognize that the thought is there.
  • Treat that thought as if it were said by some third person whose job in life was to make your life miserable.
  • Learn to dispute it, to marshal evidence against it. With practice, you will get better and better at neutralizing it.

4. Talk To Yourself In A Nice Way

Experts in The Brain documentary made the claim that we say between 300 to 1000 words to ourselves a minute. The Navy SEALS and Special Forces use the power of positive self-talk as a way of getting through tough times.

For example, by instructing recruits to be mentally tough and speak positively to themselves, they could learn how to override fears resulting from the limbic brain system (amygdala), a primal part of the brain that helps us deal with anxiety.

Positive self-talk is self-compassion. You can also visualize a compassionate person saying positive things to you such as someone who loves you saying kind words, or a supportive supervisor affirming a job well done.

As a leader, you need to cultivate self-compassion. When you have self-compassion, you have feelings of self-worth, will be less embarrassed when you screw up, and less likely to take things personally.

And that is the type of leadership we all need.

How are you self-compassionate when things are not going according to plan?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE Mental Toughness Assessment

Get my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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