Use Emotional Intelligence To Become A Self-Aware Leader

April 20th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

FBI agents who work undercover are given a series of psychological tests to determine their level of self-awareness. Without self-awareness, agents would not be able to predict their responses when confronted with the unknown that accompanies undercover work.

Self-awareness - squirrel

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Psychological tests are constructed and administered by the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. I spent a week being assessed by FBI instructors and attending classes intended to drill into me the importance of emotional intelligence if I was to become a successful undercover agent.

Emotional intelligence is recognizing and understanding emotions, both your own and those around you. Since self-awareness is the ability to accurately perceive your own emotions, your competence as a leader rests on your ability to stay alert to them so you can manage your behavior in different situations.

A high degree of self-awareness requires a willingness to tolerate the discomfort of focusing on feelings that may be negative. It can take mental toughness to move through that discomfort, but it’s essential because the more you know about yourself, the better you can predict your reactions.

He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened—Lao Tzu

It’s important to understand, however, that self-awareness is not about discovering deep, dark secrets about your inner world. 

Instead, it is about developing a straightforward and honest understanding of what makes you tick.

Successful leaders understand why they do well, what motivates them, and which people and/or situation push their buttons. If you are self-aware, you are far more likely to pursue the right opportunities, use your strengths, and keep your emotions from holding you back.

Here are 5 tips to help you use emotional intelligence to become a self-aware leader:

 

1. Stop Treating Feelings As Either Enemies or Friends

It’s far too simplistic, and childish, to divide your emotions into two piles: good and bad. So stop labeling them; instead, become aware of each and every emotion without judging it. Observe it, let it run its course, and remind yourself that the feeling was there to help you understand something about yourself.

 

2. Be Bold and Lean Into Your Discomfort Zone

The biggest obstacle to observing the entire range of your emotions is the tendency to avoid the ones that produce the most discomfort. If you try to avoid certain emotions because they are uncomfortable, you are caught off guard when they do rear their ugly head. Avoidance is a short-term fix. You’ll never be able to manage yourself effectively if you ignore how to deal with the unpleasant stuff. 

Don’t minimize an emotion because it’s not comfortable. You are being arrogant if you think you can control it by using this tactic. Instead, be bold and learn about the emotion so it no longer controls your behavior.

 

3. Learn What Pushes Your Buttons 

We all have buttons that produce predictable reactions. When the right ones are pushed, we can scream, throw tantrums, or burn with anger. Knowing who, or what, pushes your buttons and how it happens is critical to developing the ability to take control of the situation.

Knowing where your buttons are opens the door to managing your reaction to their triggers.

 

4. Keep A Beady Eye Focused on Yourself At All Times

Personal surveillance can produce a mother-lode of important information about how you tick. Observe how you react to situations in conversations, meetings, or one-on-one. 

Notice your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors as each of the situations unfold. Slow yourself down so the fast-thinking emotional part of your brain doesn’t overtake the slower-thinking logical part of your brain.

You are in the best position to surveil yourself in all situations, so take the opportunity to notice what your hot button looks and sounds like. Again, this self-awareness will enable you to calibrate your reactions.

 

5. Stop and Ask Yourself WHY You Do the Things You Do

Your emotions often show up uninvited and unexpected, so stop acting surprised when they do. Emotions serve an important purpose—they are clues you need to pay attention to in order to fully understand yourself.

Even when the emotions are painful, you need to trace them back to their origin to understand their purpose. Pay attention to them, spend time looking for why this emotion surfaced at this time, who triggered it, and in what context?

Self-awareness provides you with the ability to understand why you do the things you do so you can choose your responses instead of reacting to situations around you.

We can all become more self-aware leaders if we learn how to read our own emotions.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

How has self-awareness helped you become a more effective leader?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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Ways to Move Through Uncertainty & Start Living The Life You Want

April 13th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

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.

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Adversity - bridge over waterAs 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:

  1. You can dread it because you are afraid of failing—you believe that failure sends a negative message about your abilities, or…
  2. 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.

 

You can follow me on Twitter

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How Women Leaders Can Kick Butt

April 6th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

I knew at an early age that I wanted to do something unique with my life. Perhaps that was because I spent my childhood being very ordinary; I lived for the day when I could break loose and prove to the world I had a champion’s heart. 

Obstacles - tiger

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I found the story of Jael in the ancient book of the Bible to be one of the most inspirational stories I read as a young girl in Wyoming. It encouraged me to believe that I was capable of accomplishing great deeds, even in the face of tremendous adversity.

The story is found in the Book of Judges

Back then, a soldier named Sisera led the Canaanite army and commanded over nine hundred iron chariots. He had oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. 

Sisera was brutal, and his own mother speculated that he was late getting home from a battle because he and his fellow warriors were dividing the plunder by raping women and hauling off valuables.

The prophetess Deborah was able to persuade a soldier named Barak to gather an Israelite force of ten thousand to fight the Canaanites—and Sisera was soundly defeated. Exhausted, he fled on foot to a nearby settlement that was known to be an ally of the Canaanites where he thought he could find safety.

A woman in that settlement named Jael saw Sisera approaching and went outside to meet him. She offered him hospitality by covering him with a rug and giving him both water and milk to drink. 

JaelConvinced she was harmless and willing to do his bidding, he told her to guard the tent entrance and let no one enter. He then fell into a weary sleep. Jael saw this as her opportunity and as soon as he was asleep, she picked up a hammer and tent peg and softly moved to Sisera’s side.

She raised the hammer in one hand and drove the tent peg through Sisera’s temple with such force that it stuck in the ground!

When the Israelite soldiers came looking for Barak, Jael showed them Sisera’s body. The Bible says there was peace for the next forty years.

The story of Jael illustrates the quiet strength of a woman who was as much of a champion as any hero from the ancient world, who are so often depicted as men. Here is why she kicked butt:

 

Hear Me Roar, I Am Woman 

Jael used her feminine qualities to seduce Sisera into thinking all was well. She brings him milk to drink, she covers him with a rug, and yet this warm figure reaches for a tent stake and executes her enemy. 

Women can prevail not despite, but through, their sex.

Time and time again I found that, as an FBI agent, people “let their guard down” when around me as I interviewed them. Holding the tension between gentleness and hard conviction takes mental toughness, and this tension is a unique tool that women can use to their advantage.

 

Bend but Never Break, You Are Strong

Jael is only one example of many women throughout history who were “the best man for the job.” There are more women than ever acting and living in non-traditional ways, so this might be the right time to rethink some of our assumptions: what is traditional, and why is traditional necessarily a better way of life?

Just because it’s the way it’s always been done doesn’t mean it’s the way it should always be done.

Few of us wake up each day and announce to the world that we are going to be a hero. Instead, most of us meet life each day with little fanfare and few fantasies about doing anything other than what is expected of us.

It is only when we’re confronted with obstacles that threaten to derail our life’s journey that we summon the determination to break through the barrier in front of us. 

Strong women never allow themselves to be imprisoned in their own mind by their circumstances or appearance.

 

Come Back Even Stronger, You Are Invincible

Jael assumes the traditionally male role of assassin; however, the prophetess Deborah still called her the “most blessed of women.” She did not lose her femininity because of her actions. Indeed, her actions were so effective because she used her feminine wiles. 

Living a life of purpose and meaning requires the courage to take a chance. I’m not talking about the physical courage of a soldier or superhero—I mean the extraordinary, heroic courage demanded of each of us every day. It’s the resolve to meet life’s scary circumstances head on with confidence and determination.

Jael is only one in a long line of women over the centuries who have kicked butt. Thanks to women like her, there are more opportunities for many more extraordinary stories to be told.

What is your extraordinary story?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

You can follow me on Twitter

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5 Unconventional Ways You Can Lead From Your Heart

March 30th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

I spent Saturday morning at my local gym working out with a trainer. As I repeated repetitions with free weights, my trainer kept yelling, “Put your heart into it.” I write and speak about mental toughness, but his exhortation to put my heart into my workout struck a new cord. 

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Heart - tree branch

Mental toughness begins with heart, and my friend, Lolly Daskal, is an expert on leading from the heart. I’ve learned a lot from her and how important it is to listen to the wisdom of our inner calling.

How important is heart to mental toughness? Mental toughness is finding a way to continue moving toward our goals, even in tough times—but if our heart is not the driving force behind those goals, failure will be enough to persuade us to give up and try something else. 

Glimpses into our heart’s desire cannot be plucked from the air. We must integrate both feeling and thinking because when our heart is involved, we feel an expansion of self and meaning in life. The experience lingers in our consciousness and gives a sense of purpose, integration with others, and empathy.

Let’s look at 5 nonconventional ways you can not only find heart, but also lead from it as well: 

 

1. Relive the BEST Parts of Your Childhood

Go back and remember the fun things you liked to do as a child and young adult. They gave you autonomy, purpose, and a sense of fulfillment. 

Our brain keeps growing until the age of twenty-five, by which time we develop a more mature sense of long-term planning and critical thinking. As adults we become afraid of the unknown and cease to utilize play and creativity as a way of exploring our heart’s desire.

To lead from the heart, it is not enough to love what we do; we must also find meaning and purpose in it.

If your path has no heart, you are on the wrong path (click to tweet).

TIP:

Rekindle the passions of your heart from your early years. This does not mean you have to quit your job, but it does require that you take a critical look at:

  1. what you are doing, and
  2. which aspects of your job speak to your heart (so you can pursue them)

 

2. Learn How to Skip Rope — Again

As adults, we stop being playful and creative because we become more sensitive to rejection, failure, and other pinpricks to our ego.

Creativity is developing original ideas that have value. It is finding connection between things that are not connected. Creativity requires that we do two things: 1) embrace risk, and 2) find and identify new patterns. The irony is that these two requirements are what makes play so much fun!

When you are concentrating on something that matters to you, then you are working from the heart.

There are no rule books and instead of avoiding the unknown, the risk you are facing only tightens your focus. 

TIP:

Notice those times when time does not matter because you are so absorbed in what you do, and risk is not a deterrent. 

 

3. Follow Your Calling by Looking at Your Brain

Too often, we associate our brain with thinking only, but our brain is also where we experience emotions and process feelings.

Research has shown that when we are truly engaged in what we are doing, and experience feelings of fulfillment, large patches of our prefrontal cortex are deactivated. These regions of our brain silence our inner critic and leave us less inhibited and much more open to unique experiences.

When we follow our heart’s calling, we’re calm, confident, and content (click to tweet).

TIP:

When we are leading with our heart and feel a reward from our activity, our brain releases dopamine which stimulates excitement, curiosity, and motivation.

 

4. Put Your Heart Into It

We need to push ourselves. Peak performance shows up when we’re using our skills.  This means challenge. When we push ourselves in the right direction (toward our calling), we are intrinsically motivated to perform. 

TIP:

If you are following your heart, you will experience the same “runner’s high” as athletes do after they finish their races. Your brain chemicals will be surging, alerting you to what fulfillment and accomplishment with meaning feels like.

 

5. Take a Hard Look at The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

You either embrace the challenges of life or you shrink from them. Mentally tough people acknowledge that life is full of both good and bad, positive and negative, but they cultivate a growth mindset that uses strategies to keep moving forward. 

One of the most essential strategies is honest self-evaluation. If you have a growth mindset, you accurately evaluate your capabilities in order to learn more efficiently. If you have a fixed mindset, it makes it harder to adapt and remain flexible to life’s changing environment.

TIP:

Self-knowledge accumulates over time. You cannot be mentally tough by blaming your weaknesses and failures on others.

Mental toughness is combining awareness with action. There is a decision at every step, and the decision to listen to the calling of our heart is the surest path to a strong mind.

How have you heard the calling of your heart?

© 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.

 

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6 Ways Successful Leaders Use Their Brain To Achieve Goals

March 23rd, 2014 by LaRae Quy

I was a fashion buyer for a fancy retail store before I became an FBI agent. I will never forget my first day at the FBI Academy…

Strong Mind - mind + muscleEveryone stood up and gave their background: military officers who had led dangerous military missions in North Africa, police officers who survived shootouts, and successful prosecutors against dangerous mob families in New York. So, when I stood up, everyone turned their head to look at the fluffball who had accidentally gotten into the FBI.

Born and raised on a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming, I lacked the polish and sophistication of many of my fellow agents. My years as a fashion buyer had left me unhappy and depressed, and unsure of how to move out of the rut I felt myself in.

What I needed was mental toughness to achieve my goals and dreams.

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Success comes from thinking positively about our situation and not succumbing to the self-limiting belief that nothing can be done. This means using our brain to move through life with energy and enthusiasm.

I graduated from the FBI Academy, but I needed to use my brain as much as sculpted muscles to do it. Here are 6 top ways to use your brain to achieve your goals and dreams:

 

1. Are You Ready? ‘Cause It’s All About Control

Controlling our thought process isn’t as easy as it sounds because we don’t notice how little control we have over the way our mind thinks. One thought follows another, and out of habit, we let our subconscious take us through most of the day.

Successful people know that they have to remind themselves to be mindful several times through out the day (click to tweet).

Control your thoughts by becoming more connected to them. For example, move out of your subconscious by intentionally choosing to observe, question, challenge, or dismiss new pieces of information that come your way.

Meditation is an excellent way to be an observer of your own thoughts, even the ones that frighten you.

We have arrived at where we are today because our thoughts have brought us here, but where we end up tomorrow depends a great deal on where our thoughts take us. 

 

2. A Playful Attitude Reminds Us We’re Human

Playing with ideas can be extremely stimulating. If we train our brain to seek out new information, we no longer need to rely upon our external circumstances to provide mental stimulation. This can be extremely important when we’re in a situation where we feel trapped or immobilized. 

Research suggests that stimulating your mind by looking for new information builds a better, more complex brain that uses alternative networks for thinking through problems. With practice, it can take in information from outside your current situation and then change it to meet the situation at hand. 

 

3. Visualizing Should Be Your New Drug Of Choice

The very act of giving our brain a detailed portrait of our end goal ensures the release of dopamine, a powerful mental toughness tool to steer us toward success. 

The benefits of visioning our performance is based on solid science. With each success, our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This is the chemical that becomes active when we encounter situations that are linked to rewards from the past. 

A Harvard study has demonstrated that our brain cannot tell the difference between a visualized image and reality.

Dopamine enables us to not only see rewards, but to move toward those rewards. 

 

4. Light Your World

Vicktor Frankl, a Holocaust and concentration camp survivor, described the source of his strength under extreme adversity. Frankl concludes that the most important trait of survivors is a strong sense of doing their best in all circumstances, while not being primarily concerned with advancing their own interests. 

The actions of the survivors are motivated by an inner voice that taps into their sense of purpose—not by their external conditions. They had the mental toughness to keep moving ahead, regardless of their circumstances.

Narcissistic individuals fall apart when external conditions turn threatening because they are only intrinsically motivated to help themselves.

 

5. Life Can Turn On Small Things

In an FBI investigation, the truth was often found in the details. One of the best ways to turn a bleak situation into a controllable experience is to seek out the smallest details of your environment. Often, it is possible to uncover hidden opportunities for action that were previously unnoticed.

You may feel the courage and confidence to take a chance to pursue an option that, previously, you would not have taken. You may be capable of more than you even dreamed of for yourself.

 

6. To Generalize Is To Be An Idiot

Get specific sooner. Target specific opportunities that will likely to lead to success.

Getting specific requires us to:

  • Prioritize and make choices.
  • Identify our unique message
  • Become a master of a few things instead of a “know it all.”
  • Be humble for the things in which we are not an expert
  • Foster gratitude for the things in which we do excel

These are 6 ways successful leaders use their brain to achieve their goals and dreams. 

These techniques are deeply embedded in common sense, and validated by top notch research and science. Discovering how to make them work for you is your own secret to success.

What additional tips would you add?

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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6 Reasons Mental Toughness is Positivity on Steroids

March 16th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

Admiral James Stockdale was held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. He had the mental toughness to make it out alive after being tortured 22 times and losing many friends in prison.

Mental toughness - boxing gloves

Stockdale was interviewed about his experiences as a prisoner of war several years later by Jim Collins, author of the famous book Good to Great. Stockdale gave insightful answers about how he managed to survive torture, starvation, and other horrible conditions. At one point, Collins asked him, “Who didn’t make it out alive?”

Stockdale’s answer was blunt: “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Positivity is one of the most important components of mental toughness. When listening to Stockdale’s story, it becomes obvious that positivity is about more than optimism vs pessimism.

Mental Toughness is about people putting faith in themselves to prevail rather than trusting in circumstances to change.

Stockdale said, “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

The message is clear: 

Successful leaders must never confuse faith that they will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of their current reality, whatever these might be.

For some, the barrier is a self-limiting belief; for others, it’s an economic obstacle filled with risk, uncertainty, and deception. 

Leaders and entrepreneurs who are mentally tough are positive thinkers—they have to be if they intend to overcome obstacles and break through barriers. 

Here are 6 reasons mental toughness is positivity on steroids:

 

1. Showing Gratitude Enhances Well Being

Admiral Stockdale reminds us that no matter how difficult our circumstances, they could always be worse. Be thankful, no matter how much pain you feel in your life.

As an FBI Agent, there were many times when I woke up and dreaded the day’s assignment. Like all jobs, some days were tedious, boring, and repetitious. Nicknamed by some as The Federal Bureaucracy of Investigation, I didn’t let the paperwork and inane bureaucratic procedures dampen my attitude.

Gratitude is intentional; it’s a way of seeing the world by focusing your mind on what you choose to see

Of all the attitudes we can acquire, surely 

the attitude of gratitude is the most important,

and by far the most life-changing~Zig Ziglar

 

2. Laugh Till It Hurts, Even When It Does Hurt

Humor is relaxing and life-giving. It can break the tension when we start to feel overwhelmed with our circumstances.

The physical effects of laughter on the body involve increased breathing, oxygen use, and heart rate, which stimulate the circulatory system. It also moves the brain into other ways of thinking because it introduces the concept of play in adults, which boosts creativity and innovation. In addition, humor is increasingly recognized and valued as an important way to release stress and bring a better mood and perspective into difficult situations.

Hospitals, soldiers, and law enforcement organizations like the FBI frequently use laughter and humor as a means of helping people remain positive thinkers in the midst of dire circumstances. 

 

3. Get By With A Little Help From Friends

Negative thoughts can spread faster than positive ones. Surround yourself with people who have faith in you—and themselves.

One of my best moves has always been to surround myself with friends who ask “Why not?” instead of “Why?” Positive attitudes like this are always contagious. Avoid the whiners, naysayers . . . and other losers. If I’d listened to them, I would never never lived my dream of becoming an FBI agent.

If you want to get ahead in business and life, surround yourself with smart and positive people rather than negative and immature ones.

Most people don’t aim too high and miss; they aim too low and hit (click to tweet)

 

4. Ignore The Toxic Bystanders

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” 

Stop talking about the difficult situation and start doing something about it. By talking only, you risk becoming a critic, and when you become a critic, you tend to search out the negative aspects of people or things, rather than the positive. If you doubt me, start reading Op-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd—she is a great writer but her relentless pursuit of finding fault in others does nothing more than remind us she is never the one in the arena.

 

5. Stop Being A Ninny…Risk Failure

Every great leader, whatever walk of life they are from or organization in which they reside, always go back to the same failure to explain their success. The failure, without exception, was traumatic and personally very difficult. It made them feel as though they’d hit rock bottom and filled them with desperation. 

As Warren Bennis said, “It’s as if at that moment the iron entered their soul; that moment created the resilience that leaders need.”

 

6. Offer A Helping Hand to Others; It’s Not All About You

People may think that, as an FBI agent, I learned to look only for the worst in others. Not so. I discovered that no matter the offense or background, people respond positively when they are treated with dignity. If I could offer that bit of humanity to someone who had hit bottom, I had found a way to give my gift to another.

It was a small change in thinking that made a huge difference for Admiral Stockdale. If you choose to be positive, have faith that you will eventually succeed by trying over and over again. Do not be frustrated by each individual setback—you will find the mental toughness to succeed. 

How have you found positivity helps you through difficult times?

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LaRaeQuy

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

 

 

 

Powerful Ways To Increase Your Mental Toughness

March 9th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

Sally is an ambitious entrepreneur who believes mental toughness is bulldozing her way through obstacles and adversity. If a barrier prevents her from moving forward, she thinks that by continuing a full frontal assault, she will eventually break it down. As a result, her team is alienated and she feels disillusioned with her career. 

adversity - alligator

Sally’s approach may work in football, but not in life and business. Not every obstacle that comes up in life can be broken down by pounding fists at it.

Mental toughness is misunderstood by many entrepreneurs, executives, and leaders. Too often, it is associated with a hard-headed mindset that refuses to yield when circumstances change. 

Mental toughness is not something we’re born with—it’s something we can learn, and not only during tough times. We can choose to develop skills that will increase our ability to prepare for life’s unavoidable struggles.

Here are 5 powerful ways to increase your mental toughness:

 

Learn to Adapt to New Circumstances, So Lose the Ego

As entrepreneurs and leaders, it takes more than good intentions to keep your company running strong. Sally’s problem was that she did not take the time to ask herself, “What has changed?” Instead of being willing to adapt to her changing situation, she plowed on as though everything was business as usual.

Gather your team together at least twice a year and ask questions, such as “What’s new in the industry and are we on the cutting edge of that change?” “Do we need to update our strategy?”

 

Be Willing To Change Tact and Try Something New

Mental toughness is acknowledging that changes in the industry means changing strategies in order to keep moving forward. This can be very difficult for people who are goal-oriented, because for them abandoning a goal is akin to acknowledging failure. Unfortunately, they become married to the goal rather than the endgame.

In truth, changing tact can be just plain smart.

If life were predictable, you might be able to chart your life out with five-year goals. But life is full of unexpected surprises, and being unwilling to yield and reroute to reach your destination threatens to expose a hard head, not a tough mind.

Be smart enough to know the difference.

 

Experience Your Emotions — Yes, All of Them

Mental toughness is not about suppressing negative thoughts so you can be happy and optimistic all the time, even when adversity strikes. Conversely, it’s about being honest in acknowledging your entire range of emotions and giving each equal attention.

Once you fail to respect the negative emotions you’re feeling, you are being neither honest with yourself or behaving with authenticity.

The key is to chose, with intention, to give more heft to the positive aspects of your situation. This will take mental toughness, but like developing muscles, it is easier the more you do it.

It’s natural to automatically see the negative in a tough situation; our limbic brain system is warning us of danger. But not all adversity is life-threatening—so learn how to find positive options in your situation.

Sometimes the positive is simply the lesson learned, so we don’t make the same mistake next time!

 

Stop Feeling Sorry for Yourself and Blaming Others; We’re Sick of Listening to You

Blaming others is an emotionally retarded way of dealing with obstacles and adversity. Blaming others is a lame way to explain yourself when the chips are down and times are tough. Everyone is confronted with obstacles and adversity—some are simply more visible from the outside than others.

If you think that those who face less adversity in life are happier, think again. In fact, research has shown that people who face adversity, and overcome it, are among the most fulfilled.

No one is owed a free ride. If you want something, go out and get it (click to tweet).

 

Learn How to Be Grateful — It’s Not All About You. Really.

Expressing gratitude is not a naive form of positive thinking. Instead, it is a way of thinking about the way we receive benefits and giving credit to others. To do so, often means humbling ourselves and getting ego out of the way.

People are actually more successful at reaching their goals when they express gratitude throughout their day. One study found people who were more grateful were 20% more likely to make progress than those who were not.

Developing mental toughness is a work in progress. While there is always room for improvement, we can prepare ourselves to be mentally tough so we can deal with life’s adversities when the unexpected happens.

What tips would you add to increase mental toughness? How is the best way to develop mental toughness?

© 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.

 

 

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5 Ways Negative People Can Be Positive Thinkers

March 2nd, 2014 by LaRae Quy

I grew up in a family that survived by preparing for the worst: blizzards, drought, broken fences, and the threat of wildfire. We made a living by raising cattle, and that meant keeping them fed, watered, and safe from Wyoming’s fierce winters and suffocatingly hot summers.

Positivity - looking forward

I remember Dad always anticipating the worst possible outcome as the severe seasons rolled by so he could prepare, and land on his feet when confronted with the unknown.

As an FBI agent, we planned arrests by giving priority to what could go wrong. We were not optimists who hoped everything would go according to plan.

Both my Dad and my fellow FBI agents were intelligent thinkers who were mentally tough. That is, they weighed the possibility of a negative outcome with equal heft as the possibility of a positive outcome.

Intelligent thinking is another term for positive thinking…positivity is not optimism that expects things to change for the better, nor is it pessimism that expects the worst to happen.

It is often as difficult for optimists to be positive thinkers as it is for pessimists. Positive thinking is not denying the contribution of negative thinking. In fact, it’s wise to prepare for the worst that could happen in business and life.

The term “positive thinking,” however, has been polluted by the relentless cheer of motivational speakers who pressure their audience by goading them to stamp out all traces of negativity. While this approach seems to be popular with some audiences, it’s not a particularly sophisticated approach to life.

Mental toughness is not being afraid of negativity; instead, it is learning how to harness its power so it works for you.

Here are 5 ways you can be a more positive thinker:

 

1. Accept Your Emotions

Observe your emotions and sensations as they come to the surface, acknowledge them  but do not judge them as being either positive or negative, and then let them pass. Do not try to suppress a negative emotion simply because it’s negative.

 

2. Embrace the Possibility of Failure

The all-positive approach of motivational speakers is relentless in its pursuit of perfection. The more realistic approach of positivity, on the other hand, does not reject failure. In fact, positive thinkers embrace failure as a challenge—a call to action to keep moving forward. They do not give up and walk away, searching for something easier at which they will finally succeed. They continue to approach the problem, but from different angles while at the same time honing their talents and skills. 

 

3. Look for Positive Options

Positive thinking is embracing the reality of a negative outcome in a situation, but continually looking for and finding the positive options that every situation offers. 

Thoughts are stubborn; once you let them take hold and grow roots, it is very difficult to erase them from your mind.

Whatever grabs your attention rules your life. So, you need to control your thinking. Researchers confirm that the very thing your mind focuses on is the same thing that you will start to notice in your daily life.

Your survival instinct has warned you of the possible negative outcome; now, you need to counter that warning with a positive response that will prepare you as you move toward the obstacle.

 

Recognize the negative aspects of your situation, but don’t dwell on them. Turn your attention to the positive options available to you.

 

4. Believe You Can Prevail

Positivity is believing we can prevail in our situation, regardless of the circumstances. Prisoners of war and Navy SEALS have found that their belief in their own ability to prevail in extreme and adverse conditions is what kept them alive. 

Survival, in one form or another, is at the heart of mental toughness. It is prevailing over our circumstances and moving forward. It takes confidence in our abilities and a belief that failure is not the end—it simply represents another way to approach our situation.

 

5. Differentiate Between Visioning and Fantasy

Visioning is based on solid science. By visioning our performance repeatedly, our brain stores that information as a success. And with each success, our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This is the chemical that becomes active when we encounter situations that are linked to rewards from the past. 

Use your dopamine not only to see rewards, but to move toward them.

Fantasies, however, can lessen our chance for success. Those who are adamant optimists about a positive future will experience a greater shock when things go wrong. If people fantasize only positive beliefs about their future, they are less prepared and more stressed when things don’t workout they way they had hoped.

 

For you to be a leader, you must see things as they really are. Then see them the way you can make them better.

 

Mental toughness is not just surviving through tough times, it is thriving, and not letting the environment control your thinking. Don’t pretend the negative aspects of your situation don’t exist, but don’t dwell on them. Instead, believe you will prevail by looking for, and finding, positive options.

What suggestions do you have for learning how to harness the power of negativity?

© 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.

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9 Ways Your Thoughts Lie To You

February 23rd, 2014 by LaRae Quy

The word “can’t” is probably the only four letter word I never heard in my 24 years as an FBI agent. As Agents we were trained early not to let negativity impair our ability to analyze a tough case that looked impossible to crack. With enough chipping away, and digging, we searched for answers until all leads were exhausted.

Positive Thinking - snake eye

Mental toughness was keeping our thoughts under control as we searched for and found ways to keep moving. The key was a flexible and agile mind that refused to let barriers and adversity define the outcome of a case.

It’s not only FBI cases that need the mental toughness to see success. Everything from business, love, and relationships can become affected by our negativity if we allow it to raise its ugly head.

Les Brown once said that 80% of self-talk is negative. Our mind produces the mental toughness we need to succeed; it also produces the negativity that can paralyze us. This means you need to pay more attention to ways your mind produces thoughts that are lies because these are the thoughts that keep you from moving ahead in business and life. 

Witnesses are always important in FBI investigations because they are first-hand observations. In the same way, you need to witness your thoughts and observe them so you are in a better position to eliminate their negative influence.

9 ways your thoughts lie to you:

 

1. Using the Words “Always” and “Never.”

If you use the words always and never when you’re confronted with an obstacle or barrier, you activate the limbic brain system. This produces emotions like fear and anger. Absolutes like “always” and “never” are rarely correct. 

  • “My children never listen to me.”
  • “I never get recognized for my hard work.”
  • “Everyone always takes advantage of me.”
  • “I always end up on the short end of the deal.”

This is very common thinking, but if you catch yourself thinking in terms of absolutes, stop and make yourself recall times when you can disprove the negative thought.

 

2. Focusing On the Negative

When your thoughts focus only on the negative, you fail to see the positive around you. Looking for and finding only the negative in your situation will not only make you feel sad, it will prevent you from recognizing your blessings. Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing

 

3. Believing In the Negative

Question your negative feelings; don’t act on them without thinking them through. Since we all have a negativity bias, it’s easier to believe a situation will turn negative than positive. Negative thoughts are like Velcro; they stick. Positive thoughts are like Teflon; they easily fall away. 

 

4. Predicting the Future

Do not be tempted to predict the worst possible outcome. Many times we think that by predicting a negative outcome it will lessen our disappointment. For example, if you don’t get promoted or get a business loan—or whatever we’re seeking. In fact, all it does is reduce our chances for feeling good about what we’re doing now. 

 

5. Reading Minds

Don’t waste time assuming what people think about you—you are not a mind reader. We try to guess what others are thinking, it’s usually comes from a negative attitude we have about the person. Instead, learn to communicate your thoughts and feelings before loosing an opportunity or becoming bitter.

 

6. Beating Yourself Up with Guilt

Not every emotion we feel is important or rational. When you feel guilty about something, be skeptical. Is the guilt trying to teach you something rational and helpful about your behavior? Or, is it an irrational response to a situation? This is the first step. The key, however, is to realize the mistake and accept that you’re only human. Do not beat yourself up and batter your self-esteem because you’re not perfect.

 

7. Labeling

When we judge others, we are labeling them. Negative labels are very harmful because when you lump one person with others you’ve never met, you lose the ability to understand people as unique individuals. Labeling and judging others is an outward display of inward inferiority and anger. 

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 ESV

 

8. Personalizing

The actions of other people do not need to have a negative effect on you. If you take things personally, you make yourself a victim of what others think and do. Realize that it makes no sense to give people such power over you.

Research suggests that we overestimate how much we are singled out by others, and quite frankly, it’s self-absorbed to live this way. Do we actually believe that everything is always about us? 

 

9. Blaming

Mental toughness is acknowledging and accepting responsibility for your life. You cannot dodge responsibility for what your life is about. You create the situation you are in and the emotions that flow from those situations. The worst thing you can do is take on the role of victim, make excuses, or blame others. This is a lie we tell ourselves to prevent us from reaching our own success.

As you witness the ways your thoughts lie to you, remember there are things you can do to diminish their power over you. 

I’ve listed 9 ways your thoughts lie to you—can you add more?

© 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.

 

 

 

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How Smart Women Climb the Ladder of Success

February 16th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

When I walked into my new FBI office, I was a curiosity. In the 1980’s there weren’t that many female FBI agents; everyone was polite but distant. I pretended not to notice that I wasn’t included in the informal squad debriefings about the direction the more important cases were headed. 

Adversity - rock climbing

Our squad worked counterintelligence and espionage cases and we had a huge case assigned to us. My supervisor gave the case to one of the guys, but I was assigned as a co-case agent. The case agent went to our supervisor and asked that I be taken off the case because he didn’t want to work with someone who was 1) female, and 2) inexperienced.

The walls were thin and I heard our supervisor say, “They’re here to stay. You’re going to have to find a way to work with them.”

I was one of them—a female agent, and I’ll admit that there were times I wanted to quit the squad and ask to be reassigned. It would have been easy to blame the male agents as the cause for my lack of good cases. 

But this ran against the grain of how I was raised—not whine, make excuses, and blame someone else for my situationInstead, I was raised on the philosophy: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”—if I kept a positive attitude and put my mind to work to find a solution.

Mental Toughness is remaining positive and taking the extra step needed to come up with bold solutions when faced with adverse or difficult situations. Blaming others is not only a sign of weakness, it’s a negative way of thinking that becomes pervasive. The better your brain can focus on the positives, the greater your chances of success.

 

People Who Blame Others For Their Failure Are Engaging In Selfish Behavior   

We all make selfish, self-serving, and lazy decisions at times. However, blamers develop a pattern by explaining away their failure as someone else’s fault. They seek excuses for their lack of ability or lack of ambition.

Ultimately, a blamer is trying to either bolster themselves or deflate others (click to tweet).

As a female agent, I needed to establish credibility as an investigator even though the male agents did not. There were not a lot chances to do that if I wasn’t being assigned good cases.

Massive success is the best revenge~Frank Sinatra

Whenever pity reared its ugly head, I reminded myself that because of the cold shoulder given to me by the male agents, I had to dig deep to rekindle my grit, persistence, and determination. 

I did this by intentionally choosing a mindset that focused on the obstacles I’d overcome in the past. If I could do it then, I could do it again, and each time I could do it bigger, better, and bolder than the last time. 

 

People Who Blame Others Don’t Want To Take Responsibility For Their Actions 

Blaming others is usually an inability to cope with different situations. People who blame others have not figured out to take hold of their personal rudders and steer their life in specific directions. They are not willing to take responsibility for their choices.

When we are negative or fatigued, our brain perceives our difficulties as significantly heavier and unsurmountable than they actually are. Mental toughness is not being blind to the negatives in our situation; it’s about believing we have the power to do something about them. We can choose our mindset—one that will produce the most value and provide a map to success.

If I wanted to establish credibility as a female agent, I needed to put my thinking brain to work. I decided to craft an undercover proposal that was fresh and unique, and I put myself in the role of the undercover agent. FBI Headquarters loved it.

 

People Who Blame Others Are Weak and Helpless 

Blamers believe their situation is permanent and remain helpless. They do not believe that talent, persistence, or willpower will change it. The way in which people explain their helplessness is the key to understanding their responses to adverse events.

It comes down to this: blaming others is how people explain their situations to themselves (click to tweet).

This self-talk consists of negative thoughts that have become even more important in influencing their behavior than spoken words.

Negative self-talk could have led me to believe that my barrier of breaking into “the FBI boy’s club” was permanent, personal, and pervasive. If I’d fallen into that trap, I would believe that I did not have control over the outcome of the situation.

There is a very clear link between mental toughness and the way we approach our helplessness. If we believe the cause is temporary, we can act to change it. That means maintaining a positive attitude. 

Smart women don’t blame others for their adversity. Instead, they break through their barriers and keep climbing the ladder of success. 

What tips do you have on how to stop blaming others and use mental toughness to break through barriers?

© 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.