4 Essential Elements of Grit

May 24th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

New FBI agents are assigned either assigned cases so old that witnesses have died or cases with such quick turnaround leads that the new agent is left spinning.

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It didn’t take me long to figure out what I needed to do to move as quickly as possible out of the rut of Team B and into the ranks of Team A—comprised of agents who not only worked hard, but had the grit to keep moving ahead when faced with failure or adversity.

But new agents were not the only ones stuck on Team B.

Older agents who did not have the grit to consistently do what they needed to do to succeed often found themselves run over by other agents who possessed resolve, willpower, and the perseverance to stick to their long-term goals.

Grit is your ability to persevere over the long-run and thrive despite all kinds of unplanned events.

As leaders, entrepreneurs and business owners, grit is an essential skill because it is the one thing you will need to succeed. If you give up when the going gets tough, you’re done.

Here are 4 essential elements of grit that you should know:

1. Feel The Fire In Your Belly

I knew I wanted to be the type of FBI Agent who could make a difference. In other words, I was passionate about my work.

Passion is the linchpin of grit. It is doing something and following a dream that gives you both value and meaning.

Passion gives people a single-mindedness that we do not see in others. It is a combination of ambition, willpower, and grit that keeps long-term goals in focus at all times.

TIP:

  • When you feel your determination begin to waver, remember the reason you want to accomplish your goal.
  • If you surrender and give up, ask yourself if it’s because there is no fire in your belly and you are not really following your dream.

All dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible—T.E. Lawrence

2. Maintain Clarity of Goals

When I first started working counterintelligence and espionage, my goal was to be assigned a foreign intelligence officer.

Later, though, my goal had shifted. Now it wasn’t enough to be working cases—I felt drawn to tell others about how a huge organization like the FBI could be nimble and flexible enough to react to the demands of terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11.

My vision had not changed—I still wanted to be an FBI agent, but my goal had. I became the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California for four years. I’m glad I made the move because my long-term goals had shifted.

TIP:

  • Revisit your goals annually to make certain that something hasn’t changed over the past year. Your mind is constantly adapting to new information coming your way.
  • Even a slight shift calls for a re-alignment in your priorities. Like myself, it may not require you to throw up your hands and quit, but it may suggest that you re-think where you fit in the larger picture.

3. Follow Up With Self-Discipline

There were many times when it was tempting to give up on an investigation when the leads got cold and there was no easy path forward.

Mental toughness was required to persevere and be agile enough in my thinking that I could approach a roadblock or obstacle from many different angles—always looking for the soft underbelly and refusing to give up.

Self-discipline is important because while grit is the ability to keep doing something, self-discipline often implies the ability to refrain from doing something.

TIP:

  • Face your problems head on. It isn’t your problems that define you—it’s how you react and recover from them. Your problems are not going away unless you do something about them.
  • Be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve, who you want to become, and the obstacles that are preventing you from achieving your goals.
  • Define your goal as behavior. Identify the specific steps you need to take to achieve your goal. Define your goal in terms of behavior.
  • Organize your day. Once you’ve set your goal, it must become a priority.
  • Watch for excuses. Self-discipline means doing something you don’t necessary want to do.
  • Remember the reasons you want to reach your goal. When you feel your determination begin to waver, remember the reason you want to accomplish your goal.

4. Learn From Your Misses

Training in the FBI starts on your first day at the FBI Academy in Quantico and ends on your last day as an agent. If FBI instructors are not pushing you beyond your comfort zone, they aren’t doing their job.

Moving out of our comfort zone is hard because it usually means a trial and error approach as we find new footing. It’s important to take mistakes in stride and use the opportunity to learn from them. Only idiots don’t learn from their mistakes.

People with grit shrug off failure, focus on immediate recovery, and move on. The attitude determines the outcome, so it’s important to focus on lessons learned and how to keep moving forward.

TIP:

  • Seek feedback about how you can make your best performance even better. Research indicates that leaders who are in the top 10% are those who are willing to ask for feedback—both positive and negative.
  • Celebrate the small wins. Learn to appreciate the smaller steps that lead to success.
  • Learn from your challenges and become better because of them.

Grit is the mental toughness to continue to move ahead even when life hasn’t thrown you a perfect hand. It is the deliberate action of doing something again and again until you get it right. And then maybe doing it again after that, too.

Talent does not trump determination. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Grit, persistence, and determination will keep you moving ahead when your circumstances and environment has changed.

How have you developed grit?

© 2016 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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Women Can Grit-Up And Do The Right Thing

May 15th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

You may think that, as a female FBI agent, I manned-up to be accepted as one of the guys. It’s true that there was no place for a delicate prima donna on the squad, but my feminine traits and qualities were never discouraged. They were simply put in perspective.

Grit Up!

I trained alongside male agents as an equal. There was neither the time nor the inclination to play the gender game. We all had a job to do and we did it.  We found ourselves in life and death situations where the meaning of man-up simply meant digging down to find the strength and mental toughness to face the situation in front of us with courage.

This not about being a man or a woman—it’s about being fiercely awesome in whatever we are doing so we can be successful.

A challenge to man-up assumes the speaker is tougher than the other person. It suggests manliness and strength. After all, it would be hard to imagine a man telling a woman that she needed to be more ladylike to be qualified for her position.

Women are starting to shelve polite sensitivities, and this is a trend among women of all ages who are post-feminists. They’re not afraid of losing their feminine qualities by being tough and resilient, traits that have been mostly associated with masculinity.

The phrase grit-up implies a woman who prides herself on being strong, irreverent, and post-feminist. It suggests courage, and empowers those who use it.

Instead of trying to man-up, entrepreneurs, leaders, and business owners need to learn how to grit-up because grit is a quality that doesn’t belong to any specific gender.

It means that you have the mental toughness to do what needs to be done without making excuses for yourself or blaming others for your situation. You take the burden of your responsibilities, whatever they happen to be, with a will and perseverance that is unbreakable. It is the ability to fight against extreme odds.

Grit is what women leaders rely on when they feel as though they have nothing left.

Let me share with you ways the FBI taught me to grit-up:

1. STAY SOFT TO BE STRONG

Strong people do not need to be aggressive because they know they have the power and skills to take over a situation and bring it to a close. Naked aggression can hide cowardice and be a sign of weakness. In many situations, mental toughness and gentleness of spirit need be mixed to be most effective.

For example, in an arrest situation, FBI agents need to be strong to slap handcuffs on a criminal. They also need to be gentle and treat the person with dignity—only a jerk kicks a person when they’re down.

TIP:

To be strong does not mean you need to be aggressive.

2. COMPETENCE IS YOUR TRUMP CARD

We are competent in those areas in which we’ve spent time in training. I’m a competent shot because I’ve spent hours on the firing range and shot over 3,000 bullets before leaving the FBI Academy. My scores went up because of my training, and my repeated experiences led to success. Otherwise, I would just have a well-used weapon in my hands.

I had the training to lean back on when confronted with an arrest situation and I knew I had the competence to shoot my weapon with accuracy so that fewer people were endangered.

TIP:

Training leads to competence.

3. BUILD CONFIDENCE WITH A STRONG MIND

I had many doubts about my abilities during my first few years as an FBI Agent. I’d hear this nagging voice that told me I couldn’t do it, and it took me a few years to realize that these unhelpful ideas and thoughts only lived in my head. Do the right thing for yourself so that you can do the right thing for others.

It takes courage and a strong mind to try new strategies that will make you feel uncomfortable—at first, but this is how you over-power those negative voices. After all, if someone else can do it, why not you?

TIP:

Monitor internal voices that cause you to doubt yourself so you can nip them in the bud—before they become powerful.

“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Mark Twain

When have you had to grit-up and do the right thing?

© 2016 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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Science-Based Reasons Men And Women Look At Risk Differently

May 8th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

FBI agents are trained to take risk seriously. Every arrest is planned from many angles with emphasis given to what can go wrong when agents are faced with the unexpected.

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I took part in several arrests, and while there was always a risk associated with carrying a weapon every day, the biggest risk came from friendly fire—that is, the supervisors who could change your life with a single stroke of their pen and transfer you, without warning, to another squad.

I lived in fear of this risk because agents have no choice in their assignment. From day one this message was hammered into our thinking—the needs of the Bureau come first. Always.

When success also meant survival, landing on my feet when confronted with the unknown was essential. Over time, I learned to look at risks as opportunities to be exploited, whether it was a messy investigation or new squad assignment.

Real success was walking away from uncomfortable situations with more savvy and skill than when I started.

Every successful entrepreneur and leader understands that risk involves change and moving outside their comfort zone. In today’s competitive and fast changing workplace, they can never hope to achieve success unless they’re willing to embrace change and risk the discomfort of failure.

Conventional wisdom says that women take fewer risks than men, but is it true? Much of the difference can be attributed to the way boys and girls are socialized as children. In general, boys are reared to shoot from the hip early on. Girls learn about risk differently. Risky behavior, girls are told, is dangerous.

If conditioning is partly to blame, then reconditioning is part of the answer. Adopting a “Gritup” mentality can make all the difference.

Research finds that men and women use different strategies, and different parts of their brain, when making choices on how to keep moving toward goals.

Here are 3 science-based reasons men and women look at risk differently:

1. Risk: Stress Makes A Difference

A recent study by Mara Mather and Nichole R. Lighthall found that male risk-taking tends to increase under stress, while female risk taking tends to decrease under stress. The researchers discovered that there are gender differences in brain activity involved in computing risk and preparing for action. This is important given the stressful nature of our work lives today.

CAUTION TIP: Beware of stereotyping men as too reckless and women too cautious. Instead, when in stressful situations it might make more sense for men and women to work together to make smarter risk-taking decisions.

2. Risk: Immediate vs Long-Term Rewards

A review published in Behavioral Brain Research discovered that the majority of women in the study tended to focus on immediate rewards while the majority of men in the study tended to focus on long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Men may appear to be stubborn and unwilling to change course once a strategy is put into action, but his brain engages the top, dorsal area of the orbitofrontal cortex which focuses on long term rewards. Most male brains seek out irregular patterns of behavior that will provide them with the competitive advantage they need to set goals that will produce long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Women may appear to be feckless and unable to stick with a strategy, but her brain engages the medial part of this region which is involved in identifying regular patterns and immediate rewards. Her brain is able to assimilate new information that enables her to make adjustments to strategies that will lead to rewards accordingly.

3. Risk: Bait-And-Switch

An article published in Scientific American Mind explains why women are more comfortable with switching strategies mid-task, something that is difficult for men because men tend to engage the part of their brain linked to long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Women may appear to uncertain or worried about making errors, but her brain is taking the time to gather more information. In fact, it is a woman’s detailed exploration that makes them more attuned to change. They can clue into changes quicker than their male counterparts.

CAUTION TIP: Men may have a harder time abandoning a project, course of action, or strategy because their brains tend to focus on big rewards later, unlike female brains that are often satisfied with small gains now.

Researchers caution that neither approach is better; both are necessary and useful in daily life. What is key is understanding how these differences can be turned into advantages through collaborative efforts involving both sexes.

It too simplistic to assume that all men and women react the same way to risk, stress, information gathering, and goal setting. And it’s dangerous to stereotype behavior by gender. Of primary significance is that these studies elucidate how different brains each bring unique strengths to the table. Working together will create a stronger collaborative product in the end.

What differences in risk taking have you noticed between men and women?   

© 2016 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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4 Simple Hacks To Sharpen Your Emotional Competence

May 1st, 2016 by LaRae Quy

There are times when emotional competence trumps emotional intelligence.

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A few years ago I called an individual whom the FBI suspected of having contact with a hostile intelligence officer. His voice had the warbly sound of an older man and he was clearly rattled by the phone call. My job was twofold: to determine whether he knew the real identity of the foreign spy, and 2) determine whether his contact was legitimate.

He agreed to meet me the next day for coffee. He was very wary at first, but I firmly shook his hand and gently encouraged him to tell me his story.

By taking the time to empathize with his emotions, I gained his trust , respect, and eventually, his cooperation.

Emotional competence is having the savvy to recognize, understand, express, and manage emotions effectively. It has far greater application for executives and entrepreneurs than emotional intelligence, which is the starting point.

A recent article in the Economist reminded anyone who has negotiated a major deal, managed a team, or delivered unpleasant news that emotion is an integral aspect of daily corporate life.

Let’s take a look at 4 simple hacks to sharpen your emotional competence:

1. SHARPEN EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE BY RECOGNIZING YOUR EMOTIONS

The gentleman that I called was scared—he grew up in a country where a visit from the secret police usually meant death or imprisonment.

I recognized where his fear was coming from; I was in a position of power so instead of compounding the negative emotion by threatening him, I allayed his fear by speaking gently and with compassion.

Recognizing an emotion (whether our own or that of others) may sound simple but it is not because our emotional intelligence abilities were not naturally developed as children. We were not born knowing the names of our emotions.

Emotions are not consciously controlled—the part of the brain that deals with emotions is the limbic system which is survival driven. This explains why an emotional response can be straightforward and very powerful.

TIP:

  • Recognize that your initial reaction may often be the honest emotion you are feeling.
  • Recognize it may be a survival-driven response related to a memory where you either felt threatened or safe.
  • Recognize your emotional responses may not have anything to do with your current situation, but you can overcome them with logic and being aware of your reactions.

2. SHARPEN EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE BY UNDERSTANDING YOUR EMOTIONS

Mental toughness is the ability to control your emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set you up for success.

One of the most highly developed skills of an FBI agent is the ability to understand our emotions because they drive our thinking and behavior.

Emotional competence is the ability to predict your response so you are not surprised by your reaction to a wrinkle in a major deal, a team reorganization, or an unplanned event. If you can predict your response, you can plan how to land on your feet when confronted with the unknown.

TIP:

  • Understand how and why you reacted to a similar situation in the past.
  • Understand what worked, and what did not—be honest with yourself.
  • Understand how you can replicate the positive outcomes and minimize the negative ones.
  • Understand when similar situations can arise so you can prepare for your response.

3. SHARPEN EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE BY LABELING YOUR EMOTIONS

In his book, Your Brain at Work, David Rock explains that honestly labeling your emotion is a great way to control it, whether its good and bad. It’s stupid to pretend a negative emotion doesn’t exist, or attempt to avoid it.

Instead, be mentally tough and learn how to control it.

Labeling is being able to accurately identify an emotion when it arises. This prevents it from taking over because when you name it, you move out of the emotional limbic brain system and into the thinking, cerebral brain.

TIP:

  • Describe an emotion in a word or two, and it will help to reduce the emotion.
  • However, if you open up a dialogue about an emotion, it will only increase its intensity.

4. SHARPEN EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE BY MANAGING YOUR EMOTIONS

There is stress that motivates, promotes well-being, and enables you to perform well. Even though it is positive, you can’t stay in that state forever because you will eventually feel burnout.

Negative emotions produce a uncomfortable feeling because it feels like you’re fighting for survival all the time. Eventually you’ll experience health problems.

Learning to manage your emotions is the magic bullet in emotional competence. If you can name the emotion you are experiencing, you can contain it.

TIP:

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When I am stressed or anxious, what is my go-to strategy?
  • Is my go-to strategy effective?
  • If so, why? If not, why not?
  • How can I develop a wider set of strategies when stressed or anxious?

Emotional competence is an incredibly important skill across all aspects of business and life. How do you sharpen up yours?

© 2016 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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Your Employees Wish You Had Emotional Intelligence

April 22nd, 2016 by LaRae Quy

This article originally appeared in The Economist, Executive Education Navigator and is reprinted here with permission:

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In a recent survey by The Economist Executive Education Navigator of more than 4,000 professionals, a sharp divergence emerged between skills that C-Suite executives think they need and those that their employees want them to prioritize. In fact, answers from the two groups were nearly inverse.

In the survey, which was conducted on Economist.com, C-Suite executives most frequently cited technology and finance as the two areas where they sought to improve. Yet when lower-ranking employees were asked what skills they wished their top executives would hone, leadership and emotional intelligence were the most popular answers.

That employees think it would be helpful for their bosses to buff up leadership skills is practically a truism. But emotional intelligence? That’s new and could explain the rise of executive-development courses with names like “Leading with Emotional Intelligence” (Emory), “Mindful Leadership” (Cranfield) and “Leading with Greater Self-Awareness” (Weatherhead).

Sitting in your corner office and still leaning towards that seminar on analyzing Big Data? No harm there. But in case you find yourself wanting to follow the popular mood, here are some links to emotional intelligence programs for leaders.

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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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Leadership, Trust, and the SyFy Channel

April 17th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

One of the reasons I decided to accept the offer to become the FBI spokesperson in Northern California is because I would be in a leadership position and able to cultivate trust with the public by sharing information about the great investigations being conducted by our agents.

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The public needs to understand how law enforcement agencies like the FBI work. I was not afraid to be transparent about all aspects of our work because I truly believe the FBI is the world’s foremost investigative agency.

I quickly found out that many of my fellow agents did not feel the same way about developing trust with the public. They wanted to keep investigations and their work shrouded in secrecy. What they could never understand is that when things are kept in the dark, they take on a life of their own and that is never good for an organization like the FBI that depends upon the public’s support and assistance to solve most of their cases.

One of my former colleagues called for an internal investigation after the publication of my first book, “Secrets Of A Strong Mind.” A fellow counterintelligence agent, she accused me of handing over too much information to the “other side.” Never mind that it was 1) unclassified, 2) written about hundreds of times before, and 3) common sense!

She is, of course, extremely paranoid and might have made a better CIA or KGB officer than FBI agent. FBI Headquarters sided with me because they know that if I err, it is on the side of portraying the FBI in too positive of a light! The FBI is not a perfect organization but one that I was very proud to represent for 24 years.

Recently, my good friend James Wedick put me in touch with the SyFy channel. They were creating a backstory trailer about undercover work to promote a new TV series called Hunters. They interviewed me, another former FBI agent, and a retired CIA officer.

Here are four things I kept in mind about developing trust when preparing for the SyFy channel’s video:

1. IT’S NOT WHAT YOU DO, IT’S HOW YOU LOOK DOING IT

I was concerned at first because my first reaction to the SyFy channel’s request was—how will this make the FBI look? Hunters is about alien terrorists, after all!

But the more I talked to the producer of the backstory trailer, the more convinced I was that they had two priorities: 1) producing an interesting series, and 2) leveraging as much reality as possible into a storyline created by the same folks who gave us The Walking Dead (one of my absolute favorite TV shows!)

ACTION POINT: Whether it’s a backstory for a show about alien terrorists, or making a presentation in front of your colleagues, approach each and every project with the same amount of integrity because you never know who is watching or listening.

2. TRUST REQUIRES HONESTY

Unfortunately, I worked with a lot of agents who believed that the best way to get the job done was to act tough, and it’s true that is all some criminals understand. But being a tough guy can only get you so far—as many of those same colleagues can attest after experiencing failed relationships, broken families, and endless child support payments.

ACTION POINT: When you are afraid to be honest with yourself, and others, your ability to create trust is extremely limited. People may be too polite to call you a phoney to your face but your credibility diminishes a little each time you open your disingenuous little mouth.

3. EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE IS THE REAL DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

Believe me, you will never hear touchy-feely words thrown about in the halls of any FBI office. There are still a fair number of agents who believe that brute strength and ignorance will take them wherever they need to go.

The truly successful agents, however, know that developing trust requires emotional competence. This includes:

  • Self-awareness—so they can predict how they will react when confronted with the unknown.
  • Empathy—they are able to relate to others in an honest way.
  • Managing their emotions—if they cannot regulate their response to a variety of situations, they automatically lose the upper hand.

ACTION POINT: If you want to be mentally tough, you must be able to control your emotions, and the only way to do that is to become emotionally aware.

4. WORK WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT; NOT WHAT YOU WISH YOU HAD

When talking to people, it’s important to be able to admit mistakes and to be smart enough to learn from your failures. No one wants to listen to a smug prig.

It requires mental toughness to take a long, hard look at yourself so you can identify your weaknesses right as well as your strengths. Then, forget about trying to change those weaknesses; instead, learn to manage them. Don’t ignore them, but understand how to mitigate the way they limit your progress.

Spend the rest of your time developing your strengths. Not only will you be happier, you will be more successful.

ACTION POINT: Forget about romanticized versions of who you wish you were—see yourself for who you truly are, and then make that person as fiercely awesome as possible!

Play the trailer below. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did making it! 

presented by the SyFy channel

© 2016 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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4 Ways Mentally Tough Leaders Get Organized

April 10th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I woke up and went to bed with with a crushing number of emails, meetings, conference calls, interviews, and things that all needed to get done—now!

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I worked all day only to come home at night and spend several more hours trying to get out from under the workload. My grueling schedule had nothing to do with poor organizational skills; instead, it reflected the way I thought about the tasks before me.

I needed to become a mentally tough leader to overcome the psychological obstacles that prevented me from getting more organized with my time.

Taking control of your emotions, thoughts, and behavior takes mental toughness because you need to be very intentional about how you overcome the mental obstacles that slow you down.

Leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners have a lot to get done—and only 24 hours in the day in which to do it!

Here are 4 ways you can be mentally tough and get organized:

1. MENTALLY TOUGH LEADERS ADMIT PROCRASTINATION TRAITS

We tend to shrink from specific tasks for several reasons but there is nothing you can do about it until you become aware of why you are procrastinating. Ask yourself, “Why do I keep not wanting to do this?”

Perhaps for one of these reasons:

  • Overcoming the learning curve is daunting if it’s a new project
  • Fear of making a poor decision
  • Expectations of perfection
  • Boredom for the task has set in—this one will sink you. If you’re bored with your task, it’s time to be honest about how you can change either your attitude or your assignment.

BOTTOM LINE:  Stop blaming distractions and drill down to uncover the real emotional obstacle that is slowing you down.

2. MENTALLY TOUGH LEADERS STOP FOCUSING ON TOO MUCH PROGRESS

Leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners need to spend an inordinate amount of time mulling over strategy and future steps. This type of thinking is open-ended and involves uncertainty—this is your most important work.

But, many times we get bogged down in relatively unimportant work—stuff that needs to get done but doesn’t move the needle toward where you are headed.

Once you realize that 1) you engage in both types of work, and 2) both are necessary, it’s easier to grasp why some types of work trigger bigger returns than others. When you do, it changes the way you think about how to organize your day.

The important work is what will take you to the next level of performance; the unimportant work will keep you right where you are.

Both have their place in our daily routine. Unimportant work leaves us satisfied—we’ve accomplished something and crossed an item off our to-do list. Important work, however, makes us happier.

We are happier when we’re focused and immersed in something that provides with value and meaning. According to Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling On Happiness, a wandering mind is not a happy mind.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi contends that the concept of flow happens when we are engaged in important work that is very satisfying and our attention is focused on something that is good and concrete. We enter a state where we’re giving full and rapt attention to something that we’re good at and is important to us.

BOTTOM LINE: Schedule time for your important work in each day of your week.

3. MENTALLY TOUGH LEADERS NIP MONKEY MIND IN THE BUD

Mentally tough leaders do not ignore noise and distractions—that is impossible! But they can control their restless and unsettled “monkey mind” by quieting it as soon as they recognize it.

This is a basic premise of mental toughness: If we are aware of what we are thinking, we can chose our behavior.

Meditation takes a mentally tough mind because it is constantly saying “no” to intrusive thoughts and emotions.

BOTTOM LINE: Identify and eliminate those behaviors and thoughts that mess up your schedule. Conduct a review of how your monkey mind sabotaged your day. The error is not messing up; the error is not fixing it so that you don’t mess up next time.

4. MENTALLY TOUGH LEADERS AVOID PEOPLE WHO KIDNAP THEIR TIME

I learned to say “no” to people who had nothing better to do than sit around and talk. As Warren Buffett said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.”

I came to work every day focused on what was important for me to accomplish that day.

Dan Ariely aptly points out that saying “no” feels bad and hard because humans are social creatures. Most of us want to be nice and a team player.

BOTTOM LINE: Guard your time carefully by spending it with people who can help you become the person you want to be. It may feel good to say “yes,” but you need to focus on what is important to you.

How do you organize your day so you can be your most productive?

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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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4 Ways To Overcome Spectacular Failure

April 3rd, 2016 by LaRae Quy

I was a new agent and had just been given my first surveillance assignment. I sat outside the subject’s house and waited. And waited. For something—anything—to happen. Hours later, I found myself asleep. Actually, it was a supervisor who found me and blew his horn. I jolted awake but I had been caught; it was both an embarrassing experience and a spectacular failure.

The pain of my failure was so acute that I never wanted to experience it again.

As leaders, entrepreneurs and business owners, you will experience failure and setbacks; and by now, you also probably know that you can learn a lot from them.

Unfortunately, the truly useful failures that change our thoughts and behavior (as opposed to merely stupid decisions) are somewhat rare. But it is possible to treat all failure and setbacks as strategic input on how to improve performance next time.

It didn’t take long for the supervisor who found me asleep on the surveillance assignment to spread the word to my colleagues. I swallowed my pride, kept a positive attitude, found ways to get interested in my assignment, and rewrote the ending by changing the focus from what I did wrong to what I was doing right.

Here are 4 ways you can overcome spectacular failure and setbacks: 

1. PUNCTURE THE EGO AND ADMIT YOUR FAILURE

The higher up the chain of command, the harder it is to admit a mistake.

But, the best thing a leader can do is share a few personal failures with other team members. This is where a big dose of humility and a small ego will serve them well. Mentally tough leaders do not always have to be right.

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When you communicate this to other team members, it does several things:

  1. Assures them you won’t point the finger of blame at someone if something goes wrong
  2. Encourages others to be more open, and honest, about their performance
  3. Creates an environment of innovation and experimentation
  4. Indicates that you truly understand the consequences of creative problem solving
  5. Gives others permission to bring potential problems to leadership’s attention earlier rather than later

Too often, leadership talks about a strategy of “trial and error” but their reaction to failure undermines their message.

2. MAINTAIN THE RIGHT ATTITUDE ABOUT FAILURE

People with strong mind make their emotions obey their logic.

Mental toughness is managing your emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set you up for success. Your rational and thinking brain may understand the value of risk and failure, but your emotional, limbic brain system does not!

The only way to take control of your emotions is to focus on what you are actually learning from the experience.

As your brain learns, it adapts. What created fear, initially, is tempered by the thinking brain’s ability to see positive outcomes in the midst of a disappointment, failure, or setback. The more you fail, the less you’re afraid of it. And that is a good thing because it means you’re in control of your emotions.

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If you focus on what you’ve learned, it suppresses the negative emotional reaction.

Remember—the key to success is avoiding the same mistake next time—so fail, but learn the lesson.

3. START ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS ABOUT FAILURE

Rather than having all the answers, ask more questions.

The best questions always start with, “How, when, why, and what?” These are open-ended questions that invite conversation and discussion.

Curiosity is the foundation of life-long growth. If we remain curious, we remain teachable so that our minds and hearts grow larger with each passing day. We can retain our beginner’s mind by always looking forward and discovering new experiences and uncovering new information.

Success seduces us into becoming set in our ways. “It’s working,” we say to ourselves, so we settle into comfort zones that begin to look more and more like ruts as we age.

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Curiosity is important for peak performance because it:

  1. Makes your mind active instead of passive
  2. Encourages you to be more observant of new ideas
  3. Opens up new worlds and possibilities
  4. Creates an adventurous response that leads you in a new direction

4. WRAP FAILURE UP THE RIGHT WAY

Behavioral scientists have indicated that the way in which we predict our future behavior is determined by our past memories.

If team members end a project with a sense of failure and hopelessness, their only memory of the experience will be negative. They will not move on to another project with a sense of growth.

As the leader, entrepreneur, or business owner, you have the power to create an atmosphere of trust and appreciation—whether or not the project was a failure or a success.

In the book, The Other “F” Word, the authors suggest that the best workplaces are formed on a foundation of trust, and trust is not forged when things are going great. Instead, it is formed when things are not going great because this is when team members learn who has their back.

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There is a difference between failing, and learning from your failure. Learning from failure is an active process that requires you to put as much thought into it as you do how you plan to achieve success.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of complacency when confronted with a failure or setback because it takes more effort to extract the lesson to be learned than it does to shrug, give up, and move on.

The way in which you deal with failure determines how you will achieve success—LaRae Quy

What recommendations do you have for ways that leadership can pass failure with flying colors?

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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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3 Tips To Get You Through Any Challenge

March 20th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

A few years back, I faced a challenge that literally changed my life.

Challenge

I was on a treadmill for my annual physical and the attending physician suddenly shouted for me to stop—immediately. He said the test was showing I had ischemia, a condition wherein the heart does not get enough oxygen and stops beating, resulting in instant death.

The FBI sent me to a heart specialist and prohibited me from participating in firearms or any activity that involved physical exertion. The ischemia scare was a life-changing event for me; it’s the primary reason healthy athletes drop dead.

I suffered a long period of high-magnitude stress. In the months that followed, it was determined that my heart gulps for oxygen, corrects itself, and recovers quickly. While my physical condition was eventually diagnosed as excellent, I had suffered my first health crisis.

A challenge is amplified when we don’t see it coming, when we don’t have any control over it, and when it’s something we’ve never had to deal with before.

I had to find a way to get through this challenge, so I turned to research conducted by the U.S. Army on Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD). We all deal with stress, trauma, and crises in different ways.

When faced with a traumatic event, most people react with symptoms of depression and anxiety, but within a month or so are physically and psychologically back to where they were before the trauma. They accept responsibility for their actions, forget about blaming others, and move. That is resilience.

The study found that some have a tougher time and may need counseling and medication to get through. There are a few individuals, however, who actually have post-traumatic growth. They, too, first experience depression and anxiety, but within a year they are actually better off than they were before the trauma, crisis, or challenge.

These were the people I needed to learn from, and so do you if you’re in leadership, a business owner, or an entrepreneur because you’ve also faced your share of challenges. If you have mental toughness, you will learn from your experiences so you are stronger than when you started. 

Mental toughness is managing our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that set us up for success.

Here are 3 tips on how you can use mental toughness to help get you through any challenge:

1. THINK ABOUT YOUR CHALLENGE DIFFERENTLY

Soldiers who experienced a crisis or trauma were able to reframe the trauma in such a way that they could extract meaning from it.

Although they are able to reinterpret their situation, it is not blind optimism or disingenuous positive thinking that creates the change. The suffering is real; the difference is that they use positivity as a mental framework for turning their suffering into achievement and self-improvement.

ACTION: Post-traumatic growth does not mean you will be free of the memories or grief. If you try to put your life back together and pretend that nothing has happened, you’ll remain fractured and vulnerable. But if you accept the breakage, you can cultivate growth within yourself, become more resilient, and open to new ways of living.

2. USE DIFFERENT LANGUAGE WHEN TALKING ABOUT YOUR CHALLENGE

Mental toughness in the face of crisis and trauma is not simply about coping; it is intentionally choosing to change the way your see yourself and the challenge you are experiencing. It is not choosing to be a victim.

It is estimated that we say between 300 to 1000 words to ourselves per minute. If we speak positively to ourselves, we can over ride fear, worry, and anxiety when faced with adversity or trauma. Emotions are processed by the limbic brain system.

Brain imaging has shown that negative emotions interfere with the brain’s ability to solve problems and other cognitive functions.

ACTION: Since the brain responds so powerfully to negative emotions, you must intentionally choose positive thoughts to interrupt the brain’s tendency toward negativity.

3. SHARE YOUR CHALLENGE TO DEVELOP DEEPER RELATIONSHIPS 

People who experience post traumatic growth are able to do so only when they deepen their relationships with others. Their depth and appreciation for those relationships is extraordinary.

Soldier Fitness programs have identified these key areas as essential for resilience and post traumatic growth:

  1. Re-connecting with families, relatives, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Positive growth from trauma is nurtured by supportive relationships.
  2. Volunteering, in whatever capacity, to ease the pain and suffering of the general population. The benefit we receive when helping others is as great as the feelings of wellbeing from those we help.
  3. Asking help from other people when everything seems insurmountable. This is the time to let go of individualistic attitude in favor of collective efforts.
  4. Turning to one’s faith as a source of solace and comfort. Numerous studies have discovered that religious and spiritual activities can moderate depression and stress.

ACTION: You are stronger than you think you are. Remember to focus on how to change your emotions, thoughts, and behavior when a challenge or adversity comes your way.

Consider the words of Warren Buffett in a recent Wall Street Journal article: “The truth is, everything that has happened in my life… that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better.

How have you turned a crushing event or challenge in your life into something for the better?

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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 Ways To Train Your Mind To Think Like A Winner

March 13th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

One of the first things I learned as an FBI Agent was that to be successful, I would need to think like a winner.

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When pulling a gun to make an arrest, there is no room for error—not only did I need to be right, I needed to come out on the winning side.

My state of mind directly impacted my performance. I needed to be mindful, in the present moment, and in complete control of what was surging through my thoughts even if I was nervous, stressed and under pressure.

Thinking like a winner is not rocket science; it sounds easy, but many entrepreneurs and business owners fail to do this because they are not consciously aware of their thoughts.

Without awareness of what we are thinking, we cannot control where the mind goes—and as we all know, the mind can sometimes have a life of its own.

Here are 5 ways to train your mind to think like a winner:

1. Run The Show To Think Like A Winner

Run the show by controlling your thoughts, rather than letting your thoughts control you.

To do this, you will need to become more connected to them throughout your day. 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.

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.

Meditation is an excellent way move out of your subconscious and be an observer of your own thoughts, even the ones that frighten you.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

As an investigator, I learned to continually question my assumptions about almost everything! But by doing so, I trained my mind to be alert about everything going on around me.

Move out of your subconscious by intentionally choosing to observe, question, challenge, or dismiss new pieces of information that come your way.

2. Stimulate Your Mind To Think Like A Winner

Introducing humor and playing with ideas are both 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.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

My fellow FBI agents frequently used humor to defray tense and stressful situations. Humor helps our mind change the way it views our stressors. Laughter is a physical response that relaxes us.

By training your mind to be playful, it will make it easier to take in new information from outside your current situation and then use this new information to help you think through problems.

3. Visualize Your Success To Think Like A Winner

The benefits of visioning our performance is based on solid science. 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.

Dopamine is the chemical that becomes active when we encounter situations that are linked to rewards from the past. It enables us to not only see rewards, but to move toward those rewards.

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

Defensive tactics was an exercise in visualization because we were taught how to anticipate the movements of a person avoiding arrest. By visualizing what could go wrong, we prepared ourselves to be successful.

You can do the same thing: if you have a speaking engagement or a meeting, visualize what you will say and how you will say it.

4. Tap Into Your Inner Self To Think Like A Winner

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.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

While the FBI is not a touchy-feely group of people, they are able to tap into their purpose and passion—it’s what motivates them to chase terrorists and other criminals.

If your only goal is to make money and buy more stuff, you are thinking liking a loser, not a winner. You are one of the narcissistic people who fall apart when external conditions turn threatening because you are only intrinsically motivated to help yourself. 

5. Get Specific Sooner To Think Like A Winner

Getting specific requires us to:

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

The shotgun approach works only if you are not sure of your options, but a laser focused approach is what will yield the best results once a decision is made.

Smart people specify, prioritize, and focus on specific opportunities that they know will most likely lead to their success. These 5 steps outlined above are 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.

Training your mind to think like a winner is not always easy, and like anything else, it takes practice.

How have your trained yourself to think like a winner?

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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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