4 Things Successful Women Need To Know About Mental Toughness

March 27th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

Successful women take a different approach than their counterparts. The obstacles they face are tremendous, but what is commonplace among them is this: they are mentally tough.

This is not surprising to me because I understand that mental toughness is essential to overcome obstacles. As a new FBI agent, I thought learning how to shoot a gun and arrest terrorists would make me successful. I did not expect to learn that my biggest, and perhaps most important skill set, would be to develop the mental toughness needed to prevail in my circumstances.

Successful women also need to prevail in their circumstances because they need to work around unsurmountable obstacles, whether climbing the corporate ladder or achieving growth in their own businesses.

Many people believe mental toughness is a type of rigid thinking that plows through obstacles and roadblocks; while that approach might work in football, it doesn’t work in business and life.

Successful women have the mental toughness to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set them up for success.

Here are 4 things successful women need to know about mental toughness:

1. START WITH EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE

As a female FBI agent, I relied heavily upon emotional intelligence to help me recruit foreign spies to work for the U.S. government. Emotional intelligence is your ability to 1) identify and manage your own emotions; 2) pick up on the emotions of others and manage them; and 3) in so doing, build trust and grow influence.

We all feel the pressure to succeed and in today’s competitive market, it takes more than intelligence to keep ahead of the pack—it also takes competence. We all know people who are intelligent but not necessarily successful.

Successful women know what makes them tick. Self-knowledge is a powerful tool because when times are tough the last thing you need is to waste precious energy in trying to interpret your lack of decisiveness.

Time spent on understanding yourself is incredibly worthwhile, followed by your ability to relate to others and empathize with what they are feeling and experiencing.

Tip:

Girls are given permission to get in touch with their inner emotions more than boys, so take advantage of it. It is a soft skill that will allow you to make the hard decisions later in your career.

2. EMBRACE RESILIENCE

One of the first things I learned in the FBI Academy was that in order to be successful I would need to learn how to adapt if I wanted to overcome an unexpected blow from left-field. When you are chasing terrorists, you need to know how to land on your feet when confronted with the unknown.

Successful women do the same because resilience not only allows them to bounce back from setbacks, it also propels them to bounce around obstacles and roadblocks.

Confidence is an important element of resilience. If you have confidence in yourself, failure is taken in stride because you see it as a learning opportunity. If you refuse to learn from your failure, it doesn’t make you a loser—it makes you stupid. This means straightening your back and taking responsibility without whining, pointing fingers, or blaming others.

Confidence in yourself allows you to absorb the unexpected blow and remain non-defensive. If something doesn’t turn out as expected, you will remain flexible and look for new ways to solve the problem.

Tip:

Trace the origins of self-limiting beliefs about what you can, or cannot, accomplish in life. Pinpoint when and how they took root in your thinking. Develop the courage to push yourself into discomfort zones that will allow you blast through each self-limiting belief that is holding you back from success.

3. DRAW ON WILLPOWER

Willpower is that thing that pushes you to the next level despite obstacles and setbacks. It’s what keeps FBI agents on a case when there is no easy answer in sight. Sometimes, in order to find a kidnapping victim or arrest a terrorist, agents need to rely not only on their skills and training, but also on their sheer will and determination to cross the finish line.

Many people could improve their lives if only they had more of that mysterious thing called willpower, but most of us do not believe we have enough of it. In the American Psychological Association’s annual survey on stress, people cited lack of willpower as the No. 1 barrier to following through with changes that would improve their lives.

Tip:

Willpower requires grit, endurance, determination, and persistence. Keep this in mind: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”—Calvin Coolidge

4. DEVELOP A CHAMPION MINDSET

When I walked into my new FBI office, I was viewed as a curiosity more than anything else. In the 1980’s there weren’t that many female FBI agents; everyone was polite but distant. I pretended not to notice when the guys grabbed their jackets and headed out the door for lunch without inviting me. I also pretended not to notice that I wasn’t included in the informal squad debriefings about the most important cases.

We’ve all been in situations where it’s hard to keep a positive attitude. When this happens, we have intentionally to choose to be positive because we all have an innate bias toward negativity. We process bad news faster than good news because our brain is survival driven. Survival is a tough, uncompromising business. For centuries our brain programmed us to “Get lunch—not BE lunch.”

Tip:

We can chose to be influenced by our negativity bias, or conversely, pursue positive thinking. The choice is ours. We can choose to learn from our experiences and be better, or feel sorry for ourselves and be bitter.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

6 Ways To Face Your Fears

March 20th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

The FBI Academy taught me how to face my fears. By the time I graduated, this was my thinking: Drop me into the middle of any squad or any situation, anywhere, anytime.  Heck, throw me into the middle of a swimming pool with a gun (one of our physical fitness tests!) I will not be scared because I am confident I will succeed wherever I am.

I became mentally stronger by facing my fears. If my coaches weren’t pushing me into a discomfort zone, they weren’t doing their job.

Your success depends upon your ability to face your fears when confronted with stiff competition, adversity, economic downturns, and other sources of stress. Setbacks are a part of any business endeavor. If you react to them productively, you’re game-ready for whatever comes your way.

Here are 6 ways to face your fears:

1. GET BACK IN THE SADDLE

My shetland pony bucked me off when I was 6 years old. I started to cry and walk away but my dad made me get right back on. And it had to be right then and there, not later when I’d plucked up enough resolve to have another go at riding the pony.

Research shows that new memories remain unstable for a short period of time after the event. During the unstable period, memories are being coded and consolidated into your consciousness.

We can erase our fear if we can alter our memory of it, and the best time to do that is during the unstable period. If we can interrupt the coding and consolidating, we can change our memory about an unpleasant event.

How To Make It Work For You: If you experience a terrifying event or situation, the best thing you can do is replace that memory with a better one—right away. Take the opportunity to update and transform your memory. It is important, however, that you make sure your environment is safe before trying to extinguish your fear-conditioned memory.

2. ACCEPT YOUR FEAR

Fear can be a great way to alert you to a dangerous situation. Moderate amounts of fear can sharpen your focus and decision-making skills.

It can also keep you on your toes because when we become complacent, mistakes can start to happen.

How To Make It Work For You: When you face your fears, you can keep them manageable. Accept that some fear can work for you and learn to distinguish the healthy fear from that which paralyzes you or produces unhealthy doses of stress. Don’t let it get so big that it turns into panic.

3. STAND UP TO STRESS

Whether you hang tough or give up often depends upon your ability to adapt to stress. A resilient person is not someone who avoids stress; it is someone who learns how to nip it in the bud.

Researchers have discovered that the neural circuits that govern fear interact with the ones that govern reward. As a result of these connections, how you face your fears is related to your ability to remain upbeat under stress.

How To Make It Work For You: The area of the brain that is producing anxiety and fear overlaps with the area of the brain responsible for positive emotions. This is one of the reasons it’s hard to be stressed out and happy or content at the same time. Strengthen the positive emotions so they can tampen down your fear.

4. FOCUS ON THE GOAL

When we focus our attention on our fear, or on the negative, precious energy is being wasted fretting about our situation. One of the best ways to face your fears is to starve them of attention.

Instead, think of the bigger goal at stake. As Simon Sinek suggests, focus on your why. It’s important that your mission and goals be important to you. When the goal has value and meaning for you, you have only one choice: either back down and fail, or forge ahead.

How To Make It Work For You: When you are afraid, turn your attention away from the thing that is creating the fear. Instead, focus on your goal.

5. ACQUIRE LOTS OF INFORMATION

Much of our fear is associated with embracing the unknown. We fear what we don’t know.

FBI agents making arrests face the unknown because they can’t predict how an individual will react when arrested. To alleviate the fear they may experience, they do several things.

First, they practice arrest scenarios with red handled guns that do not have firing pins. This provides them with experience in difference situations so they are exposed to as many potential arrest scenarios as possible. This helps them from being surprised by the unknown.

Second, they collect as much information about the person to be arrested as possible. The agents can prepare if they have reason to believe the suspect might be armed and dangerous.

Third, agents qualify in firearms 4 times a year so they are constantly fine-tuning their skills. By the time they actually make an arrest, they do not need to think about what to do because they’ve done it before so many times.

How To Make It Work For You: Find out as much as possible about what you fear. Practice how you can overcome this fear until it becomes second nature to you.

6. FIND YOUR TRIBE

When you are a member of a tribe, you have an acute sense of belonging—you feel accepted and safe when things go wrong.

During my first 3 weeks of the FBI Academy, new agents like myself were not allowed to leave the Marine Corp base. We spent 24 hours a day with each other—building the trust and familiarity that creates a tribe.

How To Make It Work For You: In times of stress and anxiety, it’s easy to feel neglected. It’s impossible to instantly create deep bonds of familiarity and trust. Don’t wait until things go wrong to start finding your tribe. Start now.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

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

How Emotional Intelligence Is A Woman Leader’s Secret Weapon

March 13th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

FBI counterintelligence agents like myself rely heavily upon emotional intelligence. It helps us to be successful in identifying foreign spies so we can recruit them to work for the U.S. government.

Emotional intelligence is your ability to 1) identify and manage your own emotions; 2) pick up on the emotions of others and manage them; and 3) in so doing, build trust and grow influence.

It is not necessarily a skill that people associate with FBI agents. Loud, boisterous, and pushy behavior may get attention, but it certainly does not get respect.

Meanwhile, a softer skill like emotional intelligence often goes unnoticed. It is not related to book smarts or a formula that includes aggressive behavior relying upon intimidation to be effective.

I have never had a loud voice, but I’ve always had a strong one.

There is lots of bewilderment when either men or women get these two voices confused. Many leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners have traditionally been men who followed a formula of aggression and intimidation to get to the top. Now many women are using that same formula to see where it can take them.

And here is how well it’s working: women are dying of heart disease at the same rate as men. Yet they still struggle not only rise to top level positions, but to stay there as well.

I had a choice in my law enforcement career—I could try to be someone I am not and swagger around the FBI hallways with a gun strapped to my hip. Or, I could be the best version of me by developing my natural skills and talents without worrying whether or not I fit in with others who relied upon intimidation.

Here are 4 reasons emotional intelligence is a woman leader’s secret weapon:

1. MEN DON’T HAVE PERMISSION TO BE EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT

Women in the workforce need to grab success however they can, but too many of them are throwing away their advantages by trying to be like men.

Little girls are given permission by society to be empathetic, use language that expresses emotions, and place priorities on developing deep and meaningful relationships (starting with dolls).

Both girls and boys may develop mental toughness through sports activities. However, many boys tend to grow into men who rely on harder skills like aggression as their default reaction to stress. They don’t pay as much attention to softer skills like empathy and self-awareness.

Conversely, women are encouraged to develop these softer skills. The good news is that these essential skills can be learned as they climb up the career ladder.

I’ve known a few touchy-feely men, and they were incredibly successful FBI agents. But they ran against the grain of the macho stereotype that people have of the FBI, including most new agents who show up at Quantico.

TIP: As a parent, encourage your child to develop a good vocabulary to describe their emotional state of mind at any given time. As an adult, start exploring words to describe what you are feeling in times of stress, joy, and relaxation. You may find this hard at first because we are simply not groomed to be fluent in the language of emotions.

2. USE EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE TO INCREASE INFLUENCE

It is too simplistic to describe men or women as having innate advantages that will better equip them to move into top level positions. In today’s competitive environment, leaders need to be seen as having the collaborative traits that are the by-product of emotional intelligence.

In an intriguing study by the Hay Group, it was found that high levels of emotional intelligence were found in work situations where women executives were required to lead by influence rather than direct authority.

In this study, emotional intelligence skills were more prevalent in executive-level women than their male counterparts. It is believed that women often face barriers throughout their careers that require them to develop emotional intelligence skills they need to advance in their organizations.

TIP: Scrappy women will develop the skills necessary to move into the executive suite—success in the future is going to depend a great deal upon a leader’s ability to leverage a variety of skills and approaches in order to grow their business.

3. WOMEN ARE NOT NATURALLY BETTER AT EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE THAN MEN

There is not a lot of research or science to back up the common belief that women are naturally better at emotional intelligence than men. What matters most is the level of motivation of both men and women.

For example, this same Hay Group study indicated that among women and men below the executive level, differences between men and women were less pronounced.

And when you look at the stars—leaders in the top ten percent of business performance—gender differences in emotional intelligence abilities wash out. The men are as good as the women, the women as good as the men, across the board.

TIP: If you have the mental toughness and grit to stick with it, you can acquire the emotional intelligence skills you need to be a top performer—male or female.

4. BRAINS ARE DIFFERENT, THOUGH

Women are considered to be more empathetic, however. According to neuroscientists, empathy is found in a region called the insula, which senses signals from our whole body. When we empathize with someone, our brain mimics what that person feels. The insula reads that pattern and identifies the feeling.

This is where women are different from men. If the other person is upset, women’s brains tend to stay with those feelings. Men’s brains do something else; they sense the feelings for a moment. And then tune out of the emotions and switch to other brain areas that try to solve the problem that’s creating the disturbance.

So when a woman complains that a man has tuned out emotionally, it usually means their brains are processing the information differently. 

When men tune-out, it can insulate them from distress so they remain calm while others are in a state of high drama. They focus on finding a solution to the urgent problem.

Women’s tendency to stay tuned-in helps them nurture and support others when emotions are running high.

TIP: It’s important to remember that neither is better and both have advantages.

Women seeking top level executive positions need to improve their emotional competency. It enlarges their ability to: cope with pressure, build trust, negotiate, influence others, navigate workplace politics, and take smart risks.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

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

4 Ways Intuition Can Help You Make Better Decisions

March 6th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

Most of the FBI agents I worked alongside for 24 years would dismiss intuition as emotional and irrational. Yet we all relied upon it to make good decisions when confronted with the unknown.

For me, intuition was often sensing the direction of a furtive movement during an arrest, knowing that someone was still alive under rubble, or feeling that there was something awry in a suspect’s answer.

It’s not only FBI agents who need to harness the power of intuition. Investors find the stock market a crapshoot, entrepreneurs are surprised by unexpected advances by the competition, and business leaders can never count on the bottom line.

We have been conditioned to believe that conscious thought is more important than unconscious knowledge.

The rules and principles that guide instinct and intuition are unsophisticated but surprisingly accurate. Gerd Gigerenzer, a psychologist at the Max Plank Institute for Human Development in Berlin, makes an important point in his book “Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of Unconscious” when he argues that instinct and intuition are not impulsive—they have their own brain-based rationale.

Here are 4 ways you can use intuition to make better decisions:

1. NOTICE NAGGING FEELINGS

Start developing your intuition by paying attention to clues in noncritical situations. For example, image that you are talking to another person and they make a “throwaway” statement, something that seems to be an afterthought, maybe adding some additional details for no apparent reason. And yet, everything is for a reason.

Pay attention to what your gut instinct is telling you about your friend’s throwaway statement. It must have meant something or they wouldn’t have mentioned it. Follow up with your friend and ask for clarification; then see how accurate you were in reading your own intuition about the matter. 

Many times we are so intimately familiar with the subject that we fail to notice a new clue. Be diligent and notice the niggling, small things that stick in your mind. That is your unconscious memory trying to bring something to your conscious attention.

How To Make It Work For You: Recall a time when you couldn’t get rid of a nagging feeling about someone or something. In retrospect, what was your unconscious trying to tell you? What did you do about it? Keep track of nagging feelings and notice when, and how, they helped you chose the best response.

2. PURSUE INFORMATION RIGOROUSLY

In my investigations, I had hunches. I couldn’t always explain why I thought pursuing a particular line of questioning would lead to results, but I trusted those instincts and went ahead.

Testing my hunch required a deep dive into the subject and the need to study numerous possibilities. As I continued, my gut instinct told me what was, or wasn’t, important.

Intuition requires you to do the legwork. You can’t sit in an armchair and expect to be enlightened by some mystical wave of understanding. The more you educate yourself about the subject, knowing the right answer becomes more about understanding what information is important and what can be discarded.

How To Make It Work For You: Intuition often shows up as a turmoil or disturbances in our mind. Hold back from making a decision based on these feelings until you’ve vigorously collected all the information you can about each and every “hunch.”

3. TEST YOUR ASSUMPTIONS

While you are holding back from making a decision, use this time to test the assumptions that support your hunches and gut instinct. 

In my investigations, I asked myself how the assumptions I was making about each of my hunches might be wrong. This allowed me to logically look at all possible outcomes without bias. In other words, I didn’t weigh one course of action with more heft than another one.

We run into trouble with intuition when we become so attached to what we think is the right outcome that we dismiss other information that points to another conclusion.

How To Make It Work For You: Remain objective by testing the assumptions that support your intuition. If you’re correct, testing will only confirm you’re on the right path.

4. TRUST YOUR DOUBTS

Intuition that has been noticed (through nagging feelings), fed (by rigorous pursuit of information), and properly vetted (testing assumptions) will ultimately lead to something that is more concrete.

We’ve all experienced the feeling of doubt, apprehension, and even fear when it comes to following our gut.

Acknowledge these feelings because they are ways your subconscious is trying to tell you that something is there. You may not always be in a dangerous situation, but it’s important to notice when, and how, feelings come up so you recognize them when it does matter.

The key in developing intuition so you can make better decisions is to constantly explore and discover why you are experiencing feelings of doubt. You need to make better decisions so you can avoid unfavorable outcomes, but intuition must be followed by action. Otherwise, it remains nothing more than curiosity.

How To Make It Work For You: Intuition fails when it’s loaded with inaccurate information. Its not magical knowledge to be downloaded upon request. Roll up your shirtsleeves, do the work, and use your brain.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

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

5 Ways Great Leaders Get Through Tough Times

February 27th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

Great leaders are defined by tough times; this is when they either lean into their inner toughness for the grit they need to keep moving ahead, or become victim to circumstances they have not learned to control.

One of the greatest leaders of all time was Genghis Khan. He conquered substantial portions of Central Europe and China to create the largest empire in history.

Temujin was born into a nomadic Mongol tribe in 1162. When Temujin was 12 years old, his father was killed and the family left to die in the harsh Mongolian winter. Temujin and his family survived, but the lessons he learned evolving from manhood at the age of 12 into the warrior known as Genghis Khan, are timeless.

As I read his story, I was struck by how human nature never changes.

The disciplines used by Genghis Khan created a great leader who had the mental toughness he needed to prepare for the unknown and embrace the unexpected. They are the same disciplines great leaders need today to face unexpected turns in the marketplace, compete against new competition, and embrace changing technology.

Great leaders are effective, no matter the challenges they face. Here are 5 ways they get through tough times:

1. GREAT LEADERS FOCUS ON A CLEAR GOAL

Genghis’s father was the leader of his Mongolian tribe but was assassinated by a rival. Genghis  and his family were then left to starve in the cold winter. Genghis had one goal in mind as he developed the skills necessary to become a great leader in those bleak months and he never lost focus of that goal—to stay alive.

My goal was to become an FBI agent. Albeit very different circumstances, both Genghis and I dug deep to find the passion behind our goals; it’s what kept us going.

How To Make It Work For You: You owe your team a clearly defined goal worthy of dedicating their efforts. You also need to demonstrate that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Goals can shift over time so it’s important to measure progress on a regular basis.

2. TIE THAT GOAL TO A PURPOSE

While goals can shift, our purpose never does. Genghis had one purpose in life—to see the enemies who killed his father brought to justice. Even though he amassed the largest empire in history, he never became distracted by a desire for possessions or wealth as he became more powerful.

Genghis’s wounds drove him; most of us have wounds that drive us. What is important is to learn how to channel the passions that run the deepest toward achieving something we never thought possible.

How To Make It Work For You: We all come out of childhood wounded; it’s where we begin to develop the character that shows itself in great moments as adults. You have a choice: you can piss and moan about how life has handed you unfair circumstances, or you can take the bit between your teeth and convert your wounds into strengths. Grit Up and develop mental toughness.

3. BUILD UP ENDURANCE

As a boy, Genghis trained by running up and down a mountain with a mouth full of water. Over time, he got to where he could return to the starting point and spit the entire mouthful on the ground. This was a triumph that signaled he had developed the aerobic strength to run up and down mountains breathing only through his nose.

The FBI Academy had new agents run around a basketball court with a medicine ball in one hand and sweaty towel in the other. At the time, I failed to see how building endurance would make great leaders.

In hindsight, I understand they are inexorably interlinked. For both Genghis and myself, we were pursuing goals that were truly important to us.

How To Make It Work For You: Building endurance requires that you find a purpose that has value and meaning for you; persevere and do not give up, believe that you are giving it your best, and have confidence that you are in control of yourself and what happens to you.

4. STRETCH TOWARD PEAK PERFORMANCE

Genghis Khan used archery to conquer his empire. Drawing a bow and arrow from the back of a galloping horse and accurately hitting the target is not easy. Genghis mastered his art by doing two things:

1)    He developed the power to heave the thick bow back so he could aim his arrow. The Mongolian bow was covered with so many layers of sinew that it had the pull of approximately 160 pounds.

2)    He understood the movements of the horse he was riding. When a horse is galloping, there is a moment when the horse is air-borne and all four hooves are off the ground. In that split-second, as he sat in his saddle and sailed through the air in smooth flight, he could shoot his arrow with enough accuracy to hit the target.

How To Make It Work For You: Genghis Khan honed his skill with the bow and arrow. In the same way, you and I can build our mastery by pushing the boundaries of our skill levels. Experts agree that your grasp should exceed your reach by about 4% if you want to achieve peak performance.

5. DEVELOP A HIGH-FUNCTIONING TEAM

Genghis Khan took the time to understand the thinking and movements of his chosen partner—in his case, a horse. He studied the movements of the animal and synchronized them with his own so they functioned as one fluid and powerful weapon.

In this modern age, you and I work with other partners in business and life, and if we plan to be great leaders, we will need to understand the way they think so we can enable them to perform at optimal levels—especially during tough times. We need to anticipate their reactions as much as we need to anticipate our own.

How To Make It Work For You: Spend time understanding what makes your team members successful and what makes them fail. Don’t stop there; help them understand as well so they can start thinking ahead of time about how they will react in tough times. This will free up both you and team to spend your energy adapting quickly in crucial moments.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

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

A Simple Psychological Shift To Make You Successful

February 20th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

Before becoming an FBI agent, I thought I could become successful by simply working hard. It got me through school with good grades and into my first job as a fashion buyer.

My thinking shifted, however, when I met my first FBI firearms instructor. He barked out constant reminders that if I wanted to become more successful as a shooter, it would take more than hard work; it would take front-sight focus.

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

FBI firearms training prepared me for more than high scores on targets. I used front-sight focus in my investigations to distinguish between what was important and what was a distraction.

Front-sight focus is concentration and single-mindedness in reaching your goal, whether it’s aiming a weapon on the firing range, landing a new client, or taking your business to the next level.

You need front sight-focus to work through distractions so you can become successful when things go wrong in business and life.

Here are 3 tips to help you focus so you can be successful:

1. QUIET THE INNER NAG

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

Research behind the Zeigarnik Effect proves that the unconscious mind needs the conscious mind to plan how to finish tasks or accomplish goals. That’s why the inner nag keeps fretting about all that needs to be done.

How To Make It Work For You:

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

Whether it’s small or large, important or not, write down every single thing that either needs a decision or has your attention.

Do not take the time to prioritize the items on your To-Do list. First, listen to the voice of that inner nag and write down whatever pops up.

2. IDENTIFY YOUR ACTION STEP

FBI firearms training showed me to how to narrow my focus to the one thing that needs attention immediately (front-sight) while at the same time registering awareness of the bigger picture of other things around me (the target).

In the same way, your conscious mind may now be focused on a new goal, but the unconscious mind still sees everything else that needs to get done. It needs closure and it will continue to create intrusive thoughts that won’t go away until you’ve turned your attention back to those other tasks that also need to be addressed.

In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about the importance of identifying Action Steps rather than leaving it as a To-Do List.

A To-Do List does not narrow your focus enough when you have lots of priorities clamoring for your attention. You continue to create anxiety for the unconscious mind because it needs more than a goal—it needs a plan! It needs an action step.

How To Make It Work For You:

Prioritize your To-Do list. You’ve addressed all the tasks that your unconscious brain is anxious about, but now you need to prioritize each item according to importance.

Beside each item on the prioritized To-Do list, identify the specific next action step to be taken regarding that item. For example, if you need to buy a birthday present, write down “Drive to Nordstrom.”

3. CLARIFY THE ACTION

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

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

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

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

If I attack the problem by clarifying the action step I need to take, it will look something like this: “I will spend half an hour Thursday afternoon preparing an outline for the article so I’m ready to start writing it on Friday morning.”

How To Make It Work For You:

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

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

It is human nature to finish what we start, and front-sight focus is how we pay full attention to one goal at a time so we can be successful.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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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.” 

How to Stay Mentally Tough When You Face Difficult Stressors

February 13th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

Guest post by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.

Stress is on the rise! In the latest (2015) version of the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey, 78% of respondents reported at least one symptom of stress (like feeling overwhelmed) and 34% reported increases in stress since the previous year. For many stress caused mental health problems like worry or depression, difficulty sleeping, or unhealthy behaviors. One-quarter (25 percent) of those employed report snapping at or being short with co-workers because of stress. If you can’t handle your stress, you are at risk of sabotaging your health and damaging your relationships at work or with customers, which will interfere with your longer-term success.

Calming down your stressed out feelings is only one aspect of managing stress and it may not be the best strategy for every situation.  To most effectively master stress, you need to be self-aware about your own reactions. You also need to be able to focus and think clearly about your values and goals and to sustain attention and motivation in the face of roadblocks and failures. Finally and most importantly, your mindset about stress makes all the difference. Learning how to reframe stress more positively – as a challenge with potential for growth and learning – can help you feel more confident and excited about the possibilities. Building the four qualities of mental toughness: emotional competency, resilience, willpower, and attitude can set you up for success when stress inevitably hits you!

Stress and Emotional Competency

Stress sends your brain into “fight or flight” mode, which sets into play a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This response is very rapid and sometimes occurs before the conscious parts of the brain even know what’s going on. “Fight or flight” can trigger impulsive, behaviors like screaming at co-workers because your body is gearing up to fight a threat. This is where emotional competency comes in. You can’t stop “fight or flight,” but you can learn to identify when it’s happening and take a mindful pause before reacting automatically. Being mindful means being able to notice and describe what’s happening in your mind and body – observing rather than absorbing the stress. Mindfulness enhances your emotional competence because, over months and years, it actually changes the parts of the brain involved in the stress response. It also helps you find a more compassionate view of the situation, which helps you feel less stressed. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help strengthen this response.

Stress and Resilience

Resilience is another part of mental toughness that can help you deal more effectively with stress.  One aspect of resilience is “grit,” a concept defined by researcher Angela Duckworth. Grit means being able to tolerate discomfort and setbacks because you are driven by your passion for long-term goals,  Research studies in college students, salespeople, and Westpoint cadets shows that grit is just as or more important than intelligence and mental ability in determining long-term success. To build grit, you have to know what values and goals are most important to you and why. Stress makes you reactive in the moment, but grit can help you step back and take a long-term view. Think about your passion for building your business or your organization’s mission and let that empower you to plough through the difficulties.  In one study (Brooks,2014) subjects who felt anxious about public speaking were told to relabel their anxious feelings as excitement while another group was told to try to calm down.  Those in the “excitement”group felt more excited and actually performed better at the speaking task. The anxiety and adrenaline surges involved in “fight or flight” can actually fuel performance if they are managed effectively.

Stress and Willpower

One of the challenges of the stressors we face these days is that they can be chronic and that the outcomes are often at least partially out of our control. Retaining customers, making sales, and getting promotions involve making consistent effort to work hard and build relationships over long periods of time. This is where willpower comes in. Staying organized and focused on your goals means being able to manage your body’s “fight to flight” response so it doesn’t “hijack” your brain’s attention.  Time spent worrying about things you can’t control can be counterproductive and get in the way of getting things done.  Willpower means that you learn to direct your brain’s focus of attention, rather than letting automatic stress reactivity distract you. Willpower does not occur in a vacuum – you can deliberately organize your environment to sustain willpower (e.g., by programming reminders into your phone, having a vision board,  or putting your running shoes where you’ll see them).

Stress and Attitude

Research shows that your attitude towards your stress can have as much influence as the actual events in determining how well things turn out.  In a study by Crum, Salovey, and Achor (2013) the researchers used a questionnaire to assess whether people saw stress as damaging or as having some benefits.  Those who saw stress as damaging were more likely to focus on avoiding feeling stressed, which led them to miss out on opportunities to learn and grow. In their study, students who saw stress as damaging were less likely to want to hear feedback after they gave a speech. In another study (Keller et al., 2012), people who saw stress as damaging their health and who also experienced a lot of stress had a 43% increase in premature death. In a third study, participants who were able to reframe their stress reactions as functional had an improved cardiovascular response to stress and were less likely to think about negative aspects of the situation (Jamieson, Nock & Mendes, 2012). The take home message is that you need to think of your body’s stressful arousal as gearing yourself up for a challenge you can master, rather than something that threatens to derail you.

Stress is an inevitable part of life but mentally tough people know how to befriend their stress and use it to their advantage.  To learn more about your brain’s stress response and how to develop resilience, read my new book The Stress-Proof Brain, released in February 2017 and available on Amazon.

http://amzn.to/2kNwRqC

Melanie Greenberg is a practicing psychologist in Marin County California and an expert on managing stress in life, work, and relationships using proven strategies from neuroscience, mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral approaches, and positive psychology. She is the author of The Mindful Self-Express blog for Psychology Today (8 million+ page views). Her new book. The Stress-Proof Brain was released last week by New Harbinger. It received a starred positive review from Library Journal and is an Amazon bestseller in Neuropsychology and Stress-Management.

© 2017  All rights reserved.

You can follow LaRae Quy on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get LaRae’s FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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LaRae Quy is the author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

Determination — 4 Reasons Why It’s Important

February 6th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

Determination and persistence were a way of life for me growing up as a hillbilly in Wyoming. We were among the poor and rural that make up most of this state—a two-hour drive from the nearest small town.

For this reason, we had a private tutor provided by the state who lived in the house with us. I was in first grade and her name was Mrs. Garrity. A retired school teacher from Chicago, she thought living on a remote cattle ranch in the middle of Wyoming would be an adventure.

It was 10 miles on dirt road from our ranch house to the last gate on our property, and another 60 miles to town. Mrs. Garrrity went home for Christmas and was due back after the New Year. She didn’t arrive on Sunday evening as scheduled, and I was happily playing in the snow by the horse barn when I looked up and saw my grandfather screech his pickup to a halt. He didn’t even bother to open the gate and drive in. Instead, he jumped over it and motioned to my dad to join them. Immediately, both raced to the house.

The only communication available in this remote area was a two-way radio so I followed them. I knew something big was up and I couldn’t wait to find out!

It seems that Mrs. Garrity got her car stuck in a snowdrift just as she passed through that last gate that led onto our property. Perhaps she didn’t realize she was 10 miles from the ranch house, but she started to walk in the cold and dark. She made it 5 miles before she froze to death.

My grandfather had found her body beside a wire fence. He covered her up with an old tarp he had stashed in his pickup and weighed it down with 2 fence posts placed on either side of the body.

Saddened beyond words, our whole family reacted as only stoic and stalwart people can in a situation like this—we kept moving forward. We had no contingency plan for a tragedy like this. We had a body to protect from wolves and coyotes until a coroner arrived, no teacher, and absolutely no idea how I would graduate from first grade without one.

Entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders all understand how life and business can surprise us. You have plans, and they work fine, until you get sucker punched by new competition, market upheavals, or high employee turnover.

Often, your determination is the glue that holds your organization together when plans go awry or you’re confronted with an unexpected obstacle.

Here are 4 reasons determination is important to your success:

1. DETERMINATION HELPS YOU OVERCOME THE UNEXPECTED

When things do not go according to plan, it’s tempting to give up. We lose our confidence and think about moving on to something that is easier. This is exactly what most people do because we’re afraid of failure and shirk away from things that are hard and necessary.

Plans make us feel safe, but be ready when things spin out of your control so you can still land on your feet. You may need to change course and adapt in some way. Your goal remains the same, but your roadmap to get there may need to be changed.

My parents could never have anticipated Mrs. Garrity’s death, but they drilled into me the dangers of surviving winters at an altitude of 7,000 ft. We always had extra blankets and clothes in our pickup when we traveled in cold weather.

Mrs. Garrity was found wearing nothing but a dress, light jacket, low heels, and a flimsy scarf.

What It Means For You: Develop an agile mindset by trying to anticipate potential setbacks and have a contingency plan for them.

2. DETERMINATION ENABLES YOU TO KEEP FOCUSED

When things go wrong it is hard to maintain motivation and focus. Determination allows you to remain focused on long term goals so you can adjust your behavior accordingly.

Often, this requires you to keep emotions in check to prevent them from sabotaging your efforts to keep moving forward.

We were laden with grief when Mrs. Garrity died. Packing up her things and sending them, along with her body, back to Chicago was emotionally very difficult. Maintaining focus on our duty to her family remained at the forefront of our thinking.

What It Means For You: Visualize yourself accomplishing your goal no matter what it takes. Keep your eye on the goal and see yourself reaching the end.

3. DETERMINATION IS FED BY ENCOURAGEMENT AND SUPPORT

When things spin out of your control, find support and encouragement from those around you whom you trust and admire. Based on their experience and expertise, seek out their advice and suggestions on how to keep moving forward.

Successful people with determination understand that they still need to do the hard work, but it is very encouraging when you are surrounded with positive reinforcement. No one is their own island and we all need other people’s assistance. It might just be a short chat or a few words of support.

Be the person who reaches out when you need support rather than give up.

A former schoolteacher heard about our situation and agreed to replace Mrs. Garrity so I could graduate from first grade. Our predictament was shared by many good friends and neighbors who wanted to reach out and help.

What It Means For You: Do not be afraid to share your situation with others, but be picky about it. Make sure they are people who truly want what is best for you and will give you both constructive and positive feedback. Look for “mirror” friends who will be honest, loving, and objective.

4. DETERMINATION MAKES YOU DIG DEEP DOWN

If you are on a path that has value and meaning for you, you are definitely on the right path, so keep going. If you are not, then a setback or failure will be enough to make you give up and try something else.

Success can be very misleading because often it is where we stay, whether it’s what really fuels us or not. It is a success that is based in complacency because we are too scared of failure to pursue the type of work that would provide value and meaning.

What It Means For You: Don’t take the easy way out. Dig deep down and find the things that you can’t walk away from; that is your true north. When you are pursuing that kind of goal, it won’t matter what other people say because your inner vision is far stronger than any external obstacle you will come up against.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

What Brain Science Says About Getting More Organized

January 30th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

When I was deeply involved in an investigation, I had a hard time getting more organized. My workouts and journal writing would be among the first victims of my busy schedule. Then time for maintaining friendships was the next to go, and finally, no time for reading either.

I spent years thinking this was a normal reaction if I wanted to do everything in my power to stop the activities of criminals. I accepted the fact that a demanding job required trade-offs in the rest of my life.

Randi Zuckerberg called it the entrepreneur’s dilemma: “Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time w/family. Staying fit. Getting sleep. Pick 3.” To be successful, you must make sacrifices. Big ones.

As a business owner and entrepreneur, you wear multiple hats to get everything done. This means you must efficiently manage your time so you won’t get distracted, lose focus, and waste precious energy.

We have all struggled with maintaining a life-work balance because we really do want to have both a healthy private life and a successful professional career. We’ve tried all of those time-management tips about how to structure a to-do list, but it still doesn’t eliminate the problem.

And this is why:

Time management is more than just work-life balance. The way you successfully manage your time is less about a packed schedule and more about a clear and organized mind.

Here is what brain science says about getting more organized:

1. MANAGE YOUR TIME BY PRIORITIZING INFORMATION SO YOU CAN MAKE BETTER DECISIONS

We’ve all experienced a barrage of information coming at us all at once. We get paralyzed and can’t move ahead with any decision! This is a normal reaction because your brain is experiencing an overload of information that is queuing up for attention.

Just like a computer can get constipated with too many jobs coming in at once, our brain reacts in much the same way.

Your brain uses energy like every other part of your body: a typical person’s brain uses approximately 10.8 calories every hour. Since your brain is drained of power as you use it, this explains why it’s easy to get distracted when you’re tired or hungry.

Your best thinking lasts for a limited time. It’s good for a sprint but it cannot take you through the day at the same pace.

 What this means for you:

When confronted with chaos or bottlenecks, prioritize the information. This simple act actually frees up your brain’s energy so it has more space for other information and getting more organized. Otherwise, you will end feeling overwhelmed when you cannot see a way to get through your day’s work.

2. MANAGE YOUR TIME BY BEING WISE IN HOW YOU SPLIT YOUR ATTENTION

It is possible to juggle several things at once, but remember, the only way to do multiple mental tasks, if accuracy is important, is by doing them one at a time.

If you’re speaking during a meeting and you observe that people are splitting their attention by texting or checking email, announce that the next point you are going to make is important so you get their full attention.

What this means for you:

When you feel pressured by several things at once, make a conscious decision as to whether you should split your focus. Place a time limit on how long you will spend spitting your attention. And then go back to focusing on your first priority.

If a thought should enter your mind about another matter, jot a quick note to remind yourself at a later time and resume focusing on your priority.

3. MANAGE YOUR TIME BY RECOGNIZING YOUR BRAIN LOVES VISUALS

Visuals are a great way to activate the mind. That’s why storytelling, pictures, and metaphors work so well—they generate an image.

Visuals are laden with information. They provide color, shape, size, context, etc. Since they take less energy than words, they are efficient ways for the brain to process information.

What this means for you:

Use visuals to represent each priority so you can see how it will look as you approach your goal and again as you tick it off your list. There is a reason check lists are so useful when getting more organized.

Grab a pen and paper and write down your prioritized projects for the day. This saves your brain from the need to recall and review each one. Save your energy for getting those task done!

4. MANAGE YOUR TIME BY WORKING IN SPRINTS

Physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman has discovered that we operate in a 90-minute rhythm throughout the day by moving progressively through periods of higher and lower alertness. After working at high intensity for more than 90 minutes, we begin relying on stress hormones for energy.

The result is that our prefrontal cortex starts to shut down; we begin to lose our ability to think clearly and move into a physiological state commonly referred to as “fight or flight.”

This research confirms that we have a need for rhythmic pulses of rest and renewal throughout our day. Many of us rely on willpower to bulldoze through lengthy projects or meet deadlines, but taking regular breaks is just what our brain needs.

What this means for you:

Instead of overriding a period of low alertness with caffeine, start getting more organized by working hard for 90 minutes and then take a 20 minute break. Make it a priority each morning to focus single-mindedly on your most challenging and important task for 60 to 90 minutes. And then take a break. Even better, encourage those who work for you to do the same.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. 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.” 

6 Ways To Become A Charismatic Leader

January 23rd, 2017 by LaRae Quy

The most charismatic leader I have ever met was an FBI supervisor who had a powerful personality, a powerful sense of humor, and a powerful ability to motivate the agents who worked for him.

Many of our most effective leaders are labeled charismatic and yet it was not something they were born with. They acquired it through knowledge and practice.

Like learning effective leadership skills, charisma is a process of learning how to motivate others to help achieve group goals. We are not born with a natural ability to win the hearts and minds of others.

Many people confuse charisma with likability and while likable people can be persuasive, charismatic leaders have thoughtfully fine-tuned their public image into one where they are seen to be advancing the interests of the group they are representing.

Charisma is not something possessed by a leader; it is foisted upon the leader by followers. It is a gift bestowed by the group because the leader has conveyed to the group that they all share the same sense of worth, vision, and goals.

German sociologist Max Weber did not believe charisma was a rare quality possessed by certain lucky individuals. Instead, he said that what is important is how the individual is regarded by his/her followers. In other words, followers distinguish the leader from others and confer charisma on him or her.

A charismatic leader is someone who is emotionally competent—a core component of mental toughness.

Here are 6 ways to become a charismatic leader:

1. Win The Hearts Of Followers

Charisma centers on the capacity for a leader to be seen by followers as advancing the interests of the group. We trust the leader to take us in the right direction and believe he/she is one of us.

It’s important, however, that the group feels on equal footing with the leader, so find ways to confirm in their minds that you are all in it together and that your self-worth is tied to their best interests.

The inaugural addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy represent charismatic leadership. FDR spins a tale of overcoming adversity while JFK reminds us of youth and opportunity. In neither case was the charisma that flowed from their speeches self-evident. Rather, both were constructed to win over their followers.

2. Make People Feel Special

No matter who you are, take the time to make the person across from you feel important and fascinating. Make them feel as though you are completely with them and following their conversation.

  1. Nod occasionally, not frequently.
  2. Ask questions, even if it means interrupting them. It shows you are genuinely interested in what they are saying.
  3. Don’t let your eyes wander; stay fixed on their face.

3. Use The Right Pronouns

Solidarity in vision and direction of the company inspires people and increases group optimism for the future. When group identity is strong, there is more likelihood of referring to the group as “us.” Use words like us and we rather than me and I.

When you’re dealing with diverse groups, divide and conquer. Find ways to use the words us and we when talking to each group separately. Each group needs to be left with the impression that you are on their side.

But here is where charisma becomes more of an art than a science—never let others feel that you are not genuine in the way you reach out. Show diverse groups that you understand the unique struggles they face, and that by advocating for one it does not imply you are abandoning the other.

4. Tell Our Story

A charismatic leader is someone who clarifies what we believe rather than telling people what they believe. They are able to lead their audience to draw the conclusions one desires rather than spelling out those ideas for them.

When President Reagan was asked what voters saw in him, he responded, “I think they see themselves and that I am one of them.”

5. Conceal Your Craft

The act of charisma is subtle and not obvious. It is rarely productive to bluntly say, “This is who we are” because it can often be met with a “No, we’re not” retort. Instead, a charismatic leader allows their story to unfold rather than issue an order or proclamation. This allows followers to make up their own mind.

In doing so, you’ve implied that you rely on your followers to use their own intelligence and experience to draw the right conclusions.

6. Create A Strong Persona

A strong persona does not require great physical strength or ego; however, it does require two things:

1) full display of core competencies such as intelligence, kindness, empathy, etc.

mixed with

2) warmth of personality

A strong persona means that you are confident in your abilities but not puffed up because of them. It also means that you have no self-doubt about your talents and skill sets.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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.”