5 Tips From The Stoics On How To Develop Mental Toughness

March 19th, 2018 by LaRae Quy

As an FBI agent, I became an observer into the lives of people under investigation. Upon my retirement from the FBI, I completed graduate studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary. In the process, I became a more thoughtful observer of my own life.

I started to embrace the Stoic claim that many of the things we desire are not worth the pursuit. Instead, Stoic philosophy focused on how to develop the mental toughness to manage negative emotions such as anger, grief, anxiety, and fear.

Stoicism was the forerunner of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, one of the most effective psychological tools used by therapists today. CBT proposes that when we change the way we think about a problem, it leads to a change in behavior. Mental toughness can be defined as managing our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that set us up for success.

The ancient Stoic philosophers had great tools to help fight the helplessness that sets in when it feels like the world is against you. Stoics knew how to develop mental toughness. Stoicism sounds serious but it started with a bunch of guys in togas who sat on porches almost two thousand years ago and taught philosophy. Stoa means porch so stoicism is actually porch wisdom.

Here are 5 tips from the Stoics on how to develop mental toughness:

1. Train In Winter

We must undergo a hard winter training and not rush into things for which we haven’t prepared.”—Epictetus

Roman armies disbanded during the winter unless engaged in a series of raids. Epictetus believed that there was no such thing as Spring training for soldiers—or anyone for that matter. To land on our feet, we must keep our mind active all the time.

It’s too late to train or prepare when the shit hits the fan or when the stakes are high. As entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders, you already know you can’t read a book on basketball and then go to the NBA. You know you must always prepare for what life might throw at you, so when it does, you’re ready.

When we train and prepare, we continually learn new skills. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to continuously create new neural pathways. When we repeat skills we are trying to learn, we strengthen those neural networks.

How To Make It Work For You: You learn how to develop mental toughness when you train your mind to think and prepare for the challenges ahead. Keep your brain alert and active all the time. If you can’t actually perform a particular task, simply visualize yourself doing it. Your brain cannot tell the difference.

2. Embrace The Test

I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”—Seneca

When I look back over my 24 year career as an FBI agent, you know what I remember the most? The difficult times. The hardest training at the FBI Academy and the most frustrating investigations were also the moments that were the most formative for me.

Challenges in life are unavoidable. Researchers believe that if we can learn to accept them as children, it will help our chance of success as adults. Children who learn to handle their own problems are also the ones with exceptional achievement as adults.

There is a Chinese saying “Chi Ku Shi Fu” (eating bitterness is good fortune) that highlights the idea that there is the opportunity for wisdom and growth in the midst of misfortune. While we don’t have control over the situations that life will bring to us, we do have a choice as to how we will react to them.

How To Make It Work For You: You learn how to develop mental toughness when you face your opponents, challenges, and misfortunes with an open mind. Look for ways to learn from your challenges. You may need to dig deep, but claim the wisdom from those times you are tested. It will you move to a higher level of well-being and perspective.

3. Prepare On Sunny Days

It is when times are good that you should gird yourself for tougher times ahead…so it is that soldiers practice maneuvers in peacetime, erecting bunkers with no enemies in sight and exhausting themselves under no attack so that when it comes, they won’t grow tired.”—Seneca

Seneca writes that we should prepare in advance so that nothing ever takes us by surprise. In today’s language, he wants us to develop resilience in the face of adversity. We should toughen up before the crisis hits us so we know how to respond.

When we spend time thinking about the downside, Cognitive Behavior Therapy says that we decatastrophize it. Remember CBT? The Stoics invented it. Don’t be the person who freaks out at work when something goes wrong. Be prepared and handle it with finesse and aplomb.

How To Make It Work For You: You learn how to develop mental toughness when you ask “What is the worst that could happen?” This is not pessimism; it’s being realistic. Take the time on a sunny day to prepare yourself to respond in an effective manner when the storm hits.

4. Find Your Hidden Power

Consider who you are. Above all, a human being, carrying no greater power than your own reasoned choice, which oversees all other thing, and is free from any other master.”—Epictetus

Epictetus walked with a limp as the result of being chained up as a slave. For Stoics like him, the only thing you ever really have control over are your deliberate thoughts. You can’t control other people, you can’t control your situation, and you can’t always control your own body. So the only thing over which you do have control is your emotions, thoughts, and behavior—the essence of mental toughness.

We need to accept that there are many things over which we have no control. We can, and should, try to influence them if we can. But once you begin to feel you need to control other people or situations, it’s likely that emotions will get out of control if things don’t go your way.

How To Make It Work For You: You learn how to develop mental toughness when you acknowledge that it does no good to worry about things you can’t control. Instead, spend your time on things over which you have complete control, like your goals and values. If you do this, you’ll avoid the anxiety that comes with the need to control.

5. Color Your Thoughts

Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought, for the human spirit is colored by such impressions.”—Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics had some great tools to help fight negative feelings because when you know how to deal with the negative, it gives you more time for the positive.

If we maintain a negative outlook, soon everything we encounter will seem negative. When we color our thoughts with negativity, it bleeds into other parts of our life as well.

Stoics believed that we are moved to action by positive emotions, such as a sense of indignation at having witnessed an injustice, or a desire to make the world a better place for everyone. Negative emotions color our thoughts, emotions, and behavior in unproductive ways.

How To Make It Work For You: You learn how to develop mental toughness when you seek the positive in your situation. Believe you will prevail in your circumstances rather than believing your circumstances will change.

© 2018 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 Things Confident Women Never Do

March 5th, 2018 by LaRae Quy

As a female FBI agent, I needed to come across as confident when interviewing suspects. Confidence sent the message that I was both competent and in a position of authority.

I focused on conveying the right body language with shoulders back, head up, and making direct eye contact. I spent time preparing for the interview by looking at the facts of the case and thoroughly going over the analytics, assessments, and witness accounts.

This process was important because it removed all doubt of my competence in my own head. It imbued me with the confidence that I could find the truth and make reliable conclusions.

Confidence should never be confused with arrogance. Arrogance is thinking you are better than somebody else; confidence is knowing you are competent and expecting to be treated with respect.

I learned from my fellow FBI agents that men can suffer from lack of confidence as acutely as women, but females struggle with a more complex array of confidence issues than men because media and slick advertising promote the image of professional women as thin, dressed in designer clothes, and wearing stiletto heels.

But it doesn’t stop with this—there are few areas in a woman’s life that are not targeted for improvement, and with that comes the implication that she is far from perfect. Some areas of low confidence include: not worthy of a promotion, too fat, wrong skin color, not educated enough, not worthy of love, not athletic enough…the list goes on.

No wonder women lack confidence! In truth, confidence has nothing to do with beauty, height, weight, skin, clothes, relationships, or intelligence. Confidence is a gift that only you can can give to yourself. If you have it, no one can take it from you. On the other hand, don’t look to others to give it to you, either.

Here are 6 things confident women never do:


Confident women never forget to start their day with gratitude. Gratitude puts your life into perspective. Start and end each day with at least 5 positive affirmations about what you are thankful for about yourself.

Gratitude is a powerful emotion for mental toughness because it reminds you to be confident in yourself and your abilities. How can you be thankful for what you’re going to receive if you aren’t grateful for what you already have?

Bottom Line: Confidence is about progress, not perfection. Positive things happen to positive people.


Confident women never miss an opportunity to flex their confidence muscle during their day in the world. They make eye contact with everyone they meet because they have the confidence to initiate conversations and spread their influence. They know their thoughts have the ability to make a valuable and impactful contribution to other people.

Bottom Line: Women with confidence can look a man in the eye and control the situation, and not trivialize the encounter by allowing it to turn into flirting.


Confident women never shrink inside their comfort zone. Instead, they are curious abut the world around them and look for ways to explore it.

Women with confidence believe in their ability to gain knowledge and solve problems. Self-esteem is believing in your competence—learn from your failures and mistakes so you do not repeat them going forward.

Bottom Line: Past failure does not predict future failure— develop the mental toughness to stick with it because when you do succeed, that experience will give you more confidence.


Confident women never fade into the background by speaking in low tones. They know how to crank up the volume so their opinions and views are heard. This does not mean they are shrill or boisterous.

I do not have a loud voice, but I do have a strong one. When I have something to say, I say it loud enough and enunciate clearly so people both hear and understand.

Bottom Line: If you don’t have anything of value to say, keep your mouth shut. Don’t lose credibility by blabbing just so you can stay in the conversation.


Confident women never offer a limp wrist or dead fish handshake. They clamp down and shake hands with authority. Women, in particular, can be bad about this and it sets a weak and feeble message from the very beginning. Practice your handshake if need be, but get it right.

In an FBI interview, if there is a conflict between what the suspect is saying and their body language, agents will always give more credibility to the non-verbal message.

Bottom Line: Body language sends a powerful message so make sure you are not sabotaging your career by using powerful words that are weighed down with wimpy body language that is full of self-doubt and lack of confidence.


Confident women never forget that by surrounding themselves with people who are upbeat and positive, they are making a choice on how their life will be defined.

Plato once said, “People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.”

If we are not nourished, our souls will choke and wither away. Don’t put down roots in poor soil because we grow where we’re planted. Rich soil empowers us to surround ourselves with friends and mentors who show us how to move forward with confidence as leaders.

Bottom Line: Pick your friends with care—they create the environment in which you will either thrive or wilt. Give everyone the opportunity to be a friend, but share your dreams and goals only with those who value them as much as you do.

Confidence is believing that we are a person of value. We are ultimately responsible for everything that goes on in our lives. People who are confident keep building on their self-worth, and when they do, they convey the competence and authority they need to be successful in business and life.

© 2018 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 Things Positive People Never Do

February 26th, 2018 by LaRae Quy

I make an effort to surround myself with positive people. Positive thinking is a cornerstone of mental toughness because positivity creates a mindset that can adapt to obstacles and roadblocks that show up in both business and life.

Unfortunately, positive thinking has become ensconced in a culture of woolly and fluffy assumptions that imply all we need to do is visualize what success looks like—and it will happen! It has been reduced to weak platitudes and shallow quotes meant to inspire us to soar to greater heights.


If that wasn’t bad enough, positive people are also confused with optimists. Let me clarify for you: positive people believe they will prevail in their circumstances rather than believe their circumstances will change. Optimists, however, believe that things will change, and for the better. Positive people rely on their grit and determination to make the most of a bad situation because sometimes, shit happens. They’re stuck in an undesirable situation and no amount of hope will change it.

An optimist can never relax; they can’t afford to let sadness creep in. They can try to follow the famous self-help advice and eliminate the word “failure” from their vocabulary; but then how will they explain failure when it strikes? And it will. Positive people are not afraid of failure because their minds can adapt to their new circumstances and plan for a better iteration next time.

When times get tough, here are 5 things positive people never do:

1. Fall For Sappy Slogans

I’ve read so many articles on how to fill my life with happiness that I’m ready to puke. Happiness is the by-product of vacuous and superficial sappy slogans that prey on our emotions. You want real happiness? Grab hold of something with more substance, like joy and contentment.

Positive people avoid cheery, sappy slogans that are intended to lift the user’s mood when they repeat them. Post-it notes litter mirrors and computers across the country and while they boost our mood for a while, the results are temporary.

Researchers have discovered that there is a distinct difference between happiness and meaning. When we achieve our goal, we experience happiness for a short period of time. When we achieve a goal freighted with value, we experience joy and contentment that provides meaning for our life.

How To Make It Work For You: When you try too hard to convince yourself, and others, that you’re happy and lovable, all you’ve done is remind yourself, and others, of what you don’t have! Instead, focus on goals that are meaningful to you. Happiness is the by-product.

2. Forget To Plan For The Worst Case Scenario

When you remind yourself of what could go wrong, you’re not being a pessimist. You’re being smart. You will encounter rude bosses, conniving colleagues, and pain-in-the-ass customers. Why not prepare for them?

There is a place for those who plan for the worst-case scenario so they can plan on how to turn the situation around and make it successful. They imagine every conceivable setback and obstacle and find ways to cope and overcome the adversity before it becomes a reality. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy suggests spending time thinking about the potential downside of a conversation or event in advance can help you avoid an “oh shit” moment.

How To Make It Work For You: Imagine how you would handle a bad situation. Assume for a moment that a rival buys your company. Jot down a few ways you might come out on top if it happens. For example, arrange to meet key executives of the rival company so they know you’ll handle the situation in a professional and respectful manner.

3. Set Unrealistic Goals

Positive people are always realistic about their goals. Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at New York University and the author of Rethinking Positive Thinking believes that part of the problem is that people tend to visualize their goals as already accomplished without thinking about the obstacles that stand in the way.

If a person is optimistic about the future, they’ll enjoy it in the moment but they won’t get the energy and motivation they need to attain the goal. Oettingen touches upon the need to differentiate fantasy from visualization. Visualization is a science-based way for people to achieve their goals. The problem happens when fantasy raises its ugly head. The brain is smart and it can tell the difference between a desire to stretch our performance to meet a goal and our fantasy about it.

A goal might be to play the guitar. Your fantasy might be for you to perform in a sold-out rock concert. When we daydream about the future, we convince ourselves we’re already there and are less inclined to put in the effort required to reach our goals.

Oettingen feels that a bit of negativity can help us determine whether or not it’s worth it to pursue our goals. Positive people are not afraid to look at the negative side of an equation. They know it might have something important to tell us. When they contrast the future with the current reality, and assess the obstacles, they might let go of the dream and focus on more realistic goals.

How To Make It Work For You: We need to be on the lookout for what might go wrong without allowing negativity to overwhelm us. Positive people can hold the tension of a pessimistic evaluation alongside a positive one.

4. Let Anxiety Take Over

In her book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, Julie Norem wrote “At first, I asked how these people were able to do so well despite their pessimism. Before long, I began to realize that they were doing so well because of their pessimism.”

Norem found that pessimists turned their anxieties into action. Because they expected the worst, they were prepared for it and put more effort into finding a solution.

Oliver Burkeman makes an interesting observation in his book, The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. He argues that because people are led to believe they should always feel happy and motivated, they often put off tasks that don’t make them happy. If life were perfect and there were no such things as unpleasant tasks, that mindset might lead to success. But, in the real world, this mindset leads into a downward spiral of unaddressed tasks and actions.

How To Make It Work For You: Learn to live with the unpleasant tasks and get on with the job at hand. Co-exist with what isn’t perfect and do something anyway.

5. Ignore The Sweet Spot

Pessimists help us anticipate the worst and prepare for it. People who never worry have lower job performance than those who worry about it on a regular basis. Studies have shown that when CEO’s are optimistic, they take on more risky projects and often put their companies in jeopardy.

Positive people know how to weigh the wisdom of both pessimists and optimists. Pessimists are catastrophes waiting to happen while optimists are impractical. Positive people look for the sweet spot that combines the benefits of both approaches.

How To Make It Work For You: Your success is not determined on whether you are an optimist or pessimist, but rather how you choose your strategies to process information from both sides.

© 2018 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.” 

7 Things Mentally Tough People Refuse To Think

February 18th, 2018 by LaRae Quy

I learned how to become mentally tough after I failed the interim physical fitness test at the FBI Academy. With this failure came the understanding that I was not so great after all and that I stood a good chance of being washed out.

I became obsessed with improving my fitness scores. My focus narrowed down to the next day’s training. I dug deep to uncover why I wanted to become an FBI agent. Drilling down on these sets of values propelled me over the next couple of months and I did eventually pass the fitness test.

As business owners and entrepreneurs, you also face hard challenges. It might be the marketplace, nervous investors, or aggressive competition, but you will need to be mentally tough if you plan to focus your thinking and move through those challenges successfully.

It’s hard to feel mentally tough when you’re stuck. You need the grit to welcome challenges as obstacles to overcome.

Here are 7 things mentally tough people refuse to think:

1. Struggle Has No Meaning

To my horror, many of my FBI colleagues relished the new challenges presented each day at the Academy. I thought they were crazy—they actually volunteered to experience pain and discomfort! What normal person does that?

I learned that mentally tough people often voluntarily choose the hard path, the road less traveled. They will go out of their way to experience failure so they can turn their focus into looking for ways to turn obstacles into opportunities.

It takes confidence to look failure in the face and keep moving forward, because if we are confident in ourselves and our ability, we look at our struggle as part of the fine-tuning process.

TIP: People become mentally tough when they give their struggle the finger, and instead, focus on improvement and growth.

2. Winning Is Everything

When people ask me to talk about my biggest failure, I talk about the pain of failing the interim physical fitness test. It was a failure that cut to the core, but it also inspired a remarkable amount of personal growth. I learned more from that single failure than from any of my successes.

Most of us fear failure so much that we shuffle along in life until we accidentally stumble onto something at which we are good. Success can be very misleading because often it is not what really fuels us. 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.

TIP: Mentally tough people recognize that the way in which they deal with failure determines how they will achieve success.

3. Pain Is To Be Avoided

Sports psychologist Tim Woodman has done a lot of studies on what makes superior athletes. He spent time interviewing many top performers and the one thing that he came away with was this: nearly every top performer in his study had experienced a critical negative event in their life—parents divorcing, a death, disease, or some other perceived loss—and they experienced it early in life.

Mentally tough people learn early that life is hard, pain is inevitable, and growth is optional. They find ways to turn shit into sugar.

Pain is nature’s way of getting our attention. Mentally tough people do not coddle themselves or avoid situations where there are problems to solve and the pain that comes with them. Some of our best insights are at the tail end of our worst moments. Pain often forces us to look at our values and beliefs and question why they might be failing us.

Weak people try to cover up the pain and delude themselves rather than intelligently looking for way to produce real change.

Don’t hope for a life with no pain; hope for a life with good pain. We all know that not everything that feels good is actually good. In the same way, not everything that feels painful is necessarily bad.

TIP: Once you forget about the pain, you become unstoppable.

4. Focus Only On The Positive

Positive thinking is a cornerstone of mental toughness. Research has proven the real benefits of staying positive, especially in adverse situations. Unfortunately, many people today only focus on the positive and refuse to acknowledge the negative in their life. Used in this manner, positive thinking becomes little more than a bandaid trying to cover a cancerous lesion.

Reminding yourself of what could go wrong is not pessimism. It’s being smart. You will encounter rude bosses, conniving colleagues, and unruly customers. Why not prepare for them?

FBI agents do not prepare for arrests by assuming everything will turn out OK. They prepare for arrests by anticipating all that could go wrong.

Mentally tough people are less likely to get frustrated and blow a deal or lose control during a tense negotiation. The reason is because they do not focus only on the positive. They imagine every conceivable setback and obstacle that could materialize; they find ways to cope and overcome the adversity before it becomes a reality.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy suggests spending time thinking about the potential downside of a conversation or event in advance can help you avoid an “oh shit” moment.

How To Make It Work For You: Take the time to think through the worst that could happen and allow yourself to feel the negative stuff. When you do, you’ll be able to manage the unproductive drama that these emotions can produce.

5. Suppress Emotions

In our current feel-good self-improvement culture, we’re encouraged to only acknowledge positive emotions and feelings. Shove down the negative stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist. All that is fine until you have a negative emotion that won’t be silenced, and I’m betting all of you have been there before.

It’s stupid to pretend everything is fine and that you don’t experience negative, even humiliating, emotions. What is smart is to use neuroscience to figure out what to do with them so they don’t sabotage your best efforts to move forward.

How To Make It Work For You:

  1. Nip negative thoughts and emotions in the bud when they first appear and are at their weakness.
  2. Label each emotion for what it truly is, not just what sounds good to you.
  3. Call out the emotion by name: shame, envy, anger, jealousy, lust, etc.
  4. Describe the emotion in 1 or 2 words; be succinct and to the point.
  5. Do not enter a dialogue about the emotion; anything more than 1 or 2 words will only give it legs with which to run wild.
  6. Resist attempts to justify the emotion. Notice it and move on.

6. Stick To What Feels Comfortable

If our coaches at the FBI Academy weren’t pushing us into our discomfort zone, they weren’t doing their job. After I realized I hadn’t joined an organized group of sadists, I understood that the coaches moved us into our discomfort zones so we’d be better able to cope with the trials that lie ahead of us as FBI Agents.

If success and comfort is all you’ve ever known, you will not be prepared for the shitstorm that will come at some point in your life. Whether it’s your career, your health, old age, or something unseen, if you are mentally tough you know you will be able to endure the discomfort.

Mentally tough people embrace discomfort zones because they have learned that unpleasant experiences are not something to fear. In the process, they’ve learned the survival skills that will take them to the next level.

How To Make It Work For You: Don’t throw yourself into unproductive things, but do seek out experiences that will move you into the unknown so you know how you will respond when confronted with adversity.

7. Others Are To Blame

One of the most important lessons learned in childhood is that you don’t always get to play with the red ball in the playground. This early lesson illustrates how you deal with failure, struggle, and loss. You can whine, point fingers, and blame others but ultimately you must choose how you deal with not always getting what you want.

Victimhood has become very popular. It’s now possible to be offended and insulted for just about anything. It feels self-righteous to cast ourselves as a victim, but as cartooonist Tim Kreider points out, outrage is one of those things that will eventually devour us from the inside out.

TIP: Grit-up and be mature enough to take responsibility for your actions. There are enough real victims in the world. If you want to be authentically outraged, help one of them.

© 2018 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 Reasons Why Curiosity Is Critical To Your Success

February 12th, 2018 by LaRae Quy

At the end of each school day, I’d head out to play on a rockslide near our house in Wyoming. I created an imaginary town with stores, houses, and businesses. I built a miniature Fort Laramie, complete with a jail for the bad guys I locked up. My brother ended up there once.

Nearby irrigation ditches provided great shelter from the onslaught of marauding Indians. In the winter I’d help my parents feed hay to the cattle, but I’d always find time to explore my surroundings. In the summer months I learned that dry cow pies make excellent frisbees.

When we role-play, we imagine ourselves in different situations. One week, I would be a veterinarian and patch up all sorts of ills that befall animals on a ranch. Or a John Wayne character who packed a gun and brought justice to the wild west. I always imagined myself to be someone whom I aspired to become like when I grew up. At that age, my hero was someone very real to me. My imagination gave me permission to walk in the shoes of my hero, if only for a few moments.

Research tells us that children who have a good imagination grow up to be more creative as adults. Curiosity and imagination are two sides of the same coin. Imaginative and curious people also tend to be more innovative in business and life as well.

Innovation, curiosity, and imagination are the secret brew that can take your career to the next level. These traits can also accelerate a company’s profits and growth beyond its competitors. In a recent study, innovation was ranked a long-term challenge for driving business growth. It is a key talent needed at all levels of leadership, starting with the CEO.

Curiosity is a thirst for knowledge and the need to hunt for answers to these questions: “What is this?” and “How does it work?” It’s an important mental exercise because it requires a mindset that helps people move forward and do new things that starts them on the path to new discoveries.

Curiosity is critical to your success because it’s the strong desire to learn without constraint. It’s the driving force behind new discoveries in all fields, not just technology and science.

Here are 4 reasons why curiosity is critical to your success:

1. There Is Link Between Intelligence, Emotion, and Curiosity

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London, identifies three qualities that are essential if we are to successfully manage the complexity of modern life. The first two are 1) intellectual acuity and 2) emotional intelligence.

Complex environments are dense with information, which requires more brainpower or deliberate thinking. Our IQ is a measure of that brainpower, just like megabytes are a measure of a computer’s capacity. High IQ levels enable people to identify and solve more problems. Intelligence is a strong predictor of performance on complex tasks. Studies now show, however, that using our smarts is not enough to ensure success.

Soft, interpersonal skills are also essential if we want buy-in from others. Emotional intelligence is an important component of mental toughness because we need to manage our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set us up for success.

People who are socially savvy are better equipped to navigate organizational politics and advance their careers. Most employers look to people with good emotional intelligence and soft skills when it comes to management and leadership positions.

Curiosity is the third quality that Dr. Chamorrro-Premuzic believes is as important as intellect and emotional savvy. It’s critical to your success because it signals a hungry mind. If you’re inquisitive, you’re open to new experiences. You can generate more original ideas and produce simple solutions to complex problems. Chamorro-Premuzic’s initial studies suggest that curious people are more tolerant of ambiguity.

TIP: These same studies also indicate that curious people have raw intellectual horsepower. It’s possible to increase your intelligence by cultivating the other two qualities: curiosity and social savviness. Successful people know the three travel together.

2. Curiosity Makes You A More Interesting Person


Curiosity is critical to your success because when you are curious, something interesting happens—you come across as more interesting and more intelligent. Others will interpret your curiosity as intelligence.

Curious people have active minds. The mind is like a muscle that becomes stronger through continual exercise, so curiosity is a mental exercise that makes our minds stronger. Studies show that people are better at learning information when they are curious about the topic. In his 1994 paper, The Psychology of Curiosity, George Loewenstein found that curiosity requires some amount of initial knowledge. His research determined that we are not curious about those things we know absolutely nothing about.

This changes, however, when we start to learn even a little bit about a topic or subject; our curiosity is piqued and we want to learn more. It turns out that the more we know, the more we want to know.

TIP: Curiosity is a choice you make to look deeper into the events and people around you. Research shows that when you are curious, the limbic reward system of the brain is active. This is why it is important that teachers spark curiosity in the classroom and use curiosity as a teaching method.

3. Curiosity Sends The Right Message

As a leader, entrepreneur, or small business owner, the need to send the right message is constant. It’s important to convey the message that you prefer to ask the right questions rather than pretend to know all the answers. Too often, this becomes flip-flopped when the emphasis is to know all the answers—a sure path to stagnation.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, 65% of workplace employees surveyed felt unable to ask questions at work. Even more ironic, while 84% indicated that their employers encouraged curiosity, 60% said they also encountered barriers to it at work.

Curiosity is important to every business owner, entrepreneur, and leader. If it wasn’t, new ventures would have no appeal. When we ask questions and maintain a strong sense of curiosity, we see a person for what they truly are, and a company or market trend for what it truly is.

TIP: You model curiosity for those around you when you show a willingness to ask questions and admit you don’t always know the answer.

Collect wisdom where you find it. In your circle, have:

  • One person older than you who is where you want to be in the future
  • A peer who possesses strengths and accomplishments that you don’t
  • Someone younger than you who is further along than you were at that age

Remember, curiosity can wane over time so use the above tips to stay curious and maintain your competitive edge.

4. Curious People Have Better Social Relationships

Motivational speaker Anthony Robbins once said that “the quality of your life is in direct proportion to the quality of your relationships.” We all value curiosity in our friendships. If people are curious about your life, they show empathy, offer advice, and truly care about your happiness.

A study at the University of Buffalo concluded that the degree to which people are curious influences their personal growth and the level of intimacy that develops when they meet someone new. The study also stated that the degree to which people are curious determines how deep a connection is developed when they encounter someone new.

TIP: When you are curious about your life, you’ll find a greater sense of meaning for yourself as well as life satisfaction. Why? The life of a curious person is far from boring. There are always new ideas and new worlds to explore, which open up possibilities that are not normally visible.

© 2018 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 To Handle Life’s Challenges

February 5th, 2018 by LaRae Quy

As a kid, I helped trail hundreds of cows and calves from the shelter of the foothills to summer pasture in the high country near Laramie Peak. Early on, my life’s challenges were to saddle a horse on my own and push cows along the trail.

My Dad taught me to saddle and ride horses, rope steers, and herd cattle when I was in grade school. I never quite got the gist of how to dally a rope, however, so I never shined like a star as a roper.

As I got older, life’s challenges on the trail changed as well. I’d need a horse fast enough to catch up with a calf that cut back from the herd. Since I couldn’t lasso, the horse needed to get me close enough where I could, in a literal sense, drop the loop over the calf’s head. Calves may be young and small but they can run like hell. My other strategy was to keep my eyes glued to those who looked back. I made sure I stayed close behind them.

Challenges may morph, but they are unavoidable. If we can learn to accept them as children, the better our chance of success as adults. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Meg Jay, children who learn to handle their own problems are also the ones with exceptional achievement as adults.

The article cites a book called “Cradles of Eminence” which chronicles the childhood of over 400 famous men and women. Of the 400, 75% (almost 300) had grown up in a family with troubles. These included poverty, abuse, absent parents, alcoholism, serious illness, or loss of a parent. The study concludes that the normal person is not a likely candidate for the Hall of Fame.

To be truthful, many kids today are over-protected. They are not required to handle life’s challenges because parents or nannies take care of problems for them. Their only job is to play and have fun. But here is the truth: not everyone gets to play with the red ball in the playground. No matter how hard parents try to protect their child, trauma in the form of disappointments and rejection is part of growing up.

No one wants to see a child endure abuse, but there’s still a way to toughen up children so they can handle life’s challenges. According to Paul Tough, author of “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” there is a way. Kids who take their failures seriously, but analyze why they failed and how they can do it differently next time, tend to become successful as adults.

There’s something about learning how to leverage our strengths to handle life’s challenges at an early age that prepares us to overcome life’s challenges as adults. Once we focus on our shortcomings, we begin to think about what skills we do possess as well as what we’re missing, and how to overcome the gap.

Here are some suggestions on ways to handle life’s challenges in both business and life:

1. Move Toward The Challenge

If your strategy is to avoid life’s challenges, remember that the continual need for delusion will be huge. It will also suck up a great deal of your energy. It may seem easier at first to turn away, or pretend the problem is smaller than it really is. But, reality will rear its ugly head at some point in the future and you’ll be forced to deal with the problem.

The closer we get to our challenge, the more we can educate ourselves about it. If we can get close enough to analyze it, we can assess which of our strengths will be needed to overcome it. The steps to follow and actions to take may not reveal themselves to us until we have moved closer to the situation. Mountain climbers understand that it’s impossible to know where to place fingers and feet by looking at a mountain from the bottom. They find safety only when they get close enough to explore the cracks and crevices.

As a kid, I learned to analyze life’s challenges and obstacles so I could find a way around, over, or through them. My biggest challenge at eight years old was how to saddle my tall quarter horse. I couldn’t rely on Dad or Grandma to have the time to throw a forty-pound saddle onto my horse’s back. They made it clear—I needed to fix my own problem. I pulled my saddle into the back of our pickup and then tied my horse to the pickup as well. I remember my horse backed away once and my saddle ended up astride his neck. Still, it hadn’t fallen to the ground so I hopped down and drug it down his neck and onto his back. Voila!

TIP: Boldness comes from your head. It’s a cerebral activity that recognizes opportunities, creates plans, and assesses the danger. If you refuse to face your fear, it’s almost impossible to grow because, in its simplest form, all behavior is the product of either fear or desire. Fear is not something to be avoided. A strong mind recognizes fear for what it is—a sign that you need to face the issue or obstacle in front of you.

Fortune falls heavily on those for whom she’s unexpected. The one always on the lookout easily endures—Seneca

2. Prepare To Take Action

Life deals you a bad hand. What are you going to do? Move toward the challenge, cry like a baby, run away, or do nothing?

Our reaction is a test of character and it says a lot about us. Always remember that it doesn’t matter what you’ve been given, what matters is what you do with it. Since we have layers of fear, often our first response is to exaggerate the situation and interpret life’s challenges as a crisis. We become cautious, retreat, and hope for things to get better—all on their own. Parents who over-protect their kids from adversity reinforce that way of thinking. They swoop in and come to the rescue. As a result, their kids never have to analyze how to work it out for themselves. They do not have the opportunity to develop their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses.

People turn shit into sugar all the time. There are certain types of people who experience childhood struggles, like poverty and strife, and go on to incredible achievement. They learn to be resilient because what is in front of them is all they know, so they work with it.

If saddling a tall horse for an eight-year-old was hard, imagine how difficult it was to bridle him. Again, my Dad and Grandmother did not have the time and expected me to deal with the situation. My horse would stretch up his long neck and and I wasn’t tall enough to slip the bridle over the top of his head. So, I stood in the feed trough so I could reach him.

The damned horse then clenched his teeth so I couldn’t insert the bit. An old hired hand showed me a trick: run my thumb along the horse’s lower jaw and insert my thumb behind his back teeth. The horse couldn’t bite me and it irritated him enough to where he’d open his mouth. Voila!

When you make yourself aware of certain difficulties that are inevitable, you can prepare yourself mentally for confronting them head-on. Soldiers and athletes appreciate the preparation it takes to mentally and physically meet the challenges ahead of them. They know it can be ugly, daunting, and grueling, but they are equipped.

TIP: The middle of a crisis is not the time to learn how to handle life’s challenges and remove obstacles. Train ahead of time so that before they present themselves, you have cultivated courage, confidence, and discipline.

3. Move Past Self-Limiting Beliefs

Most barriers are internal, not external. We make certain assumptions about ourselves and how life’s challenges should be approached and solved. These thoughts produce self-limiting because they can trap us into an outmoded way of thinking about ourselves and our abilities.

The U.S. Army is using research that has shown most people, when confronted with adversity and the need to remove obstacles, will experience initial feelings of fear, frustration, and paralysis. Given sufficient amounts of time, however, they recover and continue to perform at the same level they were performing before the adversity.

At one end of the continuum there are a small percentage of people who do not bounce back and remain unable to cope with their circumstances without assistance. They often need counseling and can experience breakdowns.

On the other end of the continuum, however, are those with strong minds who not only survive adverse and traumatic situations, but also thrive and grow. The key is having the right attitude. People who have affirming thoughts about themselves and their abilities are more likely to survive the intense pressure of obstacles and adversity.

TIP: The most effective way of breaking through self-limiting barriers, either those in front of us or the artificial ones we’ve erected, is to make small shifts in thinking. If one thing does not work, try another. A truly daunting task can produce discouragement in the toughest person. The trick is to focus on the little piece that is right in front of you. If you are bogged down with a huge task, break it down into small enough pieces so that you can set goals or markers of achievement for yourself. Then focus your attention on that.

4. Change The Way You Interpret Your Circumstances

There is an old parable about a boy who was so discouraged by his experiences in school he told his grandfather he wanted to quit. His grandfather filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs and in the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let the water boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out into a cup. Turning to the boy, he asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the boy replied.

Then he asked the boy to feel the carrots, which he did and noted that they were soft and mushy. His grandfather then asked him to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, the boy observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked the boy to sip the coffee. He smiled as he tasted the coffee with its rich aroma. The boy asked, “I don’t understand. What does this mean, if anything?”

His grandfather laughed and explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity–boiling water–but each had reacted differently. “Which are you?” the grandfather asked. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, becomes soft and loses strength? Are you the egg that appears not to change but whose heart is hardened? Or are you the coffee bean that changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the coffee bean, when things are at their worst, your very attitude will change your environment for the better, making it sweet and palatable.”

TIP: The moral of this story is that it matters how you look at life’s challenges. We all encounter obstacles. The Grandfather’s lesson is that when you can’t change your circumstances, you change yourself.

© 2018 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.”

5 Ways To Make Gratitude A Stronger Emotion

January 29th, 2018 by LaRae Quy

As an FBI agent, I was surrounded by people who had a strong sense of right and wrong. Research shows that emotions are strongly connected to our morality—the ability to tell right from wrong. Since strong emotions were closely connected to my fellow agents’ morals, it allowed them to move into adverse and dangerous situations to protect the well-being of others.

Gratitude and indignation are both moral emotions. Gratitude is a positive emotion that encourages reciprocal altruism, well-being, and appreciation. Indignation, on the other hand, is a negative emotion that is closely related to anger and revenge—it motivates individuals to punish cheaters.

Mental toughness strengthens our ability to distinguish positive emotions from negative ones. We can use this awareness to strengthen positive emotions like gratitude and control negative ones like anger.

Understanding our emotions is the key if we want to control them. Mentally tough people learn how to connect with emotions that attract more of the things that represent our moral standards. In turn, we live and do what is right.

As leaders, it’s important to find ways to make gratitude a stronger emotion. We can use mental toughness to strengthen our gratitude emotion. When we do, we control the negative emotions that impact the way we treat not only ourselves, but those around us. 

Here are 5 ways we can make gratitude a stronger emotion:

1. Make It Intentional

Intentional behavior is the ability to move ahead with a thoughtful and deliberate goal in mind. To do so, we need to seek out and identify specific acts for which we can, and should, be grateful. Gratitude only works when you’re grateful for something real.

We perceive an act as more worthy of gratitude when:

  • it cost someone (either time or effort)
  • we perceive it to be of value
  • it is not obligatory or habitual in nature
  • the result produces relief or happiness

How To Make It Work For You: So, how do you manage the bad things that show up in life? Even bad, or negative events, can have positive consequences. Choose an experience from your life that was either unpleasant or unwanted. Focus on the positive aspects or consequences of this difficult experience. As the result, is there anything for which you now feel thankful or grateful? Has this experience made you a better person? Have you grown? Did the experience help you appreciate the truly important things in life? Can you be thankful for the beneficial consequences as a result?

2. Keep Focused

Most FBI agents and law enforcement officers enter their career to arrest criminals who exploit the needs and weaknesses of others. Over time, however, their idealism is threatened because life is rarely lived in absolutes. The black and white of justice frequently morphs into shades of gray. Good is often found in the midst of the bad, and bad sometimes results from good intentions.

We become mentally tough when we learn to live with the paradox of contradiction and not run from the mystery of life. It’s especially important to remain grateful when life takes a down turn.

  • Seek out events and people that represent the things that embody your moral standards
  • Express gratitude when you see them
  • Let go of your need for the “right” way to be “your” way
  • Clarify what you know to be the truth in your heart, get to know it better
  • Remember that truth is it’s own best argument

How To Make It Work For You: To keep focused, think about what the absence of a positive influence in your life would mean to you. What would life be like if you hadn’t met your spouse or partner? Or if you hadn’t taken that job transfer? Or if you hadn’t moved to your neighborhood? Take something positive away from your life and you’re forced to focus on what brings you happiness and gratitude. Something that, perhaps, you had started to take for granted.

3. Change The Way Your Brain Works

A recent study brings us closer to understanding how gratitude can affect the way our brain works. Participants were asked to write simple, short notes of gratitude to other people for three weeks. An MRI scan measured the brain of the participants and found they showed greater neural sensitivity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning, judgment, and decision making.

How To Make It Work For You: When you express gratitude, it has lasting effects on the brain. The study suggests that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, people’s brains were still wired to feel extra thankful. The implication is that gratitude has a self-perpetuating nature: The more you practice it, the more attuned you are to it.

4. Ditch The Ego

Narcissists believe their presence entitles them to special rights and privileges. They often make selfish demands of others. People with large egos tend to be ungrateful. Instead, they believe they deserve the favors and gifts that others give to them.

Deepak Chopra makes these points about ego and gratitude:

  • Ego can get stuck on being right or wrong
  • Real gratitude isn’t passing and temporary
  • Gratitude takes openness and the willingness to set your ego aside
  • No one is grateful for things they think they deserve.
  • Gratitude is unearned, like grace
  • When it is deeply felt, gratitude applies to everything, not simply to good things you hope come your way

It’s impossible to give full attention to both ego and gratitude at the same time. When you appreciate something or someone else, your ego must move out of the way.

How To Make It Work For You: We strengthen our gratitude emotion when we seek out and find people and circumstances for which we can be grateful. We also need to focus on the priority of being grateful, especially in tough times. And finally, we need to demand the ego to be put it in its proper place.

5. Use Gratitude To Build Resilience

Since 2001, the suicide rate among U.S. soldiers is at an all-time high. The number of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress is also very high. In 2008, Martin Seligman was invited to have lunch at the Pentagon with General George Casey. Casey advised that he wanted a fighting force that could bounce back and cope with the trauma of persistent warfare. Seligman and other researchers implemented the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program, a preventive program that seeks to enhance resilience among members of the Army community. The program aims at prevention rather than treatment of PTSD.

To build resilience among U.S. soldiers, the CSF brought in elements of positive psychology, and discovered that gratitude is an essential component of positive thinking.

Because here is the thing: it is impossible to grateful and negative at the same time.

Gratitude is the most powerful emotion in the world. Why? It allows you to love not only yourself, but others as well.

How To Make It Work For You: Here is what you can expect if you practice gratitude:

  • A renewed appreciation for life
  • New possibilities for yourself
  • More personal strength
  • Improve relationships
  • Spiritually more satisfied

© 2018 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.” 


5 Steps To Personal Empowerment

January 22nd, 2018 by LaRae Quy

As a kid, personal empowerment was a foreign concept. I had no influence over any sphere of my life.

My summer job was to pull fifty-pound bales of hay on our meadow into piles so Dad could scoop them up with his loader tractor. Mom and my brother arranged bales on the haystack as dad dumped them. When I looked around, there was nothing but miles of bales lined up on the meadow for as far as I could see.

Life on a cattle ranch in Wyoming meant I worked alongside my parents to keep our cows fed and watered twelve months a year. I escaped my dreary world by day-dreaming of how I would call all the shots as an adult. All of a sudden, I found myself buried in a cloud of dust as my Grandmother put on the truck brakes and stopped beside me. She had noticed that my mind was elsewhere and I wasn’t paying much attention to my job.

My Grandmother spent the day in the hayfield as well. Her job was to set the irrigation after the hay bales had been picked up. She was a very practical person; she knew how to rebuild engines and her salad bowls all said Cool Whip on the side.

Grandmother was also the epitome of personal empowerment.  She focused on what she could control, which was her attitude, her work ethic, her willingness to hustle, and her commitment to the ranch. In doing so, she also empowered all those around her.

“Don’t monkey around,” she said to me. “You can complain all you want, but those bales of hay aren’t going to pull themselves into piles.” She left me choking in the dust when she spun the back tires getting back onto the road. I never argued with my Grandmother. Her favorite back scratcher was a toilet brush and she never hesitated using it to spank me either.

Her words reminded me that I needed to get the job done. Right now. Not later, after dreams had been explored, questions asked, and distractions dismantled into small pieces. I needed to take responsibility for the next step.

Personal empowerment is often represented as something we feel about ourselves at any given moment, as if it exists only within ourselves. That’s self-esteem. Personal empowerment, however, is something much bigger. It includes self-esteem and self-respect, but also includes our ability to have an impact on relationships and our social surroundings.

This is why my Grandmother had personal empowerment. She knew how to have conversations that led to real changes and improvements. Recent psychological research suggests that personal empowerment is an interactive process that takes action, gets feedback, makes adjustments, takes further action, and attains real results.

Unless leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs can have discussions that lead to real improvement, they’re not very empowered at all. To have personal empowerment, they need to find ways to increase influence within their social sphere, both in business and life.

Here are 5 step to personal empowerment:


Either you control your destiny, or it will control you. Life doesn’t stop for uncertainty or fear. It marches right on. Life won’t stop for your birthday even though you might wish it did. Age and wisdom don’t always travel together; sometimes age shows up all by itself. 

While there are many things that lead to personal empowerment, one of the most effective is to have this mindset: I am willing. I am willing to live the life I want. That means I am willing to stop doing the things that don’t produce life the life I want.

I was unwilling to pile the bales of hay; it wasn’t as if I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t want to. My Grandmother’s kick in the butt jolted me back to reality. When I moved back into action, I didn’t see myself as lazy and unmotivated.

TIP: Dreaming of the future is a waste of time and is always an impediment to personal empowerment. Not because we shouldn’t have dreams, but because we need to take responsibility for what is right in front of us. There will be opportunities to think of the future, but always pay attention to what is happening in life right now.


A goal is a something that you want and are willing to achieve. This is different from a value, because a value is something we find important. Good goals are related to our values. It’s up to us to set the course of action. For example, healthy living can be a value. Our goals related to healthy living can be a change in our diet or regular exercise.

Bad values are those determined by someone or something else. No amount of goal setting will guarantee you’ll hit your mark. For example, maybe one of your values is to get rich. That goal is not within your control because you are not in control of the stock market, the competition, etc.

Instead, identify a goal that will provide you with personal empowerment. This means your goal will increase your level of influence at many levels of social interaction. For example, if you run a business and face stiff competition, your goal is to win the battle. That is, you need to find ways to maintain satisfied and loyal customers.

TIP: If you run afoul of a relative or friend, your goal is to win that battle as well. Have the awkward conversation that will help you both understand what is going on. Remember, to create personal empowerment, your goal is to have a positive impact on relationships that are meaningful and significant.


My Grandmother knew I was monkeying around in the meadow instead of doing my job. Personal empowerment happens when we take responsibility for our own life. This is what generates self-esteem. Personal empowerment can be developed, and when it is, self-respect is the result. This requires that we get serious about the pursuit of our goals.

We take action and when we do, it enables us to prove our influence over others. I don’t mean exert our influence because that is akin to manipulation. Remember that personal empowerment is an interactive process where we take action, get feedback, make adjustments, take further action, and attain real results.

Failures are OK. Just remember to fail forward. Each failure should bring you closer to understanding how the setback happened and how you can overcome it next time. Failures often impede personal empowerment at first but they should be welcomed because they contain vital information that will help us fine tune our efforts.

TIP: Answer these questions:

  • How you can measure progress toward your goal?
  • Can you identify specific things you are already doing, or have already achieved, to help you reach your goal?
  • What are the next steps needed to achieve your goal? If the steps are large, you may want to break them into small sub-steps.
  • What do you need to develop, learn, or prepare to take these steps?
  • What can you do today to move forward?


Personal empowerment is the ability to make an impact on the lives of other people. Don’t confuse it with being bossy. To have personal empowerment, you must interact with others, not boss them around. Their feedback is essential, so don’t let your ego get in the way of making tweaks and changes to your action plan.

In other words, you’ve got to care about something other than yourself. My Grandmother cared about the ranch and her family.

It’s unrealistic to believe that you will achieve personal empowerment in a few short months. What is realistic is to believe that personal empowerment is a process that might take much longer so you will need the mental toughness to persevere. Once you find yourself able to influence one sphere of your life, expect something to happen that upsets the balance and you find yourself back at square one. Only this time, you’re smarter about how to to proceed; the learning curve is shorter.

TIP: The most accurate way to assess your impact is to ask for feedback from the people with whom you work or associate. They will tell you everything you need to know about how to refine your approach and improve future efforts.


Personal empowerment will lead to self-esteem and self-respect, not vice versa. This is what Joan Didion wrote about self-respect: “To live without self-respect is lie awake some night…counting up the sins of commission and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises more subtle, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice or carelessness.”

We can be so much better than that.

TIP: Personal empowerment pushes you to be the best person you can be. Ask yourself, “What if…?” It’s a phrase full of promise and anticipation. Or ask yourself, “What’s next…?” When you are empowered from within, you ignite the hunger that knows how to roll with the punches.

© 2018 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 FBI Tips On How To Handle Awkward Conversations

January 15th, 2018 by LaRae Quy

I sat down in a room with thirty other new FBI agents for a training course on how to handle hostage negotiations and other awkward conversations. Since my job was to recruit foreign spies to work with the FBI, I sensed the potential for lots of awkward conversations in my future.

The lead instructor had a face that looked as though it was chiseled out of a block of wood. He told us, “Successful interrogators need need to be savvy about what the other person is feeling. Build a connection with them. Focus on trust.”

This is not the advice I had expected from a tough interrogation expert. But a little more background on the FBI’s hostage negotiation program created at Quantico enlightened me. I was told that approximately 70 percent of law enforcement negotiators are trained using FBI techniques. Statistics confirm that if negotiations escalate, shootouts tend to end badly for police  officers and the casualties are high.

Awkward conversations happen in our personal life as well. When discussions go to hell in a hand basket, they quickly turn into a fight. Psychologists say that our brain is wired for war; our point of view has been attacked if we disagree with someone. We feel threatened so we yell and scream. Go no further than family reunions over the holidays to see proof of concept.

We’ve all tried to shock and awe our relatives with the use of facts and logic. That does no more than set your opponent up to look stupid. When Uncle Henry admits he learned something new, he also admits he lost.

Furthermore, MRI scans indicate that the area of the brain associated with logic shuts down when the individual is presented with evidence that is in conflict with their belief system. The regions associated with aggression light up. So, as far as Uncle Henry’s brain is concerned, it’s not a rational discussion. It’s war.

The FBI’s instructor used words like emotions, feelings, and trust, and it went straight to the heart of this training program. His tips would work with barricaded criminals wielding assault rifles—they could also apply to almost any kind of situation where you need to change people’s minds, or influence their decisions.

Life is a series of awkward conversations: work through a divorce, negotiate a raise, haggle a business deal, or work out a partnership. The ability to handle an awkward conversation gives us all a competitive edge in any discussion.

As the week unfolded, we talked about empathy, rapport, active listening, and other aspects of emotional intelligence. I used the techniques I learned in that interrogation training program for the rest of my career as an FBI counterintelligence agent.

Here are 4 FBI tips on how to handle awkward conversations:

1. Stay Calm

Emotions are controlled by our limbic brain system. It is the seat of the value judgments that we make, which is why it exerts such a strong influence on our behaviour. The limbic brain is responsible for the “fight” or “flight” reaction we experience when we’re exposed to danger or negative situations. This warning has kept us safe for centuries, and when we’re in awkward conversations or a heated argument, the limbic brain starts to scream. It only understands “fight” or “flight” so you know nothing good is going to happen.

Behavior is contagious and it’s easy to respond in a manner that mimics the other person. With that in mind, stay calm. Slow it down. Often, the other person’s anger will subside if you don’t provoke it. When you rush a situation, it tends to intensify emotions. Resist the urge to open your mouth. Instead, listen and acknowledge.

The number one reason people leave their jobs? They didn’t feel their boss listened to them.

Tip: Dismiss the hysterics and try to pinpoint the underlying issue. It can help to say, “Please speak slower. I’d like to help. I need to understand.”

2. Proceed With Confidence

Back in the 1980s, Harvard researcher Stanley Rachman discovered something interesting about bomb-disposal operatives. Rachman wanted to know what quality made these people successful in this high-risk profession. Bomb-disposal operatives are good or they wouldn’t be alive to tell the story. But Rachman wanted to know what set them apart from their colleagues. To find out, he took a bunch of experienced bomb-disposal operatives with ten years or more in the business. He split them into two groups: those who’d been decorated for their work, and those who hadn’t. Then he compared their heart rates while they were in the field and on jobs that required high levels of focus and concentration.

What he discovered was unexpected. At the beginning, the heart rates of all the operatives remained stable, which was expected given their line of work. But, something incredible happened with the ones who’d been decorated—their heart rates went down. As soon as they entered the danger zone, they assumed a state of meditative focus: it was as if they became one with the device they worked on.

Rachman’s follow-up analysis probed deeper, and revealed the reason for their lowered heart rate—confidence. The operatives who’d been decorated were given subsequent tests and they all scored higher on confidence and self-belief than their non-decorated colleagues who took the same tests.

If your opponent perceives your point of view to mean war, you’ll need to think like a survivor. Survivors are confident positive thinkers who believe they will prevail in their circumstances. They have the ability to see how even a negative experience might lead to growth.

Tip: Confident people, who might even overestimate their powers, do particularly well in stressful situations. It’s intuitive reasoning: What creates a sense of fearlessness? “I’m confident I’ve got this covered. I’ve done it before.”

3. Reframe Your Situation

It’s very important how you talk to yourself in awkward conversations or stressful situations. The way in which we look at ourselves, and our circumstances, dictates our attitude when determining how to overcome adversity.

To jettison those negative thoughts, you may find it necessary to express your situation differently. When you rethink, or reframe, your adversity, it helps to move it into a context that is more favorable.

This is not to make light of tragedy. It’s perfectly normal to be sad when we are immersed in a negative situation and we need to overcome adversity. That said, we do not need to let the crap moments produced by adversity sabotage our efforts to move toward success.

When you reframe your response to adversity or stress, you say to yourself, “I know what to do here.” You can move ahead with confidence and a new perspective.

If you reframe the content of your situation, it means you choose what you focus on. Nothing has changed, but instead of wallowing in what did not work, you intentionally choose to focus on what did, or might, work.

Tip: Rather than complain to everyone about a failure, reframe your situation so you can learn from the experience. Ask yourself what it taught you. Take the time to analyze why you failed—and then move on. No one wants to keep hearing about it…

4. Anticipate What Could Go Wrong

One of the best questions you can ask yourself in any situation is this: “What could go wrong?” This question is not an exercise in pessimism. It’s a great reality check because guess what? Shit happens. And the more prepared you are, the quicker you can adapt and move forward.

Don’t find yourself surprised when something goes wrong. Be prepared. When you anticipate what could go wrong, you take the knee-jerk anxiety out of the equation.

Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong. When we fight to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, we end up less prepared, and more distressed, when negative things happen.

When you anticipate all that can go wrong in difficult and awkward conversations, you remove the surprise and most of the fear. Ready yourself for the worst. As Seneca said, “The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive.”

So, what can do you do to prepare yourself? What options do you have when the worst case happens? How can you prevent it from happening? What can you do today to reduce the chances of the worst happening? As best-selling author Tim Ferris explains, if it does happen, how can you bounce back? Write it all down on paper and think it through.

Tip: Try this the next time you anticipate awkward conversations: 1) What is the worst that can happen? Write it down. Feel it. 2) Ask how you can prevent it and write down the solutions. 3) Rehearse all the ways the conversation could go wrong. Practice your responses.   

© 2018 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 Empathy Makes You A More Effective Leader

January 8th, 2018 by LaRae Quy

Empathy is one of the most popular topics brought up for discussion by my executive coaching clients. It’s not surprising because empathy is the most important instrument in a leader’s toolbox.

Effective leaders make it a priority to take care of their people. In return, their people give everything to protect and advance the mission of the organization. They know how to inspire and motivate by tapping into what their team truly value and want. And, as the Millennials enter the workplace, this will only become more important.

A recent study by Weber Shandwick found that Millennials, more than any other generation, expect the organization’s core values to be reflected by senior leadership. Their early schooling in social media is changing the way we do business. Companies can no longer get away with simply providing goods or services. They are also expected to deliver their message with honesty and compassion—in other words, empathy.

But here’s the rub: while we crave being heard and valued, we have become so caught up in technology that we are dumbing down our social skills. Psychologist Sara Konrath at Michigan University found that young people are becoming less empathic than ever; American College students showed a 48% decrease in empathic concern and a 34% drop in their ability to see other people’s perspectives.

87% of the same Millennials who expect to be understood and appreciated at work also admit to missing out on a conversation because they were distracted by a phone.

In a world that becomes increasingly automated and computerised, we are losing the very skills that are essential for effective leadership. How can we stop this shipwreck? Let’s take a look:

1. Understand The Meaning Of Empathy

I have always found empathy to be intriguing because it allows you to read minds, something that came in handy as an FBI agent. By listening to another person’s words and reading their body language, you can figure out what they are feeling and thinking.

Empathy is not sympathy, nor is it feeling sorry for others. Instead, it is understanding what others are feeling or thinking. People tend to focus on the touchy-feely aspect of empathy, and indeed it is important to understand where another person is coming from. However, an empathetic leader is also capable of sensing what another person is thinking. This can be extremely helpful in everything from negotiating a salary to planning a social event for the office.

The solution: It’s important to examine your own attitude when dealing with others. Are you more concerned with getting your way, winning, or being right? Put aside your viewpoint, and try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Maybe you aren’t the center of the world after all.

2. Realize That Empathy Is Driven By Our Brain

Neuroscience explains that our brain produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is a major contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.  Other neurotransmitters, like oxytocin, contribute to emotions like pride, trust, and connection with others.

Both serotonin and oxytocin have long term effects that become stronger over time. Research on neuroplasticity shows that our brains can be rewired and that neurotransmitters can actually change the brain. On a deep level, we need to feel that we and our work is valued and appreciated by others.

All of these brain chemicals work together to help us bond with others. It’s why we feel safer when we’re part of a group. Back in the caveman days, our safety literally depended upon a group with whom we felt safe and comfortable.

The Solution: Validate the other person’s perspective. People have different opinions from your own and they may have good reasons for them. If you’re stuck on what to say, try this: “Is everything OK?”

3. Develop Emotionally Literate Geeks

There are more Millennials in the workplace today than Boomers. They are the generation raised on social media, automation, and digitalization. Things that take time or slow are seen as a weakness. A large percentage feel that texting is as effective as one-on-one conversations.

We need to find ways to turn empathetic slobs into empowered leaders who can integrate technical expertise with emotional intelligence.

The Solution: Take the time to embed the skills associated with empathy into every level of your organization. These are the skills that will differentiate automated machines from their human counterparts. Teach your people mental toughness so they will know how to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set them up for success. 

4. Pay Attention

Neuroscientists have discovered that humans are wired to experience empathy through mirror neurons in our brain. These mirror neurons reflect back what we observe in others and cause us to mimic those observations in our own brains.

As it happens, mirror neurons are strongest when we observe a person’s emotions. We see facial expressions, eye movements, body movements, and gestures. Consciously and unconsciously, we mimic many of those same expressions, body movements, and gestures as we talk to others.

The Solution: Do not multi-task when observing another person. Turn off the cellphone and laptop and pay attention to what they are saying and doing.

5. Communicate Empathetically

When interviewing an FBI suspect, I always paid more attention to their body language than to the words they used. When there is a conflict between verbal and non-verbal cues, always trust the non-verbal. They are usually more accurate.

I also noticed the voice tone of politicians, newscasters, and friends to understand how they used their voices to express empathy.

The Solution: Practice on yourself by noticing what you are doing nonverbally when interacting with others. Notice with whom you have difficulty being empathetic. Examine why.

6. Fake It If Nothing Else

I was once put in a situation where I needed to develop rapport with a convicted child molester. The victim was his own daughter. However, it was necessary for me to act empathically to achieve the desired outcome. What is interesting is that after several minutes I actually started to feel some empathy toward the man as a result of “acting” empathic.

The need for you to develop rapport and show empathy with a child molester is remote, but you may need to win over a creep who is also an important client.

The Solution: You can disagree, or even dislike, an individual and still be capable of understanding what they are feeling and thinking. Listening without judgment can also convey empathy. Communicate to them that you understand what they are experiencing. Practice empathy even when you don’t feel like it and it will help you become a more effective leader.

© 2018 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.”