Archive for October, 2012

The One Question That Will Lead To Self-Awareness

Monday, October 29th, 2012

A friend of mine is going through a time of uncertainty right now. She has sent her teenage son to a semester at a wilderness training camp in Montana in an attempt to teach him self-awareness, values and discipline.

She came to the conclusion that this was the best, perhaps only, course of action after a series of truancy incidents at school, slipping grades, and warning by the local police department that her son was observed in the company of drug dealers with long arrest records.

Worse, his attitude towards family and friends had changed. No longer the friendly outgoing kid, he had morphed into a somber and isolated young man who never shared his thoughts or articulated plans for his future.

She asked herself, “Why is this happening to me?” As a single parent, she had tried to be responsible, loving, and caring.

Desperate for perspective, she turned to the ancient book of the Bible. In Exodus 15, the Bible tells the story of the wilderness experience of the Jewish people. They were led by a man called Moses to escape slavery in Egypt, and began their journey to freedom through the wilderness. It started out as a short journey, but it dragged on for forty years.

In the Bible story, the Jewish people exhibited behavior that was akin to the behavior exhibited by my friend’s son. They were ungrateful, critical, hurtful, and full of spite toward Moses and God, even though they had been delivered from years of slavery in Egypt.

Readers of the biblical incident often find themselves critical of the people in the wilderness—they resembled spoiled children! The writer of this account wants his audience to criticize them because it’s like walking into a room and noticing a huge, ugly painting on the wall. Up close, however, the ugly painting turns out to be a mirror. The writer uses the wilderness experience as a way of illustrating that it takes time for us to focus on how to make things go right instead of complaining about why they went wrong.

My friend realized she had been asking the wrong question all along. Instead of asking, “Why is this happening to me?” she was able to ask the one question that could change her life:

“How can this make me a better person?”

Where she was going was not as important as the self-awareness of who she was becoming. Her focus changed, and instead of dwelling on the negative, she looked for the positive in her situation.

Most people criticized my friend for her decision to send her son to wilderness training. “What about therapy?” they asked. “Try changing schools.” “You are treating him like a criminal.” At first, the vitriol behind the comments was hard to accept, but she recalled the image of the ugly painting that turned into a mirror. This insight gave her the mental toughness to march ahead despite the criticism. She used the right question to evaluate and enlarge her understanding of her environment.

Like my friend, the answers we get are often determined by the questions we ask. If we ask bad questions, we will get bad answers. If we ask empowering questions, we will get better answers because they will help us develop the self-awareness to understand how to react in positive ways to different situations that we will face in business and life.

If you are going through a difficult, uncertain time, here are better questions you can ask yourself to create more self-awareness:


  1. What is something new that I observed today?
  2. What is something new that that I experienced this week?
  3. What would I like to accomplish in the next 12 months?
  4. What do I need to do today to make that happen?


  1. Who is the happiest person I know?
  2. Who are the people I like and respect the most? Why?
  3. What are three new things I am thankful for each day?
  4. Can I describe one positive experience I’ve had each day?


  1. What do I truly love?
  2. What am I good at?
  3. What brings me satisfaction?
  4. What was the road I did not take in life?
  5. Is that road still beckoning me?
  6. What would that road look like today if I did take it?

Where you are going is not as important as who you are becoming.

Asking yourself the right questions to develop self-awareness can empower you to change the direction of your life.

© 2012 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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

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How To Overcome Adversity

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

I hated my first job. I had always thought of myself as mentally tough and able to overcome adversity, but I was not prepared for the challenges that faced me while looking for a new career in a weak economy.

After getting my bachelor’s degree, my first job out of college was working as a department manager in a large retail chain in Phoenix. I foolishly thought because I liked clothes that I would like working in the industry. I didn’t mind the hard work through the holidays, ridiculous work schedule, or poor pay. I did resent the ruthlessness with which management treated their people as disposable assets.

The economy was in a serious downturn. Changing jobs was difficult enough, but breaking into a new career proved to be full of challenges and adversity. Doors not only closed for me—they slammed shut. I was rejected for one job after another.

Months passed. I eventually went back to graduate school while still working full-time. When I learned that the FBI was coming onto campus to interview I thought, “Why not?” That one small step changed the course of my life.

It wasn’t until I was in the FBI Academy that I realized that I had overcome adversity to reach my goal of starting a new career. Once I became an agent in the field, there were lots more opportunities to overcome adversity—complex federal investigations can be tough to solve.

New research suggests that resilience to adversity in our life may be linked to how often we face it. The number of blows a person has taken may affect their mental toughness more than any other factor.

The study showed that the frequency of adversities faced by an individual in the past assists them in developing resilience to overcome adversity in the future. In essence, past experiences provide a way of predicting how a person will behave when faced with adversity in the future.

Some of the participants in the study had lived a charmed life and had faced little or no adversity in their life. The researchers found that they were not the ones most satisfied with their lives. Their sense of wellbeing was about the same as those who had suffered several memorable blows in life.

The participants who scored the highest in wellbeing were those reporting two to six stressful events.

This is what I learned about how to overcome adversity:

1. Confront The Negative

You can learn a great deal from your mistakes and failures if you aren’t too busy denying them. If you are continuing to ask the same questions of yourself for months or years, and still find yourself stuck in the same place, it’s not that you don’t know the answers—it’s more likely that you don’t like the answers. It takes courage to admit things need to change, and a lot more courage to accept responsibility for actually changing them. The most difficult step moving forward is usually the first step. Once you build momentum, you will find yourself in a spiral of positive changes, each one building on the other.

2. Make Changes, Not Excuses

Listen to your inner voice and not the competing opinions of everyone else. This is your life and yours alone. Let your dreams be bigger than your fears. Live by choice, not by chance.

3. Face Adversity, Don’t Avoid It

The study cited above reflects how easy it is for you to take your good luck for granted. If you are not prepared for adversity when it comes, you have no tools with which to fight back. Not getting what you always want forces you to identify your core character strengths and personal values, information you might have otherwise over looked. Some things fall apart in life so that better things can fall together.

4. Expect A Little Pain

It’s not a pleasant thought, but very often it is the stressful choices that end up being the most worthwhile. Without pain, there would be no change. Just remember to learn from your pain and then release it.

5. Move Into Your Discomfort Zone

Don’t be reluctant to accept a new responsibility or challenge because you don’t think you’re ready. It’s OK to acknowledge that you need additional information, skill, or experience but remember that no one is 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Most opportunities in life force us to grow, both emotionally and intellectually. They force us out of our comfort zone, and so it’s natural to not feel comfortable at first. Significant opportunities for personal growth and success will come and go through your lifetime. If you’re looking to build resilience and overcome adversity, you will need to embrace moments of uncertainty even though you don’t feel 100% ready for them.

6. Embrace The Lesson

Everything happens for a reason. Things go wrong so you can learn to appreciate things when they go right. Learn to embrace the lesson each opportunity has to teach you so you can recognize the circumstances surrounding those lessons the next time they show up.

Building a strong mind to overcome adversity is like building strong muscles—it weakens when not practiced enough.

What tips do you have to offer someone who is experiencing adversity?

© 2012 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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Determination — 8 Effective Steps

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

I learned a lot about determination during the long, harsh Wyoming winters where I helped my parents load hay onto a truck so we could feed our cattle. 

My life changed dramatically when I entered the FBI Academy at Quantico. The focus was on building upper body strength, again—only this time, instead of stacking bales of hay it was the pushups that were required to graduate from the Academy. My coach told me to “kiss the ground I walked on” if I expected him to “count” my pushup. Although I had grown up throwing around 50 pound bales of hay, I had a difficult time mustering the strength to do a pushup that counted in the eyes of my coach.

I questioned how gutting out the perfect push-up was going to make me a better investigator or make it easier to find foreign spies.

But there was no choice; every day at the FBI Academy involved some kind of physical activity. I entered the FBI Academy quite confident in my physical abilities. On the very first day, I found myself compared with other new agents who were far more talented, not only in physical fitness but in other categories as well.

My environment had drastically changed. The people who were now my colleagues represented the cream of the crop. I was not as talented as many of the other new agents but that did not matter. I had to look hard and deep to find qualities in which I excelled but I was determined to succeed. I would not give up. I would learn to survive in this new environment in which I found myself.

Giving up is easy. Anyone can do that. When you do, you surrender. You fall down because others wore you down with their constant message that you won’t succeed.

Determination is continuing to move ahead even when life hasn’t thrown you a perfect hand.

It is the deliberate action of doing something again and again until you get it right. And then maybe doing it again after that, too. If you can dig deep and find the discipline to persist, you can harness a power that is has unlimited potential.

Nothing can take the place of determination. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius cannot make you successful; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Persistence and determination alone will keep you moving ahead when your circumstances and environment has changed.

I straightened my back at the FBI Academy and dug deeper. A strong mind is not built on something that is slapped together on a shallow foundation. It needs solid rock—like a skyscraper, the higher you want to go, the deeper your foundation must go.

Many of our most important goals require persistence if we want to achieve them. I learned that there are ways to increase determination —and here are some of the techniques that helped me:

1. Determination Means Facing Your Problems Head-On

It isn’t your problems that define you—it’s how you react and recover from them. Your problems are not going away unless you do something about them.

2. Determination Requires You To Be Honest With Yourself

Be honest about what you want to achieve, who you want to become, and the obstacles that are preventing you from achieving your goals. Be honest with every aspect of your life because you are the one person who always has your best interests at heart.

3. Determination Helps You Find Your Purpose

If you are not pursing something that holds value and meaning for you, you won’t have the determination that is required to keep moving through obstacles and roadblocks. You’ll be tempted to give up because it’s not where your heart truly is at.

4. Determination Defines Behavior

Identify the specific steps you need to take to achieve your goal. Define your goal in terms of behavior.

5. Determination Takes Small Steps

If you start with small goals, it will be easier to move up to bigger goals as you move forward.

6. Determination Requires Organization

Once you’ve set your goal, it must become a priority. This is often where weak wills meet rubber roads. Wishing for something to happen won’t make it happen. Reorganize your day so that you have time to make your goal a reality.

7. Determination Requires Vigilance

Watch for Excuses. Determination is getting yourself to do something you don’t necessary want to do. Don’t give yourself permission to come up an excuse to avoid working toward your goal.

8. Determination Is A Habit

Getting into a routine is very important. There will be many times when you feel as though you’ve made no progress, but remember it’s important to not give in. In my book, “Secrets of a Strong Mind,” I talk how about the steps necessary to build habits that will lead you toward doing what you need to do to reach your goal.

Every day I kept at it, making a little progress at a time. Eventually, I could do the thirty-five pushups needed to pass the physical fitness requirements at the Academy. In retrospect, I have to say that my lesson in pushups was one of the most valuable I learned in my training: determination is the key to unlocking life’s obstacles. Instead of seeing them as threats, they are simply challenges to be met.

How has determination made a difference in your life? 

© 2012 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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