Archive for January, 2015

5 Effective Ways You Can Take It To The Next Level

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

After 20 years working counterintelligence cases, I was asked to become the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California. My first reaction was “No”—I was very comfortable in my position as a case agent. By this time, I knew every step in the manual and had my network of informants in place so I could launch an investigation against a foreign intelligence officer with very little effort on my part.

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I felt the quiet pleasure of a smug satisfaction with my existing situation. But in the back of my mind, I knew I wasn’t continuing to hone my skills; I wasn’t striving to do my best. In truth, I had become complacent; I had reached a plateau.

When I said “NO,” I was refusing to take my career to the next level. I was successful as a case agent, but my complacency was not nurturing my ambition. 

The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.”—Benjamin E. Mays

Stanford researcher Carol Dweck observed, “There is no relation between students’ abilities or intelligence and the development of mastery-oriented qualities. Some of the very brightest students avoid challenges, dislike effort, and wilt in the face of difficulty. And some of the less bright students are real go-getters, thriving on challenge, persisting intensely when things get difficult, and accomplishing more than you expected.”

I had always been a go-getter, but somewhere in those 20 years I had settled into a comfort zone that produced mediocrity.

Complacent strength is our greatest weakness.“—LaRae Quy

I eventually did say “Yes” and represented the FBI for 4 years in Northern California. I’m going to share 5 effective ways that I took it to the next level, and so can you:

1. ADMIT YOU HAVE HIT A PLATEAU

You can’t take it to the next level until you admit you’re looking at a long stretch in the way of where you want to go. 

As hard as you look, it appears to go on forever. If you ever do find the end, you may be greeted with a sharp precipice plunging downward—or a steep incline reaching upward.

2. INSPECT YOUR FOUNDATION

You can’t take it to the next level until you take a closer look at why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Often, we get into something only because a teacher or parent told us we should. Finding ourselves stuck on an endless plateau may be a pinprick to our heart that we’ve taken the wrong road.

A plateau can be the way your body and mind gets your attention if you are pursuing a career or goal that does not hold value and meaning for you. Flat terrain may provide you an opportunity to reassess the direction your life is going to decide whether this is where you really want to be.

3. DISTINGUISH BETWEEN PLATEAU AND BURNOUT

You can’t take it to the next level until you know whether you’re experiencing a plateau—or a burnout.

In a plateau, you can find ways to become empowered and recharged. Burnout is trying to do the same old things, or do things in the same old ways, without recognizing your need for reassessment.

  • The cure for a plateau is enthusiasm. Enthusiasm will propel you to learn new skills and information to keep moving forward.
  • The cure for burnout is excavating the resentment you feel for what you’ve had to sacrifice in order to get where you are.

4. RECOGNIZE SURVIVAL MODE FOR WHAT IT IS—MEDIOCRITY

You can’t take it to the next level until you can sift out the junk that’s taking up so much of your time and energy.

When you’re so tired and frustrated that you feel you’re just in survival mode, change is one more item on your list to deal with! So why not stay in the plateau? Better the devil you know than the one you don’t—right?

Mediocrity is settling for less than you know you can be, whether in business or life. It’s giving up on finding a path that will bring greater happiness and joy.

5. DEVELOP A GROWTH MINDSET

You can’t take it to the next level until you make learning new skills and qualities a priority in your life.

Carol Dweck discovered through her research that our mindset affects our ability to fulfill our potential—to grow and learn, take risks, bounce back from adversity, to build healthy relationships.   

If we have a “fixed mindset,” we believe our qualities, including our intelligence, are something we were born with and cannot be changed.  If we have a “growth mindset,” we believe that we can cultivate and grow our basic qualities, including our intelligence.

Pay attention to the conversations you have with yourself; self-talk is a powerful tool when it comes to developing mental toughness. If you assume you are capable of change and growth in all ways possible, it’s the starting point for moving beyond your plateau.

In other words, it’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up being the smartest.

What tips would you add for taking your career to the next level when you’ve hit a plateau?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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How To Think On Your Feet When Under Pressure

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

During a large meeting of agents at FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C., the Counterintelligence Section Chief turned to me and asked what I felt was the priority target for foreign spies in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

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My answer was based on solid information gathered by my fellow agents. I kept my answer concise and clear. The Section Chief nodded and then asked, “What operations have you initiated to stop it?”

As every head in the room turned toward me, I felt my mouth get dry and I cleared my throat so I could respond with a calm and clear voice. But the truth was awkward—I hadn’t initiated any operation against the target. Yikes!

Have any of you ever felt yourself under pressure to come up with the perfect answer when put on the spot by your CEO or supervisor? And in front of your colleagues? What if you can’t think of anything to say?

I felt a collective sigh of relief from the others that I had been the one singled out and forced to admit the FBI was struggling to find effective ways to penetrate the activities of a foreign intelligence service. It didn’t help that I’m the kind of person who comes up with perfect retorts—about twenty minutes after the question is asked.

Thinking on your feet is an important skill. Once you master it, your responses will create immediate confidence in what you’re saying.

Confidence is critical when learning to think on your feet. Confidence allows us to respond in ways that portrays competency, trustworthiness, intelligence, and a strong mind.

Here are 5 ways you can learn how to think on your feet when under pressure:

1. PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE

The secret to thinking on your feet is to be prepared.

There is no such thing as being over-prepared when you enter a meeting or situation where there is even the slightest possibility of finding yourself faced with unexpected questions.

This means taking the extra step—always. It also means working very hard as you brief yourself on the issues, the alternatives, and the consequences of each alternative. With a bit of reflection, it’s often possible to predict the types of questions you might be asked, so you can prepare and rehearse some answers to questions that might come your way.

Yes, you may be over-prepared 99% of the time, but when you do eventually hear your name called out, you will know the answer. 

That confidence will help you to remain calm when you’re in the hot seat.

2. GIVE YOUR THINKING BRAIN TIME TO CATCH UP WITH YOUR EMOTIONAL BRAIN

The secret to thinking on your feet is learning how to stall for time.

You’ve probably heard it said a hundred times that taking a deep breath is important.

But here is what you really need to know—stalling for time gives your thinking cerebral brain time to process the facts and override the emotional limbic system that is freaking out.

3. BE SAVVY IN THE WAY YOU STALL FOR TIME

The secret to thinking on your feet is asking for the question to be repeated, or better yet—repeat the question yourself, but this time change the wording slightly.

By changing the wording slightly, the onus is now on the person asking the question to reorganize their thoughts. Their mind is no longer solely focused on their original question as they absorb the new thought or twist you introduced when you repeated their question.

But, be clever about this, because it can also be very obvious to the individual asking the question that you are stalling for time or trying to avoid answering it. The key is slightly rewording the question and subtlety introducing a new element.

For example, when answering the Section Chief I could have reworded his question so it sounded more like, “What initiatives has San Francisco taken? Several—for example…” The attention was moved from “me” to “San Francisco.” 

And by answering with in-depth knowledge and confidence, I could have listed several operations initiated by my fellow agents. The momentum created by the direction I took the conversation would have shifted from what I personally had not done, to giving credit to my colleagues for testing out some creative approaches.

4. STICK TO ONE POINT AND SUPPORT IT WITH FACTS

The secret to thinking on your feet is making one fabulous point instead of trying to cover everything. 

When you’re under pressure to produce an answer, there’s a tendency to try and cover up what you don’t know by giving too much information. That does nothing but leave you looking as though you haven’t organized your thoughts and you risk more probing follow-up questions from the individual asking the question.

Long answers are always risky because they not only bore the listeners, they can make you look as though you are trying too hard to impress. 

Instead, focus on sticking to the point and support it with facts.

5. HAVE THE BALLS TO ADMIT YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER

The secret to thinking on your feet is looking intelligent and competent, even when you don’t have the answer.

If you don’t know the answer, say so. Don’t risk your reputation by trying to make something up. You risk looking foolish and that will lower your confidence, both in your own eyes and in the eyes of the others in the room.

What tips do you have for thinking on your feet when under pressure?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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The Real Reasons You Let Uncertainty Hold You Back

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

I will never forget the first day I ever shot a gun. I was on the firing line at the FBI Academy and holding a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver. My heart was racing and my palms were sweating—I was filled with uncertainty and worried that I would not shoot well enough to qualify.

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Experiencing uncertainty is different than taking a risk. Risk involves a known probability that something will, or will not happen; uncertainty, however, indicates the probabilities are unknown.

Therefore, we cannot predict an outcome.

How many of us have missed tremendous opportunities and experiences because we’ve chosen to walk away when faced with uncertainty?

But avoiding challenges is a form of self-sabotage—it is holding onto self-limiting beliefs about what we can do in life. 

Mental toughness is the ability to break unproductive patterns of behavior. It is managing your emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set you up for success.

Here are three ways you can be mentally tough and not let uncertainty hold you back:

 

1. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO DO NOT THINK LIKE YOU

You do not let uncertainty hold you back when you hang around people who encourage you to push your boundaries and try new things.

When we surround ourselves with information that matches our beliefs, we subconsciously limit our exposure to views and opinions that are different from our own. Different views may threaten our comfortable way of thinking by challenging us with new aspirations. 

If you see yourself in a certain way, and that image is bolstered by the people with whom you surround yourself, you will continue to act and behave in ways that is consistent with that image.

Tip:

  • Break away from people who keep you tethered to your self-limiting beliefs.
  • Spend time with people who have different points of view from your own.
  • Learn from their experiences.
  • Embark on a new adventure or destination.
  • Give yourself permission to be uncomfortable–and even fail at first, as you discover new strengths, skills, and talents.

 

2. NEVER CONFUSE MEMORIES WITH FACTS

You do not let uncertainty hold you back when you recognize that your recollection of the past is not always accurate.

Our memories are fallible, and yet we often treat them as more reliable than current observation or data.

Our memory does not store information exactly as it’s presented to us. Instead, we extract the gist of the experience and store it in ways that makes the most sense to us. That’s why different people witnessing the same event often have different versions.

Tip:

  • Remember that your confirmation bias stores information that is consistent with your own beliefs, values, and self-image. 
  • Recognize that memories do not always provide you with accurate information.
  • Revisit the facts of a memory freighted with self-limiting beliefs so you can gain a more accurate perspective on the event.

 

3. BE CAUTIOUS WITH STEREOTYPES

You do not let uncertainty hold you back when you resist the temptation to rely on stereotypes to help you think fast.

Researcher Daniel Kahneman describes how we can think fast by using stereotypes, rules of thumb, and jumping to conclusions. Thinking fast is incredibly efficient, usually accurate, and essential to our survival. Most importantly, it frees up our thinking for other things.

However, thinking fast also creates errors in specific situations. Our brain is so wedded to stereotypes that we rely upon them even when they defy logic—especially when the stereotype is a self-limiting belief about ourselves.

Tip:

  • Recognize that much of the way in which you categorize and sort information is accurate.
  • Evaluate your rules of thumb, however, on a regular basis to ensure that your information is up to date and  non-prejudicial.
  • Be alert for stereotypes that place limits—either on others or yourself.
  • Be aware of potential pitfalls when making snap decisions and judgments.

 

4. NEVER TAKE CONFIDENCE FOR GRANTED

You do not let uncertainty hold you back when you are mindful about the confidence you place in yourself and others.

If you are smart, you will always test the ground before taking a step into the unknown. That is not lack of confidence; that is old-fashioned self-preservation.

One of my favorite stories about a smart leader is a man named Gideon whose story is found in the Bible

Gideon was an agile and innovative thinker who had found a clever way to hide food from hostile invaders by putting his winepress to double use—he turned it into a sunken threshing floor.

When he is visited by God and asked to save Israel from the invaders, he didn’t jump into a task for which he was ill-prepared. He admitted he was feeling inadequate and expressed his doubts.  

Gideon took the time to think about God’s proposal, rather than letting his ego answer for him. Gideon asked for 3 confirmations from God that he was the right man for the job. He received all 3 confirmations and went on to fight, and overthrow, the invaders.

Tip:

  • Self-confidence is humble and not afraid to ask for verification from others—even God!
  • Self-confidence takes the time to assess the situation before jumping in.

What are some of the reasons uncertainty holds you back?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

You can follow me on Twitter

Sign up for my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

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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