Archive for May, 2015

5 Rules To Sharpen Your Mental Toughness

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

After 9/11, hundreds of FBI agents were pulled from their assignments and reassigned to counterterrorism squads. Leadership was not concerned that these agents had no experience with terrorism cases, because they are taught in the FBI Academy to have mental toughness—the confidence to know that you will prevail in whatever situation you find yourself.


In truth, everyone can benefit from mental toughness training—athletes, executives, and anyone in leadership positions.


We all need to find ways of turning negative thinking into positive behavior. Athletes can psych themselves out by seeing other athletes that are in better shape. Entrepreneurs and leaders can become overwhelmed by the competitive demands of the marketplace.

To be successful, we need to develop the mental skills to carry us beyond our current situation and create breakthroughs that take us into the winner’s circle.

Here are 5 rules to follow that will sharpen your mental toughness:

Rule #1 Develop Emotional Awareness

To be mentally tough, you need to have a deep understanding of what makes you tick so you can follow your calling and create a richer life.

Mental toughness is often associated with sports activities where athletes need to bulldoze their way through to the finish line. And yes, strong minds are needed to build strong bodies that are physically competitive.

But any top coach worth their salary will tell you that the will to win has to come from within. That requires athletes to have mental toughness so they can control their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set them up for success.

Mental toughness is accepting our feelings without being controlled by them.

The Rule of Emotional Awareness states that we need to be acutely aware of our emotions, and the emotions of others, so we can follow our calling and create a richer life full of meaning and value.

Rule #2 Push Through Your Limits

Mentally tough people know that to reach their potential, they need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

World class experts fail a lot. They like to play at things that are too hard for them and accept challenges that are too big.

But this is key: In the process, they’re always getting valuable feedback.

You cannot be mentally tough if you cry like a baby because it’s scary when left in the dark. Guess what? Life frequently throws a wad of darkness into our midst—even when we aren’t expecting it or don’t want it!

We are confronted with the unknown everyday, and we choose to either navigate it with success or avoid it like a wimp.

Mental toughness requires us to push through the limits that we’ve imposed on ourselves, or have been imposed upon us by family, teachers, or society. We need to practice moving into our discomfort zone—frequently. Each time we fail we need to take the time to stop and analyze what we learned from the experience. With these experiences comes the confidence that we won’t break like a china doll in the process.

A message to all wimps: You cannot grow if you don’t move out of the center where it is safe and well-lit.

Instead, follow your calling and celebrate each time you break a new frontier. It is ironic that you must move to the edge to find your center.

The Rule of Push Limits states that becoming comfortable with new challenges and embracing things that are hard is key to building mental toughness.

Rule #3 Transform Your Mind

To be mentally tough, you need to keep a tight rein on your thoughts.

We become what we think.

We are impacted by our thoughts because neuroscience is proving that we can actually rewire our brain by changing the way we think.

Recent research in the field of neuroplasticity explains how new neural pathways and synapses can be created by changing our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. In other words, mental toughness is not something you were born with, it is something you can develop!

Neuroplasticity replaced the former opinion that the brain was a static organ that stops growing by the age of 25. Now we know the brain is capable of changing throughout our lifetime.

Norman Vincent Peale made the expression “The power of positive thinking” very popular several decades ago. Instinctively he knew, without the benefit of neuroscience, that if we change our attitudes we can empower ourselves to achieve the impossible.

The Rule of Transform Your Mind states that by changing the way you think about self-limiting beliefs and other obstacles in your life, you can rewire your brain in such a way that it is always working for you and not against you.

Rule #4 Focus Your Energy

If you want to be mentally tough, you must be able to focus your mental and physical energy.

When we focus, we are present to what is happening right now, not in the past or the future. It’s important to keep the mind and body completely engaged in the actual performance and NOT the outcome of the performance.

Olympic athletes are excellent examples of how to channel talent into success. They do not rely on luck to take home the gold medal. World class experts practice with laser focus with a specific goal in mind. But it’s not just repeating the same task over and over—it is deliberate practice, and that has certain features:

  • Break down each task into individual parts
  • Work on the hard stuff
  • Get feedback so you can get better
  • Put your ego on the back burner
  • Remain steadfast in your goals

The Rule of Focused Energy states that deliberate practice takes willpower, persistence, and training to achieve personal mastery.

Rule #5 Pursue Personal Growth

If you are seriously interested in sharpening your mental toughness, you need to read. Books. Articles. Blogs. I have never met a mentally strong person who was not a voracious reader.

The reason?

The mentally tough are learners who understand that the world is not made of up of winners or losers; instead, the world is made up of learners or non-learners. If you have mental toughness, you learn new skills and expand your horizons, study to become more intelligent, and find ways to make yourself more likable and attractive.

If we were born smart and talented, we don’t know to work hard because it all comes naturally to us. So when times get tough, we give up.

Mentally tough people are scrappy folks who know that just because you started out the smartest, it doesn’t mean you’re going to end up the smartest.

The Rule of Pursue Personal Growth states that we never stop learning, improving ourselves, and growing our mental strength.

Are there any other rules of mental toughness that you would add?

© 2015 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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Why Self-Compassion Is An Essential Skill For Great Leadership

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

One of the most difficult things I had to do when working a fraud investigation was look a retired couple sitting across from me in the eye and tell them that the FBI would not be investigating the criminals who had scammed these people out of their life savings.

Emotions - hard on yourself

It was truly one of the worst days of my life. The old folks had been duped into investing their entire retirement fund into a scam, and while it was all they had to live on, it still did not meet the threshold for an FBI investigation.

How could I tell them that their life’s work was not enough to capture the FBI’s attention?

A negative voice in my head kept saying that somehow I should have been able to tie their case to another scam—anything to make it work! But the truth of the matter was that I had no evidence to take it to the next step.

I criticized my ineptness and lack of creativity; I mercilessly judged myself for shortcomings when that voice in my head would not shut up. Ironically, while I felt compassion toward the retired couple, I could not extend that same kindness toward myself.

Leadership training courses and workshops on emotional intelligence spit out quotes and inspirational messages on how to be empathic, collaborative, and self-aware. But they rarely delve into the stickier issue of self-compassion. Why not?

Because self-compassion is seen by many as being too self-centric. As leaders, we are exhorted to be servant leaders, lead by example, put others before ourselves, and nurture the well-being of the team.

Meanwhile, leaders like Elon Musk and Donald Trump thrive as bullies in the work environment because they surround themselves with suck-ups who feed their ego.

Where is the healthy balance? No one wants the personal life of either Musk or Trump—losers when it comes to a relationship with self. And based on divorce rates, with others as well.

Try these 4 tips to dampen the voice of your inner critic and express more self-compassion:

1. Remember You Are Not Perfect

Stop lying to yourself that you are awesome and perfect. Because you are not. You are human. When you remember this, it is easier to forgive yourself, and when you do, you also feel less anxiety about your performance.

2. Differentiate Between Self-Esteem And Self-Compassion

There is a big difference between self-esteem and self-compassion. There’s been an explosion of literature and workshops on how to build self-esteem but the unintended result has been an epidemic of narcissism.

In Jean Twenge’s book, Generation Me, she shares the results of a study that examined the narcissism levels of over 15,000 U.S. college students between 1987 and 2006. During that 20-year period, narcissism scores soared, with 65 percent of modern-day students scoring higher in narcissism than previous generations.

Ironically, as we try to see ourselves as better than others, our sense of worthiness takes a dive. This emotional rollercoaster can lead to depression and anxiety—a reminder that we are not perfect.

In fact, a striking finding of Twenge’s study was that people with high self-esteem were much more narcissistic than those with low self-esteem. In contrast, self-compassion was completely unassociated with narcissism.

3. Reframe Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts are horrible things that are really tough to beat into submission. When we succumb to them, we automatically think the cause is permanent, pervasive, and personal.

It’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything, and it’s my fault.

Martin Seligman is the author of Learned Optimism and he is quoted as saying, “I am a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist. The techniques that I write about are ones that I use every day.”

So what are those techniques to ward off negative thoughts? He has a three-step process:

  • Recognize that the thought is there.
  • Treat that thought as if it were said by some third person whose job in life was to make your life miserable.
  • Learn to dispute it, to marshal evidence against it. With practice, you will get better and better at neutralizing it.

4. Talk To Yourself In A Nice Way

Experts in The Brain documentary made the claim that we say between 300 to 1000 words to ourselves a minute. The Navy SEALS and Special Forces use the power of positive self-talk as a way of getting through tough times.

For example, by instructing recruits to be mentally tough and speak positively to themselves, they could learn how to override fears resulting from the limbic brain system (amygdala), a primal part of the brain that helps us deal with anxiety.

Positive self-talk is self-compassion. You can also visualize a compassionate person saying positive things to you such as someone who loves you saying kind words, or a supportive supervisor affirming a job well done.

As a leader, you need to cultivate self-compassion. When you have self-compassion, you have feelings of self-worth, will be less embarrassed when you screw up, and less likely to take things personally.

And that is the type of leadership we all need.

How are you self-compassionate when things are not going according to plan?


© 2015 LaRaeQuy. 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.” 

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How You Can Stand Out As A Breakthrough Leader

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

A mentally tough leader is someone who creates breakthroughs in both business and life.

In her new book, Stand Out, Author Dorie Clark argues that breakthrough leaders not only need mental toughness, but they also need to stand out from the crowd to get their voice heard so they can make their unique contribution to the world.

Here is what is interesting about what Clark’s says in her book—anyone can have a big idea. Big ideas are not the intellectual property of Silicon Valley or big business. She encourages entrepreneurs to claim uncharted territory around those ideas that create value and meaning for them.

We all have a contribution to make, according to Clark. We all have something to say to the world.

Clark interviewed hundreds of successful people to glean wisdom from their experiences and she shares their stories with you. This is a quick and easy read—in a very good way. She doesn’t bog the reader down with minute details of the stories she shares; instead, she skims the essence of their wisdom and passes it down to the reader.

That is my kind of book!

Stand Out offers succinct and practical tips for breakthrough leaders who are struggling with how to develop their best ideas and ensure they spread. Here are 5 of my favorites:

Tip #1 Find Your Breakthrough Idea

Breakthrough leaders are always asking questions that others have not, and questioning assumptions that others may take for granted. Is there a better way?

“You do not succeed by following the rules and thinking exactly like everyone else.”—Dorie Clark

Start by pinpointing areas in which you are interested and qualified to talk about. What have you been pursuing since childhood? Sometimes you have to experiment with lots of ideas to see which one sticks.

You may not always know in advance what will work, so Clark advises that you start out with a variety and in the process learn which one people care about.

Tip #2 Develop Your Expert Niche

Clark suggests building a narrow base of knowledge in a narrow subject in order to get noticed and move past the competition. It may seem a career-limiting at first, but by doing this you can quickly become known as the expert in that field.

The goal is to move from being an expert, to the expert.

The secret to expanding your niche is to think through related areas where you can add value. Leverage your core knowledge into connections and collaborations that make sense.

Tip #3 Create A Framework

When you create a framework around your big idea, you enable others to understand how it applies to their life.

To make a mark in your field, spell out the fundamental principles behind your idea. By codifying a system, you create a set of touchstones that people can return to for every new situation they face.

A framework automatically creates a delivery system for your big idea to spread.

Tip #4 Build A Network

Spread the word about your big idea by building a strategic network. Blogging is a great way to get your idea out into the world.

Podcasts and interviews are other ways to develop relationships with other breakthrough leaders in the community. Create a hit list of people you want to get to know in your field and then interview them.

Face-to-face is always more effective, and with modern technology such as Skype and Google+ hangouts, it’s accessible to everyone.

Write a book—it’s the biggest business card in the world!

I love this piece of advice offered by Clark: “Challenge yourself to take one piece of content from your big idea and distribute it to five or even ten different channels. Watch how it scales so you can learn where your audience is located and how they are finding you.”

Tip #5 Make The Effort

“Work hard and never give up. No one ever drowned in a pool of sweat.”—LaRae Quy

Clark reminds us that top performers exponentially outwork everyone else. Write articles to get noticed, make YouTube videos, answer emails personally, read every book and article written by the person whom you are interviewing. Be willing to make the sacrifices you need to make in order to get to the top.

Finally, Clark encourages you to find ways to make your big idea sustainable. She warns that you will need space to think and reflect and make new connections.

Don’t be the person who never speaks up or shares their idea with the world.

What is holding you back?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

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

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11 Toxic Habits That Keep You From Success

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Even though I did not appreciate the discipline imposed upon me by my 4 months at the FBI Academy, it did teach me to master and maintain good habits. I realize now that what I did on a daily basis for those 4 months taught me how to direct my time and energy into habits that would lead to my success as an FBI agent.

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The definition of habit is an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.

Success needs more than inspiration—it requires good habits that lead to concrete action steps.

You may possess many skills and traits, but if you let toxic habits undermine your efforts, breaking the bad habit could be the game-changer for success you need.

Here are the 11 worst habits holding you back from success:

1. Fritter Away The Morning

If you waste your morning, you’ve lost your day. If you’re not a morning person, find a way to give yourself a kick in the butt so you get started. Create a routine that is easy to remember and even easier to follow. Give yourself tasks and deadlines to get you started; and then never leave anything that you started in the morning unfinished at the end of the day.

2. Cringe When Criticized

This club has a lot of members because no one wants to be criticized, but accept the fact that there is a huge difference between constructive criticism and vicious words spoken by petty critics.

You’re confident enough to walk away from small minds that only want to tear you down.

3. Blame Others

When I started whining about how unfair life was as a kid, my grandmother would look me in the eye and tell me to grow up. And that is my advice to you as well. Always take responsibility for your own actions. If you have any doubts about how ugly it looks and sounds to blame others and make excuses for yourself, take a closer look at our politicians.

Suck it up, admit your mistake, and move on.

Thanks, Grandma.

4. Confuse Money With Success

America has become so obsessed with money and all the stuff it will buy that it’s hard to have an intelligent conversation about what success should really mean to each one of us. Success is doing something with your life that gives you value and meaning.

Success is not just about making more money or going home with the most toys.

5. Refuse To Sacrifice

There are some who might consider the Marine Corp Base in Quantico, VA a great place to spend 4 months—however, I am not one of them. But, during my time at the Academy, because of the starkness of my surroundings, I did get into the habit of sacrificing things that I wanted in the short term to achieve the more important goal—to become an FBI agent.

The road to success is not one of excess. You will need to focus, sacrifice, and set priorities.

6. Complacency Will Kill You

One thing FBI agents learn early on in training is it’s not the streets or guns that will kill you—complacency is what will put you in harm’s way! Aways be alert and aware of what is going on in your environment. Opportunities are where your luck will hide, so always be searching for ways to make own your luck.

Complacency is where you go to wither up and die.

7. Complain About Working Hard

My grandmother told me, “You’ll never get to the top if you sit on your bottom,” and then she’d hand me a shovel to clean out the horse barn. If you work harder than everyone else, you will achieve the success you are looking for.

No one has ever drowned in a pool of sweat.

8. Permit Negative Thoughts To Take Over

I came very close to being washed out of the Academy because I wasn’t a good athlete. The FIT test was hard for me, and I was tempted to let the spiral of negativity keep me from achieving my goal. Our survival-driven brain is wired to pay more attention to negative thoughts than positive ones, so we really do need to work harder at remaining positive when things get tough.

Mental toughness is positivity on steroids—LaRae Quy

9. Neglect Your Family

Family looks different for everyone. Sometimes it’s our children and the people to whom we are related, but just as often it also includes those we love and hold close to us.

You need to spend quality time with them and not neglect those relationships if you want true success in life.

10. Maintain Mediocre Friendships

Since you don’t have choice in who you’re related to, be very careful in picking friends that will support you—in both good and bad times. My husband is an introvert who only counts a couple of buddies as close friends. I throw a much wider net and count lots of wonderful people as friends. The number doesn’t matter, but you don’t have either the time or the energy to surround yourself with mediocrity. That goes for friends, too.

11. Forget To Be Grateful

When you stop being grateful, you have the worst kind of heart trouble. It’s impossible to be negative or depressed when there is gratitude in your heart.

What bad habit have you broken lately?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE Mental Toughness Assessment

Get my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

Author of “Mental Toughness For Women Leaders” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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