Archive for November, 2015

Why You Need Self-Awareness And 16 Steps To Get There

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

As part of an arrest team in the uglier part of Oakland, my job was to cover the back door while the FBI SWAT team crashed through the front door with a bantering ram. These were the sort of criminals who did not hold day jobs—we had waited until 5:00am to make certain they had made it back home.

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I heard, “FBI, come out with your hands up.” I tried to control my fear as I waited for one of the suspects to make a run for it out the back door. I was wearing a bullet-proof vest and knew that I was surrounded by highly skilled FBI snipers, but that was not enough to assuage my worry that something could go wrong.

Then a scuffle, shouts, and the back door opened. One of my colleagues stepped out and gave me the OK sign that the suspects were in custody. As I lowered my weapon, my emotions immediately calmed down—the pressure was off.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, you may have felt fear when in a tense situation; or, found yourself sabotaged by an unwelcome emotion when under pressure.

Our brains are hardwired to make us emotional creatures—first and foremost. No matter how tough and self-controlled we think we are, our first reaction will ALWAYS be emotional. We can dampen or deny our emotions, but we are kidding ourselves if we think we can actually control the way in which our brain processes emotions. 

You do have total control, however, over the thoughts that follow an emotion. If you are in control, you also have a great deal of power over the way in which you react to your emotion and the situation that created it.

Mental toughness is managing your emotions by controlling our subsequent thoughts and behavior in ways that will set you up for success.

The key is to be aware of your emotion. If you are not fully aware of what you are feeling, you will be clueless in how to handle it effectively. You cannot change what you will not acknowledge.

1. Self Awareness Is Essential

Mentally tough leaders understand that self-awareness is the first step in building an unbeatable mind. Self-awareness is not some touchy-feely exercise that is meant to make you feel better about yourself.

Instead, it requires mental toughness to come to terms with the good, the bad, and the ugly about yourself. You will need a strong mind to face who you really are, without the pretense of illusion or vanity.

And it takes an equally strong mind to not let your emotions jab you in the stomach when you admit to yourself that you are not Superman or Wonder Woman. If you are not in control of your emotions, you can feel like a loser and give up.

2. Self-Awareness Takes Honesty And Patience

Mental toughness requires us to develop our strengths, and just as importantly, manage our weaknesses.

That means identifying what triggers 1) positive and healthy emotions, and 2) negative and unproductive ones. Mentally tough leaders know what triggers both types. Whether you like it or not, only by learning and understanding what triggers unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior can you begin to notice it and control it.

3. Steps To Self-Awareness

  1. Stop treating your emotions and feelings as either good or bad.
  2. Admit each emotion has something to teach you, even your negative emotions.
  3. Recognize that pretending a negative emotion doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it’s not still there, lurking beneath the surface and ready to sabotage you when you least expect it.
  4. Put yourself under surveillance.
  5. Notice what event, person, or situation provokes a good emotion.
  6. Notice what event, person, or situation provokes a negative emotion.
  7. Keep a journal of what you’ve noticed.
  8. Explore why you experienced a good and positive emotion.
  9. Explore why you experienced a negative and painful emotion. Did I mention: Keep a journal of what you’ve noticed and explored—no matter how unpleasant the emotional experience.
  10. Work your way through the positive and negative emotion.
  11. Express what you are feeling in less than 3 words if it’s a negative emotion. Be honest and stop pretending your aren’t feeling jealous, envious, angry, etc. Do NOT engage in dialogue about these negative feelings, however, as it will only increase your anxiety.
  12. Drill down and ask yourself Why you do the things you do.
  13. Revisit your values.
  14. Spot your emotional reactions in others, including movies and books.
  15. Use stress as a time to get to know yourself better.
  16. Ask for feedback from people you trust. One more time: are you keeping track of this?

Facing the truth about who you can be hard—even ugly at times. But it will remain ugly only if you don’t start doing something about the things you don’t like about yourself. Getting in touch with emotions that produce the thoughts and behavior you don’t like takes courage and a strong mind.

TIPS:

  • Start on one area at a time.
  • Find a trustworthy mentor or coach to help you through the process.
  • Forget about perfection, just measure your success.
  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Keep a journal or record of what you’ve learned about yourself.

What strategy have you used to become more self-aware?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

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.” 

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7 Ways Negative Feedback Can Build Mental Toughness

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

One of my more humbling, and humiliating, experiences occurred when our Firearms Instructor gave instructions during one of our annual night shoots for an arrest scenario where I would be the one to make the arrest. I had my gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Tucked into my belt were the handcuffs.

7 Ways Negative Feedback Can Build Mental Toughness

All went well until I went to handcuff the prisoner. My night vision is not so great so I replaced my weapon in the holster as I grappled for the handcuffs—while holding the flashlight in my other hand.

In the dark, I didn’t realize I hadn’t properly holstered my weapon, which fell onto the pavement with a clatter. The guy I was trying to arrest (another FBI agent) tried not to laugh as I fumbled in the dark to snap open the handcuffs. In the end, I put the flashlight on the ground next to where my weapon had landed and just felt my way around my prisoner’s wrists.

Without looking at me or saying a word, my Firearms Instructor picked up my weapon and handed it to me as I tried to pretend all had gone well.

But in his critique in front of the entire group, he let everyone know it had not gone well. At all. His negative feedback felt like barbed wire being pulled across my face.

I felt about one inch tall when I left the firing range later than night. It was one of those experiences that left me wondering if I had simply chosen the wrong career.

But I needed to toughen up and become more resilient if I wanted to learn how to filter junk feedback from good information in order to improve.

Here are 7 ways negative feedback can help you build mental toughness:

1. Increases Self-Awareness

If you are able to accept feedback without getting angry or defensive, you probably have a great deal of self-awareness.

If you think you never make mistakes, you are a narcissist—either that or stupid. But if you are humble and self-aware, you recognize that you need feedback to continue climbing the ladder of success. You understand that there is always something you can do to be better.

2. Fuels Personal Growth

Great athletes spend hours studying films of their performance. They are great because they are good at accepting all kinds of feedback, and then use it to fuel their personal growth. Low-performers tend to take feedback personally or feel they are above taking criticism seriously.

High-performers are better at accepting feedback because they know it is essential for growth.

3. Paves The Way For Success

Research by Leadership IQ shows that people who are good at managing negative feedback tend to be more successful than those who cannot. The study further indicates that of those who fail, 26% do so because they are unwilling to accept feedback.

4. Stretches Performance

In another study, it was found that people who ask for feedback are the most effective leaders. According to Joseph Folkman, leaders who are in the top 10% are those who are willing to ask for feedback—both positive and negative.

This study suggests that the worse you are as a leader, the less likely you are willing to ask for feedback because you’re afraid you will hear the truth!

5. Eliminates Personalization

The better you are at accepting negative feedback, the less likely you will view it as an indictment of who you are as a person.

Feedback can be viewed as one more piece of data to analyze, digest, reject, or accept as information to make a better decision. Taking it as a piece of data with which to make future decisions will allow you de-personalize it.

6. Aids in Self-Improvement

Closely related to self-awareness, negative feedback can be valuable data for self-improvement. Be the sort of person who believes there is always a better way to do things.

I tend to say, “Let’s find ways to make the best, even better.”

No one piece of feedback means the end of the world. If, however, you begin to see repeated comments in the same area, you may need to take a closer look at what has been clearly identified as an issue—especially if you don’t recognize it in yourself.

7. Trains You To Pay Attention To The Facts

Look for what is factual in the feedback. For example, your boss criticizes your presentation in a harsh manner. E.g. “It had typos, incomplete transitions, and it rambled! From now on, run everything past my personal assistant first to see if you get a passing grade!”

Your boss could have been gentler in her feedback—yes, but what are you going to do? Cry like a baby? Or, realize that there was more than a grain of truth in everything she said. You really do need to work on spelling and punctuation and you don’t use transitions well.

Do not focus on the anger and frustration of your boss; rather, focus on the errors you made and how you can avoid them in the future.

How have you learned to embrace negative feedback?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Get 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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6 Ways To Stay Mentally Strong In Tough Times

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I experienced some tough times while dealing with curious radio, television, and newspaper reporters. If I inadvertently revealed information that was sealed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, I could have been fired or even prosecuted.

6 Ways To Stay Mentally Strong In Tough Times

Often, I’d fret that my words would be taken out of context or that I would be misquoted. I worried and lost sleep as I waited until for the interview to air or be printed.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, you know what it feels like to worry in tough times and you’re faced with uncertainty. This is when you need to be mentally strong so you can keep moving forward.

Here are 6 ways to stay mentally strong in tough times:

1. Control Your Thoughts

When tough times hit, the first thing we do is start to worry. But we need to control our thoughts because they control our emotions and behaviors.

Anxiety and fear are housed in our limbic brain system, but mentally tough people have figured out how to ignore them—or at least, control them.

TIP: Name Your Fear

Instead of pretending that you are not scared, admit what is creating the fear. Research has indicated that recognizing and acknowledging one’s fears are critical steps towards tackling and overcoming them.

If you try to suppress a fear or worry, it won’t work—the brain is smarter than that. Instead, name your fear or anxiety for what it is and you will actually lessen your discomfort. It’s very important, however, to keep the label to one or two words because if you open up a dialogue about it, you will only increase the emotional state of the limbic system.

2. Prepare For The Lonely Work

Self-awareness is not a prerequisite for climbing the ladder of success—but it sure helps to keep you there.

Self-awareness empowers you because it instills a confidence that comes from a deep understanding of who you are and why you are special. It’s called lonely work because this is one thing you truly must do for yourself.

TIP: Spend Time With Yourself

  • Get to know what makes you tick
  • Learn your strengths so you can use them
  • Accept your weaknesses so you can minimize them
  • Develop your strengths and manage your weaknesses; forget about trying to change who you are by trying to “work” on them
  • Give yourself permission to shine in those areas in which you are blessed

3. Get Priorities Straight

A recent Gallup poll indicated that 90% of workers were not engaged in their jobs. This is a modern day phenomena that started after Adam Smith, the father of industrial capitalism, stated that people were naturally lazy and would work only for pay.

Mentally strong entrepreneurs and leaders understand that wages are important—of course they are! But, if you are naive enough to believe that chasing after that almighty dollar will bring you happiness, I have a piece of swamp land in Wyoming to sell you.

TIP: Engage In Work That Provides Both Value And Meaning

Mentally strong people are smart enough to know that when they get their priorities straight, it does several things:

  • Provides work that is both engaging and meaningful
  • Offers opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Allows control over what we do and how we do it

4. Take A Risk

In firearms training I learned one thing: it’s not risk that will kill you, it’s complacency. Sitting in the same spot all your life will bite you in the butt when the unexpected lands at your feet and you face tough times because you won’t know how to move forward with confidence and flexibility.

The mentally strong use tough times as opportunities to take a risk because they understand that risks, and the change they produce, are what will save you from a life of complacency—and stagnation.

TIP: Calculated Risks Make It Easy

As an FBI agent, my colleagues and I took smart risks by planning what could go wrong, and then forging ahead.

Calculated risks mean looking at all the positive and negative outcomes and then proceeding forward by putting all of that information to best use.

5. Be Grateful—ALWAYS

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

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. 

Another thing about gratitude—it is impossible to grateful and negative at the same time.

TIP: Keep Focused On Being Grateful When Life Is Taking A Down Turn

We perceive an act as more worthy of gratitude when:

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

6. Control What You Can Control

When making an arrest, agents are given specific assignments; for example, “Cover the back door so the criminal can’t run away.”

It is the agent’s responsibility to control what they can control; they do not worry about what others are doing or any other aspect of the arrest.

TIP: Ignore The Things You Can’t Control

In the same way, you must ignore the things over which you have no power. You have limited resources, so why waste them on things that are out of your control?

For some, it might be the politics of your organization; for others, it might be your environment. Whatever it is, realize that you can only control the things that come under your purview. You might want to save the world, but do yourself a favor and take it one step at a time.

Mental toughness separates the successful entrepreneur and business owner from the mediocre. It allows successful people to keep moving forward when they hit tough times.

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Get 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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Mental Skills Every Business Leader Can Learn From Athletes

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

The biggest challenge I had in graduating from the FBI Academy was meeting the physical fitness standards. I was a slow runner and found pushups very difficult. As a result, I failed the interim FIT test and was almost washed out of the Academy.2

My instructors and coaches expressed concern that I was not athletic enough to become an FBI agent. My first response was, “How is running 2 miles in 10 minutes going to help me be a better investigator?” After all, agents don’t use their physical muscles to puzzle their way through the facts of an investigation. Instead, they use their mental skills.

Only later was I able to recognize that while brawn would not make me a better agent, my athletic training was creating a set of mental skills that I would utilize throughout my 24 year FBI career.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, you will need these same mental skills to keep moving forward when you hit a roadblock or an unexpected obstacle stands in your way.

In a recent study of athletes who successfully completed sport injury rehabilitation, it was determined that the top 3 mental skills reported were Goal Setting, Positive Thinking, and Imagery.

I was not surprised by this list because these mental toughness tools can produce the right attitude to move everyone toward success. Here is a closer look at the mental skills every business leader can learn from athletes:

1. GOAL SETTING

Setting a goal is not only identifying something you want, but also something you are willing to persevere in order to achieve.

Setting a specific goal makes you more likely to achieve it, and that is especially important when you want to make a change in your career or business, or if you run into an obstacle on your journey toward that goal.

TIP #1 Set Goals For The Right Reason

Stop fantasizing about winning the lottery or making $10 million. Instead, set goals that align themselves to what really matters to your happiness and future well being.

TIP #2 Set A Direction

Set your life in a direction so that the pursuit of it will produce the life you want. If the journey is the right one, don’t worry if goals change or evolve with time.

TIP #3 Change The Goal If It’s Not Taking You In The Right Direction

Use mental skills to focus on the right thing—the direction you are moving. Don’t make the mistake of getting married to your goal.

2. POSITIVE THINKING

There is a big difference between being an optimist and being a positive thinker.

Positive thinkers are not necessarily happy or optimistic.

Instead, positive thinkers are blunt realists who look misery right in the eye and confront the most brutal facts of their day without expecting things to change. They adapt to their circumstances without ever losing hope.

Positive thinking is a mental skill that will help get you through any setback that comes your way.

TIP #1 Find 5 Positive Thoughts To Counter Each Negative Thought

The brain is naturally wired to pay more attention to negative rather than positive information because negative alerts us to emergencies and threats to our life.

When confronted with something that feels overwhelming, you will need to find 5 positive thoughts to counter each one negative thought that comes to mind. Sometimes it’s hard to find something positive in your situation and you have to look really hard.

TIP # 2. Reflect On Each Positive Thought For 20 Seconds

Take the time to really think about each positive thought. Let it soak in, don’t gloss over it.

Negative thoughts are like velcro; they stick.

Positive thoughts are like teflon; they slide away easily.

TIP #3 Stop Using The Word “Can’t”

This is the only 4 letter word I never heard in the FBI.

Every time you say “I CAN’T” you create a negative feedback loop in your brain that keeps getting stronger and stronger. Synaptic connections thicken the brain tissues over time, wiring in that negativity.

3) IMAGERY

The benefits of using imagery and visualization is an incredible tool to develop mental toughness. This mental skill is based on solid science. By visualizing your successful performance repeatedly, your brain stores that information as a success.

TIP #1: Visualize Your Success

When we give our brain a detailed portrait of our end goal, our brain releases dopamine, a powerful mental toughness tool to steer us toward success. This is the chemical that becomes active when we encounter situations that are linked to rewards from the past.

Dopamine enables us to feel good about our experiences and gives us confidence to move toward those rewards. To boost this brain response:

  • Imagine how events will unfold.
  • See yourself winning or achieving your goal.
  • Hear yourself being positive about the challenge before you.
  • Form a clear mental picture and do it several times a day.
  • Create a positive frame of mind.
  • Find images that represent your goal and post them where you’ll see them regularly.

If you don’t see yourself as a winner, neither will anyone else.

TIP #2: Differentiate Between Visioning and Fantasy

Visualizing is not fantasy or wishful thinking. Fantasies can actually lessen your chance for success. Your brain can tell the difference, and looks at fantasies as a threat!

If people fantasize about their future, they are less prepared and more stressed when things don’t workout they way they had hoped.

TIP#3: Move Ahead With Fearlessness

Use imagery and visualize how you will succeed in various situations you might encounter in the future. For example:

  • Visualize how you will react and respond when criticized by a colleague
  • Predict your performance in the morning meeting
  • Be prepared for the hard questions that will come from your boss.
  • Rehearse your response to situations/conversations that might come up.

This is enough to get that important shot of dopamine. It can help take you beyond your self-limiting beliefs about yourself and move you beyond your current circumstances.

Which one of these mental toughness tools have you used to keep moving forward?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Get 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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