Archive for March, 2018

5 Tips From The Stoics On How To Develop Mental Toughness

Monday, March 19th, 2018

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

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.”

6 Things Confident Women Never Do

Monday, March 5th, 2018

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:

1. TAKE THEIR DAY FOR GRANTED

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.

2. AVOID MAKING EYE CONTACT WITH EVERYONE THEY MEET

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.

3. STAY INSIDE THEIR COMFORT ZONE

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.

4. SPEAK IN QUIET TONES

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.

5. OFFER LIMP HANDSHAKES

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.

6. FORGET THEY ARE DEFINED BY THE COMPANY THEY KEEP

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.”