How Meditation Creates A Strong Mind

July 11th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

My firearms instructor at the FBI Academy told me that the best shooters develop a strong mind by not allowing themselves to be distracted by other thoughts. All I needed to do was relax, breathe, and focus.

Meditation

He was right. Ironically, shooting at a target can be a Zen moment. If your mind is cluttered with thoughts and anxiety, you won’t hit your mark. Good shooters let all of that go and become very mindful.

Shooting a gun shares many of the same characteristics as meditation. Both require the person to control their noisy inner world with a strength of mind that produces mental toughness.

A strong mind uses meditation to control the tyranny of everyday thinking—compulsive, brain-driven, and unproductive behavior that is based on years of bad habits.

Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher and mystic, said centuries ago, “All human evil comes from this: our inability to sit still in a chair for half an hour.” 

If you think this is an exaggeration, a recent study at the University of Virginia said that 67% of men and 15% of women would sooner endure an unpleasant electric shock rather than be alone in silence for even 15 minutes!

Many of us tend to dwell on negative things when we’re alone. Left in silence, we become anxious as our mind begins an internal dialogue that leaves us sleepless and exhausted.

Mental toughness is harnessing the power of silence to control our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set us up for success.

The silence produced by meditation is a form of intelligence, a type of knowing that goes beyond our emotions, thoughts, and behavior. Meditation is one of the most empowering tools we can use to impact all areas of our life.

Meditation allows us to directly participate in our lives instead of living life as an afterthought.

Here is how a strong mind uses meditation to improve its performance:

1. A Strong Mind Uses Meditation To Change Its Brain

 

 

Brain - messages

Scientists have learned that activities like meditation can change our brain in several ways. It:

  • Adds synaptic connections that thicken the brain tissues over time in the regions handling control of attention and sensory awareness.
  • Increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and sleep.
  • Triggers the body to secrete hormones that decrease blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Activates the left side of your frontal lobes which produce more positive emotions.

2. A Strong Mind Uses Meditation To Calm It Down

Meditation enables us to move from higher frequency brain waves—which is hyperactivity in the brain—to lower frequency.

The slower the rhythms in the brain, the more time you have between thoughts. With more time, you also have more opportunity to skillfully choose which thoughts you should invest in.

Note: For those who have not tried meditation, check out this excellent app from Headspace.

3. A Strong Mind Uses Meditation To Lessen Anxiety

Mistakes -woman on phone

Researchers explain that there are many “centers” in the brain, but the one that impacts the way you see yourself, and others, is called the Self-Referencing Center.

Many people also call this the “Me Center” because it processes information related to us—our daydreams, thinking of the future, self-reflection, and our experiences.

When you become anxious, it triggers a strong reaction in your Me Center which leaves you feeling threatened and scared.

Meditation weakens this neural connection. Your ability to ignore anxiety is enhanced as these connections are broken. As a result, you are able to readily recognize sensations like anxiety or fear for what they are; in doing so, you can respond to them more rationally.

4. A Strong mind Uses Meditation To Be More Productive

Successful financial plans

While many may say that meditating for performance is not the point, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have discovered that meditation not only reduces stress, it also calms us down so we can be our best.

Meditation does the following:

  • Separates the noise from the static.
  • Helps you focus on what is important to you.
  • Increases memory so it’s easier to recall information.
  • Creates better conversations with others.
  • Strengthens resolve to make intentional decisions so you achieve what you want.
  • Trains your mind to not get swept up by distractions.

Meditation is the extra edge most of us need for peak performance in our competitive environments. It helps us to control our mind’s natural inclination to wander, which often gets in the way of our success. A strong mind is distracted less often and has an easier time remembering what is important to remember.

You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day, unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour—Zen Proverb

How can you make meditation a part of your life?

© 2016 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 Mentally Tough People Handle Stress

June 13th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I experienced more stress in those four years than at any other time in my life. The constant demand from the media for information that was timely, on-message, and accurate was relentless.

stress

Interestingly enough, it was also the period in my life when I felt the most energized and invigorated. After twenty years as an investigator, I needed the boost of adrenaline that a fast-paced environment gave me.

As entrepreneurs, sales executives, and leaders, you are stressed by deadlines, responsibilities, and your ever-increasing workload. You may be worried that stress is interfering with your job performance and even your health.

The conventional wisdom about stress warns that too much of it can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, and other health hazards. Although non-stop stress can be harmful, recent research is providing new insight into how measured doses of stress can actually enhance our performance.

Our brains are hard-wired so that it is difficult for us to take action until we feel stress or anxiety. Mentally strong people are able to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in optimal levels to achieve top performance.

Here are 4 mental toughness tools to help you keep stress levels in check:

1. DEVELOP THE RIGHT MINDSET

In the past, psychologists believed that it was the amount of stress that was bad for a person’s health. But in recent studies it’s become clear that the amount of stress is a surprisingly poor predictor of whether it will leave you better, or worse, off.

New research from Yale University and Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, reveal that people can be divided into two groups:

  1. those who believe that stress-is-debilitating, and
  2. those who believe that stress-is-enhancing.

The Yale Study found that people who had stress-is-enhancing mindsets reported having better health, greater life satisfaction, and superior work performance.

Stress produces cortisol—too much or too little cortisol release in response to a stressor can have negative physiological consequences.

The Yale research, in combination with Achor’s findings, paint a very clear picture:

Stress is killing you if you believe it is. Studies confirm that people who die from stress do not die from stress itself, but from the belief that stress was bad for them. Those who do not believe it is harmful experience no negative side effects on their health.

If you can use mental toughness to manage your mindset, you will see challenges you face as opportunities to grow and learn. In addition, you will be both happier and more productive.

2. USE SELF-TALK TO MANAGE YOUR STRESS

We all know that anxiety can hurt performance and most of us have been in situations when we were anxious, couldn’t think straight, and experienced temporary lapses in memory.

Too much cortisol and our performance withers, but people who are calm experience too little cortisol and their performance also withers.

The key is learning how to manage your emotions with self-talk and using the right words when controlling your thoughts.

In a study published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people who told themselves that they were excited about the challenge ahead of them performed significantly better than those who told themselves that they were calm.

If you are excited about your job or task, you will be more persuasive, competent, confident, and persistent. You will grit-up with the mental toughness to change the way you label your feelings and emotions—from stressful to exciting. This helps create a shift toward a more positive mindset.

3. BE GRATEFUL

Taking the time to be grateful lessens anxiety because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Professor Robert Emmons conducted a study at the University of California, Davis, of over 1,000 people, from ages 8 to 80. They found that those who cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced a host of benefits:

  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated

4. REIGNITE THE INNER FIRE

The higher levels of stress that I experienced as the FBI spokesperson brought me closer to understanding what fired up my heart. Because of the constant deadlines, I found myself doing two things:

1) Focusing on what I liked to do, and 2) delaying until later or delegating to others the things I didn’t like to do.

One of the things I loved to do was gather stories from other agents and then work with reporters on getting those stories out to the public. I delayed as long as possible doing the record checks and going through files for details of an investigation.

When I created stories around FBI best practices and shared them with others, I knew that the audience would benefit from the life lessons that twirled all around me.

The stress imposed upon me by my job forced me to prioritize, and in those priorities I found where my heart was leading: I wanted to write and share the lessons I learned from my time as an FBI agent with others.

For stress to be beneficial, it’s important to find meaning in your work . Research has shown that workers in high-stress jobs like air-traffic controllers and intensive-care nurses thrive under heavy stress if they are positive about the future and find their work meaningful.

You cannot be stressed out and empowered at the same time! Be mentally strong and keep your anxiety from taking over.

When has stress enabled you to perform at your best?

© 2016 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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7 Killer Ways To Make Stronger First Impressions

June 6th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

Fortunately, most people judged me as a competent FBI agent within the first few seconds of meeting me. My success often depended upon coming across as someone who made others feel respected, valued, and comfortable.

Successful woman copy

I knew from experience that first impressions are fast, firm, and very sticky. I had one shot of making a good one, and if I didn’t, I risked losing the opportunity to build the trust that I so badly needed in order to do business with a new contact.

In a recent study by Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov, people looked at a microsecond of video of a political candidate. They could predict with 70% accuracy who would win the election just from that microsecond of tape. This tells us that people can make incredibly accurate snap judgments in a tenth of a second.

Just as you evaluate potential business partners, employees and personal acquaintances on your first impression of them, others will judge you and your business by the way you come across to them.

Strong first impressions help you be persuasive because it is a very effective way of getting people’s attention.

Here are 7 killer ways you can make a strong first impression:

1. DRESS TO IMPRESS

Success - men

Appearance is our first filter. This isn’t news to anyone so put a little effort into it—dress like it matters. A professional appearance will enhance your personal brand and the more polished you appear, the more likely you will leave a positive impression.

This doesn’t necessarily mean conservative or expensive, but it does mean you need to put thought into your appearance. For men, a watch can say a lot about them. For women, jewelry and makeup goes a long way in sending the right message, or the wrong one!

TIP:

  • Always dress for your client’s comfort, not yours.

2. APPEAR INTERESTED

 

According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, one of the best ways to win people’s confidence is to simply to let them talk first.

It is a mistake to approach every business meeting as a negotiation or evaluation. Instead, start collecting information about the other person. Listen as they share things about themselves and the best way to do this is to engage in small talk.

TIP:

  • Be a good listener
  • Ask pertinent questions during your conversation
  • Make eye contact to show you’re fully engaged
  • Always allow others time to fully express themselves, don’t interrupt or finish their sentence

3. POLITENESS MATTERS

To judge by movies, television, and books, one would be left with the impression that successful FBI agents are rude, pushy, and arrogant. While kicking ass has its place in making arrests, generally the most effective FBI agent is the one who recruits people with knowledge of a suspect to work with them in gathering information. While informants come in many shapes, sizes, and smells, the agent must be someone the informant wants to work with.

Polite people are memorable because they stand out for positive reasons. They make us feel comfortable, respected, and valued. We want to be around them.

And we want to do business with them.

TIP:

  • Step forward to meet someone, smile, tilt your head slightly downward (a sign of respect in every culture)
  • Act as though you are the one honored by the introduction, not them.
  • Never gossip

4. OFFER A FIRM HANDSHAKE

Your handshake should be warm, friendly and sincere. If it is too firm or too weak, you may convey a negative impression. If you’re seated when you’re introduced to someone, stand before you shake hands—it shows respect for the person you are meeting.

TIP:

  • Keep it short and sweet,
  • Remember to smile
  • Make eye contact when you shake hands

5. ASK FOR ADVICE

Communication - 2 people

In a series of studies, researchers found that when people are asked for advice, they are flattered and it increases their self-confidence.

According to these same studies, when others ask for our advice, we tend to think they were smart to come to us for help! Being asked for advice increases our opinion of the advice seeker’s competence.

TIP:

  • Asking for advice can be an effective business strategy. For example, when facing conflict in negotiations, asking your counterpart for advice can increase the perception that you are likable and competent, thereby leading to a more rapid resolution of the conflict.

6. ARRIVE EARLY

Arrive a few minutes early. It’s always important to be punctual because when you arrive on time you send the clear message that you’re responsible, capable and respectful of others’ time.

Use the few extra minutes to go to the restroom so you can check your appearance and gain your composure before you walk into an important meeting.

TIP:

  • Always schedule extra time on your calendar to accommodate traffic delays, weather, and parking.

7. PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME

 

Proper preparation reduces anxiety and will help give the impression that you are competent. If you do your homework before an important business meeting, you will have a tremendous advantage over your competition.

If you are attending a networking event, familiarizing yourself with the names and industries of those attending will help you better understand the needs of your potential new clients.

When you take the time to prepare, you’ll appear interesting and knowledgeable—two qualities that help make a good impression.

TIP:

  • Learn as much as you can about those you will be meeting
  • Brush up on current events that pertain to their industries

How did someone make a strong first impression with you? Why?

© 2016 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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4 Effective Ways To Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

May 31st, 2016 by LaRae Quy

Popular movies and TV shows depict FBI agents swaggering into a room, taking control of the situation by intimidation or force, and knocking the sh*t out of anyone who doesn’t want to play by their rules. Only Hallmark channel movies feature moms who understand that emotional intelligence can be more effective than brawn and fists.

pablo

The first thing I learned as an FBI agent was that “reading other people” would be essential if I hoped to live long enough to retire from my job. The second thing I learned was that “understanding myself” would be critical if I wanted to predict my response when confronted with the unknown.

Ignorance of your competition makes you vulnerable; ignorance of yourself makes you stupid—LaRae Quy

Fine-tuning self-awareness skills is the essence of emotional intelligence—recognizing, understanding, and managing the emotions of ourselves and of others.

Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. Entrepreneurs, leaders, and business owners who need a winning edge in negotiations, understanding competitive behavior, and managing people rely on their emotional intelligence skills to be successful.

Neuroscience is showing us that we can rewire our brain. With that good news, here are 4 ways you can enhance your emotional intelligence skills:

1. KICK YOURSELF INTO HIGH GEAR

The first place to start in enhancing your emotional intelligence skills is become enthusiastic about achieving your goal. When you are motivated, you activate the left prefrontal cortex.

A good way to become motivated is to reflect upon your dreams and what you want to be in the future. Once you define that goal, take a closer look at where you are now and what you need to do in order to get there.

If you are unsure about the areas in which you are emotionally competent, ask people whom you know and trust.

ACTION POINTS:

  • Which specific behaviors reflect your strengths?
  • What behaviors do you see in star performers?
  • Which of your competencies need to be strengthened?

2. TAKE IT ONE STEP AT A TIME

Refrain from taking on more than one behavior at a time. Otherwise, you’ll become overwhelmed and frustrated.

Emotionally competent people are very intentional in the way they communicate to others. This will require you to pay full attention to each specific behavior.

Developing emotional intelligence will also require you to spend time with yourself to better understand what makes you tick—you will need to pinpoint which words, situations, or people trigger favorable and unfavorable reactions.

Mental toughness is not being afraid to address your weaknesses with the same enthusiasm and vigor as your explore your strengths.

ACTION POINTS:

  • Identify one specific behavior to change or enhance.
  • Give this goal your full attention.
  • Construct a plan of action on how you intend to take your goal to the next level in specific steps.

3. DEVELOP NEW HABITS

The neural connectivity of old habits is strong; their circuitry has become so connected and thick that they have become the brain’s default response.

But, when you start to form new habits that will help you be more emotionally intelligent, these new behaviors create new circuitry that will eventually compete with your old habits.  Over time, the new habit will become your brain’s default response.

The length of time to replace an old habit depends on how strong it is, and the new one will need to develop the same strength of connectivity.

ACTION POINTS:

  • Habits begin to be hardwired the very first time you practice them.
  • Continual practice creates more connectivity.
  • 3-6 months of continually practicing the new habit is usually about average for it to replace the old one.

4. FLEX YOUR MENTAL MUSCLES

Mental toughness is controlling your mind instead of letting your mind control you! That is why meditation is a great tool in developing mental toughness. It requires you to continually observe where your mind has gone and bringing it back to where you want it.

Mental rehearsal activates the same neural circuitry as the real activity. Mental exercises will increase your ability to perform when the real moment comes.

ACTION POINTS:

  • Take charge of your emotional competencies by mentally rehearsing how you want a meeting to unfold, your response to anticipated questions, or a conversation with a competitor.

The important thing to remember is that you can develop and enhance your emotional intelligence skills by following these 4 effective suggestions.

How have you developed your emotional intelligence over time?

© 2016 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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4 Essential Elements of Grit

May 24th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

New FBI agents are assigned either assigned cases so old that witnesses have died or cases with such quick turnaround leads that the new agent is left spinning.

pablo

It didn’t take me long to figure out what I needed to do to move as quickly as possible out of the rut of Team B and into the ranks of Team A—comprised of agents who not only worked hard, but had the grit to keep moving ahead when faced with failure or adversity.

But new agents were not the only ones stuck on Team B.

Older agents who did not have the grit to consistently do what they needed to do to succeed often found themselves run over by other agents who possessed resolve, willpower, and the perseverance to stick to their long-term goals.

Grit is your ability to persevere over the long-run and thrive despite all kinds of unplanned events.

As leaders, entrepreneurs and business owners, grit is an essential skill because it is the one thing you will need to succeed. If you give up when the going gets tough, you’re done.

Here are 4 essential elements of grit that you should know:

1. Feel The Fire In Your Belly

I knew I wanted to be the type of FBI Agent who could make a difference. In other words, I was passionate about my work.

Passion is the linchpin of grit. It is doing something and following a dream that gives you both value and meaning.

Passion gives people a single-mindedness that we do not see in others. It is a combination of ambition, willpower, and grit that keeps long-term goals in focus at all times.

TIP:

  • When you feel your determination begin to waver, remember the reason you want to accomplish your goal.
  • If you surrender and give up, ask yourself if it’s because there is no fire in your belly and you are not really following your dream.

All dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible—T.E. Lawrence

2. Maintain Clarity of Goals

When I first started working counterintelligence and espionage, my goal was to be assigned a foreign intelligence officer.

Later, though, my goal had shifted. Now it wasn’t enough to be working cases—I felt drawn to tell others about how a huge organization like the FBI could be nimble and flexible enough to react to the demands of terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11.

My vision had not changed—I still wanted to be an FBI agent, but my goal had. I became the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California for four years. I’m glad I made the move because my long-term goals had shifted.

TIP:

  • Revisit your goals annually to make certain that something hasn’t changed over the past year. Your mind is constantly adapting to new information coming your way.
  • Even a slight shift calls for a re-alignment in your priorities. Like myself, it may not require you to throw up your hands and quit, but it may suggest that you re-think where you fit in the larger picture.

3. Follow Up With Self-Discipline

There were many times when it was tempting to give up on an investigation when the leads got cold and there was no easy path forward.

Mental toughness was required to persevere and be agile enough in my thinking that I could approach a roadblock or obstacle from many different angles—always looking for the soft underbelly and refusing to give up.

Self-discipline is important because while grit is the ability to keep doing something, self-discipline often implies the ability to refrain from doing something.

TIP:

  • Face 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.
  • Be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve, who you want to become, and the obstacles that are preventing you from achieving your goals.
  • Define your goal as behavior. Identify the specific steps you need to take to achieve your goal. Define your goal in terms of behavior.
  • Organize your day. Once you’ve set your goal, it must become a priority.
  • Watch for excuses. Self-discipline means doing something you don’t necessary want to do.
  • Remember the reasons you want to reach your goal. When you feel your determination begin to waver, remember the reason you want to accomplish your goal.

4. Learn From Your Misses

Training in the FBI starts on your first day at the FBI Academy in Quantico and ends on your last day as an agent. If FBI instructors are not pushing you beyond your comfort zone, they aren’t doing their job.

Moving out of our comfort zone is hard because it usually means a trial and error approach as we find new footing. It’s important to take mistakes in stride and use the opportunity to learn from them. Only idiots don’t learn from their mistakes.

People with grit shrug off failure, focus on immediate recovery, and move on. The attitude determines the outcome, so it’s important to focus on lessons learned and how to keep moving forward.

TIP:

  • Seek feedback about how you can make your best performance even better. Research indicates that leaders who are in the top 10% are those who are willing to ask for feedback—both positive and negative.
  • Celebrate the small wins. Learn to appreciate the smaller steps that lead to success.
  • Learn from your challenges and become better because of them.

Grit is the mental toughness to continue 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.

Talent does not trump determination. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Grit, persistence, and determination will keep you moving ahead when your circumstances and environment has changed.

How have you developed grit?

© 2016 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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Women Can Grit-Up And Do The Right Thing

May 15th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

You may think that, as a female FBI agent, I manned-up to be accepted as one of the guys. It’s true that there was no place for a delicate prima donna on the squad, but my feminine traits and qualities were never discouraged. They were simply put in perspective.

Grit Up!

I trained alongside male agents as an equal. There was neither the time nor the inclination to play the gender game. We all had a job to do and we did it.  We found ourselves in life and death situations where the meaning of man-up simply meant digging down to find the strength and mental toughness to face the situation in front of us with courage.

This not about being a man or a woman—it’s about being fiercely awesome in whatever we are doing so we can be successful.

A challenge to man-up assumes the speaker is tougher than the other person. It suggests manliness and strength. After all, it would be hard to imagine a man telling a woman that she needed to be more ladylike to be qualified for her position.

Women are starting to shelve polite sensitivities, and this is a trend among women of all ages who are post-feminists. They’re not afraid of losing their feminine qualities by being tough and resilient, traits that have been mostly associated with masculinity.

The phrase grit-up implies a woman who prides herself on being strong, irreverent, and post-feminist. It suggests courage, and empowers those who use it.

Instead of trying to man-up, entrepreneurs, leaders, and business owners need to learn how to grit-up because grit is a quality that doesn’t belong to any specific gender.

It means that you have the mental toughness to do what needs to be done without making excuses for yourself or blaming others for your situation. You take the burden of your responsibilities, whatever they happen to be, with a will and perseverance that is unbreakable. It is the ability to fight against extreme odds.

Grit is what women leaders rely on when they feel as though they have nothing left.

Let me share with you ways the FBI taught me to grit-up:

1. STAY SOFT TO BE STRONG

Strong people do not need to be aggressive because they know they have the power and skills to take over a situation and bring it to a close. Naked aggression can hide cowardice and be a sign of weakness. In many situations, mental toughness and gentleness of spirit need be mixed to be most effective.

For example, in an arrest situation, FBI agents need to be strong to slap handcuffs on a criminal. They also need to be gentle and treat the person with dignity—only a jerk kicks a person when they’re down.

TIP:

To be strong does not mean you need to be aggressive.

2. COMPETENCE IS YOUR TRUMP CARD

We are competent in those areas in which we’ve spent time in training. I’m a competent shot because I’ve spent hours on the firing range and shot over 3,000 bullets before leaving the FBI Academy. My scores went up because of my training, and my repeated experiences led to success. Otherwise, I would just have a well-used weapon in my hands.

I had the training to lean back on when confronted with an arrest situation and I knew I had the competence to shoot my weapon with accuracy so that fewer people were endangered.

TIP:

Training leads to competence.

3. BUILD CONFIDENCE WITH A STRONG MIND

I had many doubts about my abilities during my first few years as an FBI Agent. I’d hear this nagging voice that told me I couldn’t do it, and it took me a few years to realize that these unhelpful ideas and thoughts only lived in my head. Do the right thing for yourself so that you can do the right thing for others.

It takes courage and a strong mind to try new strategies that will make you feel uncomfortable—at first, but this is how you over-power those negative voices. After all, if someone else can do it, why not you?

TIP:

Monitor internal voices that cause you to doubt yourself so you can nip them in the bud—before they become powerful.

“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Mark Twain

When have you had to grit-up and do the right thing?

© 2016 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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Science-Based Reasons Men And Women Look At Risk Differently

May 8th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

FBI agents are trained to take risk seriously. Every arrest is planned from many angles with emphasis given to what can go wrong when agents are faced with the unexpected.

pablo

I took part in several arrests, and while there was always a risk associated with carrying a weapon every day, the biggest risk came from friendly fire—that is, the supervisors who could change your life with a single stroke of their pen and transfer you, without warning, to another squad.

I lived in fear of this risk because agents have no choice in their assignment. From day one this message was hammered into our thinking—the needs of the Bureau come first. Always.

When success also meant survival, landing on my feet when confronted with the unknown was essential. Over time, I learned to look at risks as opportunities to be exploited, whether it was a messy investigation or new squad assignment.

Real success was walking away from uncomfortable situations with more savvy and skill than when I started.

Every successful entrepreneur and leader understands that risk involves change and moving outside their comfort zone. In today’s competitive and fast changing workplace, they can never hope to achieve success unless they’re willing to embrace change and risk the discomfort of failure.

Conventional wisdom says that women take fewer risks than men, but is it true? Much of the difference can be attributed to the way boys and girls are socialized as children. In general, boys are reared to shoot from the hip early on. Girls learn about risk differently. Risky behavior, girls are told, is dangerous.

If conditioning is partly to blame, then reconditioning is part of the answer. Adopting a “Gritup” mentality can make all the difference.

Research finds that men and women use different strategies, and different parts of their brain, when making choices on how to keep moving toward goals.

Here are 3 science-based reasons men and women look at risk differently:

1. Risk: Stress Makes A Difference

A recent study by Mara Mather and Nichole R. Lighthall found that male risk-taking tends to increase under stress, while female risk taking tends to decrease under stress. The researchers discovered that there are gender differences in brain activity involved in computing risk and preparing for action. This is important given the stressful nature of our work lives today.

CAUTION TIP: Beware of stereotyping men as too reckless and women too cautious. Instead, when in stressful situations it might make more sense for men and women to work together to make smarter risk-taking decisions.

2. Risk: Immediate vs Long-Term Rewards

A review published in Behavioral Brain Research discovered that the majority of women in the study tended to focus on immediate rewards while the majority of men in the study tended to focus on long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Men may appear to be stubborn and unwilling to change course once a strategy is put into action, but his brain engages the top, dorsal area of the orbitofrontal cortex which focuses on long term rewards. Most male brains seek out irregular patterns of behavior that will provide them with the competitive advantage they need to set goals that will produce long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Women may appear to be feckless and unable to stick with a strategy, but her brain engages the medial part of this region which is involved in identifying regular patterns and immediate rewards. Her brain is able to assimilate new information that enables her to make adjustments to strategies that will lead to rewards accordingly.

3. Risk: Bait-And-Switch

An article published in Scientific American Mind explains why women are more comfortable with switching strategies mid-task, something that is difficult for men because men tend to engage the part of their brain linked to long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Women may appear to uncertain or worried about making errors, but her brain is taking the time to gather more information. In fact, it is a woman’s detailed exploration that makes them more attuned to change. They can clue into changes quicker than their male counterparts.

CAUTION TIP: Men may have a harder time abandoning a project, course of action, or strategy because their brains tend to focus on big rewards later, unlike female brains that are often satisfied with small gains now.

Researchers caution that neither approach is better; both are necessary and useful in daily life. What is key is understanding how these differences can be turned into advantages through collaborative efforts involving both sexes.

It too simplistic to assume that all men and women react the same way to risk, stress, information gathering, and goal setting. And it’s dangerous to stereotype behavior by gender. Of primary significance is that these studies elucidate how different brains each bring unique strengths to the table. Working together will create a stronger collaborative product in the end.

What differences in risk taking have you noticed between men and women?   

© 2016 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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4 Simple Hacks To Sharpen Your Emotional Competence

May 1st, 2016 by LaRae Quy

There are times when emotional competence trumps emotional intelligence.

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A few years ago I called an individual whom the FBI suspected of having contact with a hostile intelligence officer. His voice had the warbly sound of an older man and he was clearly rattled by the phone call. My job was twofold: to determine whether he knew the real identity of the foreign spy, and 2) determine whether his contact was legitimate.

He agreed to meet me the next day for coffee. He was very wary at first, but I firmly shook his hand and gently encouraged him to tell me his story.

By taking the time to empathize with his emotions, I gained his trust , respect, and eventually, his cooperation.

Emotional competence is having the savvy to recognize, understand, express, and manage emotions effectively. It has far greater application for executives and entrepreneurs than emotional intelligence, which is the starting point.

A recent article in the Economist reminded anyone who has negotiated a major deal, managed a team, or delivered unpleasant news that emotion is an integral aspect of daily corporate life.

Let’s take a look at 4 simple hacks to sharpen your emotional competence:

1. SHARPEN EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE BY RECOGNIZING YOUR EMOTIONS

The gentleman that I called was scared—he grew up in a country where a visit from the secret police usually meant death or imprisonment.

I recognized where his fear was coming from; I was in a position of power so instead of compounding the negative emotion by threatening him, I allayed his fear by speaking gently and with compassion.

Recognizing an emotion (whether our own or that of others) may sound simple but it is not because our emotional intelligence abilities were not naturally developed as children. We were not born knowing the names of our emotions.

Emotions are not consciously controlled—the part of the brain that deals with emotions is the limbic system which is survival driven. This explains why an emotional response can be straightforward and very powerful.

TIP:

  • Recognize that your initial reaction may often be the honest emotion you are feeling.
  • Recognize it may be a survival-driven response related to a memory where you either felt threatened or safe.
  • Recognize your emotional responses may not have anything to do with your current situation, but you can overcome them with logic and being aware of your reactions.

2. SHARPEN EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE BY UNDERSTANDING YOUR EMOTIONS

Mental toughness is the ability to control your emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set you up for success.

One of the most highly developed skills of an FBI agent is the ability to understand our emotions because they drive our thinking and behavior.

Emotional competence is the ability to predict your response so you are not surprised by your reaction to a wrinkle in a major deal, a team reorganization, or an unplanned event. If you can predict your response, you can plan how to land on your feet when confronted with the unknown.

TIP:

  • Understand how and why you reacted to a similar situation in the past.
  • Understand what worked, and what did not—be honest with yourself.
  • Understand how you can replicate the positive outcomes and minimize the negative ones.
  • Understand when similar situations can arise so you can prepare for your response.

3. SHARPEN EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE BY LABELING YOUR EMOTIONS

In his book, Your Brain at Work, David Rock explains that honestly labeling your emotion is a great way to control it, whether its good and bad. It’s stupid to pretend a negative emotion doesn’t exist, or attempt to avoid it.

Instead, be mentally tough and learn how to control it.

Labeling is being able to accurately identify an emotion when it arises. This prevents it from taking over because when you name it, you move out of the emotional limbic brain system and into the thinking, cerebral brain.

TIP:

  • Describe an emotion in a word or two, and it will help to reduce the emotion.
  • However, if you open up a dialogue about an emotion, it will only increase its intensity.

4. SHARPEN EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE BY MANAGING YOUR EMOTIONS

There is stress that motivates, promotes well-being, and enables you to perform well. Even though it is positive, you can’t stay in that state forever because you will eventually feel burnout.

Negative emotions produce a uncomfortable feeling because it feels like you’re fighting for survival all the time. Eventually you’ll experience health problems.

Learning to manage your emotions is the magic bullet in emotional competence. If you can name the emotion you are experiencing, you can contain it.

TIP:

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When I am stressed or anxious, what is my go-to strategy?
  • Is my go-to strategy effective?
  • If so, why? If not, why not?
  • How can I develop a wider set of strategies when stressed or anxious?

Emotional competence is an incredibly important skill across all aspects of business and life. How do you sharpen up yours?

© 2016 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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Your Employees Wish You Had Emotional Intelligence

April 22nd, 2016 by LaRae Quy

This article originally appeared in The Economist, Executive Education Navigator and is reprinted here with permission:

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In a recent survey by The Economist Executive Education Navigator of more than 4,000 professionals, a sharp divergence emerged between skills that C-Suite executives think they need and those that their employees want them to prioritize. In fact, answers from the two groups were nearly inverse.

In the survey, which was conducted on Economist.com, C-Suite executives most frequently cited technology and finance as the two areas where they sought to improve. Yet when lower-ranking employees were asked what skills they wished their top executives would hone, leadership and emotional intelligence were the most popular answers.

That employees think it would be helpful for their bosses to buff up leadership skills is practically a truism. But emotional intelligence? That’s new and could explain the rise of executive-development courses with names like “Leading with Emotional Intelligence” (Emory), “Mindful Leadership” (Cranfield) and “Leading with Greater Self-Awareness” (Weatherhead).

Sitting in your corner office and still leaning towards that seminar on analyzing Big Data? No harm there. But in case you find yourself wanting to follow the popular mood, here are some links to emotional intelligence programs for leaders.

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Leadership, Trust, and the SyFy Channel

April 17th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

One of the reasons I decided to accept the offer to become the FBI spokesperson in Northern California is because I would be in a leadership position and able to cultivate trust with the public by sharing information about the great investigations being conducted by our agents.

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The public needs to understand how law enforcement agencies like the FBI work. I was not afraid to be transparent about all aspects of our work because I truly believe the FBI is the world’s foremost investigative agency.

I quickly found out that many of my fellow agents did not feel the same way about developing trust with the public. They wanted to keep investigations and their work shrouded in secrecy. What they could never understand is that when things are kept in the dark, they take on a life of their own and that is never good for an organization like the FBI that depends upon the public’s support and assistance to solve most of their cases.

One of my former colleagues called for an internal investigation after the publication of my first book, “Secrets Of A Strong Mind.” A fellow counterintelligence agent, she accused me of handing over too much information to the “other side.” Never mind that it was 1) unclassified, 2) written about hundreds of times before, and 3) common sense!

She is, of course, extremely paranoid and might have made a better CIA or KGB officer than FBI agent. FBI Headquarters sided with me because they know that if I err, it is on the side of portraying the FBI in too positive of a light! The FBI is not a perfect organization but one that I was very proud to represent for 24 years.

Recently, my good friend James Wedick put me in touch with the SyFy channel. They were creating a backstory trailer about undercover work to promote a new TV series called Hunters. They interviewed me, another former FBI agent, and a retired CIA officer.

Here are four things I kept in mind about developing trust when preparing for the SyFy channel’s video:

1. IT’S NOT WHAT YOU DO, IT’S HOW YOU LOOK DOING IT

I was concerned at first because my first reaction to the SyFy channel’s request was—how will this make the FBI look? Hunters is about alien terrorists, after all!

But the more I talked to the producer of the backstory trailer, the more convinced I was that they had two priorities: 1) producing an interesting series, and 2) leveraging as much reality as possible into a storyline created by the same folks who gave us The Walking Dead (one of my absolute favorite TV shows!)

ACTION POINT: Whether it’s a backstory for a show about alien terrorists, or making a presentation in front of your colleagues, approach each and every project with the same amount of integrity because you never know who is watching or listening.

2. TRUST REQUIRES HONESTY

Unfortunately, I worked with a lot of agents who believed that the best way to get the job done was to act tough, and it’s true that is all some criminals understand. But being a tough guy can only get you so far—as many of those same colleagues can attest after experiencing failed relationships, broken families, and endless child support payments.

ACTION POINT: When you are afraid to be honest with yourself, and others, your ability to create trust is extremely limited. People may be too polite to call you a phoney to your face but your credibility diminishes a little each time you open your disingenuous little mouth.

3. EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE IS THE REAL DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

Believe me, you will never hear touchy-feely words thrown about in the halls of any FBI office. There are still a fair number of agents who believe that brute strength and ignorance will take them wherever they need to go.

The truly successful agents, however, know that developing trust requires emotional competence. This includes:

  • Self-awareness—so they can predict how they will react when confronted with the unknown.
  • Empathy—they are able to relate to others in an honest way.
  • Managing their emotions—if they cannot regulate their response to a variety of situations, they automatically lose the upper hand.

ACTION POINT: If you want to be mentally tough, you must be able to control your emotions, and the only way to do that is to become emotionally aware.

4. WORK WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT; NOT WHAT YOU WISH YOU HAD

When talking to people, it’s important to be able to admit mistakes and to be smart enough to learn from your failures. No one wants to listen to a smug prig.

It requires mental toughness to take a long, hard look at yourself so you can identify your weaknesses right as well as your strengths. Then, forget about trying to change those weaknesses; instead, learn to manage them. Don’t ignore them, but understand how to mitigate the way they limit your progress.

Spend the rest of your time developing your strengths. Not only will you be happier, you will be more successful.

ACTION POINT: Forget about romanticized versions of who you wish you were—see yourself for who you truly are, and then make that person as fiercely awesome as possible!

Play the trailer below. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did making it! 

presented by the SyFy channel

© 2016 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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