4 Secrets of Mental Toughness

December 6th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

FBI agents working knotty and sophisticated cases—like terrorism, cybercrime, and counterintelligence—build mental toughness to handle themselves in dangerous situations.

4 Secrets Of Mental Toughness

As the world has become more complex, the focus of FBI investigations has evolved from hunting bank robbers like John Dillinger and criminals like Al Capone to better address the current threat to American lives.

It’s no secret that business and life are not as simple as they were, either—even a few years ago. It is no longer a matter of knowledge, ability, and skill.

As entrepreneurs and business owners you need to be psychologically prepared to deal with strong competition, recover from mistakes and failure quickly, tackle tough situations, devise strategies, and collaborate with others.

In other words, you need mental toughness to manage the emotions, thoughts, and behavior that will set you up for success in business and life.

Mental toughness allows us to push past hard situations and face adversity with confidence.

Here are 4 secrets of mental toughness taken from the FBI playbook,:

SECRET #1 Mental Toughness Requires Self-Control

Being the loudest, or toughest, or meanest is not being mentally tough—it is being a bully.

People act aggressively out of defense. Only when we do not feel strong enough to resolve a situation do we rely upon aggression as a means of dealing with the conflict.

The strongest leaders you know do not need to act aggressively because they have power.

TIPS For You:

  1. Spend your energy on understanding your weaknesses so you can manage them rather than trying to cover them up.
  2. Focus on turning painful situations into a time for personal growth and meaningful development.
  3. Control your own emotions, thoughts, and behavior, rather than trying to control other people. Meditation is described as too touchy-feely by many, but it is a valuable tool for building mental toughness. The discipline of continually bringing thoughts and emotions back to where you want them (instead of letting them wander) is the way to start bringing them under your conscious and intentional control.

SECRET #2 Mental Toughness Requires Positive Thinking

Positive thinkers are not optimists and here is why:

  • Positive thinkers believe they will prevail in their circumstances rather than believing their circumstances will change.
  • Optimists believe their circumstances will eventually change for the better.

FBI Agents are not optimists who hope or expect an arrest to go without a hitch—instead, they prepare for the worst and practice ahead of time.

When they do come across adversity, they don’t wait and hope things will change for the better. They adapt quickly to the new situation and remain flexible by choosing to remain positive so that they will find a solution.

TIPS For You:

  1. Talk positively to yourself. Research has determined that you say between 300-1,000 words to yourself per minute. Keep those words positive!
  2. Remember the mind’s first response is a negative one when you’re stressed or have encountered an obstacle.
  3. Recognize the 3 P’s of negativity and pessimism:
  • Permanent (“It’ll never change or I won’t ever get it done.”)
  • Pervasive (“You can’t trust any of those people.”)
  • Personal (“It’s all my fault. I’m terrible at this.”)

SECRET #3 Mental Toughness Requires Grit

Jack Dempsey once said, “A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.”

He was talking about perseverance and determination—grit.

Entrepreneurs, leaders, and business owners all know that while intelligence and creativity are important, you need grit to accomplish anything big.

Researchers like Angela Duckworth have found that grit is more predictive of success than IQ in military academies like West Point.

In fact, grit is unrelated, or even negatively correlated, with talent. When working with West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher in grit had the mental toughness to keep going when times got tough.

The high score on grit surpassed other tests such as SAT scores, IQ, class rank, leadership, and physical aptitude when it came to predicting retention rates.

TIPS For You:

Gritup

  1. Face your fears
  2. Pursue work that has value and meaning for you
  3. Believe in something bigger, better, and bolder than yourself
  4. Establish strong relationships
  5. Challenge your brain
  6. Challenge your body
  7. Control your emotions and thoughts through meditation and mindfulness exercises

SECRET #4 Mental Toughness Requires Visualization

Visualizing your success is a powerful mental toughness tool because when we visualize our success, our brain produces dopamine—a “feel-good” hormone that associates our visualized success with actual success.

In fact, parts of our brain can’t tell the difference between a visualized version of a successful performance and an actual performance!

Be careful, however; your brain is smart enough to recognize a fantasy for what it is and will not produce the dopamine that you need to create the motivation to succeed.

TIPS For You:

  1. Imagine a presentation or meeting in the future where you need to perform at your best
  2. See yourself in front of the crowd—what you will be wearing and how you will be standing
  3. Practice exactly what you will say and how you will say it—many times
  4. Anticipate negative reactions or questions from the group
  5. Imagine how you will respond
  6. Rehearse your body movements

As our world becomes more and more complex, mental toughness will become an essential mindset.

Building mental toughness is a life long task, but here is the good news: Mental toughness is not something we were born with—it is something we can learn.

When have you been mentally tough?

© 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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3 Responses to “4 Secrets of Mental Toughness”

  1. Karin Hurt says:

    I love the distinction you make between optimism and positive thinking. I’ve always believed what you are saying here. A positive thinker is a survivor.

  2. Excellent article, LaRae! I love all your points, especially number 2- Positive Thinking. Whenever I am faced with a client issue or training design challenge, I try not to go to the dark side with negative self-chatter. Although I may feel frustrated, I have learned that staying upbeat and focused is essential for me to take action and achieve results.

    Thanks for all your great FBI insights!

  3. Alli Polin says:

    As always, stopping by your blog is time well spent. As I read through your article, it struck me how important these tips are not only for business owners but for people around the world who are getting ready to celebrate this holiday season with family. So often we (okay, I) fall into old habits and reunions can quickly become tension filled. Timely advice and perspective. Will share!

    ~ Alli

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