6 Ways FBI Agents Increase Resilience

December 5th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

In today’s competitive culture, the ability to increase resilience is a critical skill because it takes more than talent to succeed.

Increase Resilience

The ability to pick ourselves up when life knocks us down is called resilience. As a new FBI agent, I learned to be bold, take risks, and put myself out there. Even when scared to death of what I might face.

Adversity creates many forms of stress. It happens when we scale a business, expand into a new market, or juggle the demands of family. 

The way in which we overcome adversity determines how we will achieve success—LaRae Quy

More than talent, more than education, more than experience—the ability to bounce back from setbacks determines who will succeed. And who will fail. That is true in the classroom, in sports, and in the boardroom.

Here are 6 ways to increase your resilience:

1) INCREASE RESILIENCE: REINTERPRET NEGATIVE EVENTS

Setbacks are a natural part of life. Resilience requires mental toughness because it is the ability to recover quickly from adversity, no matter your situation.

Nip negative emotions and reactions in the bud, when they first appear. This is when they are the weakest—LaRae Quy

Agents are motivated when they look into the face of an innocent victim who trusts and expects to find answers. However, many of these cases are so old that the leads have become cold. 

To reinterpret negative events, agents reappraise the facts of the case to find new clues. As a result, they become wiser and more resilient investigators. They are better able to see new possibilities in how the case can move forward.

Quit is not a word used in FBI investigations.

2) INCREASE RESILIENCE: ENHANCE POSITIVE EMOTIONS

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from whatever adversity you are facing. But often the only way out—is through the adversity. We must bounce through the adversity that faces us. This is when we must be positive thinkers and not optimists.

Optimism and positive thinking are two different things: optimists believe their circumstances will change in the future—and for the better. Positive thinkers believe that your circumstances will change; instead, they believe they will prevail in their circumstances.

FBI are resilient because they are positive thinkers who do not look at their world through rose-colored glasses. Their buoyant outlook overpowers stress and sticky situations because they are confident they will find a way to get through the difficulty that lies ahead.

3) INCREASE RESILIENCE: GET PHYSICALLY FIT

Exercise lengthens your attention span, strengthens your decision making abilities, enhances memory, and empowers you to handle stress.

Exercise can also enhance resilience because it activates genes for proteins that promote growth and repair of neurons damaged by stress.

When we get physically fit, it boosts endorphins as well as neurotransmitters that elevate our mood and suppress the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

FBI agents are required to maintain physical fitness standards through their career and are given time during the week to work out. Once a year, all agents are given a field FIT test to gauge their body fat levels as well as pushups, sit-ups, and a two mile run.

4) INCREASE RESILIENCE: STICK WITH YOUR TRIBE

Friendships are important; they can lift you up, provide security, and prevent slip-ups in both business and life.

As Sebastian Junger writes in his book, Tribe, “We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding—”tribes.” This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society. To regain it might be the key to our psychological survival.”

A strong psychological thread within the Bureau is the concept of the “FBI family.” FBI employees will close ranks around one of their own if the individual is targeted or harmed in some way.

The strong and unequivocal support of others is powerful because it increases an individual’s self-confidence. It also provides a safety net for those times when they fall, and enhances their belief that they can overcome obstacles.

Bonding strongly with others in a tribe provides greater security than if we strike out on our own.

5. INCREASE RESILIENCE: IMITATE OTHERS

Look for people in your circles who know how to recover from hardship quickly so you can learn from them.

Research by psychologist Albert Bandura indicates that when we imitate the behavior of those whom we admire, it provides us with resilient role models. The “fake it until you make it” proverb will work but with a couple of important caveats:

1) First, you cannot look to others to make you competent, knowledgable, and confident—you must own those qualities. There is a big difference between imitating someone and trying to be an imposter.

2) Second, the individual whom you imitate must possess the resilience qualities you admire and they must allow you to walk alongside so you can imbibe those qualities.

The FBI assigns a training agent to all new agents. This individual is often the one whom the new agent will imitate as they learn their job. I found that informal mentors were also a great way to learn how to do something. I would watch and understand how they developed their resilient qualities.

6) INCREASE RESILIENCE: STAND UP TO STRESS

A resilient individual is not someone who avoids stress; rather, it is someone who learns how to tame it.

Psychologists distinguish between good stress, or “eustress” which is caused by positive experiences, and bad stress which is caused by the bad stuff. A new body of research suggests that stress is not bad for you unless you believe it is bad for you. Seeing stressors as challenges rather than threats invites physiological responses that can improve thinking and cause less physical wear and tear.                 

FBI agents often compare “war stories” with colleagues. Since we all share these experiences, we treat them as stimulating challenges in our job to be overcome. However, if  we share these same stories with friends or neighbors, they would treat them as potential threats to our safety. The difference in response creates a tribe mentality (as described above in #4) and reminds us that our outlook determines whether the experience was an exciting challenge, or a threat to avoid.

How do you increase your resilience when confronted with roadblocks?

© 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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2 Responses to “6 Ways FBI Agents Increase Resilience”

  1. Alli Polin says:

    When I first moved to the Outback, I would lament, “I can’t find my people.” It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends and neighbors, I didn’t have a tribe here. Over time I connected with my global tribe (thank you Google Hangouts!) and have established in my local area a strong mastermind group of women all with their own small business. Both have made all the difference between my throwing in the towel and continuing to challenge myself to evolve.

    Will share!

    Alli

  2. Terri Klass says:

    Another great article LaRae! I love your insights into how we can each become more resilient. I especially connect with #4- Stick with your tribe. When I am faced with a difficult situation the first places I turn are to my colleagues and support system. As a person who gets her energy from people, I look forward to talking through my challenges, asking for input and then eventually drawing my own conclusions.
    Thanks for sharing another FBI perspective and lesson!

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