As an FBI agent, I raided brothels masking as massage parlors filled with women from foreign countries, many of them brought to the U.S. illegally and then forced into prostitution. These women were victims, lured to the U.S. under the pretense of a better life, and then trapped into an undesirable lifestyle by their circumstances.
The FBI established a Victim Assistance Program (VAP) to help these women, and others, receive the assistance they needed to survive by learning how to cope.
Like these women forced into prostitution, when we’re trapped by our circumstances, survival is all we think about. Survival is linked to victimhood…overcoming obstacles or adversity that has left us injured or suffering.
Mental toughness is not being content with survival. Like the purpose of the VAP, it is empowering victims to cope by taking control and growing, regardless of the hand that fate has handed out. People who thrive do not put bandages on wounds; instead, they allow deep healing so they do not suffer like victims. People who thrive will bloom where they are planted.
Mental toughness is the ability to prevail over out struggles and carve our a tranquil existence in the midst of life’s turbulence. Moving from just surviving to thriving requires a transformation. Here are 3 critical steps to trigger that transformation:
As an FBI agent, I approached my obstacles as unsolved mysteries to be investigated (click to tweet).
A mystery requires us to look at a situation from many different angles, or through a larger frame. A mystery calls for us to change sides, back and forth, so we can see it from every aspect. No one solves a mystery by deciding on one conclusion from the outset and then force-feeding the facts so they fit their image of a successful outcome.
If we reframe our adversity to look more like mysteries to be solved by careful analysis, then we can pick away at suppositions and judgments which may, or may not, be accurate. We remain open-minded about how to solve the problem and overcome the obstacle.
Lead with Game Plans, not Goals
When working an FBI counterintelligence investigation, the game plan was to recruit foreign spies to work for the U.S. government. If recruitment was my overall game plan, then my job was to set short and long-term goals that would move my investigation in the right direction.
Often, goals needed to be changed as new information became available. So while my approach would shift from time to time, the game plan never did.
Goals are essential if progress is to be made in life, but it’s tempting to let them take the place of the bigger picture. If they do, it’s harder to pivot and move in a new direction when events take an unexpected turn.
Goals are a measure of where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.
To thrive, use goals to plan your progress but rely on a game plan to actually make progress (click to tweet).
Search for Meaning
No one knows more about suffering, pain, and healing than Victor Frankl. An Austrian psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust, he thrived by writing the 1946 best selling psychological memoir, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
Frankl wrote how Auschwitz taught him about the primary purpose of life: the quest for meaning, which sustained those who survived. His wife was eventually killed in the prison camp, and he himself struggled to find a reason for his suffering and slow dying.
According to Frankl, everything can be taken from a person except one thing: the most important human freedom—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way of thinking about their life.
When we choose our attitude, we are free to focus on the things that are important and give us meaning in life: our dedication to a cause greater than ourself.
Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a woman rescued from an illegal prostitution ring, it’s impossible to thrive without the mental toughness needed to prevail over your struggles so you can take control and live a life of purpose.
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