Posts Tagged ‘adversity’

Why You Need Grit When Life Throws You A Curveball

Monday, November 14th, 2016

When I interviewed with the FBI, they liked my grit and scrappiness. A hillbilly from a cattle ranch in Wyoming who had clawed her way through college sat in front of a panel of polished FBI agents and interviewed for a job as a special agent.

Grit Up!

My working class background was worn like a badge of honor. There was pride in the fact that my family took showers at the end of a hard day instead of stepping out of a shower smelling like a petunia each morning.

I grew up an unsophisticated ranch girl, and believe me, it takes a while to put a shine on a sneaker. Educated elitists I met at universities ridiculed me because I wasn’t as enlightened as them.

Each curveball thrown my way was met with determination and persistence. Grit was needed to make sacrifices and keep my eye on the larger goal.

The FBI liked that; when I was hired it was not because I was a female. They hired me because I was the best person for the job who happened to be female.

Entrepreneurs wake up every day to new challenges in their business. Startups are faced with new competition and unstable markets. Leadership can get blindsided by investors. 

Here is why you need grit when life throws you a curveball:

1. GRIT UP & MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS

body language

Growing up on a remote cattle ranch presented different types of adversity. Rattlesnakes in the summer and deadly snowstorms in the winter both presented life and death situations.

At an elevation of 7,000 feet, we were frequently snowed in for months at a time during the winter. My brother and I had a private tutor who lived on the ranch with us because we were hours from the nearest town. When I was in first grade, our first tutor’s vehicle got stuck in a snowdrift and she froze to death while trying to walk back to our house.

We worked hard and lived in poverty. While slick professionals in the cities discussed whether schools should teach bi-lingual classes, we were more interested in keeping our livestock alive.

I had no friends and started to stack hay bales when I was 8 years old. Believe me when I say that I thought it terribly unfair that life had dealt me this crappy hand.

Later, researchers noticed a connection between grit, success, and early adversity in life. Why would adversity when I was young give me an advantage?

The answer in this study suggests that adversity at a young age teaches us early in life how to deal with our emotions. The ability to regulate our emotions gives us an advantage in both business and life.

Emotional competence is one of the cornerstones of mental toughness. If we are emotionally intelligent and aware of our innermost emotions, we have a much better chance of dealing with them when a curveball comes our way as an adult.

What This Means For You:

No one gets through childhood without a few scrapes. We don’t all get to play with the red ball in the playground. Mine the significance of your own stories and experiences to uncover the way in which you dealt with blows in the past. They are an accurate predictor of how you deal with them now.

2. GRIT UP & LEAN INTO THE STRUGGLE

persistence

As I worked counterintelligence cases, I learned that grit meant I had to lean into the struggle when hit with a curveball or roadblock. I had one case that lasted 7 years before I was able to successfully close it. While I had other cases assigned to me during that time, this one case just reared its ugly head year after year.

There is a difference between persistence and stubbornness. The case demanded that I change my behavior, tactics, and mindset if I planned on solving it.

Sometimes productive behavior means leaning into a struggle in ways that you can’t anticipate. Mental toughness is knowing when to change your behavior or when to change your environment. There will be times when you do need to change the environment so you can be your best self. 

Positive thinking is another cornerstone of mental toughness. FBI agents survive because they are always prepared for the worst-case scenario. We don’t go into arrest situations assuming everything will work out OK.

What It Means For You:

Don’t run from adversity or struggles if they are lying in the path of what you want to do in life. That means you will need to adapt and be flexible. Keep an eye on micro quotas as you move toward your macro goal. Anticipate what could go wrong so you are better able to predict your response and land on your feet when confronted with the unknown.

3. GRIT UP & STOP WHINING

 

whining-kid

The quickest way to be ostracized from an FBI squad is to whine, point fingers, or blame others. Whining about your problems always makes you feel worse, not better, because your words have power, both over yourself and others.

If something is wrong, save your mental energy for finding ways to make the situation better.

There are so many things over which we have no control—our parents, the country of our birth, the time in history into which we are born. Most of us do not have a choice of when or where we die, nor can we control the time and manner of our death.

But we can choose how to live—either with purpose and joy or adrift and hopeless. It’s important to choose what makes us significant so we live according to our most deeply felt values.

Don’t whine, point fingers, or blame others for your predicament. You be the hero of your own life and choose your destiny.

What It Means For You:

Take time to find out your core values because they drive your behavior. They move and inspire you. Identify what is wrong, but don’t waste time talking about it. Instead, find ways you’ll make it better.

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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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How To Overcome Adversity —The Big Bounce Back

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

Kidnapping cases present FBI agents with some of their most challenging investigations and opportunities to overcome adversity. More often than not, the choices that the agent makes has life and death consequences. The goal is always to recover the victim safely and put the kidnapper behind bars.

How To Overcome Adversity

Grit is the word that best describes the attitude that takes hold of an agent when they will not allow themselves to consider the possibility of failure. When someone’s life is at stake, you keep going—no matter how dark the path ahead.

The way in which we look at ourselves, and our circumstances, dictates our attitude when determining how to overcome adversity. As entrepreneurs and business owners, you will have several moments where lots of negative thoughts will be occupying your mind.

To jettison those negative thoughts, you may find it necessary to express your situation differently. When you rethink, or reframe, your adversity, it helps to move it into a context that is more favorable.

This is not to make light of tragedy. It’s perfectly normal to be sad when we are immersed in a negative situation and we need to overcome adversity. That said, we do not need to let the crap moments produced by adversity sabotage our efforts to keep moving toward success.

1. Reframe Your Situation To Overcome Adversity

Reframing is a fancy word for changing the way you place limits around your goals and behaviors. If something sucks, the most logical thing in the world is to call it out for what it is. But, when you grit up to overcome adversity, it means you seek out new interpretations and perspectives that will help you keep moving forward.

Bad news will never keep a dedicated FBI agent from looking for a kidnapping victim. Instead, the agent will reframe the situation so they maintain a more positive and resourceful state of mind.

Reframing is not about pretending everything is perfect and positive! Instead, it’s about providing you with different ways of interpreting your less than perfect situation so you can expand the possibilities to overcome adversity.

2. Reframe The Content

If you reframe the content of your situation, it means you choose what you focus on. Nothing has changed, but instead of wallowing in what did not work, you intentionally choose to focus on what did work.

For example, instead of spending time complaining to everyone that you’ve lost a contract, take the time to analyze why you lost it—learn from the incident. And then move on. No one wants to keep hearing about it…

Ask yourself:

  • Why did we lose the contract?
  • Could we have done something earlier to head it off? What?
  • What can losing this contract teach me about myself? My company?
  • Are there any negative behaviors that need to be addressed for the future?

Another example might include a mistake that you made. Ask yourself:

  • How can I find the positive in this situation?
  • What did I do well?
  • How can I learn about myself from this experience?
  • How can make this information useful for future behavior?

3. Reframe Context

In almost every situation where the interrogation of a kidnapper does not lead to a confession, the interviewing agent always kicks themselves by asking, “What should I have done differently? What could I have said that would have made them buckle and confess?”

Perhaps the evidence was overwhelming, and yet the kidnapper did not feel compelled to admit to the kidnapping. It’s even worse when the victim has still not been found.

Almost all behavior is appropriate in some context—maybe not the one in which you are currently in—but in another situation, your behavior or decision might be quite acceptable and helpful.

Just because your performance was not appreciated in this context, it does not mean it might not be appreciated in another time or place. This is important to remember so that you don’t come down too hard on yourself when you face adversity and things don’t work out the way you anticipated.

Let’s take the same example as above: you’ve lost a contract so you might ask yourself:

  • What different conversations would have been appropriate?
  • In what context would my choice of words have been the right one?
  • What behavior or words could have saved me in this situation?
  • Can I recognize that situation in the future?
  • When has my behavior helped me in the past?

Often there is no right or wrong way to overcome adversity. What might work in one situation or context may not work in another. Keep reframing things so you can look at all possibilities.

Grit is learning how to bounce back, no matter what your situation.

How have you bounced back from adversity?

© 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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6 Ways To Tackle Big Goals

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

I learned to tackle big goals growing up on a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming. Our ranch house was located at the bottom of a canyon, cut deep into the earth over the years by the North Laramie River. 

Adversity - climbing mountains

Several times a year my Dad climbed the steep south mountain of the canyon to visit an elderly neighbor woman named Sophie. The cliffs of the canyon rose 1,000 feet on either side of the ranch house, covered with boulders and littered with the debris from an occasional landslide. When I turned 8, Dad finally relented and allowed both my brother and me to climb with him on one of his visits to Sophie. He had not heard from her for a while and she had no telephone. Anxiously, I wondered how we would “stick” to the rocks and not fall off.

He told me not to worry about how we would tackle that big goal as I looked up from the bottom to the top of the mountain. Instead, he told me to keep my eyes on the few feet of mountain around me so I could find places to put my hands and feet. We would use them to pull ourselves up with our hands and feet. Steps that led upward would reveal themselves as we got closer. 

Even though the mountain side looked sheer from the bottom, there were lots of crevices and places to climb once we got started. They were invisible from below, lost in the grandeur of the larger view.

I broke down my goal of climbing the mountain into small steps to be taken one at a time, I was successful and able to reach the top.

Leaders with strong minds are successful because they tackle big goals and break them down into tiny, clear chunks.

If you spend too much time contemplating the huge distance between where you are now and the goal you want to achieve, there is a risk you’ll never get started.

Here are 7 ways to tackle big goals:

1. LEARN TO CHUNK

Too much information can intimidate as well as inspire. When we chunk, we break down larger goals into achievable steps. This will help you understand all the tasks involved as you tackle big goals so you can create a timeline to get them done. Chunking tasks that are related is an efficient way to think because the brain loves to make connections. 

Chunking often works best when you work backwards from your goal. As you tackle big goals, think about the obstacles you need to overcome, barriers you need to break, customers you need to contact, or product you need to produce if you want to be successful.

By breaking down a huge project into smaller chunks, you can also experience the sense of achievement and progress.

2. CREATE MINI-GOALS

Often the best way to tackle big goals is by breaking the project down into several mini-goals.

Take a closer look at each goal and see what steps are needed to achieve that specific goal.

3. DEVELOP VISUAL MAPS

Many of us are visual people. If you are, develop visual maps so you can get a picture of

a) where you are,

b) where you want to end up,

c) what needs to be done to accomplish it.

4. PRIORITIZE

To tackle big goals, it helps to prioritize what tasks need to be done. Once you do, this will help you place them in chronological order so you can see what needs to be done

a) first,

b) alongside others,

c) alone.

5. IDENTIFY DIFFICULT TASKS

If you tackle big goals, chances are good that one or more of the tasks will require more effort or additional training.  If possible, choose the time you can tackle them rather than waiting until they are foisted upon you when you are least prepared to deal with them.

6. BUILD A TIMELINE

Decide when you need to reach your goal if you have the luxury of setting your own deadline. If you do not have that luxury, write the deadline down and then identify how much time you will need to accomplish each step and mini-goal. If you’re pressed for time, how much of the work can you assign to others? Think about getting professional assistance if you need.

Successful people understand that clarity gives us certainty. Small, clear goals keep our attention focused as we tackle big goals.

After I made it up the mountain, I felt as though I was sitting on top of the world! Sophie was there and made us lunch, and then we headed back down. What I learned that day was that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when confronted by a big task. However, by keeping these steps in mind, you create a way to reach the top.

How do you tackle big goals?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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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FBI Tips On How To Survive Setbacks

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

I had been assigned to my first Field Office for less than one year when I was unexpectedly transferred across the country. The FBI likes to see how their agents survive setbacks, land on their feet, and come out ready for more.

 

We’ve all started over in a different environment, lost a job, or had a relationship fail. These experiences leave us grappling for a lifeline as we attempt to survive setbacks. We feel the tug of war between our thinking brain and our emotional brain. It feels as though each brain has it’s own agenda, and at some point a certain amount of paralysis can set in.  

Different parts of the brain fight for control. Technically, this is what happens in post-traumatic stress disorder. The prefrontal cortex of the cerebral thinking brain loses its ability to regulate the emotional limbic system.

Life knocks us down and puts in a position of needing to survive setbacks. Our emotions often become overly sensitized to fear and danger. While we may not experience the full impact of PTSD, we feel enough discomfort. It affects our ability to make the best decisions for ourselves.

Many of us go to therapy or take medicine to remove our symptoms when we’re feeling distress. But that does nothing more than lecture the thinking brain or suppress the emotional limbic system.

Instead, we can develop a stronger mind when we find ways to get both brains to cooperate equally. Mental toughness is the ability to experience discomfort yet still feel comfortable.

Understanding how to control our different brains when we’ve been knocked down is an essential component of mental toughness. 

Here are 4 tips on how to survive setbacks so you can bounce back when life strikes a heavy blow:

TIP #1: Start With A Minor Source of Uneasiness

Identify a minor source of uneasiness that clearly places you in a discomfort zone—but not in a panic mode. When you do, you begin to train your emotional and thinking brains to communicate with one another. Start small so it doesn’t put your emotional limbic system into survival mode. However, it does need to be big enough to generate a physical reaction.

For example, if you fear public speaking, the thought of your performance can cause palms to sweat and heart rate to increase. These physiological responses are triggered by your fear response—which is housed in your limbic system. Start with a small group so you can experience the physiological responses. Prepare your talk and deliver it confidence. Next time, speak in front of a larger group, etc.

TIP #2: Call Attention To Where The Fear Is Coming From

The limbic system is so powerful because we often have a visceral reaction to a situation before we have a conscious awareness of it. This is called gut reaction.

Studies have shown that we can use our thinking brain to control our limbic system if we do two things:

  1. recognize what is happening
  2. intentionally tell ourselves that there is no reason to react with fear

By forcing ourselves to use our cognitive function, we are activating the prefrontal lobe of the cerebral cortex which is responsible for generating positive thoughts. Interestingly enough, when we call attention to our fears we are able to see them in a different, and often more objective, light.

The longer our fear lurks in the darkness, the greater its chances of growing and sabotaging our efforts to move forward. Do not hesitate to pinpoint your fear and spend a little time with it. The more you get to know it, the better you can control it.

TIP #3: Get Comfortable With Discomfort

The secret to learning how to survive setbacks is learning how to get comfortable with discomfort. 

If you can walk on scorching hot beach sand as you make your way to the cool water of the ocean, you’ve got the gist of a strong mind. The discomfort is there, you are aware of it, and it does not feel great but it is co-existing with the pleasure of a day on the beach.

As the discomfort increases, and you experience anxiety, stress or pain, you begin to see your experience as more absolute—you are either comfortable or miserable. While there will be miserable moments in your life, not all of them need to trigger fear.

Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” – Buddhist proverb

Once you are able to control your fear by using your thinking cerebral brain, the limbic system simmers down so you can deal with your situation and make decisions utilizing both brains.

TIP #4: Label Your Discomfort

Studies have found that when you call your emotion by name, it lessens the limbic system’s activity. When you accurately identify and describe your discomfort, you lessen the power of the fear associated with it.

Similar research has found that it is important to limit your description to one or two words, however. If you engage in a long soliloquy about your emotion, it will only increase your response to it and produce adverse effects. 

I have found that by following these four steps, I can increase my tolerance for discomfort which enhances my ability to survive setbacks. 

 

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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 Mental Toughness Can Help You Thrive

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

As an FBI agent, I raided brothels that masked as massage parlors. They were filled with women from foreign countries, most 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. Then they found themselves trapped into an undesirable lifestyle by their circumstances.

Inspite - Strength-in-hard-timesThe FBI established a Victim Assistance Program (VAP) to help these women, and others, receive the assistance they needed. They were given tools on 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—we need to overcome obstacles or adversity that leaves us injured.

Mental toughness is not content with survival. Like the purpose of the VAP, it empowers victims to take control and grow. Fate does not always give a fair shake to people. But people who thrive do not put bandages on wounds. Instead, they they allow themselves to heal so they don’t suffer like victims. People who thrive will bloom where they are planted.

Mental toughness is the ability to prevail over out struggles and carve out a tranquil existence in the midst of life’s turbulence. To thrive often requires a transformation. Here are 3 critical steps to trigger that transformation:

1. Reframe Adversity 

As an FBI agent, I approached my obstacles as unsolved mysteries to be investigated.

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 if they decide on the conclusion from the outset and then force-feed 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. Some of them may be accurate but others may not. We remain open-minded about how to solve the problem and overcome the obstacle.

2. Lead with Game Plans, not Goals

When I worked 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 change 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 we are tempted to let them take the place of the bigger picture. Once they do, it’s hard 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.

3. Search for Meaning

No one knows more about how to suffer and heal 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.

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. 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.” 

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How To Make Sense of Life’s Struggles

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

We love stories about underdogs who muster the mental toughness to beat the odds and emerge victorious. They provide encouragement that, we too, can pursue our passions and achieve success.

Adversity - mad clouds

Somehow it’s easier when someone else endures the never-ending life struggle so we can live vicariously through their experiences, safely from our armchair.

A favorite inspirational story of mine is about a ruthless con-artist, liar, thief, and manipulator who was full of fear and anxieties. Divested of all earthly possessions, he runs from his father-in-law and into the waiting arms of a brother who hates him.

Homeless on a riverbank, he is attacked and the violence is so intense that he is left crippled for life. He faces darkness, loneliness, exhaustion, and relentless pain.

The ancient book of the Bible tells us the man’s name was Jacob and his riverbank opponent was an angel. The question that immediately surfaces is: “Why would God create such pain and adversity?”

The question is answered by Jacob himself, who was transformed through this experience. Jacob finally understood that in real life, naive optimism and the desire for glamour is a recipe for despair and discontent.

Jacob’s transformation earned him a new name— Israel, because he prevailed over his struggles and carved out a tranquil existence in the midst of life’s turbulence.

Struggles force us to find our deepest name.

Struggles are rarely easy, but if we have mental toughness, we will not give up. Like Jacob, we will be transformed because we will do what we all must do when confronted with adversity—confront our failures, hurts, and pain.

Tough times and adversity have transformational powers. This is confirmed by new research that suggests struggles are essential to developing resilience, and that mental toughness, like a muscle, cannot develop without exercise but it will break down if overworked.

Here are 4 things to keep in mind when going through tough times:

1. Face Adversity, Don’t Avoid It 

The study cited above reflects how easy it is for you to take your good luck for granted. If you are not prepared for adversity when it comes, you have no tools with which to fight back. Not getting what you always want forces you to identify your core character strengths and personal values—information you might have otherwise over looked. Some things fall apart in life so that better things can fall together.

2. Expect the Deepest Pain To Empower You To Your Fullest Potential 

It’s not a pleasant thought, but very often it is the stressful choices that end up being the most worthwhile. Without pain, there would be no change. Just remember to learn from your pain and then release it.

3. Work Outside Your Comfort Zone 

Don’t be reluctant to accept a new responsibility or challenge because you don’t think you’re ready. It’s OK to acknowledge that you need additional information, skill, or experience but remember that no one is 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Most opportunities in life force us to grow, both emotionally and intellectually. They force us out of our comfort zone, and so it’s natural to feel uncomfortable at first.

Significant opportunities for personal growth and success will come and go through your lifetime. If you’re looking to build resilience and overcome adversity, you will need to embrace moments of uncertainty even though you don’t feel 100% ready for them.

4. Embrace the Lesson

Everything happens for a reason. Things go wrong so you can learn to appreciate things when they go right. Learn to embrace the lesson each opportunity has to teach you so you can recognize the circumstances surrounding those lessons the next time they show up.

We can choose to resist our struggles, or we can uncover the truest and deepest part of ourselves in the midst of them. Mental toughness is learning to confront not only the adversaries from our environment, but also the ones inside us.

What tips can you offer someone who is going through struggles? How have your struggles shaped you to become a better person?

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. 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.” 

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Effective Leaders are Authentic, Positive & Bold

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Recently, I was honored to be a guest on The Iron Jen Show, a radio program dedicated to helping leaders overcome adversity.

We talked about several examples I provided in my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind. Among the topics we discussed during the interview were the roles of authenticity, faith, positive thinking, and boldness in effective leadership.

This is a transcript of that interview:

http://blogtalk.vo.llnwd.net/o23/show/4/961/show_4961913.mp3

 

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LaRaeQuy

Read my book Secrets of a Strong Mind, and Mental Toughness For Women Leaders, both available now on Amazon.

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How To Develop A Leadership Brain

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

My grandmother didn’t know much about leadership, but she knew a lot about grit. She was a crack shot with a shotgun. She never allowed me to say “I can’t” when she told me to do my chores. Come summer, she was the kind of person who would rather burn her front yard than mow it.

My grandmother never had more than an 8th grade education, but she knew something that researchers at world-class universities are just now understanding.

And that is, every time we say the words “I can’t” we are creating a feedback loop in our brain that impacts the way we’re going to behave in the future. We’re reminding ourself of our limitations, and we’re really saying, “I don’t have the confidence to do this.”

Have you ever said to yourself:

  • Public speaking is not my thing, so don’t blame me if it goes badly.
  • I don’t like to perform under pressure is not something I do well, so don’t blame me if nothing happens.
  • This project is too much, so don’t blame me if it’s not a success.

Every time we repeat phrases like these, they produce a negative feedback loop in our brain.

There are two regions of the brain, and an MRI scan can show what parts of the brain are lighting up when we are thinking. If you fold your fingers into a fist, they would represent the cerebral cortex—the thinking part of the brain. This is the brain that finds new ways of thinking and generating solutions; it is more logical in it’s approach.

But the moment something creates fear or discomfort, we move into another part of the brain. The thumb underneath your fist would represent the limbic system—the reactive or emotional part of the brain.

The limbic system is instinctive and survival driven. When we’re confronted with threatening obstacles, we move from the cerebral to the reactive limbic system and it creates the “fight” or “flight” reactions that have kept humans alive for centuries. I describe the limbic system as our “bird brain” because it’s the home of our small but powerful gut instinct. It helps us deal with emergencies and threats to our life.

The bird brain is 100% self-protective and it’s not a good place to be when we’re trying to make decisions when facing adversity. But we don’t need to flee from every challenge just because it scares us. The bird brain can’t discern between anxiety about a threat to our safety and anxiety about speaking in front of a group of people.

All it knows is that if you’re in discomfort and feel anxious. Instinctively, it tells you to flee or withdraw, so you obey and say, “I can’t.” We have to switch gears to consciously move out of the reactive limbic system and into the thinking cerebral brain. When facing adversity and obstacles, it’s vital to get the two brains working together so the best decisions can be made.

Here are 4 steps to develop a leadership brain:

1. Prioritize Information To Develop A Leadership Brain

You will be creating a leadership brain because prioritizing forces the brain to interact with information rather than simply react to it. Creating visuals with whiteboards and listing projects is an excellent way to force the limbic system to interact with the cerebral brain to sort out the day’s activities. Otherwise, we risk the chance of our two brains fighting against one another for attention and energy.

2. Manage Stress to Develop A Leadership Brain

As an FBI agent, I experienced as much fear and anxiety as anyone when confronted with stressful situations. Research has shown that law enforcement personnel such as FBI agents and Special Forces have developed a leadership brain by learning how to quickly manage their fear and anxiety. It’s not that they don’t feel discomfort; it’s that they have been trained to manage that discomfort so they are hardier and more resilient.

Here are two ways to manage stress:

  • Learn to Be Grateful—gratitude emanates from the limbic system, and because of this, we can use gratitude to influence other emotions such as anxiety and fear. The ancient book of the Bible reminds us that “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24 ESV)
  • Learn to Write Down Feelings—writing down and then thinking about certain areas of our life for which we feel grateful can boost our ability to counter the negative emotions we are experiencing. Keeping a journal moves us from the limbic system into the cerebral. It’s important to not only think about why we are grateful, but also to focus on the feelings attached to our gratitude.

3. Label Emotions To Develop A Leadership Brain

This means describing an emotion in one or two words. Step 2 encouraged you to identify and write down your emotions. In Step 3, you will label them.

Although most people expect labeling emotions to increase emotion, when you label your fear or anxiety you actually lessen your discomfort. It’s very important, however, to keep the label to one or two words because if you open up dialogue about it, you will only increase the emotional state of the limbic system.

Again, the leadership brain is one that learns how to control emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that set them up for success.

4. Remain Positive To Develop A Leadership Brain

Change your interpretation of the situation. Since we have an innate bias toward negativity, we process bad news faster than good news because our bird brain is survival driven. This explains why we’re driven to avoid losses far more than we’re driven to pursue gains. Our emotional responses flow from our appraisals of the world.

My grandmother knew that it was not lack of fear that creates a successful response; it’s how we deal with fear and anxiety. For FBI agents, leaders, or grandmothers everywhere, let your discomfort be a trigger to take positive and constructive action so you can move forward with a leadership brain.

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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.” 

 

 

4 Ways To Remove Obstacles

Monday, April 29th, 2013

I learned how to remove obstacles on our cattle ranch by saddling up a horse and riding through cow herds to get them to greener pastures. If a lazy cow did not want to move, it was my job to push her along until the entire herd was together.

My Dad taught me to saddle and ride horses, rope steers, and herd cattle when I was in grade school. So no one was more surprised than me when Dad brought home a couple of four-wheel ATVs a few years ago and used them, instead of horses, to check on the cattle.

The ATV looked much easier to ride than a horse when I first saw it and I was anxious to try it out! Dad took off first and I followed. The terrain on our ranch is mountainous, however, so I soon found myself sideways on a steep hill and in danger of tipping over. Suddenly, this huge motorcycle on four wheels looked more dangerous than any horse I’d ever ridden.

To go headfirst down the steep hill and over the cliff appeared even more dangerous, so I continued to inch my way down sideways—it seemed the safer router. By now, Dad had stopped his ATV and was running toward me.

“Turn your wheels straight downhill,” he shouted. “Only by facing it head-on can you get safely down the cliff,” he said. Slowly, I turned the wheels straight down the steep embankment ahead of me, and the ATV started to move forward. I made it safely to the bottom.

Turns out that leaning into the unknown is the best way to remove obstacles. While in new agent’s class at the FBI Academy, our instructors continually placed us in training situations where we were required to remove obstacles. For many of us, our first reaction was to either pull back or take circuitous routes around the obstacle. But the message by our instructors was this: Only by moving into the unknown are we be able to explore it.

To increase safety, move toward the unknown.

To increase chances for success, move toward the challenge.

The closer we get to the unknown, the more we can educate ourselves about it. The steps to follow and actions to take may not reveal themselves to us until we have moved closer to the situation. Mountain climbers understand that it’s impossible to know where to place fingers and feet by looking at a mountain from the bottom. Only by getting close enough to explore the cracks and crevices can they find places of safety.

A great deal of my FBI training was learning how to lean into the unknown so we could remove obstacles. Entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders can do the same.

Here are four ways:

1. DEVELOP HABITS

When you are in the middle of a crisis, it is not the time to learn how to remove obstacles. Go into training so that before obstacles present themselves you have cultivated courage, confidence, and discipline.

When you make yourself aware of certain difficulties that are inevitable, you can prepare yourself mentally for confronting them head-on. Soldiers, warriors, and athletes appreciate the preparation it takes to mentally and physically meet the challenges ahead of them. They know it can be ugly, daunting, and grueling, but they are equipped.

2. CREATE THE RIGHT ATTITUDE

Most barriers are internal, not external. Internal lack of confidence can create the external challenges.

The U.S. Army is using research that has shown most people, when confronted with adversity and the need to remove obstacles, will experience initial feelings of fear, frustration, and paralysis. Given sufficient amounts of time, however, they recover and continue to perform at the same level they were performing before the adversity.

At one end of the continuum there are a small percentage of people who do not bounce back and remain unable to cope with their circumstances without assistance. They often need counseling and can experience breakdowns.

On the other end of the continuum, however, are those with strong minds who not only survive adverse and traumatic situations, but also thrive and grow. They key is having the right attitude. People who have affirming thoughts about themselves and their abilities are more likely to survive the intense pressure of obstacles and adversity.

3. BUILD A SUPPORT SYSTEM

When we need to remove obstacles, we all benefit from feeling connected with others. Sometimes just talking things through with someone who has had a similar experience can help guide you through a difficult time.

At the FBI Academy in Quantico, we were not allowed to leave the Marine Corps base for the first three weeks of our training. We were to use this time to bond and build relationships with other members of our new agent’s class. Humans are social creatures and we need emotional support from friends and family members. When confronting obstacles, having people you can trust by your side can make all the difference.

4. THINK SMALL

A truly daunting task can produce discouragement in the toughest. The trick is to focus on the little piece that is right in front of you. If you are bogged down with a huge task, break it down into small enough pieces so that you can set goals or markers of achievement for yourself. Then focus on your attention on that.

When confronted with changing environments and the need to remove obstacles, you may need to leave your place of safety and press forward with the willpower of a strong mind. Nothing is impossible. It’s up to you to find a way. Even the most prepared and effective people can find themselves facing adversity and will need to find ways of turning obstacles into opportunities for growth.

How have you turned adversity into an opportunity?

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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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.” 

 

6 Ways To Get Through Adversity

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Many homesteaders sold whiskey illegally during Prohibition in the 1930’s to get through adversity and financial hardship. 

When my brother and I were kids, Dad pointed out a still used to brew whiskey on our Wyoming ranch. We were on horseback and rode past a few barrel rings and a wall of rocks. Tucked into a steep draw, it was surrounded by aspen trees and a little cow trail that led to the bottom of the canyon near our house.

At that time, my brother and I collected antique glassware as a hobby. We planned to go back to the whiskey still and look around for old bottles. It should be easy enough to find, we thought. So after school we told our parents we were going out to play and would be back in time for supper. We walked up the canyon, and when we saw a draw that looked familiar, we started up.

Our ranch was located in the scatterings of the Snowy Mountain Range at an altitude of 7,000 feet. Summers are short in that country. The green aspen trees that looked lush and cozy when we rode past them a few months before, were now barren and cold.

Night fell much earlier in the winter months and dusk had begun to set in. We could not find the whiskey still but continued on until we reached the top of the draw. When we saw Laramie Peak in a distance, we knew we had climbed over 2,000 feet out of the canyon bottom.

We had climbed up the wrong draw, night was coming, and we had no flashlights. The rattlesnakes had hibernated for the winter, but conditions were still adverse. It was dark, the terrain was steep and rocky. The temperature had begun to drop at an alarming rate.

At the ages of ten and eleven, my younger brother and I learned young to how to get through adversity.

Here are 6 ways that will help you get through adversity as well:

1. Muster Confidence 

We were too young to rely on pep talks or motivational speeches to provide the determination we needed to get through adversity. We had climbed over 2,000 feet out of the canyon in daylight. Now we had to be confident enough in our ourselves that we could repeat our performance downhill in the darkness.

The lessons I learned to get down the mountain stayed with me the rest of my life. In my book Secrets of A Strong Mind, I talk about the four months I spent at the FBI Academy in new agent’s training. We trained hard day in and day out, no matter the weather conditions—in snow, wind, rain, or heat. Those experiences drilled confidence in ourselves.

Whenever I thought I couldn’t push myself any further, I remembered that cold night climbing back down a mountain when I was eleven years old. I was confident I had what it took to get through adversity facing me now.

TIP: If we perform well when faced with adversity in the past, we have the self-assurance that we can beat the odds in the future.

2. Remain Persistent

My brother and I were not sure how to get back home before we found ourselves in complete darkness and freezing temperatures. We decided that if we stayed with the cow trail it would ultimately lead us to our destination. The trail was lost but we hopped over rocks and fallen trees to find it. We knew that as long we were headed downhill we were headed in the right direction. But the draw had many smaller ones that meandered over the sides of the canyon. Time was important and we knew the quickest way down was the way we came up. We persisted and found the cow path again.

As an FBI agent, there were many times when I needed to remember that dedication and blind persistence are two different things. We can work hard, but not always smart.

TIP: To get through adversity, attack the problem from a different angle if it doesn’t work. Learn to pivot when needed. Where there is a will, there is a way.

3. Keep A Lid On Emotions

While neither my brother or I panicked, we were scared—but we never let negativity set in. We acknowledged our fears but remained confident in our ability to get home safely.

I have drawn my weapon while making an arrest. I was scared and afraid of what I would need to do if the person resisted. When I leaned into my training, I regained my confidence and managed my emotions.

TIP: It’s always important to acknowledge emotions, but to get through adversity you need to remind yourself that you have the mental toughness to manage the negative ones. You may not be able to change the conditions but you can change the way you deal with them. It’s possible to have self-control in an out-of-control environment.

4. Accept Responsibility

We had no one to blame but ourselves. This was no game we were playing and we had to have the strength to look at our adversity realistically and take responsibility for getting ourselves back home. Our parents had no idea we had headed out to find the whiskey still because we hadn’t told them.

As an FBI agent, I found that self-examination would be one of the most important ways I could become a more effective leader and achieve my goals. When I confronted obstacles and adversity, I was not afraid to question my thinking. Often, this self-examination uncovered biases or assumptions I had made that either contributed to the obstacle or stood in my way of overcoming it.

TIP: A self-examination includes a regular review of traits, desires, and fears. This honest assessment can lead to a reinvention of goals and beliefs.

5. Pace Yourself

My brother and I both knew that if we stopped, we’d freeze to death before morning. On the other hand, if we depleted our resources, we’d be unable to continue.

I learned it was important to pace myself while running obstacle courses at the FBI Academy. I was not a strong runner, and while I enthusiastically charged out the gate, I knew I’d need to pace myself to last the entire obstacle course.

The same logic applied to my investigations: if I depleted my resources, ran myself to exhaustion, and then needed to respond to a fast-moving break in the case, I was in serious trouble.

TIP: Read the chapter on the 20 mile march in Great by Choice by Jim Collins.

6. Create Community

My brother and I were a team and we worked together to get back down the hill. We provided moral support for one another. We jumped across waterfalls and mucked through inches of mud to follow the meandering cow path.

The personal leadership skill of camaraderie is one of the first lessons taught at the FBI Academy. For the first three weeks, new agents are not allowed to leave the Marine Corp base. Instead, we were expected to develop a supportive community that would be needed during our four months of training.

The ability to relate to others was one of the most effective skills I developed in my career as a counterintelligence agent. Everyone has the need to be heard, and the need for information that can be put into action. The listener is a essential role because even very successful leaders need people who are allied to their cause.

My brother and I made is safely home that night to parents who were very worried.

TIP: If you learn how to get through adversity, it will help you turn underachievement into superior achievement. As long as you can stay alive, you are still in the game.

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. 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.” 

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