Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

How To Overcome Adversity And Come Out A Winner

Monday, August 7th, 2017

A shetland pony named Socks helped teach me how to overcome adversity. We lived on a cattle ranch in Wyoming and my parents bought him for me when I was 4 years old.

Socks had a hard and dry little heart; all he wanted to do was terrorize his little rider. Dad would get on him and he was a well-mannered horse. When I got on him, however, I couldn’t get him to do anything. Worse yet, when Dad wasn’t looking, Socks would kick up his heels to see how much it would take to buck me off.

As time marched on, I got very worried because Dad said I wouldn’t get a “real” horse until I learned to ride Socks. I worked at it and finally rode Socks down the meadow about half a mile. We had to cross a ditch to go further. Socks turned his neck to get a good look at me before he let loose and bucked high and fast as he crossed the ditch. I went flying through the air.

Dad watched and saw the whole thing. I was humiliated; I cried and walked away but my Dad caught Socks and made me get right back on. Right then and there, not later when I’d plucked up enough courage to get back on and ride Socks again.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, neuroscience tells us that new memories remain unstable for a short period of time after an event. It’s during this unstable period that memories are being coded and consolidated into your subconscious.

We can erase our fear of an event if we can alter our memory of it, and the best time to do that is during the unstable period. That unstable period lasts for the first few hours.

We can learn how to overcome adversity and come out stronger than before if we do these things:

1. Get Back In The Saddle

We have all had experiences with colleagues, employees, or prospective clients that have left us unsettled, afraid, or unsure of how to move forward. We learn how to overcome adversity if we find ways to tackle the problem again so we can update our memory before that negative feeling becomes codified in our brain.

It might be with a different colleague, employee, or client but don’t let the experience of fear or anxiety get embedded into your thinking. It is important, however, that you make sure your environment is safe before trying to extinguish your fear-conditioned memory.

TIP: Replace a bad memory with a better one. The sooner, the better.

2. Grit Up

When I interviewed with the FBI, they liked that I wasn’t coddled, pampered, or entitled. Growing up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming left me scrappy, hungry, and full of grit. Getting bucked off Socks gave me the understanding that getting knocked down is part of life. But it’s those knocks that produce the grit we need to be successful.

Grit is doing what is needed even when you don’t know exactly how to do it. Grit is determination, persistence, and endurance.

Sports psychologist Tim Woodman has done several studies on what makes superior athletes. He spent a lot of time interviewing many top performers, and the one thing that he came away with was this: nearly every top performer in his study had experienced a critical negative event in their life—parents divorcing, a death, disease, or some other perceived loss—and they experienced it early in life.

Winners learn early that life is hard. Pain is inevitable. Growth is optional—LaRae Quy

Hard times create the need for a coping system. Because there is one of two ways to react to the crap that happens in life: you can whine, complain, and blame others. Or, you can take responsibility for your own actions, grit up, and look for solutions.

TIP: Learn to overcome adversity by developing a grit-up attitude. It’s your choice—you can have the mindset that your adversity creates trauma. Or, you can decide to look at your adversity as an opportunity to learn and grow.

3. Express Gratitude

Hunt the good stuff in your situation and express gratitude for what you find because you cannot be anxious and grateful at the same time.

The area of the brain that produces anxiety and fear overlaps with the area of the brain responsible for positive emotions. This is one of the reasons it’s hard to be stressed out and grateful at the same time.

TIP: Use mental toughness to override your fear by focusing on positive emotions so they can tamp down negative ones. When you are mentally strong, you decide how to overcome adversity by choosing which positive emotions to focus on.

4. Acquire Lots Of Information

FBI agents making arrests face the unknown because they can’t predict how an individual will react when arrested. To alleviate the fear they may experience, they collect information in several different ways:

First, they collect information about themselves. They practice arrest scenarios with red handled guns that do not have firing pins. This provides feedback on how they respond to different situations. It allows them to constantly fine-tune their response so they can anticipate a good outcome when confronted by the unknown.

Second, they collect as much information about the person to be arrested as possible. The agents can prepare if they have reason to believe the suspect might be armed and dangerous.

Third, agents qualify in firearms 4 times a year to fine-tune their skills. By the time they actually make an arrest, they have enough muscle memory that they don’t even have to think about what to do because they’ve done it before so many times.

TIP: You’ll have a better chance of coming out a winner if you practice or rehearse your performance ahead of time. It might not be possible to replicate the exact experience, but pay attention to your response in similar situations so you can decide whether or not you need to fine tune it.

5. Visualize Your Success

Visualize how you will overcome adversity. When you visualize your success, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. That is the chemical that becomes active when you are rewarded or have positive feelings. Dopamine enables you to not only see rewards, but to move toward those rewards as well.

By visualizing your performance, your brain actually stores that information as a success.

There is one important caveat here, though; your brain is not easily fooled. It knows the difference between visualizing your success and fantasizing about something you can never do, like being a rock star on stage. Your brain will only store it as a success if it represents real life and real situations you will encounter.

TIP: Educate yourself about your fear, find out as much as you can, and then practice how you can overcome it.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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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 Face Your Fears

Monday, March 20th, 2017

The FBI Academy taught me how to face my fears. By the time I graduated, this was my thinking: Drop me into the middle of any squad or any situation, anywhere, anytime.  Heck, throw me into the middle of a swimming pool with a gun (one of our physical fitness tests!) I will not be scared because I am confident I will succeed wherever I am.

I became mentally stronger by facing my fears. If my coaches weren’t pushing me into a discomfort zone, they weren’t doing their job.

Your success depends upon your ability to face your fears when confronted with stiff competition, adversity, economic downturns, and other sources of stress. Setbacks are a part of any business endeavor. If you react to them productively, you’re game-ready for whatever comes your way.

Here are 6 ways to face your fears:

1. GET BACK IN THE SADDLE

My shetland pony bucked me off when I was 6 years old. I started to cry and walk away but my dad made me get right back on. And it had to be right then and there, not later when I’d plucked up enough resolve to have another go at riding the pony.

Research shows that new memories remain unstable for a short period of time after the event. During the unstable period, memories are being coded and consolidated into your consciousness.

We can erase our fear if we can alter our memory of it, and the best time to do that is during the unstable period. If we can interrupt the coding and consolidating, we can change our memory about an unpleasant event.

How To Make It Work For You: If you experience a terrifying event or situation, the best thing you can do is replace that memory with a better one—right away. Take the opportunity to update and transform your memory. It is important, however, that you make sure your environment is safe before trying to extinguish your fear-conditioned memory.

2. ACCEPT YOUR FEAR

Fear can be a great way to alert you to a dangerous situation. Moderate amounts of fear can sharpen your focus and decision-making skills.

It can also keep you on your toes because when we become complacent, mistakes can start to happen.

How To Make It Work For You: When you face your fears, you can keep them manageable. Accept that some fear can work for you and learn to distinguish the healthy fear from that which paralyzes you or produces unhealthy doses of stress. Don’t let it get so big that it turns into panic.

3. STAND UP TO STRESS

Whether you hang tough or give up often depends upon your ability to adapt to stress. A resilient person is not someone who avoids stress; it is someone who learns how to nip it in the bud.

Researchers have discovered that the neural circuits that govern fear interact with the ones that govern reward. As a result of these connections, how you face your fears is related to your ability to remain upbeat under stress.

How To Make It Work For You: The area of the brain that is producing anxiety and fear overlaps with the area of the brain responsible for positive emotions. This is one of the reasons it’s hard to be stressed out and happy or content at the same time. Strengthen the positive emotions so they can tampen down your fear.

4. FOCUS ON THE GOAL

When we focus our attention on our fear, or on the negative, precious energy is being wasted fretting about our situation. One of the best ways to face your fears is to starve them of attention.

Instead, think of the bigger goal at stake. As Simon Sinek suggests, focus on your why. It’s important that your mission and goals be important to you. When the goal has value and meaning for you, you have only one choice: either back down and fail, or forge ahead.

How To Make It Work For You: When you are afraid, turn your attention away from the thing that is creating the fear. Instead, focus on your goal.

5. ACQUIRE LOTS OF INFORMATION

Much of our fear is associated with embracing the unknown. We fear what we don’t know.

FBI agents making arrests face the unknown because they can’t predict how an individual will react when arrested. To alleviate the fear they may experience, they do several things.

First, they practice arrest scenarios with red handled guns that do not have firing pins. This provides them with experience in difference situations so they are exposed to as many potential arrest scenarios as possible. This helps them from being surprised by the unknown.

Second, they collect as much information about the person to be arrested as possible. The agents can prepare if they have reason to believe the suspect might be armed and dangerous.

Third, agents qualify in firearms 4 times a year so they are constantly fine-tuning their skills. By the time they actually make an arrest, they do not need to think about what to do because they’ve done it before so many times.

How To Make It Work For You: Find out as much as possible about what you fear. Practice how you can overcome this fear until it becomes second nature to you.

6. FIND YOUR TRIBE

When you are a member of a tribe, you have an acute sense of belonging—you feel accepted and safe when things go wrong.

During my first 3 weeks of the FBI Academy, new agents like myself were not allowed to leave the Marine Corp base. We spent 24 hours a day with each other—building the trust and familiarity that creates a tribe.

How To Make It Work For You: In times of stress and anxiety, it’s easy to feel neglected. It’s impossible to instantly create deep bonds of familiarity and trust. Don’t wait until things go wrong to start finding your tribe. Start now.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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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.” 

A Simple Psychological Shift To Make You Successful

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Before becoming an FBI agent, I thought I could become successful by simply working hard. It got me through school with good grades and into my first job as a fashion buyer.

My thinking shifted, however, when I met my first FBI firearms instructor. He barked out constant reminders that if I wanted to become more successful as a shooter, it would take more than hard work; it would take front-sight focus.

Front-sight focus is the ability to look at the front sight of a weapon after it lined up with the target. A good shooter remains aware of their surroundings but their attention narrows. They focus on that single piece of steel a few inches in front of them.

FBI firearms training prepared me for more than high scores on targets. I used front-sight focus in my investigations to distinguish between what was important and what was a distraction.

Front-sight focus is concentration and single-mindedness in reaching your goal. It works as you aim a weapon down the firing range. It also works to land a new client or take your business to the next level.

Use front sight-focus to work through distractions so you can become successful when things go wrong in business and life.

Here are 3 tips to help you focus so you can be successful:

1. QUIET THE INNER NAG

Distractions often occur when our inner nag starts to fret about all the things that need to get done. As a result, intrusive thoughts constantly interrupt our productivity, and we second-guess our choices.

The Zeigarnik Effect proves that the unconscious mind needs the conscious mind to plan how to finish tasks or accomplish goals. This research explains why the inner nag will fret about all that needs to be done.

How To Make It Work For You:

  1. Sit down in a quiet place with a pen and paper and let your thoughts ramble.
  2. Whether it’s small or large, important or not, write down every single thing that either needs a decision or has your attention.
  3. Do not take the time to prioritize the items on your To-Do list. First, listen to the voice of that inner nag and write down whatever pops up.

2. IDENTIFY YOUR ACTION STEP

FBI firearms training showed me to how to narrow my focus to the one thing that needs attention immediately (front-sight). At the same time, we can register awareness of the bigger picture of other things around me (the target).

In the same way, your conscious mind may can focus on a new goal. The unconscious mind, however, still sees everything else that needs to get done. It needs closure and it will continue to create intrusive thoughts that won’t go away. The only solution is to turn your attention back to those other tasks that also need to be addressed.

In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about the importance of identifying Action Steps rather than leaving it as a To-Do List.

A To-Do List does not narrow your focus enough when you have lots of priorities clamoring for your attention. You continue to create anxiety for the unconscious mind because it needs more than a goal—it needs a plan! It needs an action step.

How To Make It Work For You:

Prioritize your To-Do list. After you address all the tasks that your unconscious brain is anxious about, prioritize each item according to importance.

Beside each item on the prioritized To-Do list, identify the specific next action step to be taken regarding that item. For example, if you need to buy a birthday present, write down “Drive to Nordstrom.”

3. CLARIFY THE ACTION

The unconscious mind needs specifics like time, place, and opportunity. Once the plan is formed, the unconscious stops nagging with constant reminders.

To avoid anxiety, break down a task into several small steps. Often, our action step is too vague and broad. As a result, our brain feels overwhelmed as it tries to tease out all the elements that will be needed to finish the task. We need to clarify each action step in small doses.

How To Make It Work For You:

The unconscious mind needs specifics like time, place, and opportunity. Once the plan is formed, the unconscious stops nagging with constant reminders.

You have a presentation to make at 8:00am. Your unconscious mind wants to know exactly what needs to be done. You may have 100 other items that also need attention, so how can you relax? Here is how to stop the inner nag from bothering you: Make a plan to review your notes at 7:00am that morning. Your unconscious mind acknowledges you have a plan and it will let you rest.

It is human nature to finish what we start, and front-sight focus is how we pay full attention to one goal at a time so we can be successful.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. 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.” 

How Meditation Creates A Strong Mind

Monday, July 11th, 2016

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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6 Ways To Stay Mentally Strong In Tough Times

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I experienced some tough times while dealing with curious radio, television, and newspaper reporters. If I inadvertently revealed information that was sealed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, I could have been fired or even prosecuted.

6 Ways To Stay Mentally Strong In Tough Times

Often, I’d fret that my words would be taken out of context or that I would be misquoted. I worried and lost sleep as I waited until for the interview to air or be printed.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, you know what it feels like to worry in tough times and you’re faced with uncertainty. This is when you need to be mentally strong so you can keep moving forward.

Here are 6 ways to stay mentally strong in tough times:

1. Control Your Thoughts

When tough times hit, the first thing we do is start to worry. But we need to control our thoughts because they control our emotions and behaviors.

Anxiety and fear are housed in our limbic brain system, but mentally tough people have figured out how to ignore them—or at least, control them.

TIP: Name Your Fear

Instead of pretending that you are not scared, admit what is creating the fear. Research has indicated that recognizing and acknowledging one’s fears are critical steps towards tackling and overcoming them.

If you try to suppress a fear or worry, it won’t work—the brain is smarter than that. Instead, name your fear or anxiety for what it is and you will actually lessen your discomfort. It’s very important, however, to keep the label to one or two words because if you open up a dialogue about it, you will only increase the emotional state of the limbic system.

2. Prepare For The Lonely Work

Self-awareness is not a prerequisite for climbing the ladder of success—but it sure helps to keep you there.

Self-awareness empowers you because it instills a confidence that comes from a deep understanding of who you are and why you are special. It’s called lonely work because this is one thing you truly must do for yourself.

TIP: Spend Time With Yourself

  • Get to know what makes you tick
  • Learn your strengths so you can use them
  • Accept your weaknesses so you can minimize them
  • Develop your strengths and manage your weaknesses; forget about trying to change who you are by trying to “work” on them
  • Give yourself permission to shine in those areas in which you are blessed

3. Get Priorities Straight

A recent Gallup poll indicated that 90% of workers were not engaged in their jobs. This is a modern day phenomena that started after Adam Smith, the father of industrial capitalism, stated that people were naturally lazy and would work only for pay.

Mentally strong entrepreneurs and leaders understand that wages are important—of course they are! But, if you are naive enough to believe that chasing after that almighty dollar will bring you happiness, I have a piece of swamp land in Wyoming to sell you.

TIP: Engage In Work That Provides Both Value And Meaning

Mentally strong people are smart enough to know that when they get their priorities straight, it does several things:

  • Provides work that is both engaging and meaningful
  • Offers opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Allows control over what we do and how we do it

4. Take A Risk

In firearms training I learned one thing: it’s not risk that will kill you, it’s complacency. Sitting in the same spot all your life will bite you in the butt when the unexpected lands at your feet and you face tough times because you won’t know how to move forward with confidence and flexibility.

The mentally strong use tough times as opportunities to take a risk because they understand that risks, and the change they produce, are what will save you from a life of complacency—and stagnation.

TIP: Calculated Risks Make It Easy

As an FBI agent, my colleagues and I took smart risks by planning what could go wrong, and then forging ahead.

Calculated risks mean looking at all the positive and negative outcomes and then proceeding forward by putting all of that information to best use.

5. Be Grateful—ALWAYS

Gratitude is the most powerful emotion in the world. It allows you to love not only yourself, but others as well.

Mental toughness strengthens our ability to distinguish positive emotions from negative ones. We can use this awareness to strengthen positive emotions like gratitude and control negative ones like anger. 

Another thing about gratitude—it is impossible to grateful and negative at the same time.

TIP: Keep Focused On Being Grateful When Life Is Taking A Down Turn

We perceive an act as more worthy of gratitude when it:

  • costs someone (either time or effort)
  • is perceived to be of value
  • is not obligatory or habitual in nature
  • produces relief or happiness

6. Control What You Can Control

When making an arrest, agents are given specific assignments; for example, “Cover the back door so the criminal can’t run away.”

It is the agent’s responsibility to control what they can control; they do not worry about what others are doing or any other aspect of the arrest.

TIP: Ignore The Things You Can’t Control

In the same way, you must ignore the things over which you have no power. You have limited resources, so why waste them on things that are out of your control?

For some, it might be the politics of your organization; for others, it might be your environment. Whatever it is, realize that you can only control the things that come under your purview. You might want to save the world, but do yourself a favor and take it one step at a time.

Mental toughness separates the successful entrepreneur and business owner from the mediocre. It allows successful people to keep moving forward when they hit tough times.

© 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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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.

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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.”