Posts Tagged ‘Attitude’

How to Stay Mentally Tough When You Face Difficult Stressors

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Guest post by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.

Stress is on the rise. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey indicate that 78% report at least one symptom of stress. 34% report increases in stress since the previous year. 

 

It can cause mental health problems like worry or depression or difficulty sleeping. 25% of those employed snap at co-workers because of stress. If you can’t handle it, you can sabotage your health and damage your relationships. This will interfere with your longer-term success.

Calming down your stressed out feelings is only one aspect of managing stress and it may not be the best strategy for every situation.  To most effectively master stress, you need to be self-aware about your own reactions. You also need to be able to focus and think clearly about your values and goals and to sustain attention and motivation in the face of roadblocks and failures. Finally and most importantly, your mindset about stress makes all the difference. Learning how to reframe stress more positively – as a challenge with potential for growth and learning – can help you feel more confident and excited about the possibilities. Building the four qualities of mental toughness: emotional competency, resilience, willpower, and attitude can set you up for success when stress inevitably hits you!

Emotional Competency

Stress sends your brain into “fight or flight” mode, which sets into play a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This response is very rapid and sometimes occurs before the conscious parts of the brain even know what’s going on. “Fight or flight” can trigger impulsive, behaviors like screaming at co-workers because your body is gearing up to fight a threat. This is where emotional competency comes in. You can’t stop “fight or flight,” but you can learn to identify when it’s happening and take a mindful pause before reacting automatically. Being mindful means being able to notice and describe what’s happening in your mind and body – observing rather than absorbing the stress. Mindfulness enhances your emotional competence because, over months and years, it actually changes the parts of the brain involved in the stress response. It also helps you find a more compassionate view of the situation, which helps you feel less stressed. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help strengthen this response.

Resilience

Resilience is another part of mental toughness that can help you deal more effectively with stress.  One aspect of resilience is “grit,” a concept defined by researcher Angela Duckworth. Grit means being able to tolerate discomfort and setbacks because you are driven by your passion for long-term goals,  Research studies in college students, salespeople, and Westpoint cadets shows that grit is just as or more important than intelligence and mental ability in determining long-term success. To build grit, you have to know what values and goals are most important to you and why. Stress makes you reactive in the moment, but grit can help you step back and take a long-term view. Think about your passion for building your business or your organization’s mission and let that empower you to plough through the difficulties.  In one study (Brooks,2014) subjects who felt anxious about public speaking were told to relabel their anxious feelings as excitement while another group was told to try to calm down.  Those in the “excitement”group felt more excited and actually performed better at the speaking task. The anxiety and adrenaline surges involved in “fight or flight” can actually fuel performance if they are managed effectively.

Willpower

One of the challenges of the stressors we face these days is that they can be chronic and that the outcomes are often at least partially out of our control. Retaining customers, making sales, and getting promotions involve making consistent effort to work hard and build relationships over long periods of time. This is where willpower comes in. Staying organized and focused on your goals means being able to manage your body’s “fight to flight” response so it doesn’t “hijack” your brain’s attention.  Time spent worrying about things you can’t control can be counterproductive and get in the way of getting things done.  Willpower means that you learn to direct your brain’s focus of attention, rather than letting automatic stress reactivity distract you. Willpower does not occur in a vacuum – you can deliberately organize your environment to sustain willpower (e.g., by programming reminders into your phone, having a vision board,  or putting your running shoes where you’ll see them).

Attitude

Research shows that your attitude towards your stress can have as much influence as the actual events in determining how well things turn out.  In a study by Crum, Salovey, and Achor (2013) the researchers used a questionnaire to assess whether people saw stress as damaging or as having some benefits.  Those who saw stress as damaging were more likely to focus on avoiding feeling stressed, which led them to miss out on opportunities to learn and grow. In their study, students who saw stress as damaging were less likely to want to hear feedback after they gave a speech. In another study (Keller et al., 2012), people who saw stress as damaging their health and who also experienced a lot of stress had a 43% increase in premature death. In a third study, participants who were able to reframe their stress reactions as functional had an improved cardiovascular response to stress and were less likely to think about negative aspects of the situation (Jamieson, Nock & Mendes, 2012). The take home message is that you need to think of your body’s stressful arousal as gearing yourself up for a challenge you can master, rather than something that threatens to derail you.

Stress is an inevitable part of life but mentally tough people know how to befriend their stress and use it to their advantage.  To learn more about your brain’s stress response and how to develop resilience, read my new book The Stress-Proof Brain, released in February 2017 and available on Amazon.

http://amzn.to/2kNwRqC

Melanie Greenberg is a practicing psychologist in Marin County California and an expert on managing stress in life, work, and relationships using proven strategies from neuroscience, mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral approaches, and positive psychology. She is the author of The Mindful Self-Express blog for Psychology Today (8 million+ page views). Her new book. The Stress-Proof Brain was released last week by New Harbinger. It received a starred positive review from Library Journal and is an Amazon bestseller in Neuropsychology and Stress-Management.

© 2017  All rights reserved.

You can follow LaRae Quy on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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LaRae Quy is the author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

The Complete Beginner’s Guide To Mental Toughness

Monday, December 19th, 2016

In the 1930’s FBI agents needed mental toughness to hunt bank robbers like John Dillinger and mobsters like Al Capone.

As the world became more complex, FBI agents started working complex and sophisticated cases like terrorism, organized crime, cyber, and counterintelligence. In doing so, they were better able to address the threats to American lives and interests.

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

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

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

People define mental toughness in different ways. Often, they think it is plowing through obstacles and roadblocks. While that mindset might work in football, it is not an effective way to succeed in business and life.

Here is a complete beginner’s guide to mental toughness:

SKILL #1: MENTAL TOUGHNESS REQUIRES EMOTIONAL COMPETENCY

Most of the FBI agents I worked alongside would never sputter the phrase emotional intelligence—much less attribute their success to it. While they considered themselves mentally tough, they preferred words like competence and alertness to describe the skills they carefully honed over the years.

I prefer the term emotional competency rather than emotional intelligence. I know of lots of people who are intelligent but not necessarily competent. Competency requires more than just information; it requires the practical wisdom to put that knowledge to work in real life situations.

Let’s break emotional competency down:

1. Self-Awareness

Know what fuels you. I am not talking about fluffy ideals or stuff that gives you the warm fuzzies. Training at the FBI Academy at Quantico is constructed to filter out those who do not feel deeply attached to upholding our federal judicial system.

To be mentally tough, you must know what you feel down deep in your bones. If you are not pursuing something that really holds value and meaning for you, you will not have what it takes to keep going when the going gets tough.

Once you become self-aware, you have clarity about your values. This enables you to operate from a place of authenticity, and go after the things in life that are hard-wired to give you a purpose.

2. Communication

You know how to interpret the words and body language of others. This means you are a good listener and know how to build genuine trust with others. An essential element of mental toughness is the ability to accurately read the emotions of others and then adapt your behavior accordingly.

To be successful, match your personality to your boss, employee, or client. Assess whether they are introverts or extraverts, analytical or a visionary, purpose-driven or security-driven, goal-oriented or people-oriented. If you’ve been a good listener, you will be able to make these distinctions.

3. Empathy

Empathy is not feeling sorry for the other person; it is feeling their sorrow. If you can understand the emotions of others, it is easier to create empathy.

Sometimes we don’t really want to hear what other people have to say! We love our own opinions and thoughts and would prefer to shut out those of others.

Once we close down, however, we risk becoming judgmental and opinionated. More importantly, we miss out on what others have to share with us.

SKILL #2: RESILIENCE — MENTAL TOUGHNESS MEANS WE ADAPT TO OVERCOME

The ability to pick ourselves up when life knocks us down is called resilience. In today’s competitive culture, resilience has become a critical skill because it takes more than talent to succeed.

Resilient people do not blame others, whine, or complain about how unfair life is. Yes, life can be unfair but that is no excuse to give up.

As a new FBI agent, I learned to be bold, take risks, move into my discomfort zone, and put myself out there. I was scared to death of what I might face. The way in which we adapt to overcome our adversity determines how we will achieve success.

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’s a breakdown of resilience:

1. Confidence

If you don’t believe in yourself, how can others believe in you? When you’re knocked down in life, you must have enough confidence in yourself to get back up. This is the only way to find a way forward and adapt to overcome.

Lack of confidence can rear its ugly head at any time. No one is immune because we are most vulnerable any time we’re out of our comfort zone or experience change in our life. We must face our fears. If we have confidence in ourselves we are not afraid of how others perceive us, afraid of commitment, or afraid of failure.

Confidence is a critical building block for a successful career because it is the one mindset that will take you where you want to go.

2. Take Risks

Most of us don’t know what we’re capable of until we’re truly challenged. And most of do not want to be truly challenged because we don’t want to fail.

But failure can be very beneficial for building confidence because it allows you a perfect opportunity to 1) learn why things went wrong, and 2) see how you can make adjustments next time.

When learning how to make an arrest or interview a terrorist I needed to take risks, fail, and learn from my mistakes as much as possible before I found myself in the actual situation.

If you think you never make mistakes, you are a narcissist—either that or stupid. But if you are humble and self-aware, you recognize that taking risks, making mistakes, and failing will help you understand that there is always something you can do to be better.

3. Self-Limiting Beliefs

As children we think we can conquer the world, but somewhere between childhood and adulthood, our enthusiasm and natural inclinations to dream big are squashed. Parents and teachers start imposing their own beliefs—about what we can and can’t do in life—upon us.

It’s tempting to give up and not try for anything beyond the predictions and admonitions of others. While many of these people are well-intentioned, they feed negative, limiting, and inaccurate narratives about what it possible once you put your mind to it.

If the instructors at the FBI Academy were not pushing us past our self-limiting beliefs, they weren’t doing their job.

SKILL #3: WILLPOWER — MENTAL TOUGHNESS ENABLES PERSONAL MASTERY

The capacity to say “no” to the call of temptation and desire to quit is called willpower. It is the ability to find the energy, motivation, and enthusiasm to keep going even when you’re tired, anxious, and looking for a way out.

Many people could improve their lives if only they had more of that mysterious thing called willpower, but most of us do not believe we have enough of it. In the American Psychological Association’s annual survey on stress, people cited lack of willpower as the No. 1 barrier to following through with changes that would improve their lives.

Willpower is something that can be learned and can be strengthened with practice. It’s also a vital component of mental toughness.

Here’s a breakdown of willpower:

1. Grit

It keeps FBI agents on a case when there is no easy answer in sight. Sometimes, in order to find a kidnapping victim or arrest a terrorist, agents need to rely not only on their skills and training, but also on their sheer will and determination to cross the finish line.

Jack Dempsey once said, “A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.” He was talking about perseverance, persistence, and determination—grit.

Researcher Angela Duckworth has found that grit is more predictive of success than IQ in military academies like West Point. In fact, grit is unrelated, or even negatively correlated, with talent. When working with West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher in grit had the mental toughness to keep going when times got tough.

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

2. Performance Focus

Unless you know your limits, you will not be able to prepare either your mind or your body to move past them. To move toward peak performance, you need to stretch your current skill level—but not so hard that you want to give up.

Experts agree that this magic stretch is 4% greater than our skill. For most of us, that’s not much at all. However, it’s important to keep that continual tension between stretch and skill if we want to move toward our peak performance.

Managing time wisely and developing good habits are essential if we want to push our limits and reach peak performance.

Never be content with mediocrity.

3. Mastery

Research on elite athletes has found no correlation between innate talent and trainability. Mental traits were just as important as fitness level in differentiating top athletes from amateurs.

Successful people spend their time thinking about what they want to do and how to make it happen. And it doesn’t always take talent; it needs flow to make it happen. Flow is described as a state of deep absorption in the activity during which performance seems to happen effortlessly and automatically.

According to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge so it acts as a catalyst for learning new skills and increasing challenges.

SKILL #4: ATTITUDE — CHAMPION MINDSETS ARE THE PRODUCT OF MENTAL TOUGHNESS

There’s a long-standing belief that happiness makes people achieve more. However, a study by sports psychologist Tim Woodman shows that happiness is not the key to success. In fact, it didn’t factor anywhere in the results.

Instead, those who were most successful had experienced a negative, critical event in their life—such as death, the divorce of parents, disease, or some other perceived loss—all fairly early in life.

This is when they kicked into high gear and began to develop their talents and skills, and in the process, changed their life course almost immediately. As a result, they felt valued, important, and inspired—perhaps for the first time.

What stands out in Woodman’s study is that these same individuals also experienced another critical turning point in mid-life. It could have been positive, like finding the right marriage partner, or negative, like the death of a loved one; but it caused these successful people to redouble their efforts.

The study also implies that those who do not experience trauma or tough times earlier in life are less likely to have the drive necessary to achieve peak performance. The mid-life event reminded them of the original loss and motivated them at a deep-seated level.

This is a common finding among successful people; they have a deeper motivation that pushes them toward fame, happiness, or money.

Here’s a breakdown of attitude:

1. Positive Thinking

Positive thinkers are not optimists. Instead, they believe they will prevail in their circumstances rather than believing their circumstances will change. Optimists, on the other hand, believe their circumstances will eventually change for the better.

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

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

Visualizing your successful performance is based on solid science. As you visualize your performance repeatedly, your brain stores that information as a success.

The way in which we look at ourselves, and our circumstances, dictates our attitude when faced with adversity. 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. That said, we do not need to let the crap moments produced by adversity sabotage our efforts to keep moving toward success.

2. Growth Mindset

Mentally strong leaders have a growth mindset that looks at success as hard work, learning, training, and having the grit to move ahead even when faced with obstacles and roadblocks.

When you face uncertainty, there are two choices: You can dread it because you are afraid you will fail. Or, you can anticipate it because you interpret failure as an opportunity for learning and improvement.

The first choice describes a fixed mindset that does best when there is a heavy hand running the show. That way of leading may have been efficient years ago, but today’s leaders are learning that the brain power of their workforce is a terrible thing to waste.

The second choice describes a growth mindset that looks at success as hard work, learning, training, and having the grit to keep moving ahead even when faced with obstacles and roadblocks.

3. Gratitude

This is a positive emotion that encourages reciprocal altruism, well-being, and appreciation. The strong and unequivocal support of others produces gratitude. It’s powerful because gratitude increases an individual’s self-confidence, provides a safety net for those times when they fall, and enhances their belief that they can overcome obstacles.

As Sebastian Junger wrote in his book, “Tribe:”

We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding–tribes. This tribal connection is largely lost in modern society, but if we regain it, it may be the key to our psychological survival.

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

Emotional competency, resilience, willpower, and attitude are the four essential components of mental toughness. Building mental toughness is a life long task, but here is the good news: Mental toughness is not something we were born with—it is something we can learn.

© 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.” 

3 Ways Successful People Make A Great First Impression

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

Donald was the sort of FBI agent everyone wanted to be. He knew how to make a great first impression; even his supervisor walked a few paces behind him because Donald looked the part—he absolutely oozed sophistication, confidence, and success.

Success - mountains

He gave me this very important bit of advice on how to make a great first impression: “It’s not what you do, it is how you look doing it. From the way you look, to how you think about this organization, to the way you speak and represent yourself to the public.”

Some people, like Donald, command respect, admiration, and loyalty. They exude the qualities of both confidence and competence—and one thing I’ve learned is that those two always travel in pairs.

If you are competent, you will be confident. If you are not competent, no matter how confident you try appear you know you’re an empty suit and full of bullsh*t. It will only be a matter of time before you’re found out.

And have you noticed—the person who makes a good first impression is the one who controls the image they project to others. 

Mental toughness boils down to the way we think. If we think we can accomplish a thing, we can. It is harnessing the power of our mind to break through our barriers and accomplish our goals.

If you believe your are inferior, you are—regardless of your qualifications. The way we think affects our behavior, and this is the essence of mental toughness:

To make a great first impression, you need to manage your thoughts, emotions, and behavior in ways that set you up for success.

How you think determines how you act.

How you act determines how others react to you.

Science tells us that our first impression happens within the first few seconds we meet someone. Whether it’s for an interview, business meeting, or any other professional setting, we have to act very quickly in order to make the proper first impression.

Let’s take a look at how you can make a great first impression by the way you think, feel, and behave: 

1. Look Important

Call it shallow but Donald was right: it’s not what you do, it’s how you look doing it.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman, don’t leave the house without your polish. Spend that extra amount of time to make sure you are sending the message you really want to send.

Having spent hours on surveillance, I’ll tell you one thing: FBI agents can usually spot a criminal just by looking at them. It may not be fair, but it’s a fact: the way you dress, comb your hair, and carry yourself speaks volumes about how you feel about yourself.

Before you step out the door, ask yourself how your colleagues, competitors, and neighbors see you. What do they think about you, based on your appearance?

And yes, I already know that intellect should be the criteria upon which we judge a person. In theory, this is true. But this is the real world of hard knocks where you can lose a promotion, a relationship, or a chance to take on new project simply on the basis of how you come across to others.

If you haven’t already figured it out, first impressions may be the only impression you’ll ever make. And they stick in the mind of the other person because it is the only criteria they have for evaluating you.

TIP: You are what you think you are. Do not ever think small, so start with the first thing first—your appearance.

2. Think Important

My career before the FBI was a department store manager at a large retail chain. It was a brutal and thankless job, and many of my colleagues moped around like the walking dead during the holiday season.

If asked what they did for a living, Irma would say, “I persuade women to buy polka dot blouses instead of striped ones this season.” Edith would reply with, “I work long hours and get paid minimum wage.”

When I was interviewed by the FBI, I answered that question by saying, “I am helping to build the country’s largest retail chain.”

Attitude is everything. If you think that you, and your work, is important, it will be. That sort of attitude is both inspiring and infectious.

The way we think tells others a lot about our potential for responsibility. There is an amazing correlation between a person’s job attitude and their job performance.

Do not think of your present job, even if it isn’t perfect, as a necessary evil. Instead, think on a broader scale. Make suggestions for ways to grow the business. Look at time in the C-suite as opportunities to learn and soak in the attitude and thinking of others who are more successful.

Your thoughts have incredible power. Be mentally tough and channel those thoughts into power horses.

TIP: The key to success is thinking positively about yourself and your contribution to the job. Enthusiasm is contagious, so be that germ that spreads first-class performance.

3. Speak Important

The words you use are important. They have a lot of power because they energize our thoughts. Words are thoughts spoken out loud. The words we say to ourselves can either inspire or destroy, depending on what our brain hears.

When you think you can’t accomplish a goal and want to quit, your brain puts barriers around achieving the goal; often these are no more than self-limiting barriers because you’ve told yourself you can’t do it.

Research estimates that we say 300-1,000 words to ourselves per minute. So teach yourself to react positively to your circumstances so you can override the anxiety that can come from negative thinking.

TIP: Positive self-talk can shift the way you see your stressors. It can help you become more flexible in the face of change and uncertainty. Mental toughness is recognizing that even in the roughest circumstances, we are never helpless.

© 2015 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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11 Toxic Habits That Keep You From Success

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Even though I did not appreciate the discipline imposed upon me by my 4 months at the FBI Academy, it did teach me to master and maintain good habits. I realize now that what I did on a daily basis for those 4 months taught me how to direct my time and energy into habits that would lead to my success as an FBI agent.

Success - wall climbing

The definition of habit is an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.

Success needs more than inspiration—it requires good habits that lead to concrete action steps.

You may possess many skills and traits, but if you let toxic habits undermine your efforts, breaking the bad habit could be the game-changer for success you need.

Here are the 11 worst habits holding you back from success:

1. Fritter Away The Morning

If you waste your morning, you’ve lost your day. If you’re not a morning person, find a way to give yourself a kick in the butt so you get started. Create a routine that is easy to remember and even easier to follow. Give yourself tasks and deadlines to get you started; and then never leave anything that you started in the morning unfinished at the end of the day.

2. Cringe When Criticized

This club has a lot of members because no one wants to be criticized, but accept the fact that there is a huge difference between constructive criticism and vicious words spoken by petty critics.

You’re confident enough to walk away from small minds that only want to tear you down.

3. Blame Others

When I started whining about how unfair life was as a kid, my grandmother would look me in the eye and tell me to grow up. And that is my advice to you as well. Always take responsibility for your own actions. If you have any doubts about how ugly it looks and sounds to blame others and make excuses for yourself, take a closer look at our politicians.

Suck it up, admit your mistake, and move on.

Thanks, Grandma.

4. Confuse Money With Success

America has become so obsessed with money and all the stuff it will buy that it’s hard to have an intelligent conversation about what success should really mean to each one of us. Success is doing something with your life that gives you value and meaning.

Success is not just about making more money or going home with the most toys.

5. Refuse To Sacrifice

There are some who might consider the Marine Corp Base in Quantico, VA a great place to spend 4 months—however, I am not one of them. But, during my time at the Academy, because of the starkness of my surroundings, I did get into the habit of sacrificing things that I wanted in the short term to achieve the more important goal—to become an FBI agent.

The road to success is not one of excess. You will need to focus, sacrifice, and set priorities.

6. Complacency Will Kill You

One thing FBI agents learn early on in training is it’s not the streets or guns that will kill you—complacency is what will put you in harm’s way! Aways be alert and aware of what is going on in your environment. Opportunities are where your luck will hide, so always be searching for ways to make own your luck.

Complacency is where you go to wither up and die.

7. Complain About Working Hard

My grandmother told me, “You’ll never get to the top if you sit on your bottom,” and then she’d hand me a shovel to clean out the horse barn. If you work harder than everyone else, you will achieve the success you are looking for.

No one has ever drowned in a pool of sweat.

8. Permit Negative Thoughts To Take Over

I came very close to being washed out of the Academy because I wasn’t a good athlete. The FIT test was hard for me, and I was tempted to let the spiral of negativity keep me from achieving my goal. Our survival-driven brain is wired to pay more attention to negative thoughts than positive ones, so we really do need to work harder at remaining positive when things get tough.

Mental toughness is positivity on steroids—LaRae Quy

9. Neglect Your Family

Family looks different for everyone. Sometimes it’s our children and the people to whom we are related, but just as often it also includes those we love and hold close to us.

You need to spend quality time with them and not neglect those relationships if you want true success in life.

10. Maintain Mediocre Friendships

Since you don’t have choice in who you’re related to, be very careful in picking friends that will support you—in both good and bad times. My husband is an introvert who only counts a couple of buddies as close friends. I throw a much wider net and count lots of wonderful people as friends. The number doesn’t matter, but you don’t have either the time or the energy to surround yourself with mediocrity. That goes for friends, too.

11. Forget To Be Grateful

When you stop being grateful, you have the worst kind of heart trouble. It’s impossible to be negative or depressed when there is gratitude in your heart.

What bad habit have you broken lately?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE Mental Toughness Assessment

Get my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

Author of “Mental Toughness For Women Leaders” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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How To Get Your Voice Heard When Leadership Doesn’t Listen

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Dean had a tendency to dominate every meeting or briefing he attended. As a supervisor, he surrounded himself with other like-minded male FBI agents who frequently ignored, dismissed, or interrupted others whose opinion they did not respect.

Woman with bullhorn

As a woman I was tired of not getting my voice heard in meetings where louder voices drowned out what I had to say. How could I change the behavior of leadership?

When I looked around the room, I saw that Dean and others of his ilk were also ignoring some of the other male agents who did not stand out as exceptional performers or leaders. While being a female agent may have had some impact on their behavior toward me, it clearly was also a matter of who was perceived to have anything important to say.  Here is how I used mental toughness to get my voice heard:

1. FIND SOMETHING POSITIVE—EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO LOOK REALLY, REALLY HARD

I had my list of complaints about Dean, but now was the time to focus on the positive aspects of his leadership style, not his faults. For every 1 negative trait, I looked for and found, 5 positive traits about him. As a former U.S. Marine, he was:

  1. Disciplined and conscientious
  2. Possessed clarity of purpose
  3. Used humor to defray tension
  4. Relied upon a high standard of integrity to guide his decisions.
  5. Loyal to his friends

2. USE EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

Emotional intelligence is being savvy about the what is important to not only ourselves, but others as well. Awareness is being alert and honest about my feelings of frustration and disappointment that I felt when ignored by Dean and others like him.

Mental toughness is letting go of our ego after we’ve acknowledged our feelings and focusing our attention on someone else instead of ourselves.

When I focused on Dean, I identified one characteristic that seemed to dominate every decision he ever made—integrity. If I wanted to get my voice heard, I needed to appeal to his sense of integrity, not his sense of equal opportunity.

3. NETWORK STRATEGICALLY

There is a saying: if you can’t beat them, join them. While collaboration is increasingly important, the silo mentality has arisen for a reason: people naturally tend to form safe tribes with colleagues and avoid those they don’t know well. This is because collaboration with people they don’t know is a threat to their brain. 

The emotional limbic brain is survival-driven, and it tends to trust those with whom we’ve developed close ties or have shared experiences. 

I intentionally sought out Dean, and his buddies, to ask for advice about my cases. I buried my pride and made them partners in the direction I took my investigations. Since Dean and his friends had developed deep relationships, I suspected they would talk about me in my absence, and I wanted those conversations to be complimentary and positive.

4. WATCH BODY LANGUAGE

Our emotional limbic brain system leaks all sorts of information through body languageWhen I approached Dean, his eyebrows arched, indicating a genuine feeling of warmth at seeing me. Few people notice this, but an “eyebrow flash” is an automatic reaction when you see someone you like.

Smiling is a sign of submission, which is why many dominant individuals don’t smile. If the smile is genuine there will crow’s feet and the cheeks will push up.

Smiling activates our mirror neurons; our brain sees a reaction in someone else and it wants to mirror those same emotions. I always approached Dean with a smile, and he naturally wanted to smile back.

Dean and his band of buddies laughed and joked around with each other but never smiled at anyone else. So, I began to smile at Dean every time I saw him. I’d smile and say, “How’s it going?” After a few weeks, he only smiled back but also stopped to tell me how it was going!

5. MAKE PITHY, STRONG STATEMENTS

Dean was a busy guy and very quick witted. I didn’t dawdle when chatting about a case—I came straight to the point with pithy, strong statements. I didn’t waste his time by trying to ingratiate myself in a way that he would not appreciate. 

In our next meeting, the discussion circled around to a topic that Dean and I had previously discussed. He knew he could rely on me to be succinct and make an impact, so he asked for my opinion. I didn’t let him down—I made my statement and then shut up, not using this opportunity to make sure everyone else in the room knew how competent I was. 

That day was a turning point. While I have never developed a loud voice, I have developed a strong one.

That is something you can do as well. Use it well.

 

© 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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9 Ways Thoughts Can Lie To You

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

The word “can’t” is probably the only four letter word I never heard in my 24 years as an FBI agent. Agents are well aware that our thoughts can lie, so we trained early not to let negativity impair our ability to analyze a tough case that looked impossible to crack. With enough chipping away, and digging, we searched for answers until all leads were exhausted.

Mistakes -woman on phone

Mental toughness was keeping our thoughts under control as we searched for and found ways to keep moving. The key was a flexible and agile mind that refused to let barriers and adversity define the outcome of a case.

It’s not only FBI cases that need the mental toughness to see success. Everything from business, love, and relationships can become affected by our negativity if we allow it to raise its ugly head.

Les Brown once said that 80% of self-talk is negative, but just because something is different does not mean it is also a threat. If left on their own, out thoughts can lie to us about the challenges ahead because of this negative self-talk. When our thoughts can lie to us, they produce the negativity that can paralyze us.

This means you need to pay more attention to ways your thoughts can lie to you because these are the same thoughts that will keep you from moving ahead in business and life. 

Witnesses are always important in FBI investigations because they are first-hand observations. In the same way, you need to witness your thoughts and observe them so you are in a better position to eliminate their negative influence.

9 ways your thoughts can lie to you:

1. Using the Words “Always” and “Never.”

If you use the words always and never when you’re confronted with an obstacle or barrier, you activate the limbic brain system. This produces emotions like fear and anger. Absolutes like “always” and “never” are rarely correct. 

  • “My children never listen to me.”
  • “I never get recognized for my hard work.”
  • “Everyone always takes advantage of me.”
  • “I always end up on the short end of the deal.”

This is very common thinking, but if you catch yourself thinking in terms of absolutes, stop and make yourself recall times when you can disprove the negative thought.

2. Focusing On the Negative

When your thoughts focus only on the negative, you fail to see the positive around you. Looking for and finding only the negative in your situation will not only make you feel sad, it will prevent you from recognizing your blessings. Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing

3. Believing In the Negative

Question your negative feelings; don’t act on them without thinking them through. Since we all have a negativity bias, it’s easier to believe a situation will turn negative than positive. Negative thoughts are like Velcro; they stick. Positive thoughts are like Teflon; they easily fall away. 

4. Predicting the Future

Do not be tempted to predict the worst possible outcome. Many times we think that by predicting a negative outcome it will lessen our disappointment. For example, if you don’t get promoted or get a business loan—or whatever we’re seeking. In fact, all it does is reduce our chances for feeling good about what we’re doing now. 

5. Reading Minds

Don’t waste time assuming what people think about you—you are not a mind reader. We try to guess what others are thinking, it’s usually comes from a negative attitude we have about the person. Instead, learn to communicate your thoughts and feelings before loosing an opportunity or becoming bitter.

 6. Beating Yourself Up with Guilt

Not every emotion we feel is important or rational. When you feel guilty about something, be skeptical. Is the guilt trying to teach you something rational and helpful about your behavior? Or, is it an irrational response to a situation? This is the first step. The key, however, is to realize the mistake and accept that you’re only human. Do not beat yourself up and batter your self-esteem because you’re not perfect.

7. Labeling

When we judge others, we are labeling them. Negative labels are very harmful because when you lump one person with others you’ve never met, you lose the ability to understand people as unique individuals. Labeling and judging others is an outward display of inward inferiority and anger. 

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 ESV

8. Personalizing

The actions of other people do not need to have a negative effect on you. If you take things personally, you make yourself a victim of what others think and do. Realize that it makes no sense to give people such power over you.

Research suggests that we overestimate how much we are singled out by others, and quite frankly, it’s self-absorbed to live this way. Do we actually believe that everything is always about us? 

9. Blaming

Mental toughness is acknowledging and accepting responsibility for your life. You cannot dodge responsibility for what your life is about. You create the situation you are in and the emotions that flow from those situations. The worst thing you can do is take on the role of victim, make excuses, or blame others. This is a lie we tell ourselves to prevent us from reaching our own success.

As you witness the ways your thoughts can lie to you, remember there are things you can do to diminish their power over you. 

I’ve listed 9 ways your thoughts can lie to you—can you add more?

© 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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What Grabs Your Attention Rules Your Life

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

My parents taught me to pay attention to my environment and be alert for rattlesnakes on our cattle ranch. They hid underneath sagebrush and cactus. My most prized Christmas present every year was a new pair of thick leather high top boots. They were tough enough to withstand a rattler’s sharp teeth if I should get bitten.

After many years of being alert of my surroundings, awareness of my immediate physical situation became a habit. Even after I had grown up and left the ranch. My ability to remain observant while in chaotic and quick moving circumstances was one of the primary reasons I became an FBI agent.

Habits don’t happen overnight. They are a repeated behavior that leaves us comfortable and safe. Therefore, we continue to choose more of the same experiences. When our attention is focused like this, our nervous system leaves us wanting more of the same.

For example: Whatever act of attitude gets your attention, the more frequently that act of attitude will manifest in your life. 

If you focus on anger, anger will show up. If you focus on looking for the positive in your situation, positivity will show up. And if you focus on finding a way to pursue your goal, determination will show up.

Pinpoint the focus, and put your attention on whatever you want to grow in life.

Start with Intention

Intention is a choice to act in a certain way. Without it, we spin and turn in all sorts of directions. Intention is an essential component of mental toughness. It is an ability that we can learn and strengthen over time to commit to a specific outcome. And regardless of distraction, to move forward. 

Intention is the key to transformation. Get serious about what is important in life and come up with a game plan to make it happen. Work on your intentions until they become perfectly clear.

Be intentional about:

  • Thoughts: Make corrections when you uncover thoughts that are not in alignment with your intention. “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is“~Proverbs 23:7a NKJV)
  • Words: Keep your conversations positive about the direction you’re moving. “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body”~Proverbs 16:24 NLT
  • Deeds: Ensure that everything you do moves you closer to your intention. “Even children know by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right”~Proverbs 20:11 NLT

Follow Up With Attention

We pay attention when we notice the importance of an act or person. We intentionally focus our attention on what is important in our life and those areas we want to grow.

Our consciousness can handle only so much information, so we have selective attention. One key part of the brain which focuses on attention is the Reticular Activating System (RAS). It filters out important information that needs more attention from the unimportant that can be ignored. Without the RAS filter, we would be over-stimulated and distracted by noises from our environment around us.

Whatever we choose to focus our attention on will make it past the mind’s filtering system. The RAS alerts the cerebral, thinking brain of changes in the environment such as:

  • Physical needs: when we’re hungry, we pay attention to food
  • Choices: if we decide to buy a Volvo (a MUST see video by the way!), we see them everywhere
  • Names: we notice the names of those whom we love
  • Emotions: if something evokes an emotion in us, it has our attention
  • Contrast: we pay more attention to things that are in contrast to other things
  • Novelty: the brain notices things in our environment that are new experiences for us

Mental toughness keeps attention focused on those attitudes and behaviors that you intentionally identify as important to you in life.

These positive influences will help you to move forward, and not get distracted, when faced with an obstacle or adversity.

End On A Happy Note

If you start with positive intentions, you will notice the importance of things that will move you toward your goals. This includes people, events, and situations. The result produces fulfillment and happiness.

Intention→Attention→Results

This outcome shouldn’t surprise you.

Research shows that people who maintain a positive mindset are the happiest. They also perform better in the face of challenge. Shawn Achor call this the “happiness advantage.” Every business outcome shows improvement when the brain is positive.

Happiness is not about being oblivious to negative situations in our environment. It’s about developing the mental toughness to find ways to do something about them. Leverage positivity in leadership to move forward and find both meaning and happiness regardless of your circumstances. 

Positive thinkers seek out information that is actionable, interesting, and relevant. Leaders who create positive responses to their situations use words like opportunity and challenge together. 

Our thoughts, words, and deeds turn into habits of behavior. They can enrich our lives once we understand how to intentionally focus our attention on experiences we want to repeat. What grabs our attention rules our life.

What grabs your attention?

© 2014 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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When Life Sucks!

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

When life sucks, it’s hard to be around perpetually perky people. My college room mate had unrelenting positivity and I frequently responded with sharp-tongued barbs intended to wilt her enthusiasm. It never did though—no matter what obstacle or barrier I presented, she found a way around it.

As I growled and sniped, however, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way she always came out on top of the situation. As an over-achiever, this was irritating to me—but it turned out to be a game-changer.

As I moved into the real world after graduating from college, the obstacles and barriers popping up in my life seemed to take on new, gigantic proportions. The sarcasm and negativity that had seemed clever in the old days no longer seemed so witty.

When I applied to the FBI as a new agent, I quickly discovered that, while no one could be called perky, most agents could be described as possessing unrelenting positivity. Even when life sucks, a case looks hopeless, or a barrier appears unsurmountable, there are differences between agents who survive and those who thrive in their circumstances.

The game-changer for me came when I finally understood that mental toughness is unrelenting positivity in the midst of uncertainty and risk. The strong minded know how to look for the positive when life sucks. Follow these tips:

1. Accept That Reality Will Change

Life evolves, so be smart and stop acting surprised when it does. It is natural to react with anger and skepticism because these emotions are trying to ensure your survival. But new situations can provide you with opportunities to learn important lessons about yourself such as your reactions, values, vulnerabilities, triggers, and how to take better care of yourself.

2. Change Is Always Preceded By Chaos

Arrests are a mix of organized chaos. As much as FBI teams would prepare for an arrest, there was always the element of the unknown. Would the suspect shoot, grab a hostage, or go berserk? Chaos can keep us on our toes to anticipate the unknown, and the changes it will bring with it. This means being diligent, alert, and aware of our surroundings.

3. Choose Your New Reality With Intention

As situations change, you will be presented with multiple new realities and you will have an opportunity to chose your new one. Choose the one that is most likely to lead to positive growth.

4. Chart Your New Reality With Care

Be aware that most of us automatically look at change as a negative experience. As a result, you tend to look at your new situation as permanent, pervasive, and personal. Once you realize this, you strengthen your mind to accept your new direction with a more positive attitude.

5. Take Small Steps

Your emotional, survival-driven brain will feel safer if you take the time to chart your new reality with small and positive steps. With each success, you will train your brain to feel more comfortable with taking more, and eventually, bigger steps toward your new reality.

6. Reframe Your Situation

As long as you are learning, you’re are growing. Even if the circumstances are not ideal, or of your choosing, there is always something good to take away from them. Reframe your situation by asking a simple question: “What am I learning from this?”

It is not always easy to find the positive when life throws us a curveball. But reality changes with every shift of thought and attitude. For me, the reality I am experiencing today is not what it was when I was a student. Mental toughness is that strength of mind that allows us to react with agility and flexibility when confronted with the unexpected.

How have you found the positive when life sucks?

© 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.” 

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How To Visualize Success

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

I’ve always been afraid of water and to confront those fears, I had to visualize success. I did this learning how to scuba dive—even before I learned to swim. 

One of the requirements of scuba diving certification was to descend under water ten feet, take off my mask and mouthpiece, and then put them back on again. I was afraid I would drown in those few moments underwater and without oxygen.

What if I lost my mask? How would I get back to the surface? After all, I couldn’t even swim. My instructor was with me, and during practice he had helped me several times. But on the day of certification I would need to do it on my own.

My fear of water had not subsided as I hoped it would. I did not feel safe in the water, especially when I was ten feet under.

The night before the test, I spent hours trying to visualize success by mimicking how I would take off the mask and replace it without drawing a breath or dropping the mask. I walked myself through the exercise time and time again. 1. Take a deep breath and let go of my mouthpiece. 2. Pull off the mask with my left hand and hold it tightly as my right hand came around and pulled it back over my face. 3. Keep salt water out of my eyes and by keeping them tightly closed. 4. Grab hold of my mouthpiece and bring life-giving oxygen back into my lungs.

I visualized the sequence dozens of times. And when it came time for my scuba dive certification, I performed the underwater portion exactly as I had visioned it. Later that day, I dove 100 feet down a seawall!

Little did I know at the time that I could visualize success and point to solid science to explain why it worked. Achieving my goal was about more than work and discipline—it was also about physiology.

By visualizing my performance repeated, my brain stored that information as a success.

Whenever I could visualize success, my brain released a neurotransmitter called dopamine. That is the chemical that becomes active when we encounter situations that are linked to reward from the past. Dopamine enables us to not only see rewards, but to move toward those rewards as well.

If we can visualize success, it has implications that go far beyond scuba diving certification:

1. VISUALIZE SUCCESS IN BUSINESS LEADERSHIP

Mental toughness is the ability to envision the outcome of an event to trigger the production of dopamine. Sometimes asking yourself a simple question such as “What do I want this meeting to look like?” and then visualizing your performance is enough to get that important shot of dopamine. Start with visualizing every objection and/or question that is likely to come up in the meeting, and your response to it.

2. AND IN PERSONAL LEADERSHIP

Visualizing can help you see your own ability to perform in difficult or stressful situations. It can help take you beyond your self-limiting beliefs about yourself and move you beyond your current circumstances. Visualizing encourages leaders to ask “What if?” or “What else?” These types of questions open doors of possibility and opportunity. It’s an invitation to move past the status quo.

3. DON’T FORGET TEAM LEADERSHIP

If dopamine is associated with increased creativity, leaders can use this knowledge to help their teams find ways to be create a more satisfying work environment. Research has determined that dopamine is produced in anticipation of reward, not as the result of the reward.

The very act of giving your brain a detailed portrait of your end goal ensures the release of dopamine, a powerful mental toughness tool to steer you toward success.

From Victor Frankl: “There’s one reason why I’m here today. What kept me alive in a situation where others had given up hope and died was the dream that someday I’d be here telling you how I survived the concentration camps. I’ve never been here before. I’ve never seen any of you before. Nor have I ever given this speech before. But in my dreams I’ve stood before you in this room and said these words a thousand times.”

© 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.” 

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Beating The Odds – How David Beat Goliath

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

The Old Testament story in the Bible of David fighting Goliath is a story of beating the odds. David was a sheepherder who led a very predictable and ordinary life. He might never have discovered his greatness if he hadn’t taken a risk and stepped into the unknown.

 

The Philistine army had gathered their troops for war against Israel. The two armies faced each other, camped for battle on opposite sides of a steep valley.  Every day for forty days, a Philistine warrior named Goliath broke out from the front line and challenged the Israelites to fight. Goliath was reported to be a giant of a man—he measured over nine feet tall and wore full armor. The Israelites fell back in fear when they saw the huge form of Goliath challenging them. They held out no hope for beating the odds.

Described as a runt by his father, David’s job was to run back and forth from herding sheep to bring news of his brothers who were all on the Israelite battle line. He looked at Goliath and asked, “What’s in it for the man who kills the ugly Philistine?”

He learned that King Saul would offer a huge reward and give his daughter in marriage. David thought of a way of beating the odds and said, “I’m your man!”

The runt of the litter takes on the giant. We love stories of the underdog who musters the courage and confidence to find ways of beating the odds! Here is how David did it:

1. Mastered A Skill Set

David had never fought in battle as a soldier but he had other experiences. He knew how to use a sling and perfectly weighted stones to protect lambs from large and strong predators like lions and bears. He was prepared to use those same skills to protect the Israelites. It took years of practice, but he never became distracted from learning the skills he needed to become a master of his trade.

TIP: Mastery is not a function of genius or talent. It is a function of intense focus applied to your area of expertise. Once you master your own skill set, it will give you confidence that you will be successful in beating the odds against big and strong opponents.

2. Acknowledged His Weaknesses

The soldiers laughed at David because he did not have a soldier’s training. The first thing they tried to do was turn David into one of them. They suited him in their armor and gave him a sword. But David was not a soldier and had never trained as one. He said, “I cannot fight in this because I’m not used to it.” The techniques of a soldier were not his own, and he was wise enough to acknowledge what he didn’t know so he could focus on what he did.

TIP: You will excel only if you maximize your strengths and stop trying to fix your weaknesses. Don’t ignore your weaknesses but acknowledge them so you are better able to manage them. This allows you to free up time and focus on developing your strengths.

3. Used The Skills He Understood

David met Goliath on the battlefield with a sling and five smooth, carefully selected stones because those were the tools of his trade. He had used these same tools against lions and bears.

While others considered David an underdog, he knew about beating the odds because he possessed a strong arm and good aim. He understood how to use these skills and adapt to his circumstances. He was authentic and didn’t try to live by someone else’s rules. David used the skills and talents he possessed and had developed. In other words, he was unconsciously competent.

TIP: When confronted with the unknown in a volatile and hostile environment, lean into the personal strengths and skills that you’ve honed through practice and experience.

4. Pressed Into The Unknown

According to the Biblical account, “David took off from the front line, running toward the Philistine.” David took leadership of the situation when he broken the pattern of the challenge. He moved toward the threat and pressed into the unknown.

In this case, Goliath may not have expected David to move closer and at such speed. He may have been caught unaware and hesitated, thereby giving David an opportunity of beating the odds by using his slingshot.

As Goliath moved in for the kill, David reached into his bag and slung one of his stones at the gap in the armor that protected Goliath’s head. Once struck on the forehead, the giant fell down on the ground. David then took Goliath’s own sword, killed him, and cut off his head. When the Philistine’s saw their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

TIP:

To increase safety, move toward the unknown—only by moving closer to the threat was David able to see where and how to strike. Opportunities that could not be seen from a distance were made visible as he pressed forward. The closer Goliath came, the more ways David could see of defeating the giant. He saw a small gap in Goliath’s armor that was not visible from a distance.

Increase your chances for success and move toward the challenge—when confronted with changing environments and overcoming challenges as a leader, you may also need to leave your place of safety and press forward.

David possessed the mental toughness to find ways of beating the odds and destroying Goliath. Nothing is impossible—you, too, can find a way.

© 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.” 

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