Posts Tagged ‘Behavior’

10 Commandments Of Interpreting Body Language

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Body language plays an important role in leadership success. Many entrepreneurs and business owners focus on verbal skills, but they fail to realize there are two conversations going on when they meet another person.

10 Commandments Of InterpretingBODY LANGUAGE

The first conversation is the one where words are used to convey information; while the second one broadcasts thoughts, attitudes, and emotions through the body. If we’re unaware of the non-verbal messages we’re sending, the second conversation could undermine the first one.

To successfully read people, we need to collect non-verbal information to evaluate thoughts and emotions.

It is a skill that requires constant practice and training. Here are 10 commandments to interpret body language that will help you to maximize your ability to accurately read non-verbals:

Commandment 1: BODY LANGUAGE REACTIONS ARE MORE HONEST THAN YOU THINK

The brain controls all behaviors, both conscious and subconscious. This premise is the cornerstone if you want to understand non-verbal communication.

The limbic system is that part of the brain that reacts to events around us—in real time and without thought.

These reactions are genuine and are considered to be the “honest” part of our brain. The limbic brain enlists the body to send messages about what it is really feeling. The body will signal stress and discomfort in a variety of ways, and we interpret these behaviors as body language.

Read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.

Commandment 2: IT’S DIFFICULT TO SPOT DECEIT SO DON’T GET COCKY

There is no single sign of deceit itself—there is no single gesture, facial expression, or muscle twitch that indicates a person is lying.

There are only clues that the individual is feeling an emotion or thought that is not being expressed verbally. Once the point of stress is identified, it’s possible to pursue the cause of the discomfort.

When I interview people, I look for behaviors that would tell me they are stressed. Or not at ease with one of my questions. Once I asked a businessman if he knew Igor—an individual whom the FBI had identified as a Russian spy. The businessman responded, “No,” but then immediately touched his mouth. I didn’t know whether he was lying, but I did know he was bothered by that question. This prompted me to probe further into this line of inquiry.

Commandment 3: CLUSTER FOR SIGNIFICANCE IF YOU WANT ACCURACY

Conversations are a string of words put together to create meaning. One word, by itself, can mean many things, or nothing. A sentence, however, expresses complete thoughts. Similarly, one gesture can mean anything—it’s only when we put them together that they have meaning. Nonverbal gestures come in clusters so it’s important to observe a person’s initial cluster of gestures to establish a norm.

It’s a serious error to interpret a solitary gesture.

A scratch of the head can mean confusion or it could indicate a serious case of dandruff. Many people punctuate with constant gestures and movement while others are relatively still. They key is to notice how these gestures change during a conversation.

Commandment 4: CREATE A BASELINE

Time is required to accurately read other people. It is a process  because it takes time to build rapport with others. Deception can only be identified if a baseline of the other person’s responses is established.

Non-threatening and innocent questions are likely to receive honest answers, and this is how norms are established. They can be used to measure responses to more probing questions later on.

Norms help to distinguish between a personal quirk and a contradiction in behavior. Contradictions are not goalposts when trying to detect whether someone is lying. Rather, they are signposts that suggest there is either deception, or there’s more to the matter. The person’s response is not consistent with how he or she normally responds.

Read What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro.

Commandment 5: LOOK FOR CHANGES IN BEHAVIOR

To read body languages you must notice whether the individual is stressed/relaxed—uncomfortable/comfortable.

A failure to understand this basic premise will lead you to make false assumptions about another’s behavior. If you notice a sudden change in a person’s behavior, it can help reveal the point of deception. This can be either verbal or non-verbal.

I’ve been in interviews with people who were in contact with foreign spies and they were very hospitable and eager to explain the reason for their contact. When I’d mention the possibility of continued contact with the FBI to gage the spy’s activities, most would answer “yes” because they wanted to appear cooperative with law enforcement.

At that point in the conversation, I would look for changes in their body language to determine whether they were being honest in their answer.

I would notice if they purse their lips (the lips disappear into a fine line which indicates stress) or squint their eyes (they wanted me out of their eyesight)! I knew I needed to address their concerns immediately if I wanted to continue contact.

Commandment 6: CAREFULLY INTERPRET FACIAL EXPRESSIONS

The face is the one part of the body that is most often used to conceal feelings and emotions. Dr. Paul Ekman, an expert on facial micro-expressions, states that the face is the primary place we display emotion. This is also why the face can be incredibly untrustworthy. According to Ekman, we lie with our faces because that’s what we’ve been told to do since childhood.

“Take that look off your face,” was one of my mom’s favorite expressions as I grew up.

The face can lie and tell the truth, often at the same time. While the face can be untrustworthy, most people still leak micro-expressions. These expressions are fleeting and can be easily missed.

Read Telling Lies by Paul Ekman.

Commandment 7: WATCH EYEBROWS AND FOREHEADS

Not all of the muscles that produce facial expressions are equally easy to control. Some muscles are more reliable than others. The forehead is the chief focus for reliable muscle movements. It can reliably indicate negative emotions such as sadness, grief, distress, and even guilt.

Eyebrow actions—raise and lower—are the most frequent facial expressions, and they are usually made in conjunction with forehead movements. When eyebrows rise and pull together, it is a reliable muscle movement that occurs with fear, worry, apprehension, and terror. The eyebrows express true emotion. When a person is calm and positive, there are fewer forehead furrows and eyebrow movement unless they are used to emphasize speech or as question marks.

Commandment 8: WATCH THOSE SMILES

The third most reliable facial action is the mouth area. Anger, tension, frustration, and fear can all lead to a narrowing of the lips. All of these emotions can easily be concealed by a smile.

But pay attention to the entire face: for a smile to be genuine, there must crow’s feet around the eyes and the cheeks must push up.

A smile is a sign of submission, which is why many dominant individuals don’t smile. I always smiled when I began an interview with a subject because it directly influenced how they would respond to me. The last thing I wanted to do was intimidate them or put them on the defensive. On the contrary, I wanted to put them at ease so I could create a baseline of their behavior. Smiling helps create empathy, something that can be important if you want concessions in a negotiation.

Commandment 9: TALK WITH YOUR HANDS

There are more nerve connections between the hands and the brain than between any other parts of the body.

Our brain is hardwired to engage our hands to accurately communicate our emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

I make an effort to shake hands with people I meet. The handshake that conveys equality is when both hands are vertical. As a woman, I’m frequently in situations where a male will offer a dominant handshake—his palm faces down. Palms down indicate dominance (think of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi salute).

To counter a dominant handshake, I simply move to the right of the individual so we are almost side-by-side. He is forced to move his hand into the vertical position as I move to his right.

Commandment 10: BELIEVE WHAT THE FEET ARE SAYING

As unglamorous as it sounds, feet are the most honest part of the body.

Children and adults alike bounce up and down when they see someone, or something, that makes them happy.

I met with an individual whom I suspected had contact with a Russian spy. I began the interview and asked general questions, as much to gain a baseline as to confirm background information that I already possessed. His answers were forthcoming and his body language was relaxed.

However, when I moved the conversation toward the Russian spy, he became rigid. He uncrossed his legs and sat with his feet flat on floor with ankles locked. Again, this didn’t mean he was a liar, but it did indicate he became stressed at the point in the conversation when we started talking about the Russian.

Read Secrets of A Strong Mind.

These 10 Commandments of Body Language will help you more accurately understand the importance of non-verbal behaviors.

Whether in business or life, always focus on whether the individual to whom you are talking is exhibiting stressed or relaxed behaviors.

What other commandments to interpret body language would you add?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

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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10 FBI Tips On How To Spot A Liar

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

FBI agents are trained to read other people and uncover what is hidden so they can get to the truth of a situation. Their job is to recognize language inconsistencies and other verbal cues to spot liars and deceptive behavior.10 FBI Tips To Spot A Liar

It would be nice if every job candidate, negotiating partner, and supplier told the truth—but they do not. In addition, many business owners and entrepreneurs get embezzled by the employees they trust.

In the world of business, being successful often means being able to spot liars and people who are deceptive. How do you know when someone is telling you the truth? And if you do believe something you are told, how can you be sure it’s not because you want it to be true?

Here are 10 FBI tips on how to spot the liar:

1. Build Rapport

Coming across as empathetic in a conversation gets the person to open up more than when the interviewer is cold and accusatory. Developing rapport is the place to start.

2. Fill In The Blanks

Instead of asking direct questions, tell the person the story as if you already know all the facts. Make it a statement—the guilty party will supply details and make corrections.

3. Surprise Them

The person knows they are guilty and will be prepared for your questions. If you ask them something they do not expect, they will usually stumble when put on the spot.

4. Ask For The Story Backward

Truthful people tend to add details and remember facts the more they repeat their story. Liars, on the other hand, memorize their stories and keep them the same. Ask the person to recall events backward rather than forward in time.

For example, start at the end and then ask them to explain what happened right before that point. And so on…

For truthful people, this makes recall easier. For liars, they tend to simplify the story so they don’t contradict themselves.

5. Withhold Evidence

If confronted with evidence of guilt too early, the person will either clam up or become hostile. Instead, give them the opportunity to make a confession. If they don’t, allude to evidence in such a way that they realize you know the facts.

6. Listen More Than You Talk

Liars tend to talk more than truthful people in an attempt to sound legitimate and win over their audience. Liars also tend to use more complex sentences to hide the truth. Here are some other things to look for:

  • Stress usually increases the speed of speech.
  • A stressed person may also talk louder.
  • Cracking in the natural tone of the voice often occurs at the point of deception.
  • Coughing and clearing the throat are good signs of tension at the point when they occur.

7. NO Is A Key Word

A person is most likely showing deceptive behavior when they:

  • Say “no” and look in a different direction (upward, downward, etc)
  • Say “no” and close their eyes
  • Say “no” after a hesitation
  • Say “noooooooo” stretched over a long period of time
  • Say “no” in a singsong manner

8. Be Wary Of Compliments

Watch out for someone who is trying too hard to make a good impression:

  • Emphasizing respect for your qualities and talents
  • Forming a mutual bond by reminding you of common friends and activities you share
  • Offering lots of praise and pleasantries
  • Laughing at all your jokes (a sure give-away)

9. Watch for Changes in Behavior

Take the time to notice subtle changes in behavior when you are interviewing them:

  • Exhibiting lapses in memory at critical times even though they’ve been alert in earlier conversation
  • Providing small crumbs of information to questions asked
  • Moving into a more formal way of speaking indicates that the conversation is hitting a point of stress
  • Using extreme superlatives or exaggerated responses, such as saying awesome instead of good

10. Ask follow-up questions

If the person exhibits uneasiness with a specific question, take the time to explore further. For example, “Explain this gap in your résumé” may lead to an answer such as, “I was recuperating from hip surgery.” Often, the deception that you’ve uncovered may be related to a personal embarrassment or a desire to be “the perfect candidate.”

What ways have you found to spot liars?

© 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.” 

Co-author of Energize Your Leadership

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5 Harsh Reasons You Don’t Seize Opportunities

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

As a child, I loved taking risks. Growing up around rattlesnakes, barbed wire fences, and frisky horses that liked to kick the saddle out of my hands, there was very little I thought I couldn’t do.

 

The key was putting my mind to it.

With age comes wisdom—or so I thought. As an adult, I was less amenable to taking risk. I was very strategic about relationships, careers, and spiritual formation. And I realize that there is a place for strategy, as long as it does not make your thinking soft.

Soft thinking is the opposite of mental toughness. If you suffer from soft thinking, you are afraid of seizing opportunities because you are afraid that your emotions, thoughts, or behavior might spin out of control. Or, you’re afraid to leave your comfort zone.

As it turns out, the key to managing risk is still in our mind.

There is no way to sugar-coat it—you’re afraid of risk and don’t seize the opportunities in your life because you don’t:

1. EMBRACE A LITTLE TERROR IN YOUR LIFE

Strong minds seize opportunities because they allow themselves to be terrified—quite often. As a result, terror is a feeling that they are familiar with.

If you continually place yourself in situations where there is a little risk involved and the outcome is not known, your comfort zone is stretched.

Our brain likes to feel comfortable and seeks pleasure over pain. That’s why we’re tempted to abandon ship at the first sign of distress.

Our desire to avoid losses is almost twice as powerful as our desire to take a risk. This explains why we often walk away or fail to recognize new opportunities.

If you start your day without feeling a little terror from the challenges before you, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.

2. THINK FAST ENOUGH TO MOVE AHEAD OF THE HERD

Strong minds seize opportunities because their minds are agile and flexible.

Thinking fast is automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, and subconscious. It means we can throw out long debates in favor of snap judgments and hard-wired rules of thumb that have served us well in the past.

Thinking fast is driven by your past experiences and memories. If you move into your discomfort zone on a regular basis, you frequently experience doses of terror and uncertainty. As a result, your mind does not get mired down with fear when new opportunities present themselves.

Fast thinking is efficient and effective, and essential if we want to seize opportunities in the fast-moving world of life and business.

3. THINK FORWARD WITH CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION

Strong minds seize opportunities because they do not allow themselves to get stuck in a rut.

In business and life, the comfort zone has never been a good place to be. It may feel comfortable but then we face another kind of risk: one of being irrelevant, obsolete—and extinct.

If you plan to think forward, you will need to continually question conventional wisdom, reinvent your work, and welcome disruptive innovation.

In short, you will need to live in a petri dish in which you are continually experimenting with new ideas and maneuvering in a perpetual zone of distress and uncertainty—and sometimes, even embarrassment.

4. MOVE ON FROM THE PAST

Strong minds seize opportunities because they learn from their past mistakes so they don’t repeat them.

Our ability to think fast and think forward is determined by our brain, and our past behavior.

As children, our brains were flexible, creative, and unpredictable. As adults, however, our brain becomes more rigid—anything with unvaried repetition like careers, cultural activities, and skills all lead to rigidity.

Once we make the same decision a second or third time, a habit is formed, and one that becomes quite inflexible.

Rigid patterns of thinking tend to become self-sustaining over time. Habits of behavior produced from past failure is not the same thing as learning from a mistake.

Habits are often a default reaction that leads to rigid thinking; learning, on the other hand, requires a flexible mindset that is always collecting and processing new information.

Often, we are not aware of these rigid patterns of thinking until we pinpoint their genesis in our memory. At that point, we recognize them for what they are and are able to move on from them.

5. FEED YOUR CURIOSITY

Strong minds seize opportunities because they are always looking for new things to do, and once they are engaged, they turn their full attention to it.

Researchers have found that curiosity is the single necessary condition for creating a flexible and agile mind.

When we are curious, we are engaged. Giving a subject our full attention and concentration is important if we want our brain to be more flexible and agile. It’s also important that, once we thoroughly understand a subject, we move on to something else.

To keep the brain fit, we must learn something new, rather than simply replaying already-mastered skills.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Never lose a holy curiosity—Albert Einstein

How have you taken a risk and seized an opportunity?

© 2014 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 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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Why Leaders Need To Move Outside Their Comfort Zone

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

After twenty years as an investigative agent, I found myself in a comfort zone. Safely ensconced in familiar territory, I balked when asked to be the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California. It sounded like fun—even a little glamorous since I would be interviewed by local and national news media. So why did I hesitate when offered the job? 

I would move from being the senior agent on my squad, where I knew everything about my job, to a new situation where I knew absolutely nothing. None of my former skills as an investigator had prepared me to handle probing questions from reporters. I would move out of my comfort zone as I represented the FBI in news conferences. And then I would need to prepare for live television interviews! The FBI needed someone who could come across as witty, credible and polished.

I am the type of person who comes up with the best retorts about twenty minutes after the question is asked—I needed to learn how to think quicker on my feet.

I was a beginner, starting over with a manual and basic training. My pride balked at being referred to as a trainee—my secretary, assistants, and clerks knew more about handling the media than I did!

I had to learn the ropes from the bottom up. It was tempting to feel humiliated by my lack of experience; instead, I felt humbled by all I had yet to learn. There was no resentment, only a slow understanding that we are all students of life.

Entrepreneurs, leaders, and small business owners need to place importance on putting themselves in new situations. They will be required to learn new techniques and skill sets. And they will be confronted by competition that forces them to be creative. And agile mindset will be needed so they can find new ways to solve new—and old—problems.

Here are four reasons why people in leadership become great when they keep learning:

1. Keeps Ego in Check

The ego is always asking “How will this make me look? How will I benefit?” Ego looks for ways to prove it is right and others are wrong.

People with healthy leadership habits do not need to prove or disprove anything. They have the humility to hold “what they do know” with “what they don’t know.” Holding this kind of tension leads to wisdom and not just easy answers.

When we keep ego in check, there is room for the wisdom of others to get in.

We are able to listen more deeply, learn with an open mind, and adapt new skill sets. 

When we allow ourselves the luxury of trial and error, like a child learning to walk, we experience a feel-good neurological response that can be stronger than the ego. When tackling new and difficult challenges, we experience a rush of adrenaline, a hormone that makes us feel confident and motivated.

2. Summons Courage

It takes courage to move out of your comfort zone and into your zone of discomfort, where you feel awkward, clumsy, and alone. This can be especially difficult for those in leadership positions who feel they need to continue to hone their core competencies, but our comfort zone is a tremendous enemy of peak performance. 

When people in leadership get into a comfort zone, they strive to stay right there—where they have found success. But it is the average leader who stops at success, because success and peak performance are often two different things. Whole lives are spent reinforcing mediocre performance.

It takes courage and mental toughness to continually move in the direction of your biggest goals and ambitions and not stop at success.

3. Avoids Stagnation

The more accomplished we are at something, the harder it is to learn.

Once we become experts in our field, the need to learn is no longer either urgent or necessary. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that we will fuse our skill with our identity. 

Walking into a discomfort zone and risking failure threatens to unravel our identity. Our reaction to learning something new is often fierce and visceral because it can strike at the core of who believe ourselves to be. 

Once we choose not to learn, however, we risk stagnation. Unfortunately, the only difference between a rut and coffin are the dimensions.

4. Enlarges Core Competency

Moving out of our core competency leaves us feeling vulnerable and weak as leaders. We’ve become inured to having the right answers and confidence in our choices. 

A beginner’s mind, on the other hand, is flexible and agile as it leaves behind old assumptions and gropes for new ways to move forward. 

This is exactly the mindset we need when confronted with obstacles and adversity! We may not be able to rely upon our developed skills when facing a new barrier or challenge, but if we’ve continually and deliberately placed ourselves in situations that are beyond our core competency, we are more prepared to deal with them.

With experience and practice, we can predict our response to the unknown with greater accuracy. This is another important component of mental toughness—the ability to choose our response when confronted with the unknown rather than simply react to our circumstances.

A beginner’s mind is opening up to the possibilities of what might be. It is a non-grasping, patient, and confident understanding of what it means to live our fullest potential. It is having the mental toughness to always be humble, and always strive to reach peak performance.

How you do anything is how you do everything.

How do you motivate yourself to move out of your comfort zone and into a zone of discomfort where you can learn new skills?

© 2014 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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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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4 Ways To Be In Control of Your Life

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Early in life, I made a decision to be in control of my career. I decided I wanted to work for the Foreign Service so I could travel and live an exciting life. I applied but didn’t pass the foreign language aptitude test. But I refused to let this stop me from pursuing my path; I wanted to live an exciting life, so I turned my attention toward the FBI.

Within six months I was hired as an FBI agent—a record in speedy recruitment. The average waiting list is three years. I had people walk up to me and say, “You were very lucky.” But no, I don’t think so.

It’s not that I don’t believe luck doesn’t exist; it’s just that I think it can be created and controlled. Luck happens when we seize opportunities to improve ourselves and our situation. It definitely doesn’t happen if we silently wait and hope for our lives to change.

I wanted to be in control of where I took my life—not a passive spectator. Things don’t always go according to plan. My experience with the Foreign Service is only one example of where life has not always unfolded in the direction or manner that I wanted. When disappointments, roadblocks, barriers, or obstacles kept me from my path, I took them as opportunities to re-evaluate both my plan and my options.

If you are a startup or business owner, it is impossible to be in control of markets, competition, and economic downturns. But this is exactly when you need to be in control of your own emotions, thoughts, and behavior so you can manage them in ways that will allow you to keep moving forward. In other words, you need mental toughness.

Here are 4 ways you can be in control of your own life:

1. Beware Of Goals

We live in a very goal-oriented society. Once we achieve our goal we feel terrific, but then there is the realization that we have just lost the thing that gives us direction. Goals are temporary and temporal; they can be too rigid to change with circumstances. If we’re too wedded to them, we won’t be able to adapt to those changes.

If I’d continued to beat my head against the closed door at the Foreign Service, I would have gained nothing but blood and bruises. That is not mental toughness; it’s being stupid.

Instead, hitch your heart to your purpose. Your purpose will not change, even if your circumstances do. You will always find a way to connect with your purpose: your beliefs, values, and priorities. When confronted with obstacles, keep your eye on your purpose but be prepared to let go of your vision of an immediate goal in order to get there. Other, more expansive goals might become available as you move forward.

2. Remain Positive

Living on a cattle ranch, I had a couple of different options on how I looked at cow turds. Either something to be avoided, or something to be used. When dry, they make excellent frisbees, and they are also dynamite fertilizer for the garden!

If you are positive about the events in your life, you are more alert to the possibilities that whiz around you everyday. People who are positive and in good moods actually take in more visual information, while those in bad moods don’t see as much around them.

Always look for opportunities. Luck happens because you’re motivated to take the steps necessary to succeed. You make it easier for luck to find you because you are more open to life’s forking paths, and see possibilities that others miss.

3. Develop Flexibility

Luck tends to smile on folks who have a more relaxed approach to life. They have clarity of purpose and don’t worry too much about the details. For example, rather than aiming to become the top cardiac surgeon at John Hopkins, they vow to be a doctor who helps save lives.

Once you have pinpointed the direction you want your life to go and attached your heart to your purpose, there are many different ways to get there. Goals can be good, but don’t let them interfere with the direction your heart is telling you to go.

4. Move Out Of Your Shell

Researchers have found that people who call themselves lucky are more likely to be extroverts. Because they are curious about others, they are more likely to have opportunities present themselves since they not only meet lots of new people, they also keep in touch with a larger group of friends.

Whether or not you are an extrovert, you can still be curious about your environment and the people around you. Inquisitiveness is one of the most important traits of mental toughness. It is having the curiosity to see beyond your current circumstances so you can create your own luck and move forward.

Control your own luck by seizing opportunities to improve your life and situation. The result will either be a lucky break or the regret of a road not taken.

What would you add? How do you take control of your own life?

© 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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The Most Important Skill in Life — Don’t Give Up

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

I watched as my nephew tried to stand on his feet at nine months old. He fell down and returned to crawling before trying to stand again. A few minutes later, he ignored his fears as he pulled himself back onto his feet, wobbled with his first step, and then fell again.

What if infants feared failure? Most of us would probably still be crawling around on all fours. Our fear of failure is irrational; it is supported by an illusion that failure means we are worthless.

The reality is that we cannot fail; we can only produce results. Psychologists recommend we respond to these results with questions such as “What have I learned?” What did I discover that I didn’t start out to discover?” “What worked, or what didn’t work?” Mistakes are portals for discovery. When you try something and produce a result that you did not intend, but find interesting, pursue it. Don’t give up.

It is a paradox of life that we have to learn to fail in order to succeed.

People can fail and still be successful because they don’t give up. Here are 5 traits that distinguish successful people from average performers:

1. Keep At It

  • When average performers fail at something, they try something new.
  • When successful people fail at something, they don’t give up. Instead, they attack the same problem again and again until they succeed.

Rather than run from the failure that is keeping you from success, learn from it and embrace it. Others encounter an adversity, and then give up, moving to other projects until they find something at which they finally succeed. People with mental toughness don’t give up. They keep at it until they find the answer to the problem.

2. Bounce Back

Great leaders, whatever organization or walk of life they are from, always go back to the same failure to explain their success. The failure, without exception, was traumatic and personally very difficult. It made them feel as though they’d hit rock bottom and filled with desperation. As Warren Bennis said, “It’s as if that moment the iron entered their soul; that moment created the resilience that leaders need.”

3. Choose Your Attitude

The odds are good that if you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere. Since adversity in life is a given, our success and happiness depend upon our ability to grow because of it. One of the most important decisions you make every day is the attitude with which you greet the world and the obstacles that come with it. Don’t give up; every day, you choose your own happiness.

4. Flexible Mindset

People have one of two belief systems about how the mind works. We have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that each time they attempt something it’s a reflection of their intelligence. A fixed mindset sees things in a winner/loser frame and therefore tends to see little that can be done to change the outcome.

But people who are taught that the brain is elastic and that they can become smarter and more competent—that the brain grows, like a muscle, when you work it hard—are less afraid to fail, they succeed more.

5. Be Patient

Success is a slow-cooker, not a microwave. Often showing patience is boring—most of us are stimulated by drama, immediate gratification, and creativity. But patience is a skill, not an inherited trait. Catch your mind from ranting that you shouldn’t be in this situation—you may have lost the battle, but not the war. Don’t give up and keep your eyes on the process—the results will take care of themselves.

The number one skill in life is having the mental toughness to not give up. Failure is life’s great teacher so don’t give up. While it may take a little effort to find it, as Viktor Frankl wisely reminds us, it is always possible to wrench something good out of misfortune.

Failure is where success likes to hide—in plain sight.” ~ Scott Adams

What failures in your life have moved you in a better direction? 

© 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.”

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Pull Painful Memories From Your Mind

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Like every kid, I have some painful memories from childhood. We never bought milk at the grocery store; instead, we had Spot, a mangy-looking Holstein who often grazed on weeds rather than grass. 

She kicked, and twitched her filthy tail, so Dad had to hobble her every night when he milked her. No one liked Spot; she smelled bad and her milk was tainted with the taste of weeds. I complained every time I was forced to drink a glass of milk. Chunks of coagulated cream floated on the top, and often there were flecks of dirt—or something worse—resting at the bottom.

“You need milk to grow tall and strong,” my Mother would assure me. I held my nose and drank the weedy stuff, leaving as much of the dark flecks at the bottom as I could.

Much as our body is built on the foods we eat and drink, our mind is built on our memories and experiences. As we all know, the residue of our experiences can be thrown into two piles: those than are beneficial and those that can cause harm.

1. Negative Memories Stick Around

Studies have shown that even when positive experiences outnumber our negative ones, the pile of negative and painful memories will always grow faster. Our mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones! The solution is not to suppress negative or painful memories, but rather to encourage more positive ones.

Years of survival among saber-toothed tigers and marsupial lions have created a human brain that is designed to change through negative experiences, not positive ones. Natural selection shaped our minds to respond to situations that contain threats to life. The cost of failure to respond to a life threatening situation could be death, whereas the cost of failure to respond to a life opportunity does not carry the same dire consequences.

This explains why the negative experiences and painful memories from our past stay in our mind for so long. Your experiences really, really matter. To pull the weedy, painful memories from our mind and replace them with positive ones takes active effort.

2. Painful Memories Can Be Replaced With A Positive One

Like pulling weeds, the pesky things won’t go away unless they’re pulled out by the roots. Mental toughness is being inquisitive about our memories. Look at your life as an investigator would look at it:

Delicately probe the deep roots of a recurring negative memory. The tips are often found in childhood experiences. Deliberately interrupt that negative memory with a positive one in order to pull it out at its core. When you do, you’re building new, positive neural connections.

For example:

  • When you remember a childhood feeling of sadness, recall being loved by other people in your life.
  • Give those positive feelings of love and appreciation 20-30 seconds to really sink in.
  • Add the power of language by saying: “I got through that, I’m still here, and people love me.”

3. Let A Positive Emotion Be The Antidote

You cannot run away from or resist painful memories or focus exclusively on positive ones. But by being mentally tough, you can learn to manage the way in which painful memories interfere with your current outlook on life.

When you have a positive experience today, take the time to let your mind absorb it fully so it can help erase the power of a similar negative experience from the past.

Leadership begins with the way you lead our own life. Be an example to your team, and when you feel upset and negative, feel around for the tip of the root of whatever is bothering you. Over time, you can build new, positive structures in your brain.

© 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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