Successful women take a different approach than their counterparts. The obstacles they face are tremendous, but what is commonplace among them is this: they are mentally tough.
This is not surprising to me because I understand that mental toughness is essential to overcome obstacles. As a new FBI agent, I thought learning how to shoot a gun and arrest terrorists would make me successful. I did not expect to learn that my biggest, and perhaps most important skill set, would be to develop the mental toughness needed to prevail in my circumstances.
Successful women also need to prevail in their circumstances because they need to work around unsurmountable obstacles, whether climbing the corporate ladder or achieving growth in their own businesses.
Many people believe mental toughness is a type of rigid thinking that plows through obstacles and roadblocks; while that approach might work in football, it doesn’t work in business and life.
Successful women have the mental toughness to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set them up for success.
Here are 4 things successful women need to know about mental toughness:
1. START WITH EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE
As a female FBI agent, I relied heavily upon emotional intelligence to help me recruit foreign spies to work for the U.S. government. Emotional intelligence is your ability to 1) identify and manage your own emotions; 2) pick up on the emotions of others and manage them; and 3) in so doing, build trust and grow influence.
We all feel the pressure to succeed and in today’s competitive market, it takes more than intelligence to keep ahead of the pack—it also takes competence. We all know people who are intelligent but not necessarily successful.
Successful women know what makes them tick. Self-knowledge is a powerful tool because when times are tough the last thing you need is to waste precious energy in trying to interpret your lack of decisiveness.
Time spent on understanding yourself is incredibly worthwhile, followed by your ability to relate to others and empathize with what they are feeling and experiencing.
Girls are given permission to get in touch with their inner emotions more than boys, so take advantage of it. It is a soft skill that will allow you to make the hard decisions later in your career.
2. EMBRACE RESILIENCE
One of the first things I learned in the FBI Academy was that in order to be successful I would need to learn how to adapt if I wanted to overcome an unexpected blow from left-field. When you are chasing terrorists, you need to know how to land on your feet when confronted with the unknown.
Successful women do the same because resilience not only allows them to bounce back from setbacks, it also propels them to bounce around obstacles and roadblocks.
Confidence is an important element of resilience. If you have confidence in yourself, failure is taken in stride because you see it as a learning opportunity. If you refuse to learn from your failure, it doesn’t make you a loser—it makes you stupid. This means straightening your back and taking responsibility without whining, pointing fingers, or blaming others.
Confidence in yourself allows you to absorb the unexpected blow and remain non-defensive. If something doesn’t turn out as expected, you will remain flexible and look for new ways to solve the problem.
Trace the origins of self-limiting beliefs about what you can, or cannot, accomplish in life. Pinpoint when and how they took root in your thinking. Develop the courage to push yourself into discomfort zones that will allow you blast through each self-limiting belief that is holding you back from success.
3. DRAW ON WILLPOWER
Willpower is that thing that pushes you to the next level despite obstacles and setbacks. It’s what 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.
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 requires grit, endurance, determination, and persistence. Keep this in mind: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”—Calvin Coolidge
4. DEVELOP A CHAMPION MINDSET
When I walked into my new FBI office, I was viewed as a curiosity more than anything else. In the 1980’s there weren’t that many female FBI agents; everyone was polite but distant. I pretended not to notice when the guys grabbed their jackets and headed out the door for lunch without inviting me. I also pretended not to notice that I wasn’t included in the informal squad debriefings about the most important cases.
We’ve all been in situations where it’s hard to keep a positive attitude. When this happens, we have intentionally to choose to be positive because we all have an innate bias toward negativity. We process bad news faster than good news because our brain is survival driven. Survival is a tough, uncompromising business. For centuries our brain programmed us to “Get lunch—not BE lunch.”
We can chose to be influenced by our negativity bias, or conversely, pursue positive thinking. The choice is ours. We can choose to learn from our experiences and be better, or feel sorry for ourselves and be bitter.
© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.
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