Posts Tagged ‘growth mindset’

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.” 

4 Surefire Ways To Move Through Uncertainty

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

The FBI requires all agents to qualify with their firearm at least four times a year. Part of this training is taking turns arresting fellow agents and putting them in handcuffs. As I tried to handcuff one of the senior agents on my squad, I found he didn’t have the flexibility to place the back of his hands together behind his back. Over time, he had lost a great deal of the suppleness in his shoulder muscles.

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While he took great deal of ribbing by fellow agents, I remember thinking: “If only he’d made the effort to keep limber, he would have more flexibility.”

If stretching and yoga can promote healthier bodies, we need to find similar ways to keep our mind flexible and agile for top performance. Rigid thinking cannot help us adapt when we are faced with the uncertainty of today’s workplace.

As entrepreneurs, leaders, and business owners, you are required to adapt and move through transitions at faster and faster paces. Whether it is a new assignment, a new supervisor, or a new career—success depends on finding new ways to keep our minds supple.

Mental toughness is the ability to be flexible and agile in the way we respond when faced with the uncertainties of both life and work.

Here are 4 surefire ways you can develop the mindset to move through uncertainty:

1. Overcome Uncertainty By Growing A Little Each Day

When facing uncertainty, you have two choices:

You can dread it because you are afraid of failing—you believe that failure sends a negative message about your abilities, 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.

2. Overcome Uncertainty By Discovering What Makes You Feel Strong

As an FBI agent, one of the first things I did was surveil the target of my investigation. I analyzed and assessed their strengths, weaknesses, needs, and wants. This gave me tremendous power, because I usually came to know more about them than they knew about themselves.

Harness that same power by making yourself the target of your own investigation:

a. Discover your own patterns: What makes you smile? What are you always wanting to do or think about? What can you not help do, think, or feel? Even if someone asks you not to?

b. Keep track of how you spend the next week: What are you doing, feeling or thinking about daily? Write down everything that energizes you and makes you feel strong. It could be a particular physical activity, or a book you read, or people you meet. Alongside, write down everything that makes you feel less confident or anxious. How many of these do you encounter at work?

c. Compare the lists: How can you start doing more of the things that make you feel strong? And eliminate those that make you feel threatened?

When you find a few things you repeatedly do and love, dig deeper and see what part of that particular activity makes you feel good—and empowers you.

As you transition out of your current situation or move into a time of uncertainty, lean into those things that make you feel strong and keep a wary eye out for those things that do not empower you.

3. Overcome Uncertainty By Mixing It Up

FBI training is relentless and continuous, but this kept our minds flexible and agile so we could adapt to the unknown when confronting an arrest situation.

When a roadblock or obstacle confronts us, we often have no Plan B. Instead of moving around a roadblock in a deliberate and flexible manner, we continue to assault it using the same tactics that have already proven ineffective. Our default explanation is blaming others.

The only thing worse than getting into a rut is staying in one. Often, our patterns of thinking become rigid because we’re fixated on thinking about achieving our life’s goals in one way.

Mix up the way you think. It’s important to combine focused thought with periods of play and scattered attention because changes in your environment, attitude, and behavior influences how you think.

When you’re feeling happy or optimistic, you are more inclusive and more creative. When you are fearful, your focus narrows down to specific details.

Mental toughness is having the flexibility to make a mental shift without remaining stuck in a particular mindset.

4. Overcome Uncertainty By Summoning The Courage To Try New Things

Finding our courage is no small thing, but once we find it, it takes over everything in its path. A flood of courage is exactly what we need when faced with uncertainty.

The goal is to move fluidly between specific and abstract thought patterns so you can flex and bend with the changing circumstances of your life. Start with making small changes in your routine. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator or listening to different music can boost your mental agility.

Variety is also good. Try different foods and different methods of exercise. Call a friend and go to a place you’ve never visited. Watch your thoughts become more expansive as you break out of old patterns and develop your brain.

A flexible and agile mindset is essential if you plan to get past the roadblocks and obstacles ahead of you. Remember this: everyone can get smarter about how to overcome obstacles if they work at it.

How have you pushed through periods of uncertainty?

© 2016 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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WILLPOWER —The Secret To Getting What You Want In Life

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

A few years back I entered a 6 mile race called the Jingle Bell Run with some of my fellow FBI agents. Fueled by willpower, I tried desperately to keep up with them, but within the first few yards they pulled away and left me behind. 

WILLPOWER

And then, as we entered the last mile, a woman pushing a stroller sailed past me. The child sitting in the stroller weighed about 40 pounds—to add insult to injury.

I wish I could tell you this was a joke, but it wasn’t. It made me feel both defeated and humiliated. I watched as the woman’s back quickly disappeared into the crowd as well. By now, I was limping along with runners from the Shady Rest Retirement Community.

I thought about dropping out of the race altogether, but I willed myself to keep moving ahead even though I was gasping for breath and barely able to move.

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.

Here are 7 ways you can use willpower to get everything you want in life:

1. Keep Your Eye On The Big Picture

Make sure your goals and priorities are clear in your mind. You must be able to make the choice that matters when you run into difficulties and feel like giving up.

Willpower takes energy because you must use mental toughness to control your thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

2. Connect Your Activity To Your WHY

You must be able to remind yourself WHY it’s important for you to do something.  When you have a purpose and are engaged in activities that are freighted with both value and meaning, you have the beginning of what it takes to commit to your goal.

Dump the trivia because meaningless tasks do not activate willpower.

3. Pare Down Decisions

School uniforms are popular for a reason: they reduce the number of choices students have to make every morning. President Obama only wears blue or gray suits. He told Vanity Fair that he doesn’t want to make decisions about what he wears because he has so many other decisions to make.

Fewer decisions allow you to find the energy, motivation, and stamina to keep going even when you’re tired or anxious.

4. Train Your Brain

You can make the willpower centers of your brain more dense and better connected by meditating every day. Neuroscientists have found that meditation leads to better focus and self-control after just 3 hours of practice. MRI scans show increased neural connection in brain regions responsible for impulse control.

Don’t worry if you think you are “bad at meditation.” The act of constantly pushing away intrusive thoughts is precisely what trains the brain and strengthens willpower.

5. Defer Gratification

Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of compliance. So, if you want to succeed at something, at some point you will need to ignore doing easier things in favor of doing something harder.

Willpower is the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

6. Be Optimistic

When we increase our optimism, we increase our willpower to accomplish a task. When we mix optimism with willpower, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studies have shown that if we raise our expectations of success, we find ways to overcome the temptations or obstacles that might pop up along the way.

Our ability to overcome an obstacle depends upon how likely we think we’ll be able to overcome it.

7. Change Your Mindset

People who think that willpower is limited are always on the lookout for signs of fatigue. But people who believe that willpower is not limited only dig deeper and find more resources.

Recent findings by Greg Walton and Carol Dweck fly in the face of what has been preached about willpower for years—that willpower is limited and that we need constant glucose boosts throughout the day.

If we have a growth mindset, we will work harder and dig deeper to find the willpower we need to overcome our obstacle or reach our goals. According to Walton and Dweck, willpower can indeed be quite limited—but only if you believe it is. When people believe that willpower is fixed and limited, their willpower is easily depleted.

But when people believe that willpower is self-renewing—that when you work hard, you’re energized to work more; that when you’ve resisted one temptation, you can better resist the next one—then people successfully exert more willpower. It turns out that willpower is in your head.

I’m glad I finished the Jingle Bell Run because every obstacle I work through makes the achievement that much more valuable. Giving up is often the easiest option in today’s world, but it’s important to think about how that choice may affect your life ten years from now.

Don’t live a life of regrets.

How do you increase your willpower?

© 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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7 Reasons You Will Never Become A Mentally Strong Leader

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

A reporter once asked me whether the FBI provides textbooks for agents to study so they can become mentally strong. The answer is no; FBI agents become mentally strong by facing their situation head-on—no sugarcoating allowed.

Mental Toughness - lightning in hand

My fellow agent and I learned that mental strength is not something you are born with. It is something you can learn. If I learned it, so can you, but only if you’re willing to put in the discipline and effort it takes.

As an entrepreneur or business owner, you need to think big and act courageous. You need the fierce determination that comes being a mentally strong leader. Core beliefs about yourself and your abilities will guide your daily decisions.

You will never become a mentally strong leader if you:

1. HAVEN’T A CLUE ABOUT WHAT BRINGS YOU VALUE AND MEANING IN LIFE

A mentally strong leader lives their life with purpose and meaning. They are an active participant in where their life is going. They have found a direction in life and set overarching goals for what they want to achieve.

Without goals to anchor us, we find ourselves adrift in life. We may think we know what our goals are, but if we aren’t living our life around them, then we’re not living our life on purpose.

2. REMAIN IGNORANT ABOUT YOUR BLIND SPOTS

A mentally strong leader understands that they need to frequently, and critically, analyze their performance, especially their failures. When they do, they identity those patterns of behavior that are not productive and nip them in the bud. Unfortunately, “teachable moments” are usually accompanied by feelings of frustration, disappointment, and embarrassment. 

Psychologists find that we tend to repeat the same mistake, and repeat it in endless variety. That is the definition of a blind spot

3. BELIEVE YOU WILL ALWAYS LIVE A CHARMED LIFE

A mentally strong leader accepts the fact that life evolves, and are smart enough to not be 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.

4. PRETEND TO KNOW EVERYTHING

A mentally strong leader has a beginner’s mind that does not need to prove or disprove anything. It has the humility to hold “what I do know” with “what I don’t know.” Holding this kind of tension leads to wisdom and not just easy answers.

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

5. AVOID CHALLENGES THAT WILL ULTIMATELY MAKE YOU GROW

A mentally strong leader has 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.

A growth mindset anticipates transitions that come from uncertainty because it interprets failure as nothing more than an opportunity for learning and improvement.

6. REFUSE TO KEEP EGO IN CHECK

A mentally strong leader knows how to keep a tight rein on ego. The ego is always asking “How will this make me look? How will I benefit?” It looks for ways to prove it is right and others are wrong.

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.

7. HAVE A COWARD’S HEART

A mentally strong leader has the courage to move out of their comfort zone and into their zone of discomfort where they may feel awkward, clumsy, and alone. 

When we get into a comfort zone, we often strive to stay right there—where we 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.

“Mental toughness is believing you will prevail in your circumstances, rather than believing that your circumstances will change”—LaRae Quy

Are you ready to become a mentally strong leader?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

 

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4 Ways Successful People Move Toward Peak Performance

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

The ranch I grew up on in the middle of Wyoming was isolated so it was impossible for my brother and I to attend public schools. Instead, we had a private tutor. The only person I had to compete against in my class was myself, so it was a continual game of personal best. 

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I worked hard to beat my own record, and my teacher would respond by saying, “Look at you—you’ve worked hard to get a better score.”

As I’ve gotten older, I realize that my teacher’s response was incredibly unusual. Instead, most teachers, parents, and others in the educational system respond with, “Look at you—you are so smart.”

Without realizing it, my teacher had a growth mindset which believes that people get better by challenging themselves.

The opposite represents a fixed mindset and is represented by how our educational system distributes grades and how most corporations conduct performance appraisals: talent is something that happens to you, not something you make happen.

Whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset influences how you approach peak performance.

Peak performance is successfully using mental toughness to develop the power of the mind and to practice mental skills training in every aspect of life.

Successful people believe that they can challenge themselves to continually grow and improve performance. 

Let’s take a look at how they do this:

1. WHAT GRABS YOUR ATTENTION RULES YOUR LIFE 

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 our 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.

Focusing on the goal + focusing our attention on the activity to achieve the goal at the same time overstimulates the brain.

Attaining a goal is something that happens in the future, and it pulls our attention away from where it needs to be in order to focus in the present moment. This explains why so many golfers miss a putt at the end of the final round or why football players drop the ball inches from the finish line.

They choke because their attention switched from the present and moved into the future. As a result, they lose their focus.

Whatever we choose to focus our attention on will make it past the mind’s filtering system. 

2. CHUNK IT BY BREAKING DOWN GOALS

Successful people establish their goals. They visualize themselves achieving those goals. And then they break those goals down into tiny, clear chunks. 

Successful people understand that clarity gives us certainty.

You and I can also break down our goals into tiny, bite-size tasks and move from there. Small, clear goals keep our attention focused and yet are not enough to stress us out.

3. LOOK FOR FEEDBACK TO HELP KEEP YOU MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

In order for feedback to be most effective, it needs to be immediate. The smaller the gap between output and feedback, the more we will know how to perform better. The reason is that our attention does not need to wander because the information is at hand.

If real-time feedback is not possible, find a way to measure your progress. It’s important that your feedback loop is timely. 

For yourself, and others, tighten the feedback loop as much as possible—try to make it a daily habit.

4. STRETCH YOURSELF TO ACHIEVE PEAK PERFORMANCE

You need to stretch yourself to perform to your greatest potential. Exactly how much you need to stretch each time is debatable, but experts generally agree that the challenge should be 4% greater than either your skill or your last effort.

Increased stress will lead to increased performance—up to a certain degree. When you move beyond the healthy levels of stress, both performance and health will decline. 

In high doses, stress can kill us. Ironically, it is also fundamental to psychological and physical growth. 4% growth is seen by researchers as the magical tension between challenge and skill. Most of move past 4% increase in performance without noticing, and it’s beneficial because this tension keeps us locked in the present and gives us enough confidence that we can do it again. 

Our success begins and ends with our mental toughness. We can move toward peak performance once we find ways to use our mind to do it.

How have you pushed toward peak performance? What tips can you add?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 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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5 Unconventional Ways You Can Lead From The Heart

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

I spent Saturday morning at my local gym working out with a trainer. As I repeated repetitions with free weights, my trainer kept yelling, “Lead from the heart.” I write and speak about mental toughness, but his exhortation to lead from the heart in my workout struck a new cord. 

Mental toughness begins with heart, and my friend, Lolly Daskal, is an expert on how to lead from the heart. I’ve learned a lot from her and how important it is to listen to the wisdom of our inner calling.

How important is heart to mental toughness? Mental toughness is finding a way to continue moving toward our goals, even in tough times—but if our heart is not the driving force behind those goals, failure will be enough to persuade us to give up and try something else. 

Glimpses into our heart’s desire cannot be plucked from the air. We must integrate both feeling and thinking because when we lead from the heart, we feel an expansion of self and meaning in life. The experience lingers in our consciousness and gives a sense of purpose, integration with others, and empathy.

Let’s look at 5 nonconventional ways you can not lead from the heart: 

1. Relive the BEST Parts of Your Childhood

Go back and remember the fun things you liked to do as a child and young adult. They gave you autonomy, purpose, and a sense of fulfillment. 

Our brain keeps growing until the age of twenty-five, by which time we develop a more mature sense of long-term planning and critical thinking. As adults we become afraid of the unknown and cease to utilize play and creativity as a way of exploring our heart’s desire.

To lead from the heart, it is not enough to love what we do; we must also find meaning and purpose in it.

If your path has no heart, you are on the wrong path.

TIP:

Rekindle the passions of your heart from your early years. This does not mean you have to quit your job, but it does require that you take a critical look at:

  1. what you are doing, and
  2. which aspects of your job speak to your heart (so you can pursue them)

2. Learn How to Skip Rope — Again

As adults, we stop being playful and creative because we become more sensitive to rejection, failure, and other pinpricks to our ego.

Creativity is developing original ideas that have value. It is finding connection between things that are not connected. Creativity requires that we do two things: 1) embrace risk, and 2) find and identify new patterns. The irony is that these two requirements are what makes play so much fun!

When you are concentrating on something that matters to you, then you are working from the heart.

There are no rule books and instead of avoiding the unknown, the risk you are facing only tightens your focus. 

TIP:

Notice those times when time does not matter because you are so absorbed in what you do, and risk is not a deterrent. 

3. Follow Your Calling by Looking at Your Brain

Too often, we associate our brain with thinking only, but our brain is also where we experience emotions and process feelings.

Research has shown that when we are truly engaged in what we are doing, and experience feelings of fulfillment, large patches of our prefrontal cortex are deactivated. These regions of our brain silence our inner critic and leave us less inhibited and much more open to unique experiences.

When we follow our heart’s calling, we’re calm, confident, and content.

TIP:

When we are leading with our heart and feel a reward from our activity, our brain releases dopamine which stimulates excitement, curiosity, and motivation.

4. Put Your Heart Into It

We need to push ourselves. Peak performance shows up when we’re using our skills.  This means challenge. When we push ourselves in the right direction (toward our calling), we are intrinsically motivated to perform. 

TIP:

If you are following your heart, you will experience the same “runner’s high” as athletes do after they finish their races. Your brain chemicals will be surging, alerting you to what fulfillment and accomplishment with meaning feels like.

5. Take a Hard Look at The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

You either embrace the challenges of life or you shrink from them. Mentally tough people acknowledge that life is full of both good and bad, positive and negative, but they cultivate a growth mindset that uses strategies to keep moving forward. 

One of the most essential strategies is honest self-evaluation. If you have a growth mindset, you accurately evaluate your capabilities in order to learn more efficiently. If you have a fixed mindset, it makes it harder to adapt and remain flexible to life’s changing environment.

TIP:

Self-knowledge accumulates over time. You cannot be mentally tough by blaming your weaknesses and failures on others.

Mental toughness is combining awareness with action. There is a decision at every step, and the decision to listen to the calling of our heart is the surest path to a strong mind.

How do you lead from the heart?

© 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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