Posts Tagged ‘mental toughness’

6 Practical Reasons Why You Are Not A Strong Leader

Monday, September 17th, 2018

A reporter once asked me whether the FBI provides textbooks for an agent to study so they can become a strong leader. The answer is no; FBI agents aren’t given instruction books. Instead, they’re taught how to face their challenges head-on.

My fellow agents 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 from being a strong leader. Core beliefs about yourself and your abilities will guide your daily decisions.

6 practical reasons why you are not a strong leader:

1. Clueless About What Brings You Value and Meaning In Life

A strong leader lives their life with purpose and meaning. They are an active participant in where their life is going. They set overarching goals for the direction they want to go in life.

Most people agree that holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” is the preeminent authority on how to find meaning in life. After liberation from a concentration camp, he spent his life as an advocate for the importance of meaning as a salve against suffering, and the secret to joy.

Frankl believed that meaning cannot be pursued as a goal in itself. It must must be a side-effect in the pursuit of other goals. Value and meaning in life blossom not when we pursue them directly, but when we seek beauty, love, and justice.

How To Make It Work For You: Embrace activities that connect you with something greater than yourself. Connect with others in the pursuit of knowledge. Commit yourself to the care of others through volunteer work. Find ways to express love to people or animals.

2. Remain Ignorant About Your Blind Spots

A 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 ways. That is the definition of a blind spot. Leaders like to avoid words like failure and defeat because they feel the need to appear invincible. Ironically, this need to appear strong is the very thing that holds them back.

How To Make It Work For You: Take a moment to think back to a situation that didn’t go so well for you. Notice what went on for you at this time. What were the circumstances? How did you respond? What skills might have been helpful? Have you been in similar circumstances before? Did they turn out well? If not, how would you respond in a different way next time?

3. Fail To Prepare For Setbacks

A strong leader accepts the fact that life evolves and is smart enough to plan for the downturns that are inevitable. Only fools think they’re immune to setbacks and fail to prepare for what can go wrong.

A strong leader always anticipates what can go wrong and then prepares for it. This is not negative thinking—it’s intelligent thinking.

FBI agents do not focus on what will go right in an arrest. They focus on what can go wrong so they are prepared.

How To Make It Work For You: Always ask these questions in every situation: What can go wrong? What if this doesn’t work? How can we stop it? What haven’t we thought about?

4. Feel The Need To Be An Expert

A strong leader has a beginner’s mind that does not need to prove or disprove anything. The leader has the humility to hold “what I do know” alongside “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 we tackle new and difficult challenges, we experience a rush of adrenaline, a hormone that makes us feel confident and motivated.

A recent article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports a series of experiments that show experts are more likely to be closed-minded. An open mind is receptive to new ideas that knock loose previous beliefs and standards.

How To Make It Work For You: Let go of the idea that you need to be an expert. Instead, ask questions because they are at the heart of a beginner’s mind. Start a petri dish of things of which you know nothing. Force yourself to seek out the advice of those who are more experienced. Always be involved in a project or situation where you are a beginner.

5. Refuse To Keep Ego In Check

A strong leader must believe in themselves—otherwise no one else will. They must believe in their own abilities and they need to be resilient, but often this self-assurance leads to arrogance. Poor decisions are made when they allow their ego to speak louder than their voice of reason.

The ego is always asking “How will this make me look? How will I benefit?” When ego is not kept in check, it looks for ways to prove it’s right and others are wrong. When we remove ego, we’re left with humility and rock-hard confidence.

How To Make It Work For You:

  • Accept praise, but never believe it totally. While others may appreciate your work, you can always do better.
  • Things are never permanent. You might be in the news today, but tomorrow you’ll be forgotten.
  • Put yourself in other people’s shoes and try to understand what they’re thinking.
  • Spend time in nature to find perspective. It’s okay if other people think you’re God, but you’re in trouble if you start believing it, too.

6. Have A Coward’s Heart

A strong leader has the courage to move out of their comfort zone even though they may feel awkward, clumsy, and alone. The comfort zone is defined as an anxiety-neutral place that uses a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance.

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

How To Make It Work For You: Take what worked for you in the past and modify it to match your new situation. Chances are good that this is not the first time you’ve adapted when you’ve moved into the unknown. Write down your survival tactics and why they worked. Mine your  experiences and let them guide you as you move out of a comfort zone in your current circumstances.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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

Take A Risk —The Odds Might Be Better Than You Think

Monday, August 20th, 2018

As I look back over my early career, I wish I’d taken more risks. I wish I’d been a little braver in my choices, perhaps had more confidence in my ability to land on my feet when confronted with the unknown.

If you’ve thought the same thing, you’re not alone. You don’t take a risk because you’re cautious and play it safe. In other words, you’ve settled for the status quo. 

If that sounds like the definition of a wimp, you might be right. To be fair, however, our brains are wired to be risk averse. Our aversion to risk kept us safe through the cave man years and probably saved our life a couple of times through our college years. What we forget, however, is that not every challenge is a risk to our life.

A History Lesson

The Old Testament of the Bible tells the story of a young man who decided to take a risk. His name was David, and he was a sheepherder who led a very predictable and ordinary life. He might never have discovered his greatness if he hadn’t taken a risk and stepped into the unknown.

The Philistine army had gathered their troops for war against Israel. The two armies camped on opposite sides of a steep valley.  Every day for forty days a Philistine warrior named Goliath broke out from the front line and challenged the Israelites to fight. Goliath was reported to be a giant of a man who wore full armor. The Israelites fell back in fear when they saw the huge form of Goliath. The odds were against them.

Described as a runt by his own father, David’s job was to run back and forth from his sheep herd to bring news to his father of his brothers who were on the Israelite battle line. As David approached the battle line, he asked, “What’s in it for the man who kills the big ugly Philistine?”

He learned that King Saul offered a huge financial reward. In addition, he would give his daughter in marriage to whoever killed Goliath. David decided to take a risk and beat the odds. He said, “I’m your man!”

The runt of the litter takes on the giant. We love stories about the underdog who musters the courage and confidence to find a way to beat the odds. Follow David’s example and take a risk—the odds might be better than you think:

1. Master A Skill Set

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

From an outsider’s point of view, the skill set possessed by this young boy could not help him defeat the obstacle before him. David stuck with what he knew best and used those skills to help him beat the odds.

How To Make It Work For You: Mastery is not a function of genius or talent. It is a function of intense focus applied to your area of expertise. Identify your area of expertise. Just because someone else doesn’t believe your skill set is needed to overcome an obstacle, it doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to apply those skills to help you beat the odds.

2. Acknowledge Weaknesses

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

Many of us focus all our attention on what could go wrong, and that’s not a bad thing. However, if we fail to focus on what can go right, we miss the opportunity to improve our odds. When we look at what we can bring to the situation, we take a risk that is smarter because we’ve put our strong foot forward.

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

3. Start With Small Wins

David met Goliath on the battlefield with a sling and five smooth, carefully selected stones because those were the tools of his trade. He knew those stones had power because he’d used them before—to kill lions and bears. David might not have been a soldier, but he knew a thing or two about a strong arm and good aim.

While he hadn’t stood before an obstacle this big before, this was not the first time he’d dealt with a problem. He started with small wins as he protected his sheep from predators. Those small wins gave him the confidence to take a risk and defeat Goliath.

How To Make It Work For You: If you need to take a risk, you create better odds for yourself if you experiment beforehand. Intentionally place yourself in situations where there is risk involved so you know how it feels and won’t panic out of the gate. Experiment with how you’ll respond rather than rely on a knee-jerk reaction.

4. Adapt To Your Circumstances

While others considered David an underdog, he understood how to adapt to his circumstances. It meant he would need to take a risk, but since he had defeated other enemies, all he needed to do was remind himself of his past wins. David had mental toughness. One aspect of mental toughness is the belief that you can adapt to your circumstances rather than believing your circumstances will change.

If we don’t have confidence in ourselves, we will underestimate our ability to handle risk. When this happens, confidence devolves into self-doubt and the downward spiral doesn’t end until we reach the bottom. If we’re confident, we know that we’re able to accomplish the things we set out to do. 

How To Make It Work For You: If you’re confronted with a roadblock, adapt to your new circumstances. Re-evaluate your initial strategies. Keep your mindset flexible and agile as you look for new ways to move ahead. The key is to always move ahead.

5. Press Into The Unknown

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

The closer Goliath came, Davis found more ways to defeat the giant. He saw a small gap in Goliath’s armor that was not visible from a distance. David reached into his bag and slung one of his stones at the gap in the helmet that protected Goliath’s head. Once struck on the forehead, the giant fell down on the ground. When the Philistine’s saw their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

How To Make It Work For You: To increase safety, move toward the unknown—only when David moved closer to the threat was he able to see where and how to strike. Often, opportunities that can not be seen from a distance are made visible only when we press forward. Our chances of success increase when we leave our place of safety and move toward our challenge.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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

4 Reasons Fulfillment Will Make You A Strong Person

Monday, August 13th, 2018

I met Oleg when I worked as an undercover FBI agent. Oleg was a Russian diplomat sent to the U.S. to steal propriety technology. My job was to find the answer to two questions: 1) what specific technology was he after, and 2) could I turn him into a double agent?

The way to pursue these questions wasn’t obvious at first, but Oleg himself provided a clue soon after I met him. When I discovered that he had signed up to attend a seminar, I signed up too. On the day of the event, hundreds of people filled a large auditorium, and I worried that it would be impossible to meet Oleg in the large crowd. I arrived early and waited in a corner until he entered the room and settled in the back row. The seat next to him was empty, so I wasted no time as I gently shoved an older gentleman out of the way so I could get there before anyone else.

As we waited for the program to start, we chatted about why we thought the seminar was important. After only a few minutes, one thing became obvious: the seminar held no interest for him. As we talked further, his entire assignment in the United States offered no fulfillment or job satisfaction.

Oleg’s lack of fulfillment made him an easy target for the FBI, but not because the FBI thought he would betray his country. Instead, it was because Oleg was a weak man who thought fulfillment was something money could buy.

Here are 4 reasons fulfillment will make you a strong person:

1. A Strong Person Plans Their Life

A Harvard Business School survey shows we have a 23-year low in job satisfaction and 84% of Americans say they want a new job. Like Oleg, most of us are passive spectators in our life. We plan careers, retirement nest eggs, and vacations, but we do not plan our life.

Over 80% of Americans do not have goals; 16% say they have goals but don’t write them down. Less than 4% write them down. 

Mental toughness creates strong people who live their life with purpose and meaning. They are an active participant in where their life is going. Recent research concludes that fulfillment and purposefulness are strong predictors of longevity. 

How To Make It Work For You: Don’t forget to set goals in all areas of your life:

  • Plan a vacation and savor the anticipation.
  • Explore spirituality,
  • Take up a new hobby.
  • Exercise the brain.
  • Stretch the body.
  • Review your finances.
  • Expand your social network.
  • Fix broken relationships that are important.
  • Evaluate your career path at least once a year to determine whether you’re on track. 

2. A Strong Person Uncovers Their Core Values

Bronnie Ware is a palliative nurse in Australia who spent several years caring for patients in the last twelve weeks of their life. The most common regret of the dying is that they wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.

When people understand that their life is almost over and look back, they see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. The regret comes from dying while knowing they had not pursued the things that would produce value and meaning for them. They didn’t honor their dreams by the choices they made, or didn’t make.

To find fulfillment, we need to be strong enough to uncover the things that are most important to us. Too many times we suppress them to keep peace with those around us. But when this happens, we end up with a mediocre existence because we haven’t allowed ourselves to become the person we’re truly meant to be. 

The Oleg’s of this world are not strong people because the search for what brings them value has ended. They are susceptible to the suggestions and whims of those around them. Strong people do not settle for the values imposed upon them by others. They are in touch with their core values and don’t look to other people for self-worth.

How To Make It Work For You: 

  • Make a list of what you’d do if money weren’t an issue
  • Remember what brought you joy as a child
  • Enjoy those memories for a few moments
  • Reflect on what brings a smile to your face today

3. A Strong Person Pursues Work That Has Meaning

Do you ever find yourself so immersed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time? Think a minute about this. When does this loss of time and total engagement typically occur for you?

The new field of Positive Psychology shows that the happiest people are those who have discovered their unique strengths and virtues—and then use those strengths and virtues for a purpose that is greater than their own personal goals.

Viktor Frankl, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, once said “What man needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.”

The loss of self-consciousness that happens when you are completely absorbed in an activity— intellectual, professional, or physical—is described as “flow” by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

How To Make It Work For You

This is what to look for in a flow state: the activity must:

  • Be voluntary
  • Be enjoyable
  • Require skill and be challenging (but not too challenging)
  • Have clear goals towards success.
  • Let you feel as though you have control
  • Provide immediate feedback with room for growth

4. A Strong Person Nurtures Healthy Relationships

The conclusion of the Grant Study (a 72 year study of the lives of 268 men) was this: “The only thing that really matters in life is our relationships with other people.”

This response does not surprise behavior psychologists who want to understand why simple existence—why being housed, fed, safe, and alive—is empty and meaningless to us. What more do we need in order to feel that life is worthwhile?

The answer that comes up again and again is that we all seek a cause beyond ourselves. Humans need relationships which do not always produce happiness, and sometimes even produce pain. The reason is this: we all require devotion to something bigger than ourselves for our lives to have value and meaning.

When we nurture healthy relationships, it improves our happiness, even for introverts. Those deep relationships can be with either family or friends. Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, explains it:

“We are happy when we have a family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.”

How To Make It Work For You: Since modern psychological research shows that being kind has benefits for everyone, create a grid of people with whom you can both network and nurture healthy relationships. Edit the list so you start with people with whom you share deep bonds and values. They are your priority. Create a criterion for your next layer of contacts. Beside their names, list ways to maintain contact and nurture the relationship. As the circle widens, the contacts on the peripheral are less important and deserve less commitment on your part. Move people from an inner to an outer circle (and vice versa) as circumstances change. 

If Oleg had been a person to demand more from his job than a paycheck, he would have been a stronger person. Had he taken the time to reflect on the values important to him, he would have been a stronger person. He would have never given in, whether in great or small things, if it compromised his convictions. If he had been a stronger person, the FBI would never have persuaded him to betray his country.

Names have been changed to protect the identify of the guilty.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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

5 Reasons Why Bold Leaders Are Remarkably Successful

Monday, August 6th, 2018

There are two reasons people separate themselves from the crowd: they are either bold leaders or timid followers. The rest of the herd sticks together.

Bold leaders move toward obstacles and do not let hesitation or doubt impede their progress. Timid followers lurk behind because they are afraid of obstacles and look for ways to avoid them.

As a counterintelligence agent, I looked for both personalities in the targets I attempted to recruit to work for the U.S. government. The blue-flamer often rushed ahead; they could be a good target if they failed to use good judgment. The slackers represented the other end of the spectrum; they were timid souls who always looked for the easy way out. Often, that meant cooperating with the FBI.

Why is bold leadership important? There is a saying in the FBI: no arrest goes according to plan. Agents know better than anyone that circumstances can change without warning. It’s essential that a leader be bold enough to adapt and make effective decisions under pressure.

A leader’s success, in any environment, is based on their ability to manage the risk that presents itself. Simply stated, bold leaders understand how to exploit and mitigate risk; this is why they are more successful.

Bold leaders are not pushy, loud, or bossy. They do voice their opinion, take charge, and energize the rest of the team.

Let’s take a closer look at the 5 reasons why bold leaders are remarkably successful:

1. They Hide Their Weaknesses

Everyone has weaknesses so it’s stupid and counterproductive to not acknowledge them, at least to yourself. It’s also to your advantage to become equally aware of your strengths. An awareness of your strengths and weaknesses allows you the opportunity to approach a volatile situation with a strategy that places your best foot forward.

When you appear as a bold leader, your weaknesses are hidden behind the actions of someone who is confident of their strengths and is making use of them.

How To Make It Work For You:

  • Uncover your weaknesses so you can learn how to manage them.
  • Don’t spend a great amount of time trying to turn them into strengths because it will never happen.
  • Instead, put your time and effort into your strengths so you can continue to build them up.
  • Reassess yourself on a regular basis so you are not surprised when a weakness rears its ugly head.

2. They Know Perception Is Reality

As a kid who grew up on a remote cattle ranch in the middle of Wyoming, I watched as predators snuck up on the hesitant prey. I learned early in life that once you hesitate, you show yourself as weak and expendable.

They way people perceive us, by our actions and the words we use, will guide the way they treat us. If we present ourselves as victims, guess what? That’s how we’ll be treated! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out: if you indicate a lack of confidence in yourself, it will bring out the tiger in your competition.

How To Make It Work For You:

  • Remember that a bold leader is not someone who is cocky and aggressive.
  • Work on building up your strengths now. When you have confidence in your abilities, there will be no need to go on the defensive when you’re confronted with an obstacle or challenge.
  • Present yourself as a bold leader who is thorough, confident, and authoritative.

3. They Appreciate Stealth

Authors have described the recruitment of foreign spies as an act of seduction. More often, it is the stealth of a snake that has circled his prey long enough to know when to strike.

In the same way, bold leaders learn a great deal when they sit in silence during negotiations and listen to others. They make no sudden move to intimidate or alarm the challenge that sits before them. All the while, however, their mind works to identify the best way to disarm the opposition and sway the negotiation toward a more favorable outcome.

Bold leaders do not make rash decisions. They maximize their chances of success and investigate the challenge before they make a decision.

How To Make It Work For You:

  • Stealth is an art form because it takes its adversary by surprise.
  • Recognize that the loudest voice is not always the smartest one.
  • Conduct due diligence and strike when you’ve gathered enough information to make an effective and successful decision.

4. They Create An Environment Of Continual Improvement

Continual improvement demands that bold leaders feel comfortable holding the tension between failure and risk. They learn how to use risk to their advantage, and at the same time, mitigate catastrophic risk so they can protect their team.

No one is comfortable with failure, but it is the flip side of success. They are two sides of the same coin. Bold leaders do not back away from failure. Instead, they learn from each iteration and apply it to the next challenge.

Continual improvement and innovation challenge existing practices. They also produce energy and adrenaline. They allow each team member to think in fresh ways about ways to accomplish a goal. Bold leaders are not afraid to reward a team’s insightful experiment even if it is a failure. This will help you create partnerships within your team to help them learn and reboot from their failure.

How To Make It Work For You:

  • Distinguish between the areas where risk is encouraged and the areas where it is not.
  • Use words like experiment and exploring to describe a project instead of successful or unsuccessful.
  • Keep risks small so they are fast and nimble.
  • Fund each clearly defined phase of the project so everyone knows the budget.

5. They Balance Risk-Taking

Bold leaders seldom act in extremes; they are not risk-adverse, nor are they careless. They strike a balance between the two. They don’t sit around and wait for the perfect opportunity before they step in because it is seldom that an opportunity has no risk. Instead, they make the most out of their circumstances. They have mental toughness—they believe they will prevail in their circumstances rather than expect their circumstances to change.

Successful people tend to look for the small wins in every situation. The power of positivity leads to consistent small wins. Each small win spells success. Success not only attracts others, it provides momentum.

How To Make It Work For You:

  • Start with a small battle you think you can win.
  • Assess the situation and understand the problem.
  • Communicate your goals to your team.
  • Map out a strategy.
  • Develop a process to gather accurate information in a timely manner.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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

5 Reasons Success Will Not Make You A Happy Person

Monday, July 30th, 2018

As a kid growing up on a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming, it didn’t take much to make me a happy person. I loved to spend time with our animals—horses, cattle, and dogs! I was happy to do my chores and bond with my pets.

In high school, it took something different to make me a happy person. Happiness now depended on the number of people I could count as friends. Lots of friends meant I was looked upon as a success and had become popular.

Out of college, my definition of success changed again. Success was determined by the size of my paycheck and my status in the organization. Friends took on a new role and were now measured in terms of how much value they added to my network.

In my pursuit of a successful career, happiness got watered down to the itemization of things. It was now something external to be bought—like a car. Or, given—like a promotion.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, your success is calibrated as return on investment by your investors and clients. Your pathetic feelings of happiness are none of their concern.

Which is fine, for a while. But if your life fundamentally sucks, it’s going to continue to suck no matter how successful you are. Here are 5 reasons success will not make you a happy person—and how you can change your mindset:

1. It Takes More Than Money To Motivate You To Do Good Work

Businesses commonly use money as a motivator, and it works—to some extent. Studies show that once an individual receives the money, however, it loses its power to motivate.

While money is important, we all want and need more than a good salary. In his book, Payoff, behavioral economist Dan Ariely argues that human motivation is very complex. He states that to motivate ourselves and others successfully, we need to provide a sense of connection and meaning. It’s important to remember, however, that meaning is not always synonymous with personal happiness.

Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose—Viktor E. Frankl

How To Make It Work For You: These are some of the things that you, as a leader, can do to harness the power of intrinsic motivation in your people. An intrinsic motive is the desire to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job:

  • Recognize people as contributing members of a winning team.
  • Remind them that the project is succeeding.
  • Pinpoint where their contributions are making a difference.
  • Celebrate successes.
  • Thank people. Often.

2. If You Lose Sight Of Your Values, Your Life Will Suck

I recruited foreign spies to work for the U.S. Government. To be successful, I exploited their lack of self-awareness. The most vulnerable person was the one too lazy to go deep and prioritize their values. They lived in a shallow world and preferred to blame others rather than acknowledge how their poor values made their life suck. 

Our values are defined by what we are willing to struggle to accomplish. If something holds value for us, we will endure the pain and struggle to make it happen.

Your values define your struggles. If you want better problems, get better values—LaRae Quy.

Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get–Dale Carnegie

How To Make It Work For You: Identify the values you prioritize above everything else; those values are the ones that influence your decision-making process. Pinpoint the good values that tap into your inner core. They are the ones that will engage you with the world as it is, not how you wish it would be in the future. Bad values rely on external circumstances. You blame others if things don’t turn out the way you planned.

3. Success Is Where People Stop On Their Way To Happiness

Most of us fail over and over at something until we finally get it right. But what we forget is that those failures are the most important lessons in life. Most of us do not embrace our future failures, so we stop at where we find success because we’ve been conditioned to avoid suffering, pain, and discomfort.

We stop at success, regardless of whether that success has led us to something that provides value and meaning for us. We have it backward: instead of looking for success to make us happy, we will be successful where we find our happiness.

When you look for happiness, you need to change how you measure success and failure. Some of the best things that happen to us require effort, pain, and failure. Ask any parent, small business owner, or marathon runner.

One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful—Sigmund Freud

How To Make It Work For You: Be smart about how you work harder and longer hours to be successful. Discover what brings you happiness and focus your energy on those pursuits. Then the longer hours and hard work won’t matter because you’ll love what you do.

4. The Easy Path Does Not Create Strong People

All of this “be happy” shit is creating a generation who don’t understand how to overcome problems. They think an easy path is the yellow brick road to happiness.

But it is in our choices that we either decide to grow, or not, because it is in those choices that we learn to focus. When we do, we become mentally tough so that we can manage our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set us up for happiness. We get to choose what matters to us based on our values.

How To Make It Work For You: Embrace what you have learned in hard times. Some people are stuck with worse problems than others and many people have overcome horrible circumstances. This was their mindset: no matter where I am in life, or my struggle, I still have the power to take responsibility and chose my next step.

5. Making Progress Is Better Than Being Successful

Most of us have worked hard to achieve a goal, only to find emptiness when we reach it. Psychologists explain this is because true happiness is less about when we reach a goal and more about how we reached it. What is most important is the progress we have made in an area of our life.

If we focus on success instead of progress, we become nothing more than a manager of our circumstances. If, however, we focus on making progress in all areas of our life, we empower ourselves to become the person we truly want to be—a person who is fulfilled and happy.

Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure—Tony Robbins

How To Make It Work For You: Never forget that if you’re not happy with the direction your life has taken so far, you have complete control over who you can become.

  • Identify an opportunity that you know is worthwhile but that you’ve been afraid to pursue, and go for it anyway.
  • Brainstorm a list of 20 new ideas on ways to improve your life.
  • Describe something that you will make you very happy. Be specific.
  • Write down your definition of success.
  • Make a list of causes you are passionate about and then get involved.
  • Identify something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done yet.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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


What To Do When You Think Your Life Sucks

Monday, July 16th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

1. Swap Out One Emotion For Another

We’ve all heard that our well-being is increased when we turn our thoughts to gratitude. But gratitude is more than a platitude. It’s impossible to be negative and grateful at the same time.

A recent study brings us closer to understanding how gratitude can affect the way our brain works. Participants were asked to write simple, short notes of gratitude to other people for three weeks. An MRI scan measured the brain of the participants and found they showed greater neural sensitivity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning, judgment, and decision making.

When we feel that life sucks, it’s important to find things for which we can be grateful. We may need to force ourselves at first but our heart will soon catch up to what the brain already knows.

How To Make It Work For You: When you express gratitude, it has lasting effects on the brain. The study suggests that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, people’s brains were still wired to feel extra thankful. The implication is that gratitude has a self-perpetuating nature: The more you practice it, the more attuned you are to it.

2. Focus On What’s Next

Arrests are a mix of organized chaos. As much as an FBI agent prepares for an arrest, there is always the element of the unknown. Would the suspect shoot, grab a hostage, or go berserk? Unintended consequences to an arrest that goes bad immediately escalates from a when life sucks moment into a when the shit hits the fan moment. It does no good to moan or complain when life takes an unexpected turn of events.

Questions like, “Why me?” only weaken our mindset. When we blame others or make excuses for ourselves, we become victims. As a result, we often feel that we don’t have the strength to deal with our situation.

How To Make It Work For You: When you focus on your next steps, you empower yourself to organize your thoughts so you can plan what to do. If you can’t change your situation, plan next steps on how to mitigate the blowback for a better outcome.

3. Learn From Your Setbacks

Many people I know do their best to avoid setbacks and obstacles. They don’t want to surround themselves with anything negative. What these precious petunias refuse to acknowledge is that life is hard and pain is inevitable, but growth is optional.

If you run away from conflict and mistakes in life, you will die an ignorant person because you didn’t take the time to examine your life. The key is to learn from your mistakes so you don’t make the same ones over and over again.

How To Make It Work For You: As long as we learn, we grow. Before you move on from a difficult situation, ask yourself:

  • What is one thing I can learn from this experience?
  • How can I avoid this trap next time?

4. Sweat The Small Stuff

It’s a temptation to spend 80% of our time on the negative of our situation and only 20% looking for solutions. Switch those numbers around.

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

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

How To Make It Work For You: Spend more of your time on the the small and practical steps you can take to make things better. Even if things get better a little at a time, you’ve still moved in the right direction. Each step will make you feel more confident and in control of your situation.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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

The Truth About 3 Great Career Tips That You’ll Never Hear

Monday, July 9th, 2018

The career advice we receive changes as we age. As children, we’re encouraged to dream big about the things we want to accomplish in life. We grow up and assume we’ll do what we love.

As we become adults, the message starts to focus on how we can be successful. We begin to look at the subjects in which we excel in school. Grades become the measuring stick of our future.

Most of all, we’re told to be practical, find a good job, and stay there.

Those messages muddle our thinking when we seek out career advice. We look for ways to be successful rather than pursue the things we love. Too often, success is where we stop on our journey to what we truly want to do in life.

It takes mental toughness to say, “I want to create my own path” because it may not be where you found success. You may need to move out of your comfort zone to escape the mediocrity that has been aided and abetted by your career choices.

Success and self-awareness can happen at the same time, but they are not the same thing. If our quest for success is not in alignment with what matters most to us, we’ll be left empty and disappointed in the end.

Success is a competitive game. It triggers a breathless sprint to be the happiest, the richest, the sexiest, the most admired—you get the picture. This is the feedback loop from hell because today’s success story is always replaced by tomorrow’s newer, better thing.

The Stoics would say that being a good person, doing what matters most to you, and doing the right thing are the important things in life. It’s OK if you don’t find the cure for cancer or write the great American novel. What is important is choosing what matters most to you in life. And, what does not matter.

As successful leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners, you’ve treated your career as a business. A business becomes prosperous when it has a clear vision for itself in the marketplace. Goals come later, after the vision is defined.

The same goes for you. In the absence of a vision for your life, goals are nothing more than a long to-do list.

Here is the truth about 3 great career tips that you will never hear—they are simple, but very important, if you want a career built around what is meaningful to you:

1. Answer The Right Question

This is a clarifying exercise I did while in seminary. We turned to the person next to us and asked, “What do you want?” We asked the question and waited for the answer. Then we asked it again and again—fifteen times. At first the answers were predictable: “I want a new car, I want a bigger house, I want to make more money, etc.”

After the mind is cleared of the superfluous stuff, deeper issues start to come out. “I want to be loved, I want to serve God, I want to help people tap into their inner strength.”


The key is asking the same question fifteen times to dig beneath the surface to uncover what matters most to you. Everyone’s answers will be different, and the person to whom you are talking doesn’t even need to be a friend, but it does need to be someone you trust.

2. Remember the Crossroads

We have all been forced to make choices. Many of them had little impact on the direction of our life. Some, however, were big ones—crossroads choices—that moved us in a new direction. For example: in my second year at college I had to choose my major. My heart told me to pursue a degree in history, but my head told me that a degree in business management would be more marketable.

After I retired from the FBI, I knew I wanted to go back to school. I found myself revisiting the same question; again, I decided not to pursue the history degree and enrolled at San Francisco Theological Seminary. Any doubt I had about whether history would ever be more than a hobby was now firmly decided—it would not.


  • Concentrate on one period of your life at a time
  • Go back to a particular period in your life and identify a crossroad event
  • Write up three paragraphs describing the crossroad event as best you can
  • Focus on the key factors that influenced your decision
  • Would those same factors influence your decision today?

3. Embrace Your History

Do not fear the future; instead, read the past.

Don’t live in the past, but it’s a great place to visit. Looking back, for most people, is usually a mixed bag. There are bright moments, but there are also shadows. To truly understand ourselves, however, we need to delve into both the light and the shadow.

Life is hard. Pain is inevitable. Growth is optional.

It does no good to make excuses or blame others for your situation. Successful people do not see themselves as a victim—ever! Instead, they recognize that their situation may not be perfect right now but they also know they have the power to change it.

One of the most important tools an investigator uses is surveillance. It allows agents to gain an understanding of the target’s habits, routines, and contacts.


Place yourself under surveillance. Go back in your history and identify an inflection point—actions, people, ideas, or events that moved your life in a new direction.

How did you change during that period? How did it contribute to what you are today? To assist with this, recall the following:

  • Key people
  • Activities that demanded time and attention
  • Important ideas
  • The nature of your inner life: dreams for your life, longings, and emotions
  • The nature of your health: exercise, sports, and illness
  • Creative impulses that shaped you
  • External events that shaped you


If you don’t grow, everything becomes a repetition of the past. As leader of your life, decide which behaviors served you well enough that you want to repeat. Conversely, identify the behaviors and reactions that you don’t want to repeat so you can let go of what doesn’t work for you.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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

5 Easy Ways To Persuade Others That You Are Trustworthy

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

FBI agents tend to be hard chargers who look at the world in terms of black or white, right or wrong, legal or illegal. It’s important that we are perceived as trustworthy because if the public cannot place its trust in us, we can no longer do our job.

The FBI is under deserved scrutiny for its investigation into the 2016 election. In my time as an agent, we welcomed outside inquiries because it’s essential that investigators be non-partisan and non-biased. Lessons from our history books remind us that the result is not always morally acceptable when the few in power decide who should win, or lose, an election. The results may not be to our personal liking, but investigators must be perceived as trustworthy in their pursuit of the truth.

Agents who worked criminal crimes had it easy because it was more of a “just the facts” approach to an investigation. Laws helped to establish clear lines of acceptable behavior. My work was in counterintelligence which relied on building trust. I was assigned the colossal sales job of persuading foreign spies to work for the U.S. government. There’s no possible reason why a foreign spy would want to continue a conversation with me.

It was essential that I created strong relationships built on trust, even when they knew I was an FBI agent. Especially when they knew, because they looked for deception and traps.

As entrepreneurs, business owners, and sales people, you’re in the same boat. You need to persuade others that you’re trustworthy in an era of deceit and cynicism. Maybe what your potential customers hear about you isn’t correct, or even fair, but that doesn’t stop the rumors from flying around and your reputation can be at stake. 

Often the question is not whether people lie, it’s what are they lying about? Do they stretch their optimism and hope that business will turn around? Will they create a fabrication like Bernie Madoff? Does the CEO tell a half-truth or do they simply omit an important piece of information?

Here are 5 easy ways to persuade others that you are trustworthy:

1. Start With Self-Awareness

Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves—Gandhi

Remember that people deceive themselves as much as they deceive others. They may be unaware of how others perceive them. People can deceive themselves and believe any number of things—sometimes they exaggerate their own importance or abilities to impress others. Sometimes they’re too critical of their own efforts. At other times, they don’t give themselves enough credit for their accomplishments.

The incredible thing about self-deception is that not only are we telling a lie, but we’re lying to ourselves! We all have blind spots about our own performance.

How To Make It Work For You: Don’t sabotage yourself and your best efforts to be seen as trustworthy to others by a lack of self-awareness. Work to understand your emotions—what you feel and what triggered it—so you can choose whether your response is productive and effective. Mental toughness is the ability to manage your emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that set you up for success.

2. Keep Your Word

As simple as this sounds, it’s one of the most important steps in building a foundation of trust. Do what you say and say what you do. When you cancel an appointment or fail to follow through, it creates fractures in your trustworthiness.

It might not seem like a big deal to you, but repeated failures to keep your word add up over time. People will perceive you as less trustworthy so when you make a promise, keep it.

How To Make It Work For You: If you can’t keep a promise, explain why you can’t. You may need to make a new promise to make it up. Be sure to keep this new promise no matter what! This also means that you show up on time and respond quickly to emails and phone calls.

3. Learn to Communicate In A Clear Manner

I once had a supervisor who seemed to change his mind every week about the squad’s strategy on reporting contacts with foreign spies. Whether he actually did change his mind or not, his lack of ability to communicate his thoughts undermined our trust in him. His lack of ability to communicate in a clear and consistent manner caused many failed relationships with the agents on his squad.

How To Make It Work For You: Clear and constructive communication encourages honest conversations. It also means they’re willing to admit their mistakes and communicate them to those who both rely upon and trust them. It is an constructive reaction that shows genuine interest in the good of all. A good communicator will also ask for more details to show their interest and acknowledge the experiences or feelings of the other person. They will be consistent in their response and the message they send to others.

4. Commit To The Relationship

Authentic conversations are built when people are committed to grow and deepen the relationship, not just to maintain the status quo. If the relationship is the central consideration, mutual commitments are essential to avoid concerns about manipulation or control in the conversation.

How To Make It Work For You: Speak to the other person’s interests and priorities. Validate them and their choices. Don’t judge their behavior, actions, or choices. It means you will need to invest the time it takes to be a true friend who is concerned about their well-being.

5. Stop Being A Prick; It’s Not All About You

This should be obvious, but the ego is a wild beast that needs to be tamed on a regular basis. Your time with the other person really does need to be about the other person. Trustworthiness can be undermined by vanity and ego when the conversation no longer focuses on the person in front of you.

Research tells us that we are most happy when we have positive social interactions and relationships. Our brain rewards us when we are able to share our views, desires, and goals with others. The simplest way to persuade others that you are trustworthy is make it all about them. And mean it.

How To Make It Work For You: Don’t let your ego override your mouth and good intentions. Don’t talk about yourself. Do spend time with follow-up questions from your last meeting with them. When you make every single statement about the other person and not about yourself, it becomes very powerful. It builds trust because it conveys two simple messages: 1) they are important, and 2) you care about them. It shapes everything else from that point forward.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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

6 Easy Steps To Make You More Resilient

Monday, June 18th, 2018

When I joined the FBI, the FBI’s transfer policy stipulated that I could be sent anywhere in the U.S.—the needs of the Bureau would always come before my own. After I told myself that I was resilient and could survive transfer-hell, I learned that every few years the FBI’s transfer policy changed!

My biggest fear was to be transferred to a dead-end outpost in the middle of nowhere. The constant threat of change and upheaval made me doubt whether I was resilient enough to always land on my feet.

Change frightens us because it is a voyage into the unknown. Ironically, since the unknown forces us to adapt to new circumstances, it is also the place where we can develop new talents and strengths. If we are resilient, we can embark on a journey that moves us beyond self-limiting beliefs, boredom, and lack of confidence.

Change is the great dream of every heart because it moves us closer to our full potential. To refuse the challenge that comes with change can be a great act of self-neglect.

If you have mental toughness, you will do anything to break the cycle of behavior that disempowers you. To push beyond your limits takes a resilient mind. It requires you to move into your discomfort zone and cross a threshold that awakens a variety of emotions such as confusion, fear, excitement, sadness—and yes, dreams.

There should always be a healthy tension between the life we have settled for and the potential that still calls us.

Here are 6 easy steps to make you more resilient:

1. Make A Plan

It’s very important that we find ways to feel relaxed with the new direction life is taking us, even if it is unwanted or unexpected. Plans are an easy way to make us feel comfortable and in control.

According to social psychologists, we feel the most comfortable and in control of life when our thoughts and feelings are consistent with our behavior. When we think or feel one way, and then behave in a manner that is inconsistent, it produces cognitive dissonance. This creates the anxiety we experience when we try to justify stressful behavior.

Plans create a roadmap that can help us work through the stress that is produced when we need to be resilient in the face of change. They are a safety net that gives our mind reason to believe that we are in control. Therefore, we’re more comfortable when we need to make a break from the past.

How To Make It Work For You: If you are going to change by moving into your discomfort zone, you need to have a strategy in mind of how you’re going to do it. Keep it simple, and review it often to make sure you’re still on course.

2. Ask Yourself Lots Of Questions

Our brain is uber alert for change of any kind in our environment. When our limbic brain detects an abnormality, our animal instinct takes over. As a result, our first reaction is to fight, flee, or freeze. None of these reactions produce the results you need to be resilient in the face of change.

Instead, rewire your brain. Psychologist Marilee Adams suggests that questions can virtually rewire our emotions, thoughts, and behavior. According to her research, the probing questions that we ask ourselves can open up our mind. We are then receptive to new information and connect it to what we already know. This allows our brain to assimilate new knowledge about our circumstances so we can develop a comfort zone that lessens stress.

How To Make It Work For You: Ask questions that probe the facts surrounding your new situation. Questions are piercing little darts that expose hidden anxiety. Once they elicit an honest answer from us, we are able to name the beast in the room—that is, the fear we are experiencing. It is, however, essential to honestly name what is going on before you can trigger change in emotion, thought, or behavior.

3. Take Small But Steady Steps Forward

When change is foisted upon us, we’re often left with an overwhelming feeling that at the end of the day we can only accept our fate. While that is true to some degree, a resilient mind will find ways to adapt and adjust in a way that will leave it in control.

Small wins are critical because they make the change real. They also create the opportunity to build momentum. Confidence is produced as we move past our self-limiting beliefs and become more resilient.

How To Make It Work For You: The way to adapt to new circumstances is to look for opportunities to improve your situation in small, continuous steps. Continuous improvement is key because it also implies steady movement forward. Small steps allow you to make changes, monitor the results, and then adjust as needed.

4. Get Rid Of Doubters

Whether you chose your new circumstances, or they were foisted upon you, doubters and haters are likely to rear their ugly head. There are people who spew negativity wherever they go, and if you’re smart you’ll turn on your heel and head in the opposite direction.

This is not so easy when the doubters are members of your own family. As they say, “Pick your friends well because you’re stuck with family.” It’s important to realize that most people are negative as a result of their own problems and issues.

Be very intentional about those with whom you share your plans and dreams. Think about how you might connect with people who are wiser and more experienced than yourself. If there are people who will not support you, don’t spend as much time with them, or limit how much you see them.

How To Make It Work For You: Identify two or three (or more) people you admire and respect with whom you can sit down with on a quarterly basis to review your progress. These are the same people you can turn to when times get tough as well.

5. Develop New, Better Habits

New circumstances may require new habits so we can remain diligent and resilient.

Psychologist Wendy Wood suggests that 40% of the time we don’t actually think about what we’re doing. This is because our mind is trained to fall back on habitual behaviors.

Habits are hard to break because they are found in deeper structures of the brain. This leaves much of our working memory available to deal with everyday surprises and situations. Habits don’t need as much of the brain’s energy, so changing them takes a lot of attention.

How To Make It Work For You: A change in your situation is the perfect time to establish new habits because the old ones are more easily disrupted. Immediately replace an old habit with a new one. Stay aware of a change until it becomes a new habit. Don’t push yourself too hard or too fast because this may only cause you to slip up.

6. Grit Up

Wimps are not resilient because they don’t know how to move forward when the going gets tough or uncomfortable. They roll over and play it safe. Grit is your ability to persevere over the long-run and thrive despite all kinds of unplanned events.

As leaders, entrepreneurs and business owners, grit is an essential skill because it is the one thing you will need to succeed. If you give up when the going gets tough, you’re done.

Talent does not trump determination. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Grit, persistence, and determination will keep you moving ahead when your circumstances and environment has changed.

How To Make It Work For You: Face your problems head on. It isn’t your problems that define you—it’s how you react and recover from them. Your problems are not going away unless you do something about them. Do not quit when you feel you can no longer deal with a crisis. Have the grit to stay in the game but be flexible with your idea of what is “right” as you approach your new situation.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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

4 Ways To Erase Painful Memories From Your Mind

Monday, May 7th, 2018

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 that are beneficial and those that can cause harm.

There are many painful memories that we replay in our mind: conversations with our boss, disagreements with colleagues, arguments with partners and spouses. Many of us were called names or bullied as kids in school. Often those hurtful comments rear their ugly head when we meet new people.

We beat ourselves up for things said, and left unsaid; when we play that same scene over and over, it only increases our fear that we’ve said or done the wrong thing.

Mental toughness is the ability to control thoughts, emotions, and behavior in ways that will set you up for success. If you are mentally tough, you can find ways to erase painful memories from your mind. Here are 4 ways:

1. Interrupt Your Tendency to Brood On Negative Memories

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 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.

While self-reflection is helpful, brooding is harmful. When we dwell on our problems, it magnifies our misfortune. In the end, we host our own pity party which increases our distress!

How To Make It Work For You: Mindfulness is the key to living in the “here and now.” When you’re mindful, you are present in the moment. Mindfulness takes practice, but over time, it can greatly decrease our tendency to brood over negative memories.

2. Choose To Forget


Have you ever wondered why students who cram to prepare for an exam can cheerfully expunge their brain of all that hard-won learning once it’s no longer needed? Within days, they can barely remember the basics let alone the details. It’s as if they’ve forgotten on purpose.

A recent study shows that, under the right conditions, we can forget what we choose to forget. It’s possible to forget painful memories if we discard the mental context within which the memories were first learned.

The brain that wants to remember needs to keep active the mental context that was present  during the learning experience. For example, our brain’s memory is enhanced when it imagines the sequence of events and their locations. When we think about memorable parties we’ve attended, our mind wanders through the rooms and contexts of conversations. Our brain is able to recall what we experienced first-hand in each location.

The same study provided evidence that we forget things when we discard the mental context and images that go with the painful memories.

How To Make It Work For You: Vision is the most dispassionate, the least emotional, of all our senses. Reduce your painful memory to only the visual image rather than the actual first-hand experience. This will help dislodge the context of the memory so your recollection of it becomes thinner and less potent over time.

3. Replace Painful Memories With Positive Ones

Like pulling weeds, the pesky things won’t go away unless they’re pulled out by the roots. Often, it takes mental toughness to be inquisitive enough to get to the root of 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.

It takes active effort to pull painful memories from our mind and replace them with positive ones.

How To Make It Work For You: Pair a bad memory with a good one. Each time you think about a painful memory, shift your thoughts to the good one.

  • 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.”

4. Get Control Of The Painful Memories

The most common mistake most people make when they try to erase painful memories is to control, or suppress, their negative thoughts and feelings. This does nothing but create a vicious loop of more negative feelings and emotions. The more you feed this loop, your painful memories will only become more intense and persistent over time.

You cannot control or stop the way you feel, but you can learn to change the way you react to negative emotions. If you choose to remain a victim, you have no way to empower yourself. You’ve given your power away to those who hurt you. It is not your fault you were the victim of an unpleasant situation, but it is your fault if you choose to remain a victim long after the incident.

How To Make It Work For You: First, be aware that painful memories are in the past and are not relevant to you now. Second, since you cannot control or repress them, learn to observe them instead. Go ahead and feel painful memories, but stay calm around them. The secret is to remain relaxed and change your response.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. 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.”