Posts Tagged ‘overcoming obstacles’

How Mental Toughness Can Help You Thrive

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

As an FBI agent, I raided brothels masking as massage parlors filled with women from foreign countries, many of them brought to the U.S. illegally and then forced into prostitution. These women were victims, lured to the U.S. under the pretense of a better life, and then trapped into an undesirable lifestyle by their circumstances.

Inspite - Strength-in-hard-timesThe FBI established a Victim Assistance Program (VAP) to help these women, and others, receive the assistance they needed to survive by learning how to cope.

Like these women forced into prostitution, when we’re trapped by our circumstances, survival is all we think about. Survival is linked to victimhood…overcoming obstacles or adversity that has left us injured or suffering.

Mental toughness is not being content with survival. Like the purpose of the VAP, it is empowering victims to cope by taking control and growing, regardless of the hand that fate has handed out. People who thrive do not put bandages on wounds; instead, they allow deep healing so they do not suffer like victims. People who thrive will bloom where they are planted.

Mental toughness is the ability to prevail over out struggles and carve our a tranquil existence in the midst of life’s turbulence. Moving from just surviving to thriving requires a transformation. Here are 3 critical steps to trigger that transformation:

Reframe Adversity 

As an FBI agent, I approached my obstacles as unsolved mysteries to be investigated (click to tweet).

A mystery requires us to look at a situation from many different angles, or through a larger frame. A mystery calls for us to change sides, back and forth, so we can see it from every aspect. No one solves a mystery by deciding on one conclusion from the outset and then force-feeding the facts so they fit their image of a successful outcome.

If we reframe our adversity to look more like mysteries to be solved by careful analysis, then we can pick away at suppositions and judgments which may, or may not, be accurate. We remain open-minded about how to solve the problem and overcome the obstacle.

Lead with Game Plans, not Goals

When working an FBI counterintelligence investigation, the game plan was to recruit foreign spies to work for the U.S. government. If recruitment was my overall game plan, then my job was to set short and long-term goals that would move my investigation in the right direction.

Often, goals needed to be changed as new information became available. So while my approach would shift from time to time, the game plan never did.

Goals are essential if progress is to be made in life, but it’s tempting to let them take the place of the bigger picture. If they do, it’s harder to pivot and move in a new direction when events take an unexpected turn.

Goals are a measure of where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.

To thrive, use goals to plan your progress but rely on a game plan to actually make progress (click to tweet).

Search for Meaning

No one knows more about suffering, pain, and healing than Victor Frankl. An Austrian psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust, he thrived by writing the 1946 best selling psychological memoir, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Frankl wrote how Auschwitz taught him about the primary purpose of life: the quest for meaning, which sustained those who survived. His wife was eventually killed in the prison camp, and he himself struggled to find a reason for his suffering and slow dying.

According to Frankl, everything can be taken from a person except one thing: the most important human freedom—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way of thinking about their life.

When we choose our attitude, we are free to focus on the things that are important and give us meaning in life: our dedication to a cause greater than ourself.

Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a woman rescued from an illegal prostitution ring, it’s impossible to thrive without the mental toughness needed to prevail over your struggles so you can take control and live a life of purpose.

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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

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How To Create A Success Mindset

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

I learned to create a success mindset during my 4 months at the FBI Academy as a new agent. Each of us were pushed to the limit of endurance and performance to where we wanted to say “I can’t.” If we weren’t pushed into our discomfort zone, the instructors weren’t doing their job.

In my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind, I talk about my training at the Academy. I expected rigorous defensive tactics training, but I was not prepared for the intense mental discipline that accompanied it.

As it turned out, the FBI’s use of a success mindset significantly impacted the way I have lived the rest of my life. These tactics taught agents like myself how to create new ways of thinking about overcoming obstacles and breaking through barriers. They showed agents how to develop a Can-Do mindset early in our career.

As a trained investigator, I’ve been taught to look for evidence. And there’s actually scientific theory to back up the FBI’s approach to a success mindset.

Neuroscientists have learned that whenever you learn something new, you change your neural connections. When we reinforce a way of thinking, either new connections are formed or old ones are strengthened.

When you maintain a success mindset and think in positive, constructive ways, these connections become more durable and easier to activate. This is a tremendous concept, because it shows us how we can change our attitudes and behavior.

We can train our brain to make positive patterns more automatic. When we look for and become more aware of positive aspects of life, we fight off our brain’s natural tendency to scan and spot the negatives. This allows us to look at obstacles and barriers in new ways.

A success mindset came in very useful, because one of my most successful FBI investigations was also one of my longest—four years. I worked counterintelligence and espionage cases and my job was to identify foreign spies working inside the U.S. and attempt to recruit them to work for the FBI.

Persistence, hard work, and applying the success mindset that I learned at the Academy made the difference between failure and success.

Here are some brain power tactics to help you develop more positive patterns in your thinking and create a success mindset:

1. No Pain, No Gain

Where most folks go wrong is in assuming that if they feel discomfort, they’re not ready for a challenge. Don’t pretend that discomfort does not exist; instead, the goal is to find strategies to cope with the discomfort. New neural connections are created with each new experience.

2. Visualize Your Peak Performance

This is not fantasy or wishful thinking. Studies have shown that fantasies of success can actually be counterproductive. Rather, it is anticipating how things could go wrong and counteracting, by visualizing your positive responses. Visualize how you will react and respond when criticized by a colleague, predict your performance in the morning meeting, and be prepared for the hard questions that will come from your boss.

This will make it easier for you to visualize your inner sense of strength. It’s faking it until you make it . . .

3. Broadcast Your Intentions

We all learn in different ways. Some of are hardwired to process by speaking, others by writing, and others by listening. Talk to friends, write in journals, or speak into a recorder and listen to yourself talk. All are ways we can access different aspects of our brain so we can continue to create positive neural connections.

4. Give Yourself A Deadline

One of the best ways to develop a mindset of success is to put yourself under a deadline so you can achieve your goal even in the midst of interruptions and distractions. The more you can practice “under the gun,” the more confidence in yourself you will achieve. This positive reinforcement is an important component in creating new ways of thinking about your performance, especially when facing obstacles and breaking through barriers.

Success is a mindset. I believe we can change “I can’t” into “I can” by simply changing the way we think.

What are some ways you are creating a success mindset?

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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

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Effective Leaders are Authentic, Positive & Bold

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Recently, I was honored to be a guest on The Iron Jen Show, a radio program dedicated to helping leaders overcome adversity.

We talked about several examples I provided in my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind. Among the topics we discussed during the interview were the roles of authenticity, faith, positive thinking, and boldness in effective leadership.

This is a transcript of that interview:


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Read my book Secrets of a Strong Mind, and Mental Toughness For Women Leaders, both available now on Amazon.

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Remove Obstacles — 4 Ways

Monday, April 29th, 2013

I learned how to remove obstacles on our cattle ranch by saddling up a horse and riding through cow herds to get them to greener pastures. If a lazy cow did not want to move, it was my job to push her along until the entire herd was together.

My Dad taught me to saddle and ride horses, rope steers, and herd cattle when I was in grade school. So no one was more surprised than me when Dad brought home a couple of four-wheel ATVs a few years ago and used them, instead of horses, to check on the cattle.

The ATV looked much easier to ride than a horse when I first saw it and I was anxious to try it out! Dad took off first and I followed. The terrain on our ranch is mountainous, however, so I soon found myself sideways on a steep hill and in danger of tipping over. Suddenly, this huge motorcycle on four wheels looked more dangerous than any horse I’d ever ridden.

To go headfirst down the steep hill and over the cliff appeared even more dangerous, so I continued to inch my way down sideways—it seemed the safer router. By now, Dad had stopped his ATV and was running toward me.

“Turn your wheels straight downhill,” he shouted. “Only by facing it head-on can you get safely down the cliff,” he said. Slowly, I turned the wheels straight down the steep embankment ahead of me, and the ATV started to move forward. I made it safely to the bottom.

Turns out that leaning into the unknown is the best way to remove obstacles. While in new agent’s class at the FBI Academy, our instructors continually placed us in training situations where we were required to remove obstacles. For many of us, our first reaction was to either pull back or take circuitous routes around the obstacle. But the message by our instructors was this: Only by moving into the unknown are we be able to explore it.

To increase safety, move toward the unknown.

To increase chances for success, move toward the challenge.

The closer we get to the unknown, the more we can educate ourselves about it. The steps to follow and actions to take may not reveal themselves to us until we have moved closer to the situation. Mountain climbers understand that it’s impossible to know where to place fingers and feet by looking at a mountain from the bottom. Only by getting close enough to explore the cracks and crevices can they find places of safety.

A great deal of my FBI training was learning how to lean into the unknown so we could remove obstacles. Entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders can do the same.

Here are four ways:


When you are in the middle of a crisis, it is not the time to learn how to remove obstacles. Go into training so that before obstacles present themselves you have cultivated courage, confidence, and discipline.

When you make yourself aware of certain difficulties that are inevitable, you can prepare yourself mentally for confronting them head-on. Soldiers, warriors, and athletes appreciate the preparation it takes to mentally and physically meet the challenges ahead of them. They know it can be ugly, daunting, and grueling, but they are equipped.


Most barriers are internal, not external. Internal lack of confidence can create the external challenges.

The U.S. Army is using research that has shown most people, when confronted with adversity and the need to remove obstacles, will experience initial feelings of fear, frustration, and paralysis. Given sufficient amounts of time, however, they recover and continue to perform at the same level they were performing before the adversity.

At one end of the continuum there are a small percentage of people who do not bounce back and remain unable to cope with their circumstances without assistance. They often need counseling and can experience breakdowns.

On the other end of the continuum, however, are those with strong minds who not only survive adverse and traumatic situations, but also thrive and grow. They key is having the right attitude. People who have affirming thoughts about themselves and their abilities are more likely to survive the intense pressure of obstacles and adversity.


When we need to remove obstacles, we all benefit from feeling connected with others. Sometimes just talking things through with someone who has had a similar experience can help guide you through a difficult time.

At the FBI Academy in Quantico, we were not allowed to leave the Marine Corps base for the first three weeks of our training. We were to use this time to bond and build relationships with other members of our new agent’s class. Humans are social creatures and we need emotional support from friends and family members. When confronting obstacles, having people you can trust by your side can make all the difference.


A truly daunting task can produce discouragement in the toughest. The trick is to focus on the little piece that is right in front of you. If you are bogged down with a huge task, break it down into small enough pieces so that you can set goals or markers of achievement for yourself. Then focus on your attention on that.

When confronted with changing environments and the need to remove obstacles, you may need to leave your place of safety and press forward with the willpower of a strong mind. Nothing is impossible. It’s up to you to find a way. Even the most prepared and effective people can find themselves facing adversity and will need to find ways of turning obstacles into opportunities for growth.

How have you turned adversity into an opportunity?

© 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.” 


6 Ways To Get Through Adversity

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

To get through adversity, many homesteaders sold whiskey illegally during Prohibition in the 1930’s. My Dad had pointed out a still used to brew whiskey to my brother and I when all three of us were on horseback and gathering cattle on our Wyoming ranch. All that was left of the still was a few barrel rings and a wall of rocks. It was tucked into a steep draw surrounded by aspen trees and a little cow trail leading toward the bottom of the canyon near our house.

My brother and I collected antique glassware as a hobby and planned to go back to the whiskey still and look around for old bottles. We figured we could find it again easily enough, so after school we told our parents we were going out to play and would be back in time for supper. We started walking up the canyon, and when we saw a draw that looked familiar, we started up.

Our ranch was located in the scatterings of the Snowy Mountain Range at an altitude of 7,000 feet. Summers are short in that country, and the green aspen trees that looked lush and cozy when we rode past them a few months before, were now barren and cold.

Night fell much earlier in the winter months and dusk was starting to set in. We could not find the whiskey still but we continued on until we reached the top of the draw. When we saw Laramie Peak in a distance, we knew we had climbed over 2,000 feet out of the canyon bottom.

We had climbed up the wrong draw, night was coming, and we had no flashlights. It was cold enough that rattlesnakes were hibernating, but conditions were still adverse: it was dark, the terrain was steep and rocky, and the temperature was dropping at an alarming rate.

At the ages of ten and eleven, my younger brother and I learned young to how to get through adversity.

Here are 6 ways that will help you get through adversity as well:

1. Develop Confidence To Get Through Adversity

We were too young to rely on pep talks or motivational speeches to give us the stamina to keep moving forward. If we had climbed over 2,000 feet out of the canyon in daylight, we had to be confident enough in our ourselves that we could repeat our performance downhill in the darkness.

The lessons I learned getting down the mountain stayed with me the rest of my life. In my book Secrets of A Strong Mind, I talk about the four months I spent at the FBI Academy in new agent’s training. We trained hard day in and day out, no matter the weather conditions—in snow, wind, rain, or heat. We felt confident of our abilities because of our experiences.

Performing well when facing adversity gave us the self-assurance we could beat the odds. Whenever I thought I couldn’t push myself any further, I remembered that cold night climbing back down a mountain when I was eleven years old, and I was confident I had what it took to keep moving on.

2. Use Persistence To Get Through Adversity

My brother and I were not sure how to get back home before we found ourselves in complete darkness and freezing temperatures. We decided that if we stayed with the cow trail it would ultimately lead us to our destination. We lost the trail once and hopped over rocks and fallen trees to find it. While we knew that as long we were going downhill we were headed in the right direction, the draw had many smaller ones that meandered over the sides of the canyon. Time was important and we knew the quickest way down was the way we came up. We persisted and found the cow path again.

As an FBI agent, there were many times when I needed to remember that dedication and blind persistence are two different things. There are ways to work hard and not smart. If something doesn’t work, pivot and attack the problem from a different angle. Where there is a will, there is a way.

3. Manage Emotions To Get Through Adversity

While neither my brother or I panicked, we were scared—but we never let negativity set in. We acknowledged our fears but remained confident in our ability to get home safely.

I have drawn my weapon while making an arrest. I was scared and afraid of what I would need to do if the person resisted. When I leaned into my training, I regained my confidence and managed my emotions.

It’s always important to acknowledge emotions, but the key to getting through adversity is by reminding yourself that you can manage the negative reactions. You may not be able to change the conditions but you can change the way you deal with them. It’s possible to have self-control in an out-of-control environment.

4. Accept Blame To Get Through Adversity

We had no one to blame but ourselves. This was no game we were playing and we had to have the strength to look at our adversity realistically and take responsibility for getting ourselves back home. Our parents had no idea we had headed out to find the whiskey still because we hadn’t told them.

As an FBI agent, I found that self-examination would be one of the most important ways I could become a more effective leader who achieved my goals. When I confronted obstacles and adversity, I was not afraid to question my thinking. Often, this self-examination uncovered biases or assumptions I had made that either contributed to the obstacle or stood in my way of overcoming it. A merciless review of traits, desires, and fears can lead to a reinvention of goals and beliefs.

5. Pace Yourself To Get Through Adversity

My brother and I both knew that if we stopped, we’d freeze to death before morning. On the other hand, if we depleted our resources, we’d be unable to continue.

I learned the importance of pacing myself while running obstacle courses at the FBI Academy. I was not a strong runner, and while I was enthusiastic about charging out the gate, I knew I’d need to pace myself to last the entire obstacle course.

The same logic applied to my investigations: if I depleted my resources, ran myself to exhaustion, and then needed to respond to a fast-moving break in the case, I was in serious trouble. Read the chapter on the 20 mile march in Great by Choice by Jim Collins.

6. Create Community To Get Through Adversity

My brother and I were a team and we worked together to get back down the hill. We not only provided moral support for one another, but physical as well as we jumped across waterfalls and mucked through inches of mud to follow the meandering cow path.

The personal leadership skill of camaraderie is one of the first lessons taught at the FBI Academy. For the first three weeks, new agents are not allowed to leave the Marine Corp base. Instead, we were expected to develop a supportive community that would be needed during our four months of training.

The ability to relate to others was one of the most effective skills I developed in my career as a counterintelligence agent. Everyone has the need to be heard, and the need to listen for information that can be put into action. The listener is a essential role because even very successful leaders need people who are allied to their cause.

My brother and I made is safely home that night to parents who were very worried.

Learning how you can get through adversity will help you turn underachievement into superior achievement. As long as you can stay alive, you are still in the game.

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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

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10 Lessons I learned About Failure

Sunday, September 30th, 2012


About halfway through the FBI Academy I learned that climbing a twenty-foot rope was a physical requirement for new agents. The problem was everyone else in my class could do it—except me.

People who are physically strong are born knowing how to bend their bodies to perform unnatural acts while others, like me, find anything more than hunching over a book an unnatural contortion.

Day after day, time and time again, I’d get about one third of the way up and just couldn’t pull myself up any further. I was fatigued, and at some point, avoiding rope burn became as much of a goal as climbing because I needed to get down safely.

It was humiliating to know that I needed to prepare for failure on each climb as well as prepare for eventual success. But this was the thing: over time I realized that the same skills I needed to prepare for failure would also be needed if I succeeded because I still had to get back down the rope.

Trust me when I say that retreating day after day was harder than moving ahead. I needed to think long term as well as short term. On one occasion I thought I might make it to the top if I really pushed, but how would I get down—with dignity and without injury?

The difference between successful people and those who are not is not a matter of how often they fail. Instead, it is a matter of how many times they try. Successful people fail just as often, perhaps more so because they keep picking themselves up again and again. They keep trying new things until at last they find something that works. They push past the negative attitudes and depression that comes with failure.

Samuel Becket asked a brilliant question: “How can we fail better?”

Why are some people more resilient? Why is it that the same set of circumstances that drives one person deeper into the mud makes another stronger? Failure is one of life’s most common traumas, yet people’s responses to it vary widely. Some bounce back after a brief period of malaise; other continue to descent into depression and a fear of the future.

Thomas Edison threw himself into his work. While he was trying to invent the light bulb, he failed over 10,000 times. He worked long hours but his persistence and resilience led to the creation of the incandescent light bulb. Edison did not look at these 10,000 attempts as failures; rather, he saw them as 10,000 lesson about how not to make a light bulb.

Overcoming failure is as much about being motivated as it is about having the right talent. It is important to focus on the right things. I eventually did climb the rope and get back down without burn marks on my hands by getting out every day and believing that I would attain my goal.

Here are 10 lessons I learned about failure:

1. Start

Success meant climbing the rope. So I kept at it. Athletes get psyched up before games and competition because this is where the real battle lines are drawn—in the mind. I knew if I began to doubt whether or not I’d ever be able to climb the rope, I wouldn’t. I needed to keep my mind strong by optimism and positive thinking. Stop thinking about how hard the task is going to be or how long it will take you. Just start. Not starting is failure.

2. Stay Positive

This means finding and using a positive attitude about the task or goal. Positive thinking can be powerful. You have the choice to replace negative attitudes with positive ones. Your thinking will help you consider your goal not just a possibility, but a probability. Remember that everyone who has achieved greatness has had to overcome obstacles. Think back to some of the barriers that you have overcome in your life. Use positive language with yourself and speak in phrases like “I want,” “I will,” and “I like.” See what effect it has and persist in positive thinking until you feel better about what you need to accomplish to move forward.

3. Celebrate Each Success

Your current successes need to be celebrated; your past ones need to be remembered. They can be a powerful motivator when faced with failure in the future.

4. Choose The Right Friends

When we hit roadblocks and obstacles, it’s important that we have a tribe of people around us who will support and encourage us. Ask yourself whether spending time with this person will lift you up or drag you down? Will spending time with this person help you to become your best self? Will you be happier after spending time with this person? Will this person help you achieve your most important goals? If not, find friends who will.

5. Find A Friendly Competitor

Find a co-worker or friend with similar goals. Make sure the person is someone who will bring out the competitive spirit in you. If possible, find someone in whom you can also confide your goals. Hold each other accountable.

6. Visualize

Imagine how events will unfold. See yourself winning or achieving your goal. Hear yourself being positive about the challenge before you. Form a clear mental picture and do it several times a day. It’s an effective way to get you into a positive frame of mind. You might also find images that represent your goal and use them as screen savers, wallpaper, or post them somewhere you’ll see them regularly.

7. Learn From Past Experiences

Look at your past performances and mistakes as part of the growth process. Just because an endeavor has not ended as well as you had hoped it would, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. Defeat is only a temporary condition; giving up is what makes it permanent. Keep moving forward. “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan.

8. Breakdown Goals

Set goals that inspire you, even if they seem slightly out of reach. If you set goals that are too easy to attain, you’ll never reach your full potential. It will be more productive if you break down your goals into realistic tasks that you can track. Use the strategy of small steps and take small bites at a time. Break down the larger task into mini goals. It’s easier to achieve the next step.

9. Talk It Up

Tell people what you’re doing to keep the conversation around you animated and supportive. Tell them you’re going to achieve your goal by a deadline. It will help hold you accountable to your timeframe. Keep talking about it and give friends and family frequent updates. No one wants to be embarrassed because they don’t have the willpower to achieve goals they’ve announced to the world.

10. Focus

Spend a little time every day working on your goal. It will make it easier if the goal is a desire of your heart and not just another task. Take time to focus on something you really want to do. Break up your routine tasks with something that is meaningful to you.

The real battle between success and failure is played in the mind. Whether you are defeated by your failures or overcome obstacles in your way depends upon a strong mind. Thomas Edison believed the human mind was capable of anything. Maintaining this positive attitude is essential if you are to succeed in life.

Read my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind, for more ways to overcome obstacles and defeat failures.


© 2012 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.”