Posts Tagged ‘positive thinking’

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

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 Science-Based Ways To Develop A Strong Mind

Monday, April 30th, 2018

My grandmother knew how to develop a strong mind with lots of spunk and grit. She was a crack shot with a shotgun. She never allowed me to say “I can’t” when she told me to do my chores. Come summer, she was the kind of person who would rather burn her front yard than mow it.

My grandmother never had more than an 8th grade education, but she knew something that researchers at world-class universities are just now understanding.

And that is, every time we say the words “I can’t” we are creating a feedback loop in our brain that impacts the way we’re going to behave in the future. We’re reminding ourself of our limitations. What we’re really saying, “I don’t have the confidence to do this.”

Have you ever said to yourself:

  • Public speaking is not my thing, so don’t blame me if it goes badly.
  • I don’t like to perform under pressure so don’t blame me if I screw up.
  • This project is too much, so don’t blame me if it’s not a success.

There are many different regions of the brain, and an MRI scan can show what parts of the brain light up when we think. If you make a fist, your hand would represent the cerebral cortex—the thinking part of the brain. This is the part of the brain that finds new ways to think and generate solutions; it is more logical in it’s approach.

But the moment something creates fear or discomfort, we move into another part of the brain. The thumb underneath your fist would represent the limbic system—the reactive or emotional part of the brain.

The limbic system may be small in size, but it’s powerful because it controls our survival instinct. When we’re confronted with an obstacle that threatens us, we move from the cerebral to the reactive limbic system and it creates the “fight” or “flight” reactions that have kept humans alive for centuries. I describe the limbic system as our feeling brain because it’s the home of our small but powerful gut instinct. It helps us deal with emergencies and threats to our life.

The feeling brain is 100% self-protective and it’s not a good place to be when we need to make decisions as we face adversity. We don’t need to flee from every challenge just because it scares us. The feeling brain can’t discern between anxiety about a threat to our safety, and anxiety we experience when we speak in front of a group of people.

All it knows is that if we’re in discomfort and feel anxious. Instinctively, it tells us to flee or withdraw, so we obey and say, “I can’t.” To develop a strong mind, we have to switch gears to consciously move out of the reactive limbic system and into the thinking cerebral brain. When we face adversity and obstacles, it’s vital for the two parts of our brain to work together so the best decisions can be made.

Here are 4 science-based steps to develop a strong mind:

1. Prioritize Information

You create a strong mind when you prioritize information because it forces the brain to interact with information rather than simply react to it. One excellent way to force the limbic system to interact with the cerebral brain is to create visuals with whiteboards and then list your projects. Visuals help the two parts of the brain sort out the day’s activities together. Otherwise, we risk the chance of them fighting against one another for attention and energy.

After you’ve prioritized, you develop a strong mind when you strip away all the fuss and focus only on the most important projects. Bill Gates said something he learned from Buffett was to keep things simple. “His ability to boil things down, to just work on the things that really count, to think through the basics — it’s so amazing that he can do that. It’s a special form of genius.”

Tip: If possible, assign a theme to each day. When you focus on one specific type of work each day of the week, it helps you stay accountable and monitor progress. It also helps you stay focused on work.

2. Use Your Brain To Manage Stress

As an FBI agent, I had to develop a strong mind because I was frequently confronted with stressful situations.

Research has shown that law enforcement personnel develop a strong mind when they learn how to manage their fear and anxiety. It’s not that they don’t feel discomfort; it’s that they have been trained to manage that discomfort so they are hardier and more resilient.

Tip: Here are two ways to manage stress:

Be grateful. Gratitude emanates from the limbic system, and because of this, we can use gratitude to influence other emotions such as anxiety and fear.

Write down what you feel. When we write down, and then think about those emotions, we can boost our ability to counter the negative emotions we experience at the time. If we keep a journal, it moves us from the limbic system into the cerebral. It’s important not only to think about why we are grateful, but also to focus on the feelings attached to our gratitude.

3. Label All Emotions, Not Just the Good Ones

Now that you’ve written down and identified your emotions, the next step to develop a strong mind is to label them. All of them, not just the nice ones. Many people only want to admit emotions that are warm and fuzzy or ones that make them look good. We’ve all had to learn how to turn shit into sugar so be honest with yourself.

When we label our emotions, it does not increase them. In fact, when you label your fear or anxiety, it lessens your discomfort. It’s very important, however, to keep the label to one or two words because if you open up dialogue about it, you will only stir up the limbic system.

Tip: When you reflect on your feelings and label them, you use your thinking part of the brain to control your emotions instead of allowing them to control you. You move out of the fight/flight mode so you can think about the issue at hand.

4. Train Your Brain To Remain Positive

We develop a strong mind when we change our interpretation of a situation. Since we have an innate bias toward negativity, we process bad news faster than good news. This is because our feeling brain is always survival-driven. This also explains why we’re driven to avoid losses far more than we’re driven to pursue gains. Our emotional responses flow from our appraisals of the world.

My grandmother knew that it was not lack of fear that creates a successful response; it’s how we deal with fear and anxiety. For FBI agents, leaders, or grandmothers everywhere, let your discomfort be a reminder that you need to seek out the positive in your situation. Sometimes you need to look really hard, but it’s always there.

Tip: Social psychologist Barbara Frederickson recommends that when you’re under pressure, you can develop a strong mind if you pause and reflect on five things in life that are truly important to you. Pause after each one to ponder them for several seconds. Ground yourself in the simple reality that no amount of hassle or worry can rob us of what matters most.

© 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.”

Why Mental Toughness Gives You A Competitive Advantage

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

The biggest challenge I had in graduating from the FBI Academy was meeting the physical fitness standards. I was a slow runner and found pushups very difficult. I did not have a competitive advantage. As a result, I failed the interim FIT test and was almost washed out of the Academy.

Instructors and coaches at the FBI Academy expressed concern that I was not athletic enough to become an agent. My first response was, “How is running 2 miles in 10 minutes going to help me be a better investigator?”

This was my reasoning was this: Agents don’t use their physical muscles to puzzle their way through the facts of an investigation. Instead, they use their mental skills. Only later was I able to recognize that brawn would not make me a better agent. My athletic training, however, had created a set of mental skills to give me a competitive advantage that I would utilize throughout my 24 year FBI career.

Research and common sense tell us that top athletes have a competitive advantage because of their physical talents and dedication to training. However, they also succeed because of their ability to deal with the psychological pressures of their sport. Mental toughness is extremely important for any athlete aiming to be the best.

The real question of coaching in sports is this: Are you mentally tough enough to compete?

There was a recent study of athletes who successfully completed sport injury rehabilitation. The study determined that the top 3 mental skills reported were Goal Setting, Positive Thinking, and Imagery.

I was not surprised by this list because these mental toughness tools can produce the right attitude to move everyone toward success. The same mindset is needed by leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners who need to stay ahead of their competition. Here is a closer look at why mental toughness gives you a competitive advantage:

1. Goal Setting

When you set a goal, you identify something you want, and also something you are willing to pursue in order to achieve.

Setting a specific goal makes you more likely to achieve it. This becomes important when you want a competitive advantage so you can take your sport to the next level, make a change in your career, or overcome an obstacle on your journey toward that goal.

TIP #1 SET GOALS FOR THE RIGHT REASON

Stop fantasizing about winning the lottery or making $10 million. Instead, set goals that align themselves to what really matters to your happiness and future well being. This is what will give you the competitive advantage you need in life.

TIP #2 FOCUS ON A DIRECTION

Set your training in a direction so that the pursuit of it will produce the life you want. If the journey is the right one, don’t worry if goals change or evolve with time.

TIP #3 CHANGE THE GOAL IF NEEDED

You will have a competitive advantage when you use mental skills to focus on the right thing—the direction you want your life to move. Don’t make the mistake of getting married to your goal. Often, goals need to change as our circumstances change. Goals are the steps to reach your vision, what really matters to you. 

2. Positive Thinking

There is a big difference between being an optimist and being a positive thinker. Positive thinkers are not necessarily happy or optimistic. Instead, positive thinkers are blunt realists who look misery right in the eye. They confront the most brutal facts of their day without expecting things to change. They adapt to their circumstances without ever losing hope.

Positive thinking is a mental skill that will give you a competitive advantage and help get you through any setback that comes your way.

TIP #1 FIND 5 POSITIVE THOUGHTS

The brain is naturally wired to pay more attention to negative rather than positive information because negative alerts us to emergencies and threats to our life.

When confronted with something that feels overwhelming, you will need to find 5 positive thoughts to counter each one negative thought that comes to mind. Sometimes it’s hard to find something positive in your situation and you have to look really hard.

TIP # 2 REFLECT ON EACH POSITIVE THOUGHT FOR 20 SECONDS

Take the time to really think about each positive thought. Let it soak in, don’t gloss over it. Negative thoughts are like velcro; they stickPositive thoughts are like teflon; they slide away easily.

TIP #3 STOP USING THE WORD “CAN’T”

This is the only 4 letter word I never heard in the FBI. Every time you say “I CAN’T” you create a negative feedback loop in your brain that keeps getting stronger and stronger. Synaptic connections thicken the brain tissues over time, wiring in that negativity. Negative thinking will never give you a competitive advantage.

3) Imagery

The benefits of using imagery and visualization is an incredible tool to develop mental toughness. This mental skill is based on solid science. By visualizing your successful performance repeatedly, your brain stores that information as a success.

TIP #1 VISUALIZE YOUR SUCCESS

When we give our brain a detailed portrait of our end goal, our brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is a powerful mental toughness tool that can give us a competitive advantage. This is the chemical that becomes active when we encounter situations that are linked to rewards from the past.

Dopamine enables us to feel good about our experiences and gives us confidence to move toward those rewards. To boost this brain response:

  • 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.
  • Create a positive frame of mind.
  • Find images that represent your goal and post them where you’ll see them regularly.

Visualizing is not fantasy or wishful thinking. Fantasies can actually lessen your chance for success. Your brain can tell the difference, and looks at fantasies as a threat! If people fantasize about their future performance, they are less prepared and more stressed when things don’t workout. 

TIP#2 MOVE AHEAD WITH FEARLESSNESS

Use imagery and visualize how you will succeed in various situations you might encounter in the future. For example,

  • Visualize how you will react and respond when criticized by a competitor.
  • Prepare for the hard questions from your supervisor.
  • Rehearse your response to conversations that might come up.

This is enough to get that important shot of dopamine. It can give you a competitive advantage so you can move beyond your self-limiting beliefs about yourself and 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.” 

5 Things Positive People Never Do

Monday, February 26th, 2018

I make an effort to surround myself with positive people. Positive thinking is a cornerstone of mental toughness because positivity creates a mindset that can adapt to obstacles and roadblocks that show up in both business and life.

Unfortunately, positive thinking has become ensconced in a culture of woolly and fluffy assumptions that imply all we need to do is visualize what success looks like—and it will happen! It has been reduced to weak platitudes and shallow quotes meant to inspire us to soar to greater heights.

Gag.

If that wasn’t bad enough, positive people are also confused with optimists. Let me clarify for you: positive people believe they will prevail in their circumstances rather than believe their circumstances will change. Optimists, however, believe that things will change, and for the better. Positive people rely on their grit and determination to make the most of a bad situation because sometimes, shit happens. They’re stuck in an undesirable situation and no amount of hope will change it.

An optimist can never relax; they can’t afford to let sadness creep in. They can try to follow the famous self-help advice and eliminate the word “failure” from their vocabulary; but then how will they explain failure when it strikes? And it will. Positive people are not afraid of failure because their minds can adapt to their new circumstances and plan for a better iteration next time.

When times get tough, here are 5 things positive people never do:

1. Fall For Sappy Slogans

I’ve read so many articles on how to fill my life with happiness that I’m ready to puke. Happiness is the by-product of vacuous and superficial sappy slogans that prey on our emotions. You want real happiness? Grab hold of something with more substance, like joy and contentment.

Positive people avoid cheery, sappy slogans that are intended to lift the user’s mood when they repeat them. Post-it notes litter mirrors and computers across the country and while they boost our mood for a while, the results are temporary.

Researchers have discovered that there is a distinct difference between happiness and meaning. When we achieve our goal, we experience happiness for a short period of time. When we achieve a goal freighted with value, we experience joy and contentment that provides meaning for our life.

How To Make It Work For You: When you try too hard to convince yourself, and others, that you’re happy and lovable, all you’ve done is remind yourself, and others, of what you don’t have! Instead, focus on goals that are meaningful to you. Happiness is the by-product.

2. Forget To Plan For The Worst Case Scenario

When you remind yourself of what could go wrong, you’re not being a pessimist. You’re being smart. You will encounter rude bosses, conniving colleagues, and pain-in-the-ass customers. Why not prepare for them?

There is a place for those who plan for the worst-case scenario so they can plan on how to turn the situation around and make it successful. They imagine every conceivable setback and obstacle and find ways to cope and overcome the adversity before it becomes a reality. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy suggests spending time thinking about the potential downside of a conversation or event in advance can help you avoid an “oh shit” moment.

How To Make It Work For You: Imagine how you would handle a bad situation. Assume for a moment that a rival buys your company. Jot down a few ways you might come out on top if it happens. For example, arrange to meet key executives of the rival company so they know you’ll handle the situation in a professional and respectful manner.

3. Set Unrealistic Goals

Positive people are always realistic about their goals. Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at New York University and the author of Rethinking Positive Thinking believes that part of the problem is that people tend to visualize their goals as already accomplished without thinking about the obstacles that stand in the way.

If a person is optimistic about the future, they’ll enjoy it in the moment but they won’t get the energy and motivation they need to attain the goal. Oettingen touches upon the need to differentiate fantasy from visualization. Visualization is a science-based way for people to achieve their goals. The problem happens when fantasy raises its ugly head. The brain is smart and it can tell the difference between a desire to stretch our performance to meet a goal and our fantasy about it.

A goal might be to play the guitar. Your fantasy might be for you to perform in a sold-out rock concert. When we daydream about the future, we convince ourselves we’re already there and are less inclined to put in the effort required to reach our goals.

Oettingen feels that a bit of negativity can help us determine whether or not it’s worth it to pursue our goals. Positive people are not afraid to look at the negative side of an equation. They know it might have something important to tell us. When they contrast the future with the current reality, and assess the obstacles, they might let go of the dream and focus on more realistic goals.

How To Make It Work For You: We need to be on the lookout for what might go wrong without allowing negativity to overwhelm us. Positive people can hold the tension of a pessimistic evaluation alongside a positive one.

4. Let Anxiety Take Over

In her book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, Julie Norem wrote “At first, I asked how these people were able to do so well despite their pessimism. Before long, I began to realize that they were doing so well because of their pessimism.”

Norem found that pessimists turned their anxieties into action. Because they expected the worst, they were prepared for it and put more effort into finding a solution.

Oliver Burkeman makes an interesting observation in his book, The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. He argues that because people are led to believe they should always feel happy and motivated, they often put off tasks that don’t make them happy. If life were perfect and there were no such things as unpleasant tasks, that mindset might lead to success. But, in the real world, this mindset leads into a downward spiral of unaddressed tasks and actions.

How To Make It Work For You: Learn to live with the unpleasant tasks and get on with the job at hand. Co-exist with what isn’t perfect and do something anyway.

5. Ignore The Sweet Spot

Pessimists help us anticipate the worst and prepare for it. People who never worry have lower job performance than those who worry about it on a regular basis. Studies have shown that when CEO’s are optimistic, they take on more risky projects and often put their companies in jeopardy.

Positive people know how to weigh the wisdom of both pessimists and optimists. Pessimists are catastrophes waiting to happen while optimists are impractical. Positive people look for the sweet spot that combines the benefits of both approaches.

How To Make It Work For You: Your success is not determined on whether you are an optimist or pessimist, but rather how you choose your strategies to process information from both sides.

© 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.” 

7 Things Mentally Tough People Refuse To Think

Sunday, February 18th, 2018

I learned how to become mentally tough after I failed the interim physical fitness test at the FBI Academy. With this failure came the understanding that I was not so great after all and that I stood a good chance of being washed out.

I became obsessed with improving my fitness scores. My focus narrowed down to the next day’s training. I dug deep to uncover why I wanted to become an FBI agent. Drilling down on these sets of values propelled me over the next couple of months and I did eventually pass the fitness test.

As business owners and entrepreneurs, you also face hard challenges. It might be the marketplace, nervous investors, or aggressive competition, but you will need to be mentally tough if you plan to focus your thinking and move through those challenges successfully.

It’s hard to feel mentally tough when you’re stuck. You need the grit to welcome challenges as obstacles to overcome.

Here are 7 things mentally tough people refuse to think:

1. Struggle Has No Meaning

To my horror, many of my FBI colleagues relished the new challenges presented each day at the Academy. I thought they were crazy—they actually volunteered to experience pain and discomfort! What normal person does that?

I learned that mentally tough people often voluntarily choose the hard path, the road less traveled. They will go out of their way to experience failure so they can turn their focus into looking for ways to turn obstacles into opportunities.

It takes confidence to look failure in the face and keep moving forward, because if we are confident in ourselves and our ability, we look at our struggle as part of the fine-tuning process.

TIP: People become mentally tough when they give their struggle the finger, and instead, focus on improvement and growth.

2. Winning Is Everything

When people ask me to talk about my biggest failure, I talk about the pain of failing the interim physical fitness test. It was a failure that cut to the core, but it also inspired a remarkable amount of personal growth. I learned more from that single failure than from any of my successes.

Most of us fear failure so much that we shuffle along in life until we accidentally stumble onto something at which we are good. Success can be very misleading because often it is not what really fuels us. It is a success that is based in complacency because we are too scared of failure to pursue the type of work that would provide value and meaning.

TIP: Mentally tough people recognize that the way in which they deal with failure determines how they will achieve success.

3. Pain Is To Be Avoided

Sports psychologist Tim Woodman has done a lot of studies on what makes superior athletes. He spent time interviewing many top performers and the one thing that he came away with was this: nearly every top performer in his study had experienced a critical negative event in their life—parents divorcing, a death, disease, or some other perceived loss—and they experienced it early in life.

Mentally tough people learn early that life is hard, pain is inevitable, and growth is optional. They find ways to turn shit into sugar.

Pain is nature’s way of getting our attention. Mentally tough people do not coddle themselves or avoid situations where there are problems to solve and the pain that comes with them. Some of our best insights are at the tail end of our worst moments. Pain often forces us to look at our values and beliefs and question why they might be failing us.

Weak people try to cover up the pain and delude themselves rather than intelligently looking for way to produce real change.

Don’t hope for a life with no pain; hope for a life with good pain. We all know that not everything that feels good is actually good. In the same way, not everything that feels painful is necessarily bad.

TIP: Once you forget about the pain, you become unstoppable.

4. Focus Only On The Positive

Positive thinking is a cornerstone of mental toughness. Research has proven the real benefits of staying positive, especially in adverse situations. Unfortunately, many people today only focus on the positive and refuse to acknowledge the negative in their life. Used in this manner, positive thinking becomes little more than a bandaid trying to cover a cancerous lesion.

Reminding yourself of what could go wrong is not pessimism. It’s being smart. You will encounter rude bosses, conniving colleagues, and unruly customers. Why not prepare for them?

FBI agents do not prepare for arrests by assuming everything will turn out OK. They prepare for arrests by anticipating all that could go wrong.

Mentally tough people are less likely to get frustrated and blow a deal or lose control during a tense negotiation. The reason is because they do not focus only on the positive. They imagine every conceivable setback and obstacle that could materialize; they find ways to cope and overcome the adversity before it becomes a reality.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy suggests spending time thinking about the potential downside of a conversation or event in advance can help you avoid an “oh shit” moment.

How To Make It Work For You: Take the time to think through the worst that could happen and allow yourself to feel the negative stuff. When you do, you’ll be able to manage the unproductive drama that these emotions can produce.

5. Suppress Emotions

In our current feel-good self-improvement culture, we’re encouraged to only acknowledge positive emotions and feelings. Shove down the negative stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist. All that is fine until you have a negative emotion that won’t be silenced, and I’m betting all of you have been there before.

It’s stupid to pretend everything is fine and that you don’t experience negative, even humiliating, emotions. What is smart is to use neuroscience to figure out what to do with them so they don’t sabotage your best efforts to move forward.

How To Make It Work For You:

  1. Nip negative thoughts and emotions in the bud when they first appear and are at their weakness.
  2. Label each emotion for what it truly is, not just what sounds good to you.
  3. Call out the emotion by name: shame, envy, anger, jealousy, lust, etc.
  4. Describe the emotion in 1 or 2 words; be succinct and to the point.
  5. Do not enter a dialogue about the emotion; anything more than 1 or 2 words will only give it legs with which to run wild.
  6. Resist attempts to justify the emotion. Notice it and move on.

6. Stick To What Feels Comfortable

If our coaches at the FBI Academy weren’t pushing us into our discomfort zone, they weren’t doing their job. After I realized I hadn’t joined an organized group of sadists, I understood that the coaches moved us into our discomfort zones so we’d be better able to cope with the trials that lie ahead of us as FBI Agents.

If success and comfort is all you’ve ever known, you will not be prepared for the shitstorm that will come at some point in your life. Whether it’s your career, your health, old age, or something unseen, if you are mentally tough you know you will be able to endure the discomfort.

Mentally tough people embrace discomfort zones because they have learned that unpleasant experiences are not something to fear. In the process, they’ve learned the survival skills that will take them to the next level.

How To Make It Work For You: Don’t throw yourself into unproductive things, but do seek out experiences that will move you into the unknown so you know how you will respond when confronted with adversity.

7. Others Are To Blame

One of the most important lessons learned in childhood is that you don’t always get to play with the red ball in the playground. This early lesson illustrates how you deal with failure, struggle, and loss. You can whine, point fingers, and blame others but ultimately you must choose how you deal with not always getting what you want.

Victimhood has become very popular. It’s now possible to be offended and insulted for just about anything. It feels self-righteous to cast ourselves as a victim, but as cartooonist Tim Kreider points out, outrage is one of those things that will eventually devour us from the inside out.

TIP: Grit-up and be mature enough to take responsibility for your actions. There are enough real victims in the world. If you want to be authentically outraged, help one of them.

© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

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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.”

5 Ways To Make Gratitude A Stronger Emotion

Monday, January 29th, 2018

As an FBI agent, I was surrounded by people who had a strong sense of right and wrong. Research shows that emotions are strongly connected to our morality—the ability to tell right from wrong. Since strong emotions were closely connected to my fellow agents’ morals, it allowed them to move into adverse and dangerous situations to protect the well-being of others.

Gratitude and indignation are both moral emotions. Gratitude is a positive emotion that encourages reciprocal altruism, well-being, and appreciation. Indignation, on the other hand, is a negative emotion that is closely related to anger and revenge—it motivates individuals to punish cheaters.

Mental toughness strengthens our ability to distinguish positive emotions from negative ones. We can use this awareness to strengthen positive emotions like gratitude and control negative ones like anger.

Understanding our emotions is the key if we want to control them. Mentally tough people learn how to connect with emotions that attract more of the things that represent our moral standards. In turn, we live and do what is right.

As leaders, it’s important to find ways to make gratitude a stronger emotion. We can use mental toughness to strengthen our gratitude emotion. When we do, we control the negative emotions that impact the way we treat not only ourselves, but those around us. 

Here are 5 ways we can make gratitude a stronger emotion:

1. Make It Intentional

Intentional behavior is the ability to move ahead with a thoughtful and deliberate goal in mind. To do so, we need to seek out and identify specific acts for which we can, and should, be grateful. Gratitude only works when you’re grateful for something real.

We perceive an act as more worthy of gratitude when:

  • it cost someone (either time or effort)
  • we perceive it to be of value
  • it is not obligatory or habitual in nature
  • the result produces relief or happiness

How To Make It Work For You: So, how do you manage the bad things that show up in life? Even bad, or negative events, can have positive consequences. Choose an experience from your life that was either unpleasant or unwanted. Focus on the positive aspects or consequences of this difficult experience. As the result, is there anything for which you now feel thankful or grateful? Has this experience made you a better person? Have you grown? Did the experience help you appreciate the truly important things in life? Can you be thankful for the beneficial consequences as a result?

2. Keep Focused

Most FBI agents and law enforcement officers enter their career to arrest criminals who exploit the needs and weaknesses of others. Over time, however, their idealism is threatened because life is rarely lived in absolutes. The black and white of justice frequently morphs into shades of gray. Good is often found in the midst of the bad, and bad sometimes results from good intentions.

We become mentally tough when we learn to live with the paradox of contradiction and not run from the mystery of life. It’s especially important to remain grateful when life takes a down turn.

  • Seek out events and people that represent the things that embody your moral standards
  • Express gratitude when you see them
  • Let go of your need for the “right” way to be “your” way
  • Clarify what you know to be the truth in your heart, get to know it better
  • Remember that truth is it’s own best argument

How To Make It Work For You: To keep focused, think about what the absence of a positive influence in your life would mean to you. What would life be like if you hadn’t met your spouse or partner? Or if you hadn’t taken that job transfer? Or if you hadn’t moved to your neighborhood? Take something positive away from your life and you’re forced to focus on what brings you happiness and gratitude. Something that, perhaps, you had started to take for granted.

3. Change The Way Your Brain Works

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.

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.

4. Ditch The Ego

Narcissists believe their presence entitles them to special rights and privileges. They often make selfish demands of others. People with large egos tend to be ungrateful. Instead, they believe they deserve the favors and gifts that others give to them.

Deepak Chopra makes these points about ego and gratitude:

  • Ego can get stuck on being right or wrong
  • Real gratitude isn’t passing and temporary
  • Gratitude takes openness and the willingness to set your ego aside
  • No one is grateful for things they think they deserve.
  • Gratitude is unearned, like grace
  • When it is deeply felt, gratitude applies to everything, not simply to good things you hope come your way

It’s impossible to give full attention to both ego and gratitude at the same time. When you appreciate something or someone else, your ego must move out of the way.

How To Make It Work For You: We strengthen our gratitude emotion when we seek out and find people and circumstances for which we can be grateful. We also need to focus on the priority of being grateful, especially in tough times. And finally, we need to demand the ego to be put it in its proper place.

5. Use Gratitude To Build Resilience

Since 2001, the suicide rate among U.S. soldiers is at an all-time high. The number of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress is also very high. In 2008, Martin Seligman was invited to have lunch at the Pentagon with General George Casey. Casey advised that he wanted a fighting force that could bounce back and cope with the trauma of persistent warfare. Seligman and other researchers implemented the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program, a preventive program that seeks to enhance resilience among members of the Army community. The program aims at prevention rather than treatment of PTSD.

To build resilience among U.S. soldiers, the CSF brought in elements of positive psychology, and discovered that gratitude is an essential component of positive thinking.

Because here is the thing: it is impossible to grateful and negative at the same time.

Gratitude is the most powerful emotion in the world. Why? It allows you to love not only yourself, but others as well.

How To Make It Work For You: Here is what you can expect if you practice gratitude:

  • A renewed appreciation for life
  • New possibilities for yourself
  • More personal strength
  • Improve relationships
  • Spiritually more satisfied

© 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 FBI Tips On How To Handle Awkward Conversations

Monday, January 15th, 2018

I sat down in a room with thirty other new FBI agents for a training course on how to handle hostage negotiations and other awkward conversations. Since my job was to recruit foreign spies to work with the FBI, I sensed the potential for lots of awkward conversations in my future.

The lead instructor had a face that looked as though it was chiseled out of a block of wood. He told us, “Successful interrogators need need to be savvy about what the other person is feeling. Build a connection with them. Focus on trust.”

This is not the advice I had expected from a tough interrogation expert. But a little more background on the FBI’s hostage negotiation program created at Quantico enlightened me. I was told that approximately 70 percent of law enforcement negotiators are trained using FBI techniques. Statistics confirm that if negotiations escalate, shootouts tend to end badly for police  officers and the casualties are high.

Awkward conversations happen in our personal life as well. When discussions go to hell in a hand basket, they quickly turn into a fight. Psychologists say that our brain is wired for war; our point of view has been attacked if we disagree with someone. We feel threatened so we yell and scream. Go no further than family reunions over the holidays to see proof of concept.

We’ve all tried to shock and awe our relatives with the use of facts and logic. That does no more than set your opponent up to look stupid. When Uncle Henry admits he learned something new, he also admits he lost.

Furthermore, MRI scans indicate that the area of the brain associated with logic shuts down when the individual is presented with evidence that is in conflict with their belief system. The regions associated with aggression light up. So, as far as Uncle Henry’s brain is concerned, it’s not a rational discussion. It’s war.

The FBI’s instructor used words like emotions, feelings, and trust, and it went straight to the heart of this training program. His tips would work with barricaded criminals wielding assault rifles—they could also apply to almost any kind of situation where you need to change people’s minds, or influence their decisions.

Life is a series of awkward conversations: work through a divorce, negotiate a raise, haggle a business deal, or work out a partnership. The ability to handle an awkward conversation gives us all a competitive edge in any discussion.

As the week unfolded, we talked about empathy, rapport, active listening, and other aspects of emotional intelligence. I used the techniques I learned in that interrogation training program for the rest of my career as an FBI counterintelligence agent.

Here are 4 FBI tips on how to handle awkward conversations:

1. Stay Calm

Emotions are controlled by our limbic brain system. It is the seat of the value judgments that we make, which is why it exerts such a strong influence on our behaviour. The limbic brain is responsible for the “fight” or “flight” reaction we experience when we’re exposed to danger or negative situations. This warning has kept us safe for centuries, and when we’re in awkward conversations or a heated argument, the limbic brain starts to scream. It only understands “fight” or “flight” so you know nothing good is going to happen.

Behavior is contagious and it’s easy to respond in a manner that mimics the other person. With that in mind, stay calm. Slow it down. Often, the other person’s anger will subside if you don’t provoke it. When you rush a situation, it tends to intensify emotions. Resist the urge to open your mouth. Instead, listen and acknowledge.

The number one reason people leave their jobs? They didn’t feel their boss listened to them.

Tip: Dismiss the hysterics and try to pinpoint the underlying issue. It can help to say, “Please speak slower. I’d like to help. I need to understand.”

2. Proceed With Confidence

Back in the 1980s, Harvard researcher Stanley Rachman discovered something interesting about bomb-disposal operatives. Rachman wanted to know what quality made these people successful in this high-risk profession. Bomb-disposal operatives are good or they wouldn’t be alive to tell the story. But Rachman wanted to know what set them apart from their colleagues. To find out, he took a bunch of experienced bomb-disposal operatives with ten years or more in the business. He split them into two groups: those who’d been decorated for their work, and those who hadn’t. Then he compared their heart rates while they were in the field and on jobs that required high levels of focus and concentration.

What he discovered was unexpected. At the beginning, the heart rates of all the operatives remained stable, which was expected given their line of work. But, something incredible happened with the ones who’d been decorated—their heart rates went down. As soon as they entered the danger zone, they assumed a state of meditative focus: it was as if they became one with the device they worked on.

Rachman’s follow-up analysis probed deeper, and revealed the reason for their lowered heart rate—confidence. The operatives who’d been decorated were given subsequent tests and they all scored higher on confidence and self-belief than their non-decorated colleagues who took the same tests.

If your opponent perceives your point of view to mean war, you’ll need to think like a survivor. Survivors are confident positive thinkers who believe they will prevail in their circumstances. They have the ability to see how even a negative experience might lead to growth.

Tip: Confident people, who might even overestimate their powers, do particularly well in stressful situations. It’s intuitive reasoning: What creates a sense of fearlessness? “I’m confident I’ve got this covered. I’ve done it before.”

3. Reframe Your Situation

It’s very important how you talk to yourself in awkward conversations or stressful situations. The way in which we look at ourselves, and our circumstances, dictates our attitude when determining how to overcome adversity.

To jettison those negative thoughts, you may find it necessary to express your situation differently. When you rethink, or reframe, your adversity, it helps to move it into a context that is more favorable.

This is not to make light of tragedy. It’s perfectly normal to be sad when we are immersed in a negative situation and we need to overcome adversity. That said, we do not need to let the crap moments produced by adversity sabotage our efforts to move toward success.

When you reframe your response to adversity or stress, you say to yourself, “I know what to do here.” You can move ahead with confidence and a new perspective.

If you reframe the content of your situation, it means you choose what you focus on. Nothing has changed, but instead of wallowing in what did not work, you intentionally choose to focus on what did, or might, work.

Tip: Rather than complain to everyone about a failure, reframe your situation so you can learn from the experience. Ask yourself what it taught you. Take the time to analyze why you failed—and then move on. No one wants to keep hearing about it…

4. Anticipate What Could Go Wrong

One of the best questions you can ask yourself in any situation is this: “What could go wrong?” This question is not an exercise in pessimism. It’s a great reality check because guess what? Shit happens. And the more prepared you are, the quicker you can adapt and move forward.

Don’t find yourself surprised when something goes wrong. Be prepared. When you anticipate what could go wrong, you take the knee-jerk anxiety out of the equation.

Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong. When we fight to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, we end up less prepared, and more distressed, when negative things happen.

When you anticipate all that can go wrong in difficult and awkward conversations, you remove the surprise and most of the fear. Ready yourself for the worst. As Seneca said, “The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive.”

So, what can do you do to prepare yourself? What options do you have when the worst case happens? How can you prevent it from happening? What can you do today to reduce the chances of the worst happening? As best-selling author Tim Ferris explains, if it does happen, how can you bounce back? Write it all down on paper and think it through.

Tip: Try this the next time you anticipate awkward conversations: 1) What is the worst that can happen? Write it down. Feel it. 2) Ask how you can prevent it and write down the solutions. 3) Rehearse all the ways the conversation could go wrong. Practice your responses.   

© 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 Why Stoics Make Great Leaders

Monday, May 29th, 2017

When I was 8, my grandfather bought me a quarter horse from the Denver stockyards. A cutting horse, he could pivot on his back legs so fast that I scrambled to stay in the saddle. 

Because the horse was trained to cut cattle from a herd, my dad would regularly send me out to bring in a single cow he wanted to either sell or put in a different pasture. On our Wyoming ranch one pasture was often several thousand acres of rough country.

I found the cow I was to bring in but she did not cooperate. When she tried to turn back to the herd, my horse blocked her. She took off running and we followed. Suddenly, the cow turned right. My horse turned right. I, however, kept moving forward and landed in a barbed wire fence.

Several things went through my mind—Dad would be pissed the cow got away; I’d have to walk several miles back to the ranch house; and how would I find my horse in that big pasture?

Not knowing what would happen, exactly, I held tight to the reins. The barbed wire fence tugged at my clothes in one direction, and my horse dragged me in another. I was in great danger of being trampled under horse hooves so I reached out and grabbed a bush and clung tight. My horse was pulled up abruptly because while I didn’t have the strength to stop him, the bush was big enough to do the job. I got back on my horse, found the cow again, and took her to the corral.

Further obstacles presented themselves while in the FBI Academy as I trained to become an FBI agent, but among the many lessons I learned along the way is this: it’s important that we understand the obstacles that we face and not run from them.

I could have let go of the reins and suffered the consequences, but I choose to work through the obstacles facing me the best way I could. Some obstacles cannot be avoided, not if we want to come out on top.

Stoicism teaches that, before we try to control events, we have to control ourselves first. Leaders like Marcus Aurelius have found a stoic attitude prepares them for failure and guards them against the arrogance of success.

As a leader, entrepreneur, or business owner it is important to find ways to become stronger in the face of adversity, turn obstacles around, and spin problems into opportunities.

Here are 3 reasons why stoics make great leaders:

1. Accept What Is Out Of Your Control

Leaders who are stoics recognize that only their thoughts and attitudes are within their realm of control; everything is ultimately uncontrollable.

Face it—there is a lot of stuff over which you have no control. You cannot control nature, other people, or even your own body at times. You can whine, complain, and pout but in the end you need to make peace with your situation. Only at this point can you start looking for ways to influence the people and things around you and try to change the outcome.

If you cannot identify and accept what is out of your control, you will collapse into a pit of negative emotions like frustration, sadness, and anger. Tantrums may have worked as a kid but they won’t take you very far up the corporate ladder.

The only thing you can totally control is your own thoughts. No one can take them away from you so make the most of them. If someone holds a gun to your head and demands that you run 6 miles, you feel stressed. If you run 6 miles to graduate from the FBI Academy and have colleagues cheering you on, you feel happy. You cannot blame events or situations for your emotions. The same 6 miles were run; what is different is your attitude about them.

“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions, not outside.”—Marcus Aurelius

Resilient people are stoics who are mentally tough. They are not disturbed by events because they know how to control their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set them up for success.

TIP: Look for ways to understand the importance of your own efforts, regardless of the outcome. Just as importantly, don’t be afraid to pinpoint where you could have done better in controlling your emotions, thoughts, and behavior.

2. Search For The Worst That Can Happen

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness.”—Marcus Aurelius

Marcus was a stoic who did not want to be surprised and caught off guard at what might happen during his day. He knew how it feels to fall flat on his feet when confronted with the unknown or unexpected.

Positive thinking is a cornerstone of mental toughness. However, reminding yourself of what could go wrong is not pessimism. It’s being smart. You will encounter rude bosses, conniving colleagues, and pain-in-the-ass customers. Why not prepare for them?

FBI agents do not prepare for arrests by assuming everything will turn out OK. They prepare for arrests by anticipating all that could go wrong.

Leaders who are stoics are less likely to get frustrated and blow a deal or lose control during a tense negotiation. They imagine every conceivable setback and obstacle and find ways to cope and overcome the adversity before it becomes a reality.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy suggests spending time thinking about the potential downside of a conversation or event in advance can help you avoid an “oh shit” moment.

TIP: Take the time to think through the worst that could happen and allow yourself to feel the negative stuff. When you do, you’ll be able to manage the unproductive drama that these emotions can produce.

3. Stumbles Are Welcome

Stoics do not gaze at their navel to become better leaders. They don’t waste time trying to find themselves to become more authentic leaders. Instead, they turn their focus and energy to look for ways they can turn obstacles into opportunities. Often this means they voluntarily choose the hard path, the road less traveled.

What normal person volunteers to experience pain or discomfort? It’s not a self-inflicted penitence; instead, it’s another way the stoics develop character—they go out of their way to experience failure.

When successful executives are asked to list the top five moments their career took a leap forward, failure is always on that list. It might be the loss of a job or a lost client. It is always a time when failure requires them to step up to the plate.

TIP: If you want to increase your performance, set high goals where you have a 50-70% chance of success. According to Psychologist and Harvard researcher David McClelland, that’s the sweet spot for high achievers. When you fail half the time, it motivates you to figure out what you should do differently and try again. That’s called practice.

4. Develop A Petri Dish

The mindset of a stoic leader is not perverse. There is a method to their madness! After all, we will all fail at something sooner or later, so why not practice failing well? There are several reasons to keep a petri dish on hand full of experiences that can lead to discomfort or failure.

First, failure helps you build up the strength to cope with whatever the future holds for you. Success and comfort does not prepare for the shitstorm that will come at some point in your life. Whether it’s your career, your health, old age, or something unseen, know that you will be able to endure the discomfort.

Second, when you experience stumbles and failures along the way, they will help you mitigate the fear that always comes along with the unexpected. Expose yourself to discomfort and failure so you know how you will respond when a setback rears its ugly head.

Third, regularly embrace the discomfort of the road less traveled because it will create an appreciation for what you do have.

TIP: Do not make failure a stranger. Embrace the stumbles along the way and become smarter because of them. Recovering from failure is a mindset.

“Life is hard. Pain Is Inevitable. Growth is optional.”—LaRae Quy

© 2017 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 Things Successful Women Need To Know About Mental Toughness

Monday, March 27th, 2017

Successful women take a different approach than their counterparts. The obstacles they face are tremendous, but what is commonplace among them is this: they are mentally tough.

This is not surprising to me because I understand that mental toughness is essential to overcome obstacles. As a new FBI agent, I thought learning how to shoot a gun and arrest terrorists would make me successful. I did not expect to learn that my biggest, and perhaps most important skill set, would be to develop the mental toughness needed to prevail in my circumstances.

Successful women also need to prevail in their circumstances because they need to work around unsurmountable obstacles, whether climbing the corporate ladder or achieving growth in their own businesses.

Many people believe mental toughness is a type of rigid thinking that plows through obstacles and roadblocks; while that approach might work in football, it doesn’t work in business and life.

Successful women have the mental toughness to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set them up for success.

Here are 4 things successful women need to know about mental toughness:

1. START WITH EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE

As a female FBI agent, I relied heavily upon emotional intelligence to help me recruit foreign spies to work for the U.S. government. Emotional intelligence is your ability to 1) identify and manage your own emotions; 2) pick up on the emotions of others and manage them; and 3) in so doing, build trust and grow influence.

We all feel the pressure to succeed and in today’s competitive market, it takes more than intelligence to keep ahead of the pack—it also takes competence. We all know people who are intelligent but not necessarily successful.

Successful women know what makes them tick. Self-knowledge is a powerful tool because when times are tough the last thing you need is to waste precious energy in trying to interpret your lack of decisiveness.

Time spent on understanding yourself is incredibly worthwhile, followed by your ability to relate to others and empathize with what they are feeling and experiencing.

Tip:

Girls are given permission to get in touch with their inner emotions more than boys, so take advantage of it. It is a soft skill that will allow you to make the hard decisions later in your career.

2. EMBRACE RESILIENCE

One of the first things I learned in the FBI Academy was that in order to be successful I would need to learn how to adapt if I wanted to overcome an unexpected blow from left-field. When you are chasing terrorists, you need to know how to land on your feet when confronted with the unknown.

Successful women do the same because resilience not only allows them to bounce back from setbacks, it also propels them to bounce around obstacles and roadblocks.

Confidence is an important element of resilience. If you have confidence in yourself, failure is taken in stride because you see it as a learning opportunity. If you refuse to learn from your failure, it doesn’t make you a loser—it makes you stupid. This means straightening your back and taking responsibility without whining, pointing fingers, or blaming others.

Confidence in yourself allows you to absorb the unexpected blow and remain non-defensive. If something doesn’t turn out as expected, you will remain flexible and look for new ways to solve the problem.

Tip:

Trace the origins of self-limiting beliefs about what you can, or cannot, accomplish in life. Pinpoint when and how they took root in your thinking. Develop the courage to push yourself into discomfort zones that will allow you blast through each self-limiting belief that is holding you back from success.

3. DRAW ON WILLPOWER

Willpower is that thing that pushes you to the next level despite obstacles and setbacks. It’s what keeps FBI agents on a case when there is no easy answer in sight. Sometimes, in order to find a kidnapping victim or arrest a terrorist, agents need to rely not only on their skills and training, but also on their sheer will and determination to cross the finish line.

Many people could improve their lives if only they had more of that mysterious thing called willpower, but most of us do not believe we have enough of it. In the American Psychological Association’s annual survey on stress, people cited lack of willpower as the No. 1 barrier to following through with changes that would improve their lives.

Tip:

Willpower requires grit, endurance, determination, and persistence. Keep this in mind: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”—Calvin Coolidge

4. DEVELOP A CHAMPION MINDSET

When I walked into my new FBI office, I was viewed as a curiosity more than anything else. In the 1980’s there weren’t that many female FBI agents; everyone was polite but distant. I pretended not to notice when the guys grabbed their jackets and headed out the door for lunch without inviting me. I also pretended not to notice that I wasn’t included in the informal squad debriefings about the most important cases.

We’ve all been in situations where it’s hard to keep a positive attitude. When this happens, we have intentionally to choose to be positive because we all have an innate bias toward negativity. We process bad news faster than good news because our brain is survival driven. Survival is a tough, uncompromising business. For centuries our brain programmed us to “Get lunch—not BE lunch.”

Tip:

We can chose to be influenced by our negativity bias, or conversely, pursue positive thinking. The choice is ours. We can choose to learn from our experiences and be better, or feel sorry for ourselves and be bitter.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

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 Complete Beginner’s Guide To Mental Toughness

Monday, December 19th, 2016

In the 1930’s FBI agents needed mental toughness to hunt bank robbers like John Dillinger and mobsters like Al Capone.

As the world became more complex, FBI agents started working complex and sophisticated cases like terrorism, organized crime, cyber, and counterintelligence. In doing so, they were better able to address the threats to American lives and interests.

It’s no secret that business and life are not as simple as they were, either—even a few years ago. It is no longer just a matter of knowledge, ability, and skill to succeed.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, you need to be psychologically prepared to deal with strong competition, recover from mistakes and failure quickly, tackle tough situations, devise strategies, and collaborate with others.

In other words, you need mental toughness to manage the emotions, thoughts, and behavior that will set you up for success in business and life.

People define mental toughness in different ways. Often, they think it is plowing through obstacles and roadblocks. While that mindset might work in football, it is not an effective way to succeed in business and life.

Here is a complete beginner’s guide to mental toughness:

SKILL #1: MENTAL TOUGHNESS REQUIRES EMOTIONAL COMPETENCY

Most of the FBI agents I worked alongside would never sputter the phrase emotional intelligence—much less attribute their success to it. While they considered themselves mentally tough, they preferred words like competence and alertness to describe the skills they carefully honed over the years.

I prefer the term emotional competency rather than emotional intelligence. I know of lots of people who are intelligent but not necessarily competent. Competency requires more than just information; it requires the practical wisdom to put that knowledge to work in real life situations.

Let’s break emotional competency down:

1. Self-Awareness

Know what fuels you. I am not talking about fluffy ideals or stuff that gives you the warm fuzzies. Training at the FBI Academy at Quantico is constructed to filter out those who do not feel deeply attached to upholding our federal judicial system.

To be mentally tough, you must know what you feel down deep in your bones. If you are not pursuing something that really holds value and meaning for you, you will not have what it takes to keep going when the going gets tough.

Once you become self-aware, you have clarity about your values. This enables you to operate from a place of authenticity, and go after the things in life that are hard-wired to give you a purpose.

2. Communication

You know how to interpret the words and body language of others. This means you are a good listener and know how to build genuine trust with others. An essential element of mental toughness is the ability to accurately read the emotions of others and then adapt your behavior accordingly.

To be successful, match your personality to your boss, employee, or client. Assess whether they are introverts or extraverts, analytical or a visionary, purpose-driven or security-driven, goal-oriented or people-oriented. If you’ve been a good listener, you will be able to make these distinctions.

3. Empathy

Empathy is not feeling sorry for the other person; it is feeling their sorrow. If you can understand the emotions of others, it is easier to create empathy.

Sometimes we don’t really want to hear what other people have to say! We love our own opinions and thoughts and would prefer to shut out those of others.

Once we close down, however, we risk becoming judgmental and opinionated. More importantly, we miss out on what others have to share with us.

SKILL #2: RESILIENCE — MENTAL TOUGHNESS MEANS WE ADAPT TO OVERCOME

The ability to pick ourselves up when life knocks us down is called resilience. In today’s competitive culture, resilience has become a critical skill because it takes more than talent to succeed.

Resilient people do not blame others, whine, or complain about how unfair life is. Yes, life can be unfair but that is no excuse to give up.

As a new FBI agent, I learned to be bold, take risks, move into my discomfort zone, and put myself out there. I was scared to death of what I might face. The way in which we adapt to overcome our adversity determines how we will achieve success.

More than talent, more than education, more than experience, the ability to bounce back from setbacks determines who will succeed and who will fail. That is true in the classroom, in sports, and in the boardroom.

Here’s a breakdown of resilience:

1. Confidence

If you don’t believe in yourself, how can others believe in you? When you’re knocked down in life, you must have enough confidence in yourself to get back up. This is the only way to find a way forward and adapt to overcome.

Lack of confidence can rear its ugly head at any time. No one is immune because we are most vulnerable any time we’re out of our comfort zone or experience change in our life. We must face our fears. If we have confidence in ourselves we are not afraid of how others perceive us, afraid of commitment, or afraid of failure.

Confidence is a critical building block for a successful career because it is the one mindset that will take you where you want to go.

2. Take Risks

Most of us don’t know what we’re capable of until we’re truly challenged. And most of do not want to be truly challenged because we don’t want to fail.

But failure can be very beneficial for building confidence because it allows you a perfect opportunity to 1) learn why things went wrong, and 2) see how you can make adjustments next time.

When learning how to make an arrest or interview a terrorist I needed to take risks, fail, and learn from my mistakes as much as possible before I found myself in the actual situation.

If you think you never make mistakes, you are a narcissist—either that or stupid. But if you are humble and self-aware, you recognize that taking risks, making mistakes, and failing will help you understand that there is always something you can do to be better.

3. Self-Limiting Beliefs

As children we think we can conquer the world, but somewhere between childhood and adulthood, our enthusiasm and natural inclinations to dream big are squashed. Parents and teachers start imposing their own beliefs—about what we can and can’t do in life—upon us.

It’s tempting to give up and not try for anything beyond the predictions and admonitions of others. While many of these people are well-intentioned, they feed negative, limiting, and inaccurate narratives about what it possible once you put your mind to it.

If the instructors at the FBI Academy were not pushing us past our self-limiting beliefs, they weren’t doing their job.

SKILL #3: WILLPOWER — MENTAL TOUGHNESS ENABLES PERSONAL MASTERY

The capacity to say “no” to the call of temptation and desire to quit is called willpower. It is the ability to find the energy, motivation, and enthusiasm to keep going even when you’re tired, anxious, and looking for a way out.

Many people could improve their lives if only they had more of that mysterious thing called willpower, but most of us do not believe we have enough of it. In the American Psychological Association’s annual survey on stress, people cited lack of willpower as the No. 1 barrier to following through with changes that would improve their lives.

Willpower is something that can be learned and can be strengthened with practice. It’s also a vital component of mental toughness.

Here’s a breakdown of willpower:

1. Grit

It keeps FBI agents on a case when there is no easy answer in sight. Sometimes, in order to find a kidnapping victim or arrest a terrorist, agents need to rely not only on their skills and training, but also on their sheer will and determination to cross the finish line.

Jack Dempsey once said, “A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.” He was talking about perseverance, persistence, and determination—grit.

Researcher Angela Duckworth has found that grit is more predictive of success than IQ in military academies like West Point. In fact, grit is unrelated, or even negatively correlated, with talent. When working with West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher in grit had the mental toughness to keep going when times got tough.

The high score on grit surpassed other tests such as SAT scores, IQ, class rank, leadership, and physical aptitude when it came to predicting retention rates.

2. Performance Focus

Unless you know your limits, you will not be able to prepare either your mind or your body to move past them. To move toward peak performance, you need to stretch your current skill level—but not so hard that you want to give up.

Experts agree that this magic stretch is 4% greater than our skill. For most of us, that’s not much at all. However, it’s important to keep that continual tension between stretch and skill if we want to move toward our peak performance.

Managing time wisely and developing good habits are essential if we want to push our limits and reach peak performance.

Never be content with mediocrity.

3. Mastery

Research on elite athletes has found no correlation between innate talent and trainability. Mental traits were just as important as fitness level in differentiating top athletes from amateurs.

Successful people spend their time thinking about what they want to do and how to make it happen. And it doesn’t always take talent; it needs flow to make it happen. Flow is described as a state of deep absorption in the activity during which performance seems to happen effortlessly and automatically.

According to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge so it acts as a catalyst for learning new skills and increasing challenges.

SKILL #4: ATTITUDE — CHAMPION MINDSETS ARE THE PRODUCT OF MENTAL TOUGHNESS

There’s a long-standing belief that happiness makes people achieve more. However, a study by sports psychologist Tim Woodman shows that happiness is not the key to success. In fact, it didn’t factor anywhere in the results.

Instead, those who were most successful had experienced a negative, critical event in their life—such as death, the divorce of parents, disease, or some other perceived loss—all fairly early in life.

This is when they kicked into high gear and began to develop their talents and skills, and in the process, changed their life course almost immediately. As a result, they felt valued, important, and inspired—perhaps for the first time.

What stands out in Woodman’s study is that these same individuals also experienced another critical turning point in mid-life. It could have been positive, like finding the right marriage partner, or negative, like the death of a loved one; but it caused these successful people to redouble their efforts.

The study also implies that those who do not experience trauma or tough times earlier in life are less likely to have the drive necessary to achieve peak performance. The mid-life event reminded them of the original loss and motivated them at a deep-seated level.

This is a common finding among successful people; they have a deeper motivation that pushes them toward fame, happiness, or money.

Here’s a breakdown of attitude:

1. Positive Thinking

Positive thinkers are not optimists. Instead, they believe they will prevail in their circumstances rather than believing their circumstances will change. Optimists, on the other hand, believe their circumstances will eventually change for the better.

FBI Agents are not optimists who hope or expect an arrest to go without a hitch—instead, they prepare for the worst and practice ahead of time.

When they do come across adversity, they don’t wait and hope things will change for the better. They adapt quickly to the new situation. They remain flexible and choose to remain positive so that they will find a solution.

Visualizing your successful performance is based on solid science. As you visualize your performance repeatedly, your brain stores that information as a success.

The way in which we look at ourselves, and our circumstances, dictates our attitude when faced with adversity. To jettison those negative thoughts, you may find it necessary to express your situation differently. When you rethink, or reframe, your adversity, it helps to move it into a context that is more favorable.

This is not to make light of tragedy. It’s perfectly normal to be sad when we are immersed in a negative situation. That said, we do not need to let the crap moments produced by adversity sabotage our efforts to keep moving toward success.

2. Growth Mindset

Mentally strong leaders have a growth mindset that looks at success as hard work, learning, training, and having the grit to move ahead even when faced with obstacles and roadblocks.

When you face uncertainty, there are two choices: You can dread it because you are afraid you will fail. Or, you can anticipate it because you interpret failure as an opportunity for learning and improvement.

The first choice describes a fixed mindset that does best when there is a heavy hand running the show. That way of leading may have been efficient years ago, but today’s leaders are learning that the brain power of their workforce is a terrible thing to waste.

The second choice describes a growth mindset that looks at success as hard work, learning, training, and having the grit to keep moving ahead even when faced with obstacles and roadblocks.

3. Gratitude

This is a positive emotion that encourages reciprocal altruism, well-being, and appreciation. The strong and unequivocal support of others produces gratitude. It’s powerful because gratitude increases an individual’s self-confidence, provides a safety net for those times when they fall, and enhances their belief that they can overcome obstacles.

As Sebastian Junger wrote in his book, “Tribe:”

We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding–tribes. This tribal connection is largely lost in modern society, but if we regain it, it may be the key to our psychological survival.

Bonding strongly with others in a tribe provides greater security than if we strike out on our own.

Emotional competency, resilience, willpower, and attitude are the four essential components of mental toughness. Building mental toughness is a life long task, but here is the good news: Mental toughness is not something we were born with—it is something we can learn.

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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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.”