Posts Tagged ‘stoicism’

5 Tips From The Stoics On How To Develop Mental Toughness

Monday, March 19th, 2018

As an FBI agent, I became an observer into the lives of people under investigation. Upon my retirement from the FBI, I completed graduate studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary. In the process, I became a more thoughtful observer of my own life.

I started to embrace the Stoic claim that many of the things we desire are not worth the pursuit. Instead, Stoic philosophy focused on how to develop the mental toughness to manage negative emotions such as anger, grief, anxiety, and fear.

Stoicism was the forerunner of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, one of the most effective psychological tools used by therapists today. CBT proposes that when we change the way we think about a problem, it leads to a change in behavior. Mental toughness can be defined as managing our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that set us up for success.

The ancient Stoic philosophers had great tools to help fight the helplessness that sets in when it feels like the world is against you. Stoics knew how to develop mental toughness. Stoicism sounds serious but it started with a bunch of guys in togas who sat on porches almost two thousand years ago and taught philosophy. Stoa means porch so stoicism is actually porch wisdom.

Here are 5 tips from the Stoics on how to develop mental toughness:

1. Train In Winter

We must undergo a hard winter training and not rush into things for which we haven’t prepared.”—Epictetus

Roman armies disbanded during the winter unless engaged in a series of raids. Epictetus believed that there was no such thing as Spring training for soldiers—or anyone for that matter. To land on our feet, we must keep our mind active all the time.

It’s too late to train or prepare when the shit hits the fan or when the stakes are high. As entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders, you already know you can’t read a book on basketball and then go to the NBA. You know you must always prepare for what life might throw at you, so when it does, you’re ready.

When we train and prepare, we continually learn new skills. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to continuously create new neural pathways. When we repeat skills we are trying to learn, we strengthen those neural networks.

How To Make It Work For You: You learn how to develop mental toughness when you train your mind to think and prepare for the challenges ahead. Keep your brain alert and active all the time. If you can’t actually perform a particular task, simply visualize yourself doing it. Your brain cannot tell the difference.

2. Embrace The Test

I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”—Seneca

When I look back over my 24 year career as an FBI agent, you know what I remember the most? The difficult times. The hardest training at the FBI Academy and the most frustrating investigations were also the moments that were the most formative for me.

Challenges in life are unavoidable. Researchers believe that if we can learn to accept them as children, it will help our chance of success as adults. Children who learn to handle their own problems are also the ones with exceptional achievement as adults.

There is a Chinese saying “Chi Ku Shi Fu” (eating bitterness is good fortune) that highlights the idea that there is the opportunity for wisdom and growth in the midst of misfortune. While we don’t have control over the situations that life will bring to us, we do have a choice as to how we will react to them.

How To Make It Work For You: You learn how to develop mental toughness when you face your opponents, challenges, and misfortunes with an open mind. Look for ways to learn from your challenges. You may need to dig deep, but claim the wisdom from those times you are tested. It will you move to a higher level of well-being and perspective.

3. Prepare On Sunny Days

It is when times are good that you should gird yourself for tougher times ahead…so it is that soldiers practice maneuvers in peacetime, erecting bunkers with no enemies in sight and exhausting themselves under no attack so that when it comes, they won’t grow tired.”—Seneca

Seneca writes that we should prepare in advance so that nothing ever takes us by surprise. In today’s language, he wants us to develop resilience in the face of adversity. We should toughen up before the crisis hits us so we know how to respond.

When we spend time thinking about the downside, Cognitive Behavior Therapy says that we decatastrophize it. Remember CBT? The Stoics invented it. Don’t be the person who freaks out at work when something goes wrong. Be prepared and handle it with finesse and aplomb.

How To Make It Work For You: You learn how to develop mental toughness when you ask “What is the worst that could happen?” This is not pessimism; it’s being realistic. Take the time on a sunny day to prepare yourself to respond in an effective manner when the storm hits.

4. Find Your Hidden Power

Consider who you are. Above all, a human being, carrying no greater power than your own reasoned choice, which oversees all other thing, and is free from any other master.”—Epictetus

Epictetus walked with a limp as the result of being chained up as a slave. For Stoics like him, the only thing you ever really have control over are your deliberate thoughts. You can’t control other people, you can’t control your situation, and you can’t always control your own body. So the only thing over which you do have control is your emotions, thoughts, and behavior—the essence of mental toughness.

We need to accept that there are many things over which we have no control. We can, and should, try to influence them if we can. But once you begin to feel you need to control other people or situations, it’s likely that emotions will get out of control if things don’t go your way.

How To Make It Work For You: You learn how to develop mental toughness when you acknowledge that it does no good to worry about things you can’t control. Instead, spend your time on things over which you have complete control, like your goals and values. If you do this, you’ll avoid the anxiety that comes with the need to control.

5. Color Your Thoughts

Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought, for the human spirit is colored by such impressions.”—Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics had some great tools to help fight negative feelings because when you know how to deal with the negative, it gives you more time for the positive.

If we maintain a negative outlook, soon everything we encounter will seem negative. When we color our thoughts with negativity, it bleeds into other parts of our life as well.

Stoics believed that we are moved to action by positive emotions, such as a sense of indignation at having witnessed an injustice, or a desire to make the world a better place for everyone. Negative emotions color our thoughts, emotions, and behavior in unproductive ways.

How To Make It Work For You: You learn how to develop mental toughness when you seek the positive in your situation. Believe you will prevail in your circumstances rather than believing your circumstances will change.

© 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.”