Posts Tagged ‘stress’

5 Strategies To Deal With Difficult Colleagues

Monday, September 11th, 2017

It is hard to put difficult colleagues into a one-size-fits-all box. After all, they come in so many shapes and sizes. No workplace is without them.

What about the passive-aggressive who feeds on bullying others? How about the know-it-all corporate climber who walks all over people in her 5 inch stilettos? Or the two-faced backstabber who delights in betraying confidences?

Difficult colleagues create stressful environments and unpleasant working conditions. A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 65% of Americans cited work as a top source of stress. Only 37% of Americans surveyed said they were doing an excellent or very good job managing stress. In fact, work-related problems significantly outpaced other leading causes of stress such as health concerns or family responsibilities.

Not all stress at work can be blamed on difficult colleagues, but our workplace is a perfect breeding ground for people who push our buttons. A gossip who might not ordinarily get on our nerves becomes toxic when we are forced to work with them on a daily basis.

Unfortunately for entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders, difficult employees are not always bad employees. They may be highly skilled or very talented. They may add to the bottom line of your company, but they can also create stress for your other team members which reduces overall productivity.

The way your team deals with difficult colleagues will have a major impact on their careers and their well-being. Here are 5 strategies to deal with difficult colleagues:

1. Keep Friends Close, Enemies Even Closer

A difficult colleague may not be your enemy, but the more you know about them, the better you can understand them.

I will admit that, as an FBI agent, there are people out there who considered me to be the difficult colleague. I (sometimes) regret that I left casualties in the squadroom, but I also know I had reasons for taking my stance. I’m not justifying my behavior; I make this point to underscore the importance of trying to understand the difficult colleague.

A Buddhist practice suggests that if someone is causing you to suffer, it’s because they’re suffering as well.

If someone had taken the time to ask me about my behavior, I would have pointed out that I am an overachiever. As such, I put so much pressure on myself to excel that, at times, I had no time for the pettiness of common courtesy! The stress I put on myself to run undercover operations and develop human intelligence (humint) sources caught up with me; I ended up incredibly sick for several months.

TIP: Take the time to understand that your workplace antagonist is an imperfect person, just like you. You don’t have to like them but if you can understand why they act like a jerk, you might be able to prevent yourself from adding fuel to the fire.

2. Know What Pushes Your Buttons

 

 

 

No one escapes childhood without a few bruises and scrapes. We all have flash points that stem from our upbringing, family life, and relationships. Anger or frustration can be triggered when we least expect it. We react to a situation or individual rather than choose our response.

Our buttons are our responsibility to uncover. It’s so much easier to blame the difficult colleague or stupid supervisor rather than admit we have our own flaws.

Instead, take a look at why you react to certain people or situations in a negative way. Mental toughness is managing your emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set you up for success. You need to be brave enough to look at yourself with honesty and compassion. This might mean going back to childhood hurts to discover the patterns of thinking that are sabotaging you now.

TIP: Don’t be a wimp. Get a handle on what those buttons are and who, or what, pushes them. Rather than seeing difficult colleagues as a burden, they could actually be your ticket to dramatic professional growth.

3. Save The Fight For What Matters

Analyze the person and situation so you can rule out “false triggers” that create unnecessary stress in your environment. If you can’t, you will be at the mercy of the office bullies because they will know how to manipulate you. By pushing one of your buttons, you can be made to look oversensitive, weak, or gullible.

TIP: Be responsive, not reactive when someone pushes your buttons. A knee-jerk reaction is never a good choice.

4. Keep A Lid On Anger

Anger flares up when we feel that we, or another co-worker, have been unjustly treated by the difficult colleague. There are several reasons anger is not a good reaction:

  • An unpleasant emotion
  • Bad for your health
  • Clouds your judgment
  • Makes you look unprofessional

Avoid anger in the workplace. If you are embroiled in a constant conflict at work, you risk being seen as unable to handle the situation like a seasoned professional. Worse yet, you may get labeled as being a difficult colleague as well.

TIP: Don’t flare up in the immediate heat of a confrontation. Instead, allow yourself to observe what is happening without getting caught up in it (meditation can help you with this). If you feel you can’t control your anger, try stalling for time. Here are some suggestions:

“Can I have a little more time to think this through? I’ll get back to you with an answer.”

“This isn’t on today’s agenda. Can we talk about it later?”

“I have a deadline. Can I get back to you on that?”

Bottom line: get out of the situation as quick as you can so you can decide if this is the hill you want to die on. If not, wait until your emotions are under control and then choose your response rather than reacting with negativity.

5. Face Conflict

Conflict avoidance is not always a great idea, either. Staying away from disagreements and conflict creates stress as well.

If you’re faced with a difficult colleague, take some time out to reflect on the situation. Think about what the ideal outcome would be for you. What would you hope to accomplish from a conversation with your colleague?

Talk the situation out with other co-workers to gage their assessment of it. They might be able to offer constructive advice and observations.

Don’t criticize, blame, or judge. Point out what you both agree upon at the beginning of the conversation.

TIP: Things might not change between you and the difficult colleague at first, but it’s worth a try. In a corporate environment that is known for tactics and playing games, develop a reputation of someone who is direct, personal and genuine. You’ll stand out!

© 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.”

7 Stupid Things You’re Doing To Make Yourself Less Likable

Monday, June 19th, 2017

As an FBI agent, I needed to be likable as well as credible. As a likable person, I was able to exert a great deal of influence on others because I was able to connect with them in a meaningful way.

Likable people do better in business as well. Clients listen to them, trust them, and are willing to give them the benefit of doubt.

As a business owner or entrepreneur, your ability to be likable can be a big factor in your success. If you come across as likable, you will be better treated by investors, colleagues, and clients.

Being seen as likable often comes down to the smallest of behaviors. Unknowingly, you may be doing things that cause people to dislike you. 

If you are mentally tough, you will be able to manage these behaviors in ways that will set you up for success.

Here are 7 stupid things you may be doing to make yourself less likable:

1. PRETEND TO SMILE

When you pretend to smile, only the corners of your mouth will curl upward. This is called a smarmy “social smile” and is used by celebrities and politicans. A lot.

Research by Paula Niedenthal suggests that a true smile enlists not only the muscles around your mouth, but also those around the eye socket. Visually, a genuine smile will activate lines around the eye known as “crows feet.” In addition, our brain is wired to mimic the smile of others. If the smile is real, our brain will activate the same areas on our own face; subconciously we recognize almost immediately whether the greeting was genuine or not.

How To Make It Work For You: Maintain eye contact with the other person and notice how they mirror your facial gestures: they smile when you smile, they frown when you frown, they nod their head when you nod. Keep in mind how people will mirrow your behavior and make sure you are sending the right message.

2. PUSH TO THE FRONT

You want to impress the other person, right? You let them know that you’re smart, sophisticated, and ambitious. Everything about you shouts, “I’m first! I’m the winner!”

But here is the bad news—everyone sees right through it.

Likable people do not try to compete with the people they are meeting or brag about their accomplishments. Instead, they spend time complimenting others and truly being impressed by high achievers and those from whom they can learn. They are confident enough to be vulnerable and willing to admit they can still learn much from others.

How To Make It Work For You: If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. Move on, immediately, and surround yourself with people who really are smarter and brighter than you. You’ll be challenged in good ways that will expand your understanding of yourself and the world around you.

3. POORLY DEVELOPED COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Experts agree that communication, both interpersonal and organizational, is a necessity for the success of your business.

A recent Forbes article published research by the Carnegie Institute of Technology. This study indicated only 15% of financial success actually comes from knowledge or technical skills. The remaining 85% of success comes from the ability to effectively communicate and negotiate—both when speaking and listening.

In addition, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has found that people would rather do business with a person they like and trust than someone they don’t. While this isn’t surprising, the real clincher was this—it applied even if the likable person was offering a lower-quality product or service at a higher price.

How To Make It Work For You: Pay close attention to what your listeners are saying so you can learn what is important to them and their situation. Most importantly, remember that everyone is different. One size does not fit all.

4. FORGET TO BE POLITE

I chose my FBI mentors based on how successfully they handled 1) their investigations, and 2) their supervisors. One of the best agents I ever worked with taught me that sugar gets better results than vinegar, whether you’re interviewing a terrorism suspect or explaining a late report to a supervisor.

Tony always used these two words: “Please” and “Thank you.” It didn’t make any difference if you were a clerk behind the checkout register, the FBI Director, or a scumbag we were arresting for extortion. Tony always treated people with respect. He was unfailingly polite, no matter the situation.

Likable leaders like Tony make people feel special, as though they are the only person in the room. They are able to communicate on a very personal, emotional level.

How To Make It Work For You: People may forget what you say to them, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Make the extra effort to make everyone feel valuable—even better, really believe that everyone truly is valuable.

5. TOO SERIOUS

It’s is an inevitable truth: the more serious the FBI investigation, the more humor was needed to break through the stress.

Research has shown that humor is a great tension breaker in the workplace. When we laugh in response to something that is said, something happens in our brain. Not only is there a cognitive shift in how you view your stressors, there are emotional and physical responses that enable you to relax when you laugh.

People who are passionate and dedicated to their work often come across as too serious and uninterested in anything that isn’t related to their situation. They may or may not be seriously stressed, but they do end up missing out on valuable social moments. It’s possible to be serious, and friendly as well.

How To Make It Work For You: Usually, the most likable people in a room are those who can elicit a smile or laughter from others. You do not have to be a jokester; all you need to be is someone who can laugh easily and smile often.

6. LISTEN MORE

To be likable, you must be an active listener. This means responding with questions that confirm you are actually listening to what the other person is saying. Our time is one of our most valuable resources; when you actively listen, you are giving something very important.

How To Make It Work For You: People tend to feel good when they are the center of attention. Make empathetic statements that capture the person’s message:

  1. Notice an emotion that was conveyed in their conversation and then repeat it by asking a question—such as “So you are happy that you . . .”
  2. Rephrase a verbal message they communicated. This accomplishes two things: first, it confirms to them that you correctly heard them, and second, it allows them to talk further about it.
  3. Match their body language. If they speak in quiet tones, so should you. If they are intense, ratchet-up your style as well.

When you make a person feel good about themselves, they will like you. It’s a simple rule to follow.

7. SHARE TOO MUCH

Developing a tribe mentality in our work environment is important because tribes help us get behind a shared objective. We can sense a bubble of excitement and community when we’re surrounded by people with similar values. We are eager to hear our leaders tell stories that renew that sense of purpose.

While getting to know our tribes requires sharing, sharing too much about ourselves too early, or at inappropriate times, can sabotage our efforts. Instead of spewing out the nitty gritty details of your life at the first opportunity, learn about the other people in your tribe first.

Oversharing can take many forms. Sometimes it sounds a lot like bullying if we run over others in our eagerness to push our recommendations out front; other times it gives others the impression that we’re self-obsessed, in more need of a therapist or a sounding board.

How To Make It Work For You: Always be the first to give others a chance to talk. Give them the chance to be the most important person in the world. This requires a heart of humility and genuine belief in people.

© 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.” 

5 Effective Ways To Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

Monday, June 5th, 2017

It’s easy to get overwhelmed while working an FBI investigation because they are solved by gathering lots of evidence and collecting reams of information. As an agent, I spent hours, days, months, and even years generating enough knowledge about an individual to decide whether evidence pointed to their innocence or guilt.

Knowledge is power, but modern technology has made information so accessible that most of us experience a surfeit of it. When that happens, our minds become overwhelmed as more and more information demands our attention.

At the dawn of the computer age, people were predicting that less paper and more technology would free us to work less and pay more attention to the most important things in our lives. Both of those predictions have been wrong; we are not only getting paid the the same but we’re expected to spend a great deal more time keeping up with technology that changes all the time.

When is technology producing information that is valuable, and when is it information to be ignored? At what point are we overwhelmed with the emails, video clips, news stories, and social media coming at us? What can we do?

Here are 5 effective things to do to stop feeling overwhelmed

1. USE MENTAL STRENGTH TO FOCUS ON THE IMPORTANT STUFF

Successful leaders keep from feeling overwhelmed when they focus their attention on information that truly matters to them.

“Busy” and “not busy” are not defined by how many activities are on your plate. The reality is that there is no such thing as multitasking, even though we can address several needs at a time. Research has shown that while we’re capable of engaging in several activities at once, and still be operationally functional, our brain can give only one of those activities its complete attention.

Busy-ness is truly a state of mind, not a fact.

TIP: This means you must use mental strength to focus only on those activities that are important and not let your attention get diverted by less important things—in other words, prioritize your priorities. Begin each day with prioritizing your day’s most important activities so that you don’t end your day feeling overwhelmed by what you did not accomplish.

2. TACKLE THE HARD STUFF FIRST

If you keep from being overwhelmed, do not leave the hardest and most difficult tasks for the end of the day.

Your brain is like every other part of your body: it takes a lot of energy to run it. A typical person’s brain uses approximately 10.8 calories every hour.

Your brain takes power to run and this power drains as you use it. This explains why it’s easy to get distracted when you’re tired or hungry. If you have a difficult task in front of you, start on it while your brain is fresh and energized.

TIP: To keep from feeling overwhelmed means resisting deep instinctive tendencies to avoid what is unpleasant or produces fear within us. If the project before you seems overwhelming, break it down into smaller tasks. Smaller bites will provide you confidence and a sense of forward momentum as you chip away at the larger project. Give yourself one goal each day that will move you toward conquering it. At the end of the week, evaluate how much progress you’ve made. Then congratulate yourself.

3. GROW A PAIR AND LEARN TO SAY NO

Only robots always say “yes.” We all try to be positive and value the possibilities before us, but at some point it become ridiculous. Every single day we’re faced with temptations and inducements to keep doing more. It is so easy to get sucked into a lie about how much better our life will be if we only keep struggling to move upward—and onward.

Both life and business are getting dumped into little projects that are short-term and recyclable. We’ve become like our favorite airline and overbooked because we certainly don’t want to miss out on any margin of profit that can be squeezed from our already miserly little lives.

Take control! Here are 3 reasons you may not be able to say no:

  • Most people, and women in particular, hate letting others down and tend to take on more than they can handle. But whom are we trying to impress—others or ourselves? Often, we’re hooked on feeling needed by others so we say yes when someone comes to us for something. This is what we secretly want, so we end up feeling overwhelmed with everything that we’ve committed ourself to.
  • When faced with an unpleasant or difficult task, we welcome distractions. We’re actually relieved to be able to turn our attention somewhere else. As a result, we do not accomplish what we need to do in order to finish our tasks.
  • If we are not in control of our life, we may be so disorganized that we’re unaware of our other commitments. We end up taking on additional tasks at the expense of completing our own critical tasks.

TIP: If any of these bad habits describe you, nip them in bud and just say NO!

4. STOP BLAMING STRESS FOR EVERYTHING BAD IN YOUR LIFE

Busy people keep from feeling overwhelmed by remembering short-term stress triggers the production of immune cells that boost the body’s defenses. As a result, their brain and body get a boost.

Too little stress and you’re bored and unmotivated; too much and you become difficult to live with and risk your health.

Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges people to see stress as a positive. In a recent TED talk she said that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. When you choose to look at stress as helpful, you are creating the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others while under stress, you can create resilience.

In her book, The Stress-Proof Brain, Dr. Melanie Greenberg talks about ways we boost our confidence levels and how we can cope with stress in constructive ways. She suggests to ask yourself these questions:

  • What helped me survive other difficult circumstances in my life?
  • Have I faced this sort of situation before?
  • What skills or personal qualities do I possess that might help me manage my stress?
  • What external resources or support can I rely on to help me deal with the stressor?

5. MAKE MEETINGS COUNT

A recent study indicates that most CEOs spend about one third of their time in meetings. It’s a lot of time and it can either be valuable time or wasted time; it’s up to you.

A financial advisor once told me that he never attended meetings that 1) did not have an agenda, and 2) a timeframe for the agenda. It’s a good rule to live by. If you are the one running the meeting, keep this in mind:

TIP:

  • Identify the topic.
  • Remind people why they’re discussing it.
  • Decide who will take ownership for the topic.
  • Put a limit on how long to be spent on the topic. If time runs over, create a sub-committee to report back to the larger group.

If you can clarify these things, everyone’s time will be well spent.

© 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.” 

How to Stay Mentally Tough When You Face Difficult Stressors

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Guest post by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.

Stress is on the rise. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey indicate that 78% report at least one symptom of stress. 34% report increases in stress since the previous year. 

 

It can cause mental health problems like worry or depression or difficulty sleeping. 25% of those employed snap at co-workers because of stress. If you can’t handle it, you can sabotage your health and damage your relationships. This will interfere with your longer-term success.

Calming down your stressed out feelings is only one aspect of managing stress and it may not be the best strategy for every situation.  To most effectively master stress, you need to be self-aware about your own reactions. You also need to be able to focus and think clearly about your values and goals and to sustain attention and motivation in the face of roadblocks and failures. Finally and most importantly, your mindset about stress makes all the difference. Learning how to reframe stress more positively – as a challenge with potential for growth and learning – can help you feel more confident and excited about the possibilities. Building the four qualities of mental toughness: emotional competency, resilience, willpower, and attitude can set you up for success when stress inevitably hits you!

Emotional Competency

Stress sends your brain into “fight or flight” mode, which sets into play a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This response is very rapid and sometimes occurs before the conscious parts of the brain even know what’s going on. “Fight or flight” can trigger impulsive, behaviors like screaming at co-workers because your body is gearing up to fight a threat. This is where emotional competency comes in. You can’t stop “fight or flight,” but you can learn to identify when it’s happening and take a mindful pause before reacting automatically. Being mindful means being able to notice and describe what’s happening in your mind and body – observing rather than absorbing the stress. Mindfulness enhances your emotional competence because, over months and years, it actually changes the parts of the brain involved in the stress response. It also helps you find a more compassionate view of the situation, which helps you feel less stressed. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help strengthen this response.

Resilience

Resilience is another part of mental toughness that can help you deal more effectively with stress.  One aspect of resilience is “grit,” a concept defined by researcher Angela Duckworth. Grit means being able to tolerate discomfort and setbacks because you are driven by your passion for long-term goals,  Research studies in college students, salespeople, and Westpoint cadets shows that grit is just as or more important than intelligence and mental ability in determining long-term success. To build grit, you have to know what values and goals are most important to you and why. Stress makes you reactive in the moment, but grit can help you step back and take a long-term view. Think about your passion for building your business or your organization’s mission and let that empower you to plough through the difficulties.  In one study (Brooks,2014) subjects who felt anxious about public speaking were told to relabel their anxious feelings as excitement while another group was told to try to calm down.  Those in the “excitement”group felt more excited and actually performed better at the speaking task. The anxiety and adrenaline surges involved in “fight or flight” can actually fuel performance if they are managed effectively.

Willpower

One of the challenges of the stressors we face these days is that they can be chronic and that the outcomes are often at least partially out of our control. Retaining customers, making sales, and getting promotions involve making consistent effort to work hard and build relationships over long periods of time. This is where willpower comes in. Staying organized and focused on your goals means being able to manage your body’s “fight to flight” response so it doesn’t “hijack” your brain’s attention.  Time spent worrying about things you can’t control can be counterproductive and get in the way of getting things done.  Willpower means that you learn to direct your brain’s focus of attention, rather than letting automatic stress reactivity distract you. Willpower does not occur in a vacuum – you can deliberately organize your environment to sustain willpower (e.g., by programming reminders into your phone, having a vision board,  or putting your running shoes where you’ll see them).

Attitude

Research shows that your attitude towards your stress can have as much influence as the actual events in determining how well things turn out.  In a study by Crum, Salovey, and Achor (2013) the researchers used a questionnaire to assess whether people saw stress as damaging or as having some benefits.  Those who saw stress as damaging were more likely to focus on avoiding feeling stressed, which led them to miss out on opportunities to learn and grow. In their study, students who saw stress as damaging were less likely to want to hear feedback after they gave a speech. In another study (Keller et al., 2012), people who saw stress as damaging their health and who also experienced a lot of stress had a 43% increase in premature death. In a third study, participants who were able to reframe their stress reactions as functional had an improved cardiovascular response to stress and were less likely to think about negative aspects of the situation (Jamieson, Nock & Mendes, 2012). The take home message is that you need to think of your body’s stressful arousal as gearing yourself up for a challenge you can master, rather than something that threatens to derail you.

Stress is an inevitable part of life but mentally tough people know how to befriend their stress and use it to their advantage.  To learn more about your brain’s stress response and how to develop resilience, read my new book The Stress-Proof Brain, released in February 2017 and available on Amazon.

http://amzn.to/2kNwRqC

Melanie Greenberg is a practicing psychologist in Marin County California and an expert on managing stress in life, work, and relationships using proven strategies from neuroscience, mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral approaches, and positive psychology. She is the author of The Mindful Self-Express blog for Psychology Today (8 million+ page views). Her new book. The Stress-Proof Brain was released last week by New Harbinger. It received a starred positive review from Library Journal and is an Amazon bestseller in Neuropsychology and Stress-Management.

© 2017  All rights reserved.

You can follow LaRae Quy on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get LaRae’s FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for LaRae’s How To Build Confidence on-line training course

LaRae Quy is the author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

6 Ways FBI Agents Increase Resilience

Monday, December 5th, 2016

In today’s competitive culture, the ability to increase resilience is a critical skill because it takes more than talent to succeed.

Increase Resilience

The ability to pick ourselves up when life knocks us down is called resilience. As a new FBI agent, I learned to be bold, take risks, and put myself out there. Even when scared to death of what I might face.

Adversity creates many forms of stress. It happens when we scale a business, expand into a new market, or juggle the demands of family. 

The way in which we overcome adversity determines how we will achieve success—LaRae Quy

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 are 6 ways to increase your resilience:

1) INCREASE RESILIENCE: REINTERPRET NEGATIVE EVENTS

Setbacks are a natural part of life. Resilience requires mental toughness because it is the ability to recover quickly from adversity, no matter your situation.

Nip negative emotions and reactions in the bud, when they first appear. This is when they are the weakest—LaRae Quy

Agents are motivated when they look into the face of an innocent victim who trusts and expects to find answers. However, many of these cases are so old that the leads have become cold. 

To reinterpret negative events, agents reappraise the facts of the case to find new clues. As a result, they become wiser and more resilient investigators. They are better able to see new possibilities in how the case can move forward.

Quit is not a word used in FBI investigations.

2) INCREASE RESILIENCE: ENHANCE POSITIVE EMOTIONS

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from whatever adversity you are facing. But often the only way out—is through the adversity. We must bounce through the adversity that faces us. This is when we must be positive thinkers and not optimists.

Optimism and positive thinking are two different things: optimists believe their circumstances will change in the future—and for the better. Positive thinkers believe that your circumstances will change; instead, they believe they will prevail in their circumstances.

FBI are resilient because they are positive thinkers who do not look at their world through rose-colored glasses. Their buoyant outlook overpowers stress and sticky situations because they are confident they will find a way to get through the difficulty that lies ahead.

3) INCREASE RESILIENCE: GET PHYSICALLY FIT

Exercise lengthens your attention span, strengthens your decision making abilities, enhances memory, and empowers you to handle stress.

Exercise can also enhance resilience because it activates genes for proteins that promote growth and repair of neurons damaged by stress.

When we get physically fit, it boosts endorphins as well as neurotransmitters that elevate our mood and suppress the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

FBI agents are required to maintain physical fitness standards through their career and are given time during the week to work out. Once a year, all agents are given a field FIT test to gauge their body fat levels as well as pushups, sit-ups, and a two mile run.

4) INCREASE RESILIENCE: STICK WITH YOUR TRIBE

Friendships are important; they can lift you up, provide security, and prevent slip-ups in both business and life.

As Sebastian Junger writes in his book, Tribe, “We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding—”tribes.” This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society. To regain it might be the key to our psychological survival.”

A strong psychological thread within the Bureau is the concept of the “FBI family.” FBI employees will close ranks around one of their own if the individual is targeted or harmed in some way.

The strong and unequivocal support of others is powerful because it increases an individual’s self-confidence. It also provides a safety net for those times when they fall, and enhances their belief that they can overcome obstacles.

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

5. INCREASE RESILIENCE: IMITATE OTHERS

Look for people in your circles who know how to recover from hardship quickly so you can learn from them.

Research by psychologist Albert Bandura indicates that when we imitate the behavior of those whom we admire, it provides us with resilient role models. The “fake it until you make it” proverb will work but with a couple of important caveats:

1) First, you cannot look to others to make you competent, knowledgable, and confident—you must own those qualities. There is a big difference between imitating someone and trying to be an imposter.

2) Second, the individual whom you imitate must possess the resilience qualities you admire and they must allow you to walk alongside so you can imbibe those qualities.

The FBI assigns a training agent to all new agents. This individual is often the one whom the new agent will imitate as they learn their job. I found that informal mentors were also a great way to learn how to do something. I would watch and understand how they developed their resilient qualities.

6) INCREASE RESILIENCE: STAND UP TO STRESS

A resilient individual is not someone who avoids stress; rather, it is someone who learns how to tame it.

Psychologists distinguish between good stress, or “eustress” which is caused by positive experiences, and bad stress which is caused by the bad stuff. A new body of research suggests that stress is not bad for you unless you believe it is bad for you. Seeing stressors as challenges rather than threats invites physiological responses that can improve thinking and cause less physical wear and tear.                 

FBI agents often compare “war stories” with colleagues. Since we all share these experiences, we treat them as stimulating challenges in our job to be overcome. However, if  we share these same stories with friends or neighbors, they would treat them as potential threats to our safety. The difference in response creates a tribe mentality (as described above in #4) and reminds us that our outlook determines whether the experience was an exciting challenge, or a threat to avoid.

How do you increase your resilience when confronted with roadblocks?

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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

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4 Tips On How To Handle Stress

Monday, June 13th, 2016

As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I learned more about how to handle stress in those four years than at any other time in my life. The constant demand from the media for information that was timely, on-message, and accurate was relentless.

stress

Interestingly enough, it was also the period in my life when I felt the most energized and invigorated. After twenty years as an investigator, I needed the boost of adrenaline that a fast-paced environment gave me.

As entrepreneurs, sales executives, and leaders, you are stressed by deadlines, responsibilities, and your ever-increasing workload. You may be wondering how to handle stress and worried that it is interfering with your job performance and even your health.

The conventional wisdom about stress warns that too much of it can cause high blood pressure. It can also cause heart attacks and other health hazards. Non-stop stress can be harmful. However, recent research is providing new insight into how measured doses of stress can actually enhance our performance.

Our brains are hard-wired so that it is difficult for us to take action until we feel stress or anxiety. Mentally strong people are able to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in optimal levels to achieve top performance.

Here are 4 tips to help you handle stress and keep stress levels in check:

1. DEVELOP THE RIGHT MINDSET

In the past, psychologists believed that it was the amount of stress that was bad for a person’s health. Recent studies show that the amount of stress is a surprisingly poor predictor of whether it will leave you better, or worse, off.

New research from Yale University and Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, reveal that people can be divided into two groups:

  1. those who believe that stress-is-debilitating, and
  2. those who believe that stress-is-enhancing.

The Yale Study found that people who had stress-is-enhancing mindsets reported having better health. They also experience greater life satisfaction and superior work performance.

Stress produces cortisol—too much or too little cortisol release in response to a stressor can have negative physiological consequences.

The Yale research, in combination with Achor’s findings, paint a very clear picture:

Stress is killing you if you believe it is. Studies confirm that people who die from stress do not die from stress itself. They die from the belief that stress was bad for them. Those who do not believe it is harmful experience no negative side effects on their health.

Use mental toughness to manage your mindset and handle stress. You will see challenges you face as opportunities to grow and learn. In addition, you will be both happier and more productive.

2. USE SELF-TALK TO HANDLE STRESS

We all know that anxiety can hurt performance. Most of us have been in situations when we were anxious, couldn’t think straight, and experienced temporary lapses in memory.

Too much cortisol and our performance withers. But people who are calm can experience too little cortisol, and their performance withers, too.

The key is learning how to manage your emotions with self-talk and use the right words when controlling your thoughts.

The Journal of Experimental Psychology reported that people who told themselves that they were excited about the challenge ahead of them performed well. They did significantly better than those who told themselves that they were calm.

If you are excited about your job or task, you will be more persuasive, competent, confident, and persistent. You will grit-up with the mental toughness to change the way you label your feelings and emotions. Move them from stressful to exciting. This helps create a shift toward a more positive mindset.

3. BE GRATEFUL

Taking the time to be grateful lessens anxiety because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Professor Robert Emmons conducted a study at the University of California, Davis, of over 1,000 people, from ages 8 to 80. They found that those who cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced a host of benefits:

  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated

4. REIGNITE THE INNER FIRE

The higher levels of stress that I experienced as the FBI spokesperson brought me closer to understanding what fired up my heart. Because of the constant deadlines, I found myself doing two things:

1) Focusing on what I liked to do, and 2) delaying until later or delegating to others the things I didn’t like to do.

One of the things I loved to do was gather stories from other agents and then work with reporters on getting those stories out to the public. I delayed as long as possible doing the record checks and going through files for details of an investigation.

I created stories around FBI best practices and shared them with others. The audience benefited from the life lessons that twirled all around me.

The stress imposed upon me by my job forced me to prioritize, and in those priorities I found where my heart was leading. I wanted to write and share the lessons I learned from my time as an FBI agent with others.

For stress to be beneficial, it’s important to find meaning in your work . Research has shown that workers in high-stress jobs like air-traffic controllers and intensive-care nurses thrive under heavy stress if they are positive about the future and find their work meaningful.

You cannot be stressed out and empowered at the same time! Be mentally strong and keep your anxiety from taking over.

When has stress enabled you to perform at your best?

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

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

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Science-Based Reasons Men And Women Look At Risk Differently

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

FBI agents are trained to take risk seriously. Every arrest is planned from many angles with emphasis given to what can go wrong when agents are faced with the unexpected.

pablo

I took part in several arrests in my career. While there risks because I carried a weapon every day, the biggest risk came from friendly fire. That is, a supervisor who could change your life with a single stroke of their pen and transfer you, without warning, to another squad.

I lived in fear of this risk because agents have no choice in their assignment. From day one this message was hammered into our thinking—the needs of the Bureau come first. Always.

When success also means survival, it was essential to land on my feet when confronted with the unknown. Over time, I learned to look at risks as opportunities to be exploited. It could be a messy investigation or new squad assignment.

Real success came when I walked away from uncomfortable situations with more savvy and skill than when I started.

In today’s competitive marketplace, we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations all the time. As we move out of our comfort zone, we also move closer to risk. We don’t know how far into the unknown our risks will take us.

Conventional wisdom says that women take fewer risks than men, but is it true? Much of the difference can be attributed to the way boys and girls are socialized as children. In general, boys are reared to shoot from the hip early on. Girls learn about risk differently. Risky behavior, girls are told, is dangerous.

If conditioning is partly to blame, then reconditioning is part of the answer. Adopting a “Grit-up” mentality can make all the difference.

Research finds that men and women use different strategies. They also use different parts of their brain, when making choices on how to keep moving toward goals.

Here are 3 science-based reasons men and women look at risk differently:

1. Risk: Stress Makes A Difference

A recent study by Mara Mather and Nichole R. Lighthall found that male risk-taking tends to increase under stress. On the other hand, female risk taking tends to decrease under stress. The researchers discovered that there are gender differences in brain activity. It revolves around the different ways men and women compute risk and prepare for action. This is important given the stressful nature of our work lives today.

CAUTION TIP: Don’t stereotype men as too reckless and women too cautious. It makes good sense for men and women to work together to create smarter risk-taking decisions.

2. Risk: Immediate vs Long-Term Rewards

A review published in Behavioral Brain Research discovered that the majority of women in the study tended to focus on immediate rewards. Meanwhile, the majority of men in the study tended to focus on long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Men may appear to be stubborn and unwilling to change course once a strategy is put into action. Remember his brain engages the top, dorsal area of the orbitofrontal cortex which focuses on long term rewards. In addition, most male brains seek out irregular patterns of behavior which will provide them with a competitive advantage. This will help them set goals that will produce long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Women may appear to be feckless and unable to stick with a strategy. Remember her brain engages the medial part of this region which is involved in identifying regular patterns and immediate rewards. Her brain is able to assimilate new information that enables her to make adjustments to strategies that will lead to rewards accordingly.

3. Risk: Bait-And-Switch

An article published in Scientific American Mind explains why women are more comfortable with switching strategies mid-task. This is difficult for men because they tend to engage the part of their brain linked to long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Women may appear to uncertain or worried about making errors. Remember her brain takes the time to gather more information. In fact, it is a woman’s detailed exploration that makes them more attuned to change. They can clue into changes quicker than their male counterparts.

CAUTION TIP: Men may find it more difficult to abandon a project, course of action, or strategy. Remember his brain tends to focus on big rewards later. This is unlike female brains that are often satisfied with small gains now.

Researchers caution that neither approach is better; both are necessary and useful in daily life. We do need to understand how these differences can turn into advantages through collaborative efforts that involves both sexes.

It too simplistic to assume that all men and women react the same way to risk, stress, and goal setting. And it’s dangerous to stereotype behavior by gender. Of primary significance is that these studies elucidate how different brains each bring unique strengths to the table. Working together will create a stronger collaborative product in the end.

What differences in risk taking have you noticed between men and women?   

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

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

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How Leaders Can Use Emotional Intelligence To Predict Their Success

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Few could accuse the FBI of being soft and fluffy, and yet emotional intelligence is at the heart of most successful FBI investigations. 

Discomfort zone - duckling

The ability to recognize, control, and express emotions was often the single factor that led to my success in recruiting foreign intelligence officers to work for the U.S. government. It’s also played an essential role in recruiting human intelligence (humint) sources from among the business community.

By remaining alert for how people reacted to different topics of conversation, I gained an insight into how their emotions and thoughts drove their behavior.

While the FBI is constantly training agents how to do their job better, I learned about the importance of emotional intelligence by observing squad mates who failed to demonstrate it.

They were the ones who failed to develop humint sources or get close to the subject of their investigation—they could not break through barriers and develop rapport with people. Not only that, they often had a particular lack of self-awareness—a wreck waiting to happen to anyone, not just those working counterintelligence cases. 

The way in which we react to obstacles, misfortune, and adversity is often the result of habit rather than deliberate choice. With a little training and awareness, we can develop the mental toughness needed to make smarter choices and be more successful.

Here are 5 ways leaders can use emotional intelligence to predict their success:

1. Engage In Psychological Fortune Telling

Our preoccupation with being happy all the time can actually lead us to expect too much from everyday experiences.

Psychologist Maya Tamir recommends that instead of making the pursuit of happiness your guiding principle in stressful situations, you should think about your long-term goal first. Once you’ve clearly identified your long term goal, you can choose the emotion you want to experience in that situation. 

For example, leaders who are under pressure to make a compromise can use emotional intelligence to opt for the emotion or feeling that will help them be more successful.

TIP: Leaders with high emotional intelligence do not always choose the pleasant emotion; instead, they opt for the one that keeps them moving down the road and toward their long-term goals.

2. Early Intervention Is Key

Sometimes we’re thrown into situations where there is no exit strategy. But often, many of us could avoid emotional events by simply anticipating them and taking pro-active measures. We’re better off if we can nip the monster in the bud before it overtakes us.

There is always someone with an irksome laugh or annoying habit to deal with, so develop buffers if you know you’re going to be in their company.

Situations that trigger negative emotions often leave people feeling depressed, especially when they could have been averted. 

Many events that produce stress and negative emotions are uncontrollable, such as accidents or illnesses. Many of them, however, can be managed if leaders are savvy about how to anticipate them and intervene.

TIP: Identify and address your source of stress proactively rather than try to deal with the emotional fallout later. 

3. Avoidance Is Not An Option

It is not always possible to run from a negative situation. Given a choice, most of us would choose to avoid recurring situations that evoke unpleasant or sad feelings. Dealing with people or situations that continually bleed annoying emotions can be exhausting, so we seek distractions or look away with relief.

Studies have shown that those who know the situation is likely to rear it’s ugly head again in the future but have the grit to stick with it, and pierce through the negativity, are far more likely to respond in ways that are constructive. 

The reason is this: when the situation is recurring, you bolster your brain’s ability to observe and detach from inner reactions so you can strengthen emotional management. 

TIP: Identify those situations in your life where avoidance is not an option. You know your emotional buttons will be pushed. Punch through the negativity of the situation so you can find ways to manage your emotional reactions.

4. Reframe Your Emotion

Often, the key to managing emotions is simply to reframe them. Anger and fear are both freighted with energy; so, instead of expressing them in a negative way, channel them into a more positive one. Is a lump of coal or a diamond in the making?

For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, reframe that nervous energy as “getting pumped” for the next performance.

Managing your emotions is a skill; you learn it better when you practice it over time. The same goes for reframing them—it takes intentional training. Often, we let the energy from our emotions decide how we react. We do not intentionally cultivate the emotions that will serve us best.

TIP: Research in Neuroplasticity has shown us that we can literally re-wire our brain by changing the way we think about negative situations. If we can take responsibility for own brain, then we can also take responsibility for our own emotions.

5. Let It All Hang Out

But what if someone insults you? You cannot avoid feeling hurt no matter how hard you try to control your response. 

There are times when we need to express our emotions because holding them back takes a toll.

Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister conducted a series of experiments where people who suppressed their emotions (both happy and sad) tended to give up sooner on later projects. Resisting emotional  responses had taxed their willpower and energy.

TIP: Other research has found that people who suppress their emotions all the time have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and suffer from more broken relationships, chronic pain, tinnitus, and diabetes than the rest of the population.

Leaders who use emotional intelligence to anticipate their reactions, visualize the outcomes, and identify the actions that could change future feelings are in a better position to predict their success.

How has emotional intelligence helped you to be more successful?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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

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5 Science-Based Tips For Building Your Resilience

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

My brother almost died from a heart attack a few years back. Because of his resilience, he is now in great health. Nothing gets your attention quite like a life or death situation. 

Struggles - tiger in waterWhether a person hangs in or gives up during tough times depends on their mental toughness and ability to bounce back. Resilience is harnessing your response to stress when you’re faced with adversity. Since setbacks are part of any endeavor, success hinges on resilience.

Here are 5 science-based ways you can increase your level of resilience when faced with stress and trauma:

1. REINTERPRET YOUR SITUATION

Columbia University Psychologist Kevin Ochsner has found that when people intentionally reinterpret a negative situation as being less negative, they experience fewer unpleasant emotions. This technique has worked successfully for former Vietnam prisoners of war. Most of the veterans had been brutally tortured during their imprisonment. Instead of feeling despair or engaging in self-pity, they reinterpreted their situation and found meaningful ways in which they could grow stronger, wiser, and more resilient as a result.

They were also able to see possibilities in the future, relate better to others, and appreciate life.

The key is to teach ourselves how to observe our own behaviors and thoughts, challenge our negative assessments of stressful situations, and replace them with more positive points of view. 

Do this by asking questions such as, “Is there a less negative way to look at this situation?” “Am I exaggerating my circumstances?” “Is there something I can learn from this experience?” “How can I grow stronger as a result of what I’m going through?”

Mental toughness is choosing how you respond to your situation.

2. ENGAGE IN MINDFUL MEDITATION

If we can consciously live in the present moment, we can stop fretting about either the future or the past. This is important because it trains us to become an observer of our own life who learns how to watch, and not judge, what is going on.

The mind tends to follow familiar conditioned patterns of thinking that, because of our negativity bias, tends to focus on the stress in our life and our failure to cope. Mindful meditation helps cultivate our ability to focus on the positive and develop more flexible thinking so we are better able to deal with anxiety, pressure, and trauma. 

Both reinterpretation and mindful meditation activate the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is associated with greater emotional control, a boost in positive emotions, and faster recovery from feelings such as fear and anger.  

3. REGULATE YOUR STRESS RESPONSE

Boosting your ability to bounce back from difficult situations also promotes mental and physical health. These benefits provide you with a far greater ability to regulate your stress response. 

We have a natural negativity bias that has kept us alert for dangers since the caveman days. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has found that negative emotions tend to narrow our focus of attention and restrict our behavior to that more suited to the emotions associated with survival, not dealing with day to day stress.

Conversely, positive emotions have been found to broaden our focus and produce more creative and flexible responses to stress and trauma.

It’s important to note, however, that mental toughness and resilience are associated with realistic positive thinking—not fantasies or wishful thinking. The key is being able to filter out the drama that often derails our decision making process. 

4.WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING

Aerobic exercise reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. It improves attention, planning, decision making, and memory.

Workouts need to be challenging to be of the most benefit to both your body and your brain. Stress inoculation is the theory behind peak performance. It is based on the idea that if a person deliberately takes on increasingly difficult challenges, they will gradually learn to handle higher levels of stress and produce at higher performance levels. 

The graded exposure to stress can apply to physical, emotional, and cognitive resilience. This means your experiences will need to be outside your comfort zone, but not so intense that they are unmanageable.

This is a quote from the U.S. Navy Combat Stress Control Handbook: “To achieve greater tolerance to a physical stressor, a progressively greater exposure is required. The exposure should be sufficient to produce more than routine stress reflexes…In other words, you must stress the system.”

5. GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS

Many studies have confirmed that the strength and depth of our relationships is a primary component in developing mental toughness. Relationships with others weaken the impact of stress and bolster our courage. 

Support from friends and family is important because it increases our self-confidence and provides a safety net if we should fall. As a result, we tend to be more aggressive in meeting challenges and embracing risk. Social ties stimulate oxytocin, the hormone that is known to reduce anxiety and fear.

A resilient leader is not someone who avoids stress but someone who learns how to master it. Science is showing us how we can boost our resilience. Setbacks are part of any endeavor, and those who react positively will be the ones to keep moving forward.

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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

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