Posts Tagged ‘strong mind’

How Meditation Creates A Strong Mind

Monday, July 11th, 2016

My firearms instructor at the FBI Academy told me that the best shooters develop a strong mind by not allowing themselves to be distracted by other thoughts. All I needed to do was relax, breathe, and focus.

Meditation

He was right. Ironically, shooting at a target can be a Zen moment. If your mind is cluttered with thoughts and anxiety, you won’t hit your mark. Good shooters let all of that go and become very mindful.

Shooting a gun shares many of the same characteristics as meditation. Both require the person to control their noisy inner world with a strength of mind that produces mental toughness.

A strong mind uses meditation to control the tyranny of everyday thinking—compulsive, brain-driven, and unproductive behavior that is based on years of bad habits.

Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher and mystic, said centuries ago, “All human evil comes from this: our inability to sit still in a chair for half an hour.” 

If you think this is an exaggeration, a recent study at the University of Virginia said that 67% of men and 15% of women would sooner endure an unpleasant electric shock rather than be alone in silence for even 15 minutes!

Many of us tend to dwell on negative things when we’re alone. Left in silence, we become anxious as our mind begins an internal dialogue that leaves us sleepless and exhausted.

Mental toughness is harnessing the power of silence to control our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set us up for success.

The silence produced by meditation is a form of intelligence, a type of knowing that goes beyond our emotions, thoughts, and behavior. Meditation is one of the most empowering tools we can use to impact all areas of our life.

Meditation allows us to directly participate in our lives instead of living life as an afterthought.

Here is how a strong mind uses meditation to improve its performance:

1. A Strong Mind Uses Meditation To Change Its Brain

 

 

Brain - messages

Scientists have learned that activities like meditation can change our brain in several ways. It:

  • Adds synaptic connections that thicken the brain tissues over time in the regions handling control of attention and sensory awareness.
  • Increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and sleep.
  • Triggers the body to secrete hormones that decrease blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Activates the left side of your frontal lobes which produce more positive emotions.

2. A Strong Mind Uses Meditation To Calm It Down

Meditation enables us to move from higher frequency brain waves—which is hyperactivity in the brain—to lower frequency.

The slower the rhythms in the brain, the more time you have between thoughts. With more time, you also have more opportunity to skillfully choose which thoughts you should invest in.

Note: For those who have not tried meditation, check out this excellent app from Headspace.

3. A Strong Mind Uses Meditation To Lessen Anxiety

Mistakes -woman on phone

Researchers explain that there are many “centers” in the brain, but the one that impacts the way you see yourself, and others, is called the Self-Referencing Center.

Many people also call this the “Me Center” because it processes information related to us—our daydreams, thinking of the future, self-reflection, and our experiences.

When you become anxious, it triggers a strong reaction in your Me Center which leaves you feeling threatened and scared.

Meditation weakens this neural connection. Your ability to ignore anxiety is enhanced as these connections are broken. As a result, you are able to readily recognize sensations like anxiety or fear for what they are; in doing so, you can respond to them more rationally.

4. A Strong mind Uses Meditation To Be More Productive

Successful financial plans

While many may say that meditating for performance is not the point, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have discovered that meditation not only reduces stress, it also calms us down so we can be our best.

Meditation does the following:

  • Separates the noise from the static.
  • Helps you focus on what is important to you.
  • Increases memory so it’s easier to recall information.
  • Creates better conversations with others.
  • Strengthens resolve to make intentional decisions so you achieve what you want.
  • Trains your mind to not get swept up by distractions.

Meditation is the extra edge most of us need for peak performance in our competitive environments. It helps us to control our mind’s natural inclination to wander, which often gets in the way of our success. A strong mind is distracted less often and has an easier time remembering what is important to remember.

You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day, unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour—Zen Proverb

How can you make meditation a part of your life?

© 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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Why You Need Self-Awareness And 16 Steps To Get There

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

As part of an arrest team in the uglier part of Oakland, my job was to cover the back door while the FBI SWAT team crashed through the front door with a bantering ram. These were the sort of criminals who did not hold day jobs—we had waited until 5:00am to make certain they had made it back home.

Self Awareness - desert

I heard, “FBI, come out with your hands up.” I tried to control my fear as I waited for one of the suspects to make a run for it out the back door. I was wearing a bullet-proof vest and knew that I was surrounded by highly skilled FBI snipers, but that was not enough to assuage my worry that something could go wrong.

Then a scuffle, shouts, and the back door opened. One of my colleagues stepped out and gave me the OK sign that the suspects were in custody. As I lowered my weapon, my emotions immediately calmed down—the pressure was off.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, you may have felt fear when in a tense situation; or, found yourself sabotaged by an unwelcome emotion when under pressure.

Our brains are hardwired to make us emotional creatures—first and foremost. No matter how tough and self-controlled we think we are, our first reaction will ALWAYS be emotional. We can dampen or deny our emotions, but we are kidding ourselves if we think we can actually control the way in which our brain processes emotions. 

You do have total control, however, over the thoughts that follow an emotion. If you are in control, you also have a great deal of power over the way in which you react to your emotion and the situation that created it.

Mental toughness is managing your emotions by controlling our subsequent thoughts and behavior in ways that will set you up for success.

The key is to be aware of your emotion. If you are not fully aware of what you are feeling, you will be clueless in how to handle it effectively. You cannot change what you will not acknowledge.

1. Self Awareness Is Essential

Mentally tough leaders understand that self-awareness is the first step in building an unbeatable mind. Self-awareness is not some touchy-feely exercise that is meant to make you feel better about yourself.

Instead, it requires mental toughness to come to terms with the good, the bad, and the ugly about yourself. You will need a strong mind to face who you really are, without the pretense of illusion or vanity.

And it takes an equally strong mind to not let your emotions jab you in the stomach when you admit to yourself that you are not Superman or Wonder Woman. If you are not in control of your emotions, you can feel like a loser and give up.

2. Self-Awareness Takes Honesty And Patience

Mental toughness requires us to develop our strengths, and just as importantly, manage our weaknesses.

That means identifying what triggers 1) positive and healthy emotions, and 2) negative and unproductive ones. Mentally tough leaders know what triggers both types. Whether you like it or not, only by learning and understanding what triggers unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior can you begin to notice it and control it.

3. Steps To Self-Awareness

  1. Stop treating your emotions and feelings as either good or bad.
  2. Admit each emotion has something to teach you, even your negative emotions.
  3. Recognize that pretending a negative emotion doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it’s not still there, lurking beneath the surface and ready to sabotage you when you least expect it.
  4. Put yourself under surveillance.
  5. Notice what event, person, or situation provokes a good emotion.
  6. Notice what event, person, or situation provokes a negative emotion.
  7. Keep a journal of what you’ve noticed.
  8. Explore why you experienced a good and positive emotion.
  9. Explore why you experienced a negative and painful emotion. Did I mention: Keep a journal of what you’ve noticed and explored—no matter how unpleasant the emotional experience.
  10. Work your way through the positive and negative emotion.
  11. Express what you are feeling in less than 3 words if it’s a negative emotion. Be honest and stop pretending your aren’t feeling jealous, envious, angry, etc. Do NOT engage in dialogue about these negative feelings, however, as it will only increase your anxiety.
  12. Drill down and ask yourself Why you do the things you do.
  13. Revisit your values.
  14. Spot your emotional reactions in others, including movies and books.
  15. Use stress as a time to get to know yourself better.
  16. Ask for feedback from people you trust. One more time: are you keeping track of this?

Facing the truth about who you can be hard—even ugly at times. But it will remain ugly only if you don’t start doing something about the things you don’t like about yourself. Getting in touch with emotions that produce the thoughts and behavior you don’t like takes courage and a strong mind.

TIPS:

  • Start on one area at a time.
  • Find a trustworthy mentor or coach to help you through the process.
  • Forget about perfection, just measure your success.
  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Keep a journal or record of what you’ve learned about yourself.

What strategy have you used to become more self-aware?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

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.” 

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5 Ways To Develop Thicker Skin To Become More Resilient

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

Being nice to colleagues is one of the first casualties when work gets stressful. So how can we develop a thicker skin and become more resilient when we’re in a fast-paced environment that produces criticism that stings us?

Thick Skin

Most of us can shrug off a certain amount of criticism by telling ourselves not to take the comment personally. But when you are face to face with someone who accuses you of lying, betraying their trust, or not caring about other team members, it’s hard not to take it a little personally.

Many of us work in fast-paced, high-stress environments and we know how important it is to have a strong mind. So what happens when we realize that we actually do care what people think of us?

Being sensitive to criticism can hold you back. Here are 5 ways you can develop a thicker skin to become more resilient:

1. Welcome Constructive Criticism

Every successful leader and entrepreneur has not only been criticized in their career, but they have also failed spectacularly at something along the way.

If criticism is coming your way because of something you did wrong, be thankful that someone is willing to take the time to let you know how badly you did mess up. So what if the tone is loud and the words are sharp!

Grit up!

If there is a nugget of information that can help you become more successful, grab onto it and let it teach you what you need to know. When feeling down in the dumps after her employees blamed her for glitch on a marketing program, a friend of mine was told by her boss, “It’s time to put your big-girl panties on now.”

Maybe his words were not politically-correct or even polite, but my friend got the message—grow up and face the fact that there will be a few bruises and scars in moving up the ladder of success. The key is to sift through the dross to find the nugget of wisdom—and learn from it.

TIP: Become more resilient by writing down the basics of a critical comment so you can go over it later, when emotions have been tamped down, and you can take a closer look at the facts. Address the errors you made and how you will avoid doing the same in the future.

2. Throw Out The Junk Comments

Just as it’s important to squeeze every ounce of understanding out of a criticism laden with constructive observation, be smart enough to jettison the junk comments that reflect more on the person speaking than your performance.

Stress makes us more emotional and blurting out hurtful or negative comments is common. The reason is that stress decreases our “working memory.” which is the amount of information we hold in our mind.

When we are under stress, our working memory doesn’t allow us to access big chunks of information about the individual whom we are criticizing. All our brain can access is why we’re pissed off at this person. As a result, we say things we really do not mean.

This is when we shouldn’t take a negative criticism personally.

TIP: As you think about a conversation or communication, separate fact from interpretation.

3. Nurture Important Relationships

When you are being assaulted by negative comments and criticism at work, it’s critical that you stay close to people who will support and encourage you. If you do not have strong connections with a core group of friends or family, take the time to do so.

Relationships with others reminds us that we are not alone and that all of us struggle. Talk out your fears and concerns. Once you do, you may find that people who exude the outward appearance of confidence and success have the same fears and concerns that you do.

This is where self-care becomes very important if you want to become more resilient.

When you’re stressed, it’s easy to become worn down emotionally and physically. Even minor stressors feel like a major event.

TIP: Seek out supportive friends or family members so you can give and receive the assistance that we all need at times. This includes developing a proper relationship with yourself—make healthy lifestyle choices that remind you that you’re a priority.

4. Create A Success List

Most critical remarks contain a combination of constructive and junk comments. It’s not always easy to quickly sort out the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Make a list of some of your accomplishments in your current situation. If you don’t feel good about your contributions, you will take the criticism harder.

Whenever you are feeling down or unjustly criticized, take a long and loving look at that list. Remember that you’ve made significant impact on your work environment and that all the negativity flowing around you does not accurately represent your accomplishments. The right attitude will help you become more resilient.

TIP: Writing stuff down helps you to visualize, so keep paper and pen handy. Typing your list out on a computer does not satisfy the brain’s need for visualization. Remember projects that have gone well, people you have helped out, or prospects who were happy with your services.

5. Examine The Deeper Wound

The ability to look at a criticism objectively has a lot to do with self-awareness. Sometimes the reason a person’s comment hurts so deeply is because it pricks at a deeper wound from our past.

Self-awareness will allow you to identify the original injury so you can gain proper perspective on your reaction to your current situation. For example, if image is extremely important to you, any implied criticism that calls into question the image you are portraying will wound more deeply than other ones.

We often do not realize the tender places from our past, and a rejection found in a critical remark can unconsciously take you all the way back to why you didn’t get the red ball in the playground.

TIP: Spend time getting to know who you are, what makes you tick, and what pushes your buttons. Not all childhood memories will be pleasant, but toughen up. Pretending painful past experiences aren’t influencing your behavior in negative ways today is just plain stupid.

No one gets a pass on life. Scars from life’s battles are the places where we are the toughest and our skin is the thickest. Do not let those experiences slip away before you’ve had the chance to learn all they have to teach you.

How have you developed a thicker skin and become more resilient?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Get my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

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 Key Behaviors Of Resilient People

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

At ten years of age, I rode my bike on a cow trail near our ranch house in Wyoming. I sped along at a good clip, too fast to notice a coiled rattlesnake on the other side of rock. Until the snake struck out at full length. My bike flipped, and as I landed, I felt dozens of pricks all over my arms and hands. My mind raced with fear because I thought the rattlesnake had bitten me.

4 Key Behaviors

We lived on a remote ranch in the mountains and it was a two-hour drive on dirt roads to a hospital.

At ten, I prepared myself to die of snake poisoning.

Right about the time I was mourning the loss of what could have been a spectacular life, I noticed that I had landed in a pile of cactus. The wreck of my bike told me the rest of the story. The snake had struck the spokes of the front wheel and was now struggling to get out of the broken and bent spoke wires.

My first instinct was to run home to safety, but my parents had taught me that nothing can be accomplished by running. I found a good sized rock and made sure that particular rattlesnake would never terrorize my cow lane again.

Then I loaded the bike on my shoulders and carried the sorry mess home.

Our reaction to adversity plays a big role in determining how fast we get back on track with life. New research shows that resilience to adversity in our life may be linked to how often we face it. The number of blows a person has taken may affect their mental toughness more than any other factor.

The School Of Hard Knocks has been around for awhile. The early Christians learned this lesson when they were being thrown into dungeons by the Romans. The apostle Paul wrote the following in a letter: “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4).

Resilient people know how to bend and bounce back from adversity. They also know how to bounce though it as well. When I was an FBI agent, I realized that it is a person’s level of resilience that determines who succeeds and who fails.

Resilient people can predict the way they will respond to events in life so they can choose the better alternative. They look back at how they’ve responded to similar situations in the past. And then they learn from those experiences so they can apply that knowledge to future ones.

Living through adversity gives you the confidence that you can come out at the other end of almost anything. Here are 4 key behaviors of resilient people:

Behavior #1: Decide Who Is In Control

My first reaction to the rattlesnake was a healthy dose of fear. At some point, however, I had a choice of letting that fear control me—or not. If it did, it meant I ran home and waited for my parents to take care of both the snake and my bike. If I didn’t let fear control me, it meant I got myself out of the situation using my own resources.

Develop an understanding of your fear. Chances are good that your fear sprouts from feelings of insecurity or doubts you may have about yourself.

It takes courage to look inwardly into the darkest part of your personality. We all contain bits of light and dark; we all contain bits of gold and lead.

Behavior #2: Face Down Reality

If you want to be resilient, you must be able to look the reality of your situation square in the face.

Optimists believe that everything will work out OK in the end. Positive thinkers who do not let optimism distort their sense of reality. Positive thinkers hunt the good stuff and look for positives in the middle of adversity. But, they do not expect their situation to change. Instead, instead, they find ways to prevail in the middle of hardship.

Resilient people have a very sober understanding of what it takes to survive. This requires the ability to anticipate the worst of outcomes while staying cool at the same time.

My FBI training prepared me to be resilient by showing me how to truly stare down reality. It prepared me to act in ways that allowed me to endure when I was thrown into unpredictable and unstable situations. I trained how to survive before the fact—that was the essence of the FBI’s training program at the Academy.

Behavior #3: Find Meaning In Their Life

If you look at yourself as a victim, living through a hardship carries no lesson for you. But, if you are resilient, you will squeeze meaning from your adversity and build a bridge to a better, and more fulfilled, future.

No one exemplified this better than Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor. In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl describes the pivotal moment in the concentration camp when he became disgusted by how trivial and meaningless his life had become. He realized that to survive, he had to find a purpose. Frankl imagined himself giving a lecture after the war on the psychology of the concentration camp.

When he gave himself a concrete goal, he rose above his sufferings of the moment. He said, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation.”

Possessing strong values creates an environment of meaning because they offer ways to interpret events. The most successful people, and businesses, have a purpose beyond just making money.

Behavior #4: Resilient People Make Do And Get On With It!

Life rarely deals a perfect hand.

We learn, grow, and stretch by not just surviving adversity, but by thriving in the midst of it. When hardship does hit, resilience is the ability to make do with whatever we have available. Resilient people improvise and experiment until they find a solution to the problem. The key is to make improvising a way of life.

Karl E. Weick, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Michigan believes there is good evidence that when people are put under pressure, they regress to their most habituated ways of responding.

Again, the way we train ourselves to think, feel, and behave during our regular daily life is exactly the way we will respond when hit with hard times.

What other key behaviors have you noticed in resilient people?

© 2011 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE Mental Toughness Assessment

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

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How Women Can Find The Perfect Mentor To Guide Them To Success

Friday, March 6th, 2015

As a female FBI agent, there were very few other women in my office—or in the building, for that matter. The closest thing to a mentor I had was my male training agent, who viewed me as more of a burden than an opportunity.

Woman leader

But it had been to my advantage to be raised on a cattle ranch in the middle of Wyoming. It was a tough environment—fast food was hitting a deer at 60 miles an hour. My grandmother wrote down ammo for her Christmas list. And there is one thing you never say to a grandmother who is a crack shot with a rifle—“It’s not my fault.”

This was exactly the type of mental toughness I needed when I found myself as a new agent in an FBI squad with few allies. No obvious mentor stood by to take me under their wing. I could have blamed my fellow agents, but I knew that I would need to find my own way to move forward if I wanted to be successful.

On my first squad, my desk was next to a hardened older agent named Leo who looked at me with suspicion—could a woman be relied upon to have his back if we found ourselves in a shootout? He thought not, or at least had his doubts. I could tell by the way he treated me—with quiet disdain.

Not all mentoring relationships need to be a formal arrangement. Leo was an unwitting mentor who would be horrified to think that I considered him as one! But I watched how he worked his cases. He was a thorough investigator who pursued any and all leads. And when he didn’t have any, he still kept at it.

Mentors teach, coach, guide, and motivate. Leo did all of these things for me, although he didn’t know it. I used the information I learned from him, about how to read body language and listen for verbal cues, for the rest of my career! I never liked Leo, and we never so much as sat together over a cup of coffee, but he was one of the best mentors I ever had.

Why is it important for you to have a mentor to guide you toward success? Even more importantly, what characteristics make a good mentor for you?

The term mentor has been watered-down in the last few years. It can encompass anything from self-help books, to touchy-feely therapy sessions when times get tough, to a wise and trusted guide through business and life.

I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned about how women can find the perfect mentor to guide them toward success:

1. Be Wary—Very Wary, Of Praise

Like most overachievers, I look for praise in almost everything I do. 

As a first grade student, I was never satisfied with anything less than an A. My teacher, Mrs. Archie, was very stingy with praise, so you can imagine how much I disliked her. She let me know right away that I was not the smartest person in the room, so when I did get an A she responded with, “You’ve worked very hard to get this grade.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but she had created a growth mindset in the way that I looked at my obstacles. 

Researcher Carol Dweck discovered that our mindset affects our ability to fulfill our potential—to grow and learn, take risks, bounce back from adversity, and to build healthy relationships.   

If we have a “fixed mindset,” we believe our qualities, and that includes our intelligence, are something we were born with and cannot be changed.  If we have a “growth mindset,” we believe that we can cultivate and grow our basic qualities, including our intelligence.

Some of the brightest people avoid challenges, don’t work hard, and wilt in the face of difficulty. In other words, it’s not always the people who start out the smartest in the room who end up the smartest.

A perfect mentor will challenge you to create a growth mindset.

2. Create A Strong Mind

My grandmother was a larger-than-life force in my life. When things didn’t work out the way I expected, she taught me how to be mentally tough. She had no time for people who would not take responsibility for their situation.

I didn’t sweat it when I found no females to mentor me as an FBI agent. I knew that if I wanted to be treated as an equal, I needed to act as an equal. It wouldn’t help to whine, complain, and blame others. I needed to take responsibility. 

If women plan to use the excuse that they can’t make their way up the corporate ladder because there aren’t other women to mentor them, then they haven’t taken their careers very seriously. Take responsibility and find the best person to inspire you to be the best you can be.

Here are the questions I ask myself when I look for a mentor from among the people around me:

  • How can they help me be better at my job?
  • Are they respected by subordinates, peers, and superiors?
  • What skills do they have that I need to develop?
  • How much more do they know more about (this project) than I do?
  • In what ways are they willing to share that knowledge?
  • Will they give me the honest feedback I need?
  • Why do I admire them?
  • How will working with them make me a better person?

A perfect mentor will show you how to develop the mental toughness needed to get you through the roadblocks that are in the way of your success. 

3. Play Big

In the FBI, power meetings among male leaders were held during happy hour—the ones I was never invited to attend. In many larger corporations, power meetings are held in the men’s bathroom during bio-breaks. Either way, the opportunity for women to participate is limited.

When I was tempted to play the victim, I thought about Leo. He was awkward, ugly and had a quirky personality. He wasn’t invited to happy hour, either. And yet, the truth is this: Leo was a big player in the world of FBI counterintelligence investigations. As my unofficial mentor, he reminded me that people will do things to let you down, and even screw you over—that is life!

So get over it.

Leo refused to think small. He’d never start a sentence with, “I’m not an expert but…“ and then apologize. He taught me that leaders, both men and women, need to play big and take control of how they react to a situation. When the going gets tough, roll up your sleeves and get even tougher. 

He taught me how to recognize self-doubt and not let it dictate my actions. If you look for discrimination in business, you will find it. Leo’s advice to me? Just don’t. Don’t look for it or it will pull you down with it. Instead, assume the best of everyone around you. Remember—trust, but verify. Only a fool takes what she hears at face value. 

A perfect mentor helps you to develop confidence in yourself and your abilities.

 

© 2014 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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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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How To Think On Your Feet When Under Pressure

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

I attended a large meeting of agents at FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C. The Counterintelligence Section Chief turned to me and asked what I felt was the priority target for foreign spies in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

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My answer was based on solid information gathered by my fellow agents. I kept my answer concise and clear. The Section Chief nodded and then asked, “What operations have you initiated to stop it?”

As every head in the room turned toward me, I felt my mouth get dry and I cleared my throat so I could respond with a calm and clear voice. But the truth was awkward—I hadn’t initiated any operation against the target. Yikes!

Have any of you ever felt yourself under pressure to come up with the perfect answer when put on the spot by your CEO or supervisor? And in front of your colleagues? What if you can’t think of anything to say?

I felt a collective sigh of relief from the others that I had been the one singled out and not them. I was forced to admit the FBI struggled to find effective ways to safeguard the priority target. It didn’t help that I’m the kind of person who comes up with perfect retorts—about twenty minutes after the question is asked.

If we can train ourselves to think on our feet, we’ve mastered an important skill. Once you master it, your responses will create immediate confidence in what you’re saying.

Confidence is critical as you learn to think on your feet. Confidence allows us to respond in ways that portrays competency, trustworthiness, intelligence, and a strong mind.

Here are 5 ways you can learn how to think on your feet when under pressure:

1. PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE

The secret to thinking on your feet is to be prepared.

You cannot be over over-prepared when you enter a meeting where there is even the slightest possibility of finding yourself faced with unexpected questions.

This means taking the extra step—always. It also means you need to work very hard as you brief yourself on the issues. And the alternatives, as well as the consequences of each alternative. With a bit of reflection, it’s often possible to predict the types of questions you might be asked. You can prepare and rehearse some answers to questions that might come your way.

Yes, you may be over-prepared 99% of the time, but when you do eventually hear your name called out, you will know the answer. 

TIP: Confidence will help you remain calm when you’re in the hot seat.

2. GIVE YOUR THINKING BRAIN TIME TO CATCH UP WITH YOUR EMOTIONAL BRAIN 

You’ve probably heard it said a hundred times that taking a deep breath is important.

But here is what you really need to know—if you stall for time, it gives your thinking cerebral brain time to process the facts and override the emotional limbic system that has freaked out.

TIP: Use your breathe to give your cerebral brain time to overcome your limbic system.

3. BE SAVVY IN THE WAY YOU STALL FOR TIME

The secret to thinking on your feet is to ask for the question to be repeated, or better yet—repeat the question yourself, but this time change the wording slightly.

By changing the wording slightly, the onus is now on the person asking the question to reorganize their thoughts. Their mind is no longer solely focused on their original question. They absorb the new thought or twist you introduced when you repeated their question.

But, be clever about this. It can also be very obvious to the individual asking the question that you are stalling for time or trying to avoid answering it. The key is to slightly reword the question and subtlety introduce a new element.

For example, when I answered the Section Chief I could have reworded his question so it sounded more like, “What initiatives has San Francisco taken? Several—for example…” The attention was moved from “me” to “San Francisco.” 

If I answered with in-depth knowledge and confidence, I could have listed several operations initiated by my fellow agents. The momentum created by the direction I took the conversation would have shifted from what I personally had not done, and give credit to my colleagues as they tested out some creative approaches.

TIP: One of the best things you can do is learn how to be smart in the way you stall for time.

4. STICK TO ONE POINT AND SUPPORT IT WITH FACTS

The secret to thinking on your feet is to make one fabulous point instead of trying to cover everything. 

When you’re under pressure to produce an answer, there’s a tendency to try and cover up what you don’t know by giving too much information. That does nothing but leave you looking as though you haven’t organized your thoughts. You risk more probing follow-up questions from the individual who asked the question.

Long answers are always risky because they not only bore the listeners, they can make you look as though you are trying too hard to impress. 

TIP: Instead, focus on sticking to the point and support it with facts.

5. HAVE THE BALLS TO ADMIT YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER

The secret to thinking on your feet is looking intelligent and competent, even when you don’t have the answer.

If you don’t know the answer, say so. Don’t risk your reputation by trying to make something up. You will look foolish and that will lower your confidence, both in your own eyes and in the eyes of the others in the room.

TIP: Put your ego in check and admit when you don’t know the answer.

© 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 Harsh Reasons You Don’t Seize Opportunities

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

As a child, I loved taking risks. Growing up around rattlesnakes, barbed wire fences, and frisky horses that liked to kick the saddle out of my hands, there was very little I thought I couldn’t do.

The key was putting my mind to it.

With age comes wisdom—or so I thought. As an adult, I was less amenable to taking risk. I was very strategic about relationships, careers, and spiritual formation. And I realize that there is a place for strategy, as long as it does not make your thinking soft.

Soft thinking is the opposite of mental toughness. If you suffer from soft thinking, you are afraid of seizing opportunities because you are afraid that your emotions, thoughts, or behavior might spin out of control. Or, you’re afraid to leave your comfort zone.

As it turns out, the key to managing risk is still in our mind.

There is no way to sugar-coat it—you’re afraid of risk and don’t seize the opportunities in your life because you don’t:

1. EMBRACE A LITTLE TERROR IN YOUR LIFE

Strong minds seize opportunities because they allow themselves to be terrified—quite often. As a result, terror is a feeling that they are familiar with.

If you continually place yourself in situations where there is a little risk involved and the outcome is not known, your comfort zone is not stretched. Our brain likes to feel comfortable and seeks pleasure over pain. That’s why we’re tempted to abandon ship at the first sign of distress.

Our desire to avoid losses is almost twice as powerful as our desire to take a risk. This explains why we often walk away or fail to recognize new opportunities.

If you start your day without feeling a little terror from the challenges before you, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.

2. THINK FAST ENOUGH TO MOVE AHEAD OF THE HERD

Strong minds seize opportunities because their minds are agile and flexible.

Thinking fast is automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, and subconscious. It means we can throw out long debates in favor of snap judgments and hard-wired rules of thumb that have served us well in the past.

Thinking fast is driven by your past experiences and memories. If you move into your discomfort zone on a regular basis, you frequently experience doses of terror and uncertainty. As a result, your mind does not get mired down with fear when new opportunities present themselves.

Fast thinking is efficient and effective, and essential if we want to seize opportunities in the fast-moving world of life and business.

3. THINK FORWARD WITH CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION

Strong minds seize opportunities because they do not allow themselves to get stuck in a rut.

In business and life, the comfort zone has never been a good place to be. It may feel comfortable but then we face another kind of risk: one of being irrelevant, obsolete—and extinct.

If you plan to think forward, you will need to continually question conventional wisdom, reinvent your approach to work, and welcome disruptive innovation.

In short, you will need to live in a petri dish in which you are continually experimenting with new ideas and maneuvering in a perpetual zone of distress and uncertainty—and sometimes, even embarrassment.

4. MOVE ON FROM THE PAST

Strong minds seize opportunities because they learn from their past mistakes so they don’t repeat them.

Our ability to think fast and think forward is determined by our brain, and our past behavior.

As children, our brains were flexible, creative, and unpredictable. As adults, however, our brain becomes more rigid—anything with unvaried repetition like careers, cultural activities, and skills all lead to rigidity.

Once we make the same decision a second or third time, a habit is formed, and one that becomes quite inflexible.

Rigid patterns of thinking tend to become self-sustaining over time. Habits of behavior produced from past failure is not the same thing as learning from a mistake.

Habits are often a default reaction that leads to rigid thinking; learning, on the other hand, requires a flexible mindset that is always collecting and processing new information.

Often, we are not aware of these rigid patterns of thinking until we pinpoint their genesis in our memory. At that point, we recognize them for what they are and are able to move on from them.

5. FEED YOUR CURIOSITY

Strong minds seize opportunities because they are always looking for new things to do, and once they are engaged, they turn their full attention to it.

Researchers have found that curiosity is the single necessary condition for creating a flexible and agile mind.

When we are curious, we are engaged. Giving a subject our full attention and concentration is important if we want our brain to be more flexible and agile. It’s also important that, once we thoroughly understand a subject, we move on to something else.

To keep the brain fit, we must learn something new, rather than simply replaying already-mastered skills.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Never lose a holy curiosity—Albert Einstein

How have you taken a risk and seized an opportunity?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. 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.” 

 

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5 Powerful Ways You Can Create A Strong Mind

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

FBI agents need a strong mind to work away at messy cases that can last for years. I learned early that to ignore a problem case won’t make it go away, either. Instead, I worked through the problems and learned to never give up. Innocent people relied on agents like myself to arrest criminals and take them to court.

We all have problems that cannot be ignored just because they are difficult and inconvenient. To break through the barriers that show up in business and life takes a strong mind. We need to look our challenges straight in the eye if we hope to overcome them.

In our society, barriers have become things to be avoided so we can move toward our goal. However, contrary to how we think about problems and barriers, they are not the problem—it is the way in which we respond to them that holds us back. 

The way in which we look at barriers is important if we want to live a full life. No matter our age, a strong mind created by our ability to cope with the challenges of life.

Here are 5 powerful ways you can use a strong mind to break through your barriers:

1. Acknowledge The Junk That’s Showing Up In Your Life  

Create a strong mind and be honest about the problems, barriers, and other junk in your life.

It does no good to pretend that your life is great. Every aspect of physical and emotional growth arrives outside of your comfort zone. Have the courage to move forward if the risks feel right. Stretch yourself even if it feels uncomfortable. 

Barriers are things to push against to grow stronger. 

TIP: If you’re not a little bit uncomfortable on a daily basis it means you’re not growing. If you’re not a little bit scared everyday, you’re not learning. And when you’re not learning, you’re done.

2. Create The Will To Move Forward

Create a strong mind and light a fire in your belly—fight back!

How you handle your fears will ultimately determine where you go and what you do with your life. It is your choice to live fully—or be incapacitated by the fear of the challenges and barriers that are inevitable if you plan to move forward. 

TIP: A desire to fight back keeps you in control. The key is to acknowledge your fear by confronting it face to face. This tactic robs fear of its power. 

3. Stop Pretending It Doesn’t Matter

Create a strong mind and admit you have to move through a barrier to reach a goal is important to you!

Admitting defeat to a barrier means we are acknowledging limitations, but more often than not, barriers are those things in life we come across that are simply self-limiting beliefs about what we can or cannot do. 

Our first reaction is to pretend crashing through the barrier isn’t important—we make up excuses for our failure. We maintain the illusion that the walls surrounding us are not really keeping us imprisoned or in a rut. 

TIP: Remember, the only difference between a coffin and a rut are the dimensions.

4. Learn To Be A Bad Ass

Create a strong mind and build the confidence you can kick butt!

Many people never break through barriers to live a fuller life because they lack the confidence to do so. Lack of confidence holds many people back simply because they don’t think they’re ready. 

The truth is that nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises. 

Opportunities and barriers are two sides of the same coin: they force us to stretch ourselves and our comfort zones, which means we may not always feel confident at first. 

TIP: Confidence is the difference between feeling unstoppable and being too scared to move forward. The more confidence you have in yourself, the more likely you’ll succeed.

5. Embrace The Life That God Has Given You

Create a strong mind and find the positive aspects of your situation! Sometimes:

  • things must change so you can change. 
  • you must break a little so you can peek inside to see the power of your own life and story.
  • mistakes must be made so wisdom can be earned.
  • to reject barriers and obstacles is to reject life itself.

How have you broken through the barriers you faced in life and business?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. 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.” 

 

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Most Important Tip For Building Mental Strength—Keep Moving or Die

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

While at the FBI Academy, I worked with a coach to help me train for the physical fitness test. After a few weeks, I reached the magic number of 25 pushups and then fizzled. Hard as I tired, I couldn’t move beyond those 25 pushups.

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I was stuck. I had hit a plateau.

Athletes understand that plateaus are normal, as do CEO’s, scientists, and other successful professionals. When we are stalled, we’re often left with the question: what to do next?

The answer to this question matters a lot. Leaders who keep moving often find that the way they  made their way through plateaus ended up teaching them very important lessons about themselves.

The only way to survive when you’re stuck or stalled is simple: keep moving or die.

Here are 5 steps to keep you moving:

STEP ONE: TAKE RISKS

Leaders with mental strength keep moving forward by taking on challenges that will help them grow. These challenges are guaranteed to be unpleasant and will push them into their discomfort zone. 

The biggest reason we stay stalled is because we don’t like to fail. We stick with activities and goals that we know we will be successful in achieving. We would rather protect our ego than do something wrong, make a mistake, or be seen as a failure.

To be successful, you must keeping moving or die of mediocrity. There is little or no chance you will move out of your current level of competence or success unless you take a risk and move out of your comfort zone.

STEP TWO: EMBRACE THE SUCK FACTOR

Leaders with mental strength know that failing sucks. But if they want to be anything more than mediocre, they also understand they need to give themselves permission to fail. Many times.

Successful leaders do not avoid the things that are hardest for them. Instead, they focus on those areas in which they need to improve. They do not avoid their mistakes or failures—they make the most of mistakes and failures by learning what they have to teach. 

Rather than looking at your failures as a negative thing, look at them as steps toward your success. 

It is your choice as to whether you learn from your mistakes and failures, or if you let them go to waste. 

Never let a good crisis go to waste—Winston Churchill

STEP THREE: USE A SCRIPT

Leaders with mental strength who are serious about moving through transitions or breaking through barriers are ready when new opportunities come up. One of the best ways to do this is by writing and practicing their script—they do not just start babbling when opportunity knocks. 

Their preparation gives them both poise and confidence.

You never know when an opportunity to further your career or embark on a new challenge will present itself so be prepared.

Your script is a two-minute speech that summarizes your life, skill set, and aspirations. It is a personalized approach that plays up to your strengths and presented to the person in front of you.

STEP FOUR: VISUALIZE YOUR SUCCESS

Leaders with mental strength vision their success when faced with difficult or stressful situations. It helps take them beyond their self-limiting beliefs about themselves and move them beyond their current circumstances. 

Visioning helps open the doors of possibility and opportunity by encouraging you to prepare for meetings by asking yourself: “What questions are likely to come up?” “What objections can I expect?”

Visualize your answers and the way in which you will answer them. The very act of giving your brain a detailed portrait of your end goal ensures the release of dopamine, a powerful mental toughness tool to steer you toward success.

STEP FIVE: SURROUND YOURSELF WITH OTHERS WHO ARE GOING THROUGH THE SAME THING

Leaders with mental strength experience the same feelings of demoralization that come with failure and taking risks that everyone else does. That’s why they rebuild their morale by hanging out with others who are experiencing the same situation. They compare notes, trade tips, and remind each other that they are on the right path.

If you want to be a mentally strong leader, you must keep moving forward. If you wait for success to come to you, you will die of mediocrity.

Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running—African Proverb.

I eventually did move past the 25 pushup plateau, and I did it by visualizing my success.

How do you keep moving toward success?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

You can follow me on Twitter

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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