Movies and television depict heroes who have a strong mind. We admire people who push the limits. Heroes and tough guys let us walk in their shoes, if only for a couple of hours.
We feel what it’s like to have the mental toughness to break out of a seemingly boring existence, and enter into a much bigger world, one that is full of possibility.
The reality is this: You and I must also be strong-minded if we are to overcome the obstacles we meet every day. We know that it takes more than talent or skill to become a top performer. Research studies indicate that intelligence accounts for only 30% of our achievement.
So what does make a good leader, athlete or parent? The answer is a strong mind that pushes through adversity. It is an inner quality that enables people to work hard and stick to their goals.
The good news is that a strong mind is not something you were born with. It is something that can be developed.
What secret characteristics do heroes with a strong mind possess? They embody these elements:
OK, so maybe the characteristics of a hero are not so secret, after all. But how can you and I harness their power? How can we create the strong mind that is the trademark of those who live large in a world full of possibilities?
Here are the secrets I learned from my own life:
When I took the physical fitness (FIT) test at the FBI new agents academy, I was the bottom 1% that made the top 99% feel better about themselves. I failed miserably, so my challenge became twofold. First, I needed to maintain confidence in myself. Second, I needed to train so I could pass the rigid FIT test. I worked with a coach at the Academy, who taught me the secret to building confidence.
“When you improve a little each day, eventually bigger things will come. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t worry about short, quick improvements. Seek out the small improvements, one day at a time. And when it happens, it lasts.”
Helping new agents boost their confidence is the primary goal of the Academy before sending agents out with a gun and badge. There were days when my heart raced and my palms sweat just thinking about the new challenges that faced me. But I learned that success would not make me confident -- rather, confidence in myself and my abilities would make me successful.
The result? I passed the FIT test and worked as an FBI agent for 24 years.
Tip: Confidence is a belief in yourself and your ability to meet your goals. Push out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to different situations. Learn how to push through the uncomfortable. Once you have confidence in yourself, you’ll be amazed what you can accomplish.
When I interviewed with the FBI, they liked my grit and scrappiness. A hillbilly from a cattle ranch in Wyoming who had clawed her way through college. I sat in front of a panel of polished FBI agents and interviewed for a job as a special agent. I learned to grit up!
I grew up as an unsophisticated ranch girl, and believe me, it takes a while to put a shine on a sneaker. Each curveball thrown my way was met with determination and persistence. Grit was needed to make sacrifices and keep my eye on the larger goal.
Every day at the FBI Academy involved some kind of physical activity. As a trainee, I put in extra training for the FIT test. On top of that, as a class, we boxed each other, engaged in arrest scenarios, and ran around the basketball court holding 5-pound medicine balls. I was tired, depressed and under pressure. Yet I knew that if I gave up, I would regret it the rest of my life.
So I straightened my back and dug deeper. A strong mind is not built on something slapped together on a shallow foundation. It needs solid rock.
Like a skyscraper, the higher you want to go, the deeper you must go.
Tip: Persistence is the tendency is to see life’s obstacles as challenges to be met, rather than as threats. Don't whine, point fingers or blame others for your predicament. You can be the hero of your own life and choose your destiny.
On my first day at the FBI Academy, I didn’t feel like a superhero. In fact it wasn’t until after four grueling months of being placed in dangerous and awkward situations that I felt I had what it takes to do the job.
In the deepest part of me I knew that I would make the FBI my career. It was not a stepping-stone to something better that might come along. I was a disciple of my own deep values and beliefs. I had the will to subjugate my feelings to those values.
In his book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey writes, “If you are an effective manager of your self, your discipline comes from within.”
Tip: Strong-minded people have a dedication that comes from a purpose in alignment with their deepest values.
Push-ups were the most difficult aspect of the physical fitness test for me. After several of them failed to be counted, I began to “psyche myself out,” worrying whether I could do it all!
A strong mind shuts out feelings of fear and inadequacy. Instead, it focuses on how to reach the goal. Control your own emotions, thoughts and behavior rather than trying to control other people.
The best way to control your situation is to invest energy into it so you understand all aspects. This allows you to pinpoint the soft underbelly of the challenge. Throw out preconceived ideas of what you can, and cannot do. If you put your shoulder to it, you will find that grit trumps talent every time!
Lifelong training is a fact of life for FBI agents. It starts the day we arrive at the FBI Academy and ends the day we sign our retirement papers.
This constant training creates the sort of mentality that prepares for the worst and practices ahead of time to overcome it. We’ve either gathered the evidence, slapped on the handcuffs, or run the drills so we know what to do in case the sh*t hits the fan.
Tip: Control is having a certainty that you are able to shape your destiny and not passively accepting events as fate
LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Quy is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.