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5 mindsets that set winners apart

Winners understand and appreciate how getting knocked down in life can produce the grit that is needed to be successful.

6 min read



Successful entrepreneurs, leaders and business owners do not have better ideas, talent, or skills — what they do have is the right mindset.

Here are five mindsets that set winners apart:

1. They discover what makes them unstoppable

You must love what you do or you’ll never have the mental toughness to be a winner. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the phrase “flow” as meaning a state of deep absorption in an activity during which your performance seems to happen effortlessly and automatically.

Psychologists explain that when we do something excellent, that we feel is top performance, it triggers the feeling of “flow.” We love what we are doing; and damn, we’re good at it!

As a child, my favorite topic was history, but I decided to major in business because I felt it would provide more career options. Then, I became an FBI agent and loved the work. When I thought it through, I realized the common thread between history and FBI investigations was my passion to sift through information to get to the truth of the matter and create a picture of what really happened.

How to make it work for you: Take the time to discover what it is about pursuits in life that truly engage you, and why. Be specific.

I did not need to become a history teacher to follow my passion of uncovering layers of truth to solve a mystery.

If you can’t change your job, identify which parts of your job bring you most satisfaction.

2. They strive for a well-lived life

Winners recognize that a well-lived life is about more than the fleeting emotion of happiness.

Sports psychologist Tim Woodman interviewed top performers and discovered that happiness was not the key to their success; in fact, it didn’t feature anywhere along the way.

Instead, top performers were more intent on pursuing goals that gave them a sense of value and meaning. Akin to flow, they were doing something that truly interested them. Happiness was the byproduct, not the goal.

Although I loved my FBI career, it was not a perfect job. There is a reason insiders call it the Federal Bureaucracy of Investigation! I was not looking to be happy in my career; I was looking to be fulfilled, and that led to happiness.

How to make it work for you: In our relentless pursuit of happiness, we’ve made it our priority. Other emotions like joy, appreciation, and satisfaction have deeper roots and can be more authentic indicators of the things in life we should be pursuing.

Pixabay/SmartBrief illustratrion

3. They discover their inner scrappiness

Winners understand and appreciate how getting knocked down in life can produce the grit that is needed to be successful.

What shocked Woodman and his team was that nearly every top performer in the study cited above had experienced a critical negative event in their life — parents divorcing, a death, disease, or some other perceived loss—early in life.

They were forced to hunt for the good stuff, and in doing so, changed their course almost immediately. When they found a course of action that was positive, it made them feel valued, important and inspired, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

My parents never shielded me from the realities of life. Living on a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming helped me to learn early in life how to be scrappy, determined and full of grit.

How to make it work for you: The past is a great place to visit, but not a good place to stay. Rare is the person who gets through childhood unscathed, so instead of pretending that nothing wrong happened in your life, excavate its significance. You will find your survival skills got you to where you are now.

Learn from the crap that happened in your past and then move on. You have better places to go.

4. They ignore fatigue

Winners are resilient when times are tough or when they’re confronted with a roadblock.

While we may have limitations on what we can do, if we’re prepared to keep moving ahead despite our circumstances, those things won’t stop us. This means committing ourselves to doing what it takes to get the job done.

I shot over 3,000 rounds of ammo at the FBI Academy. Firearms training became an exercise in repetition — doing the same thing over and over, never letting fatigue set in, and consistently maintaining high scores. I had to ignore the fatigue if I was to continue improving my scores.

How to make it work for you: There is a difference between practice and “deliberate practice.” We all know people who shuffle around, repeat the same tasks for 30 years and then retire.

Deliberate practice is intentionally choosing to push the limits of your expertise and endurance. Winners do not succumb to mediocrity and are resilient enough to bounce back from a setback and redouble efforts in order to keep moving forward.

5. They cultivate the right attitude

Winners keep their thoughts positive, especially when times are tough.

Never keep your eyes focused on the rearview mirror; it will be a detriment to your performance in the future. The only time you should look back is to either appreciate how far you’ve come, or to learn from it.

I failed to complete the required number of pushups during my interim FIT test at the FBI academy, and pushups were only the first of 5 physical tests. I wanted to drop out and sit on the sidelines because I knew I had failed. My coach would have none of it — he made me complete the test as if I still had a chance of passing.

How to make it work for you: Arrest negative thoughts when they first appear, and are at their weakest. Hunting the good stuff can be very difficult, but when you feel you are sinking, positive thoughts are your lifeline.


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. LaRae 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.

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