When I interviewed with the FBI, I was asked why I wanted to become an agent. I answered, “I want to make the best, better.” Apparently my interview panel liked that answer because 6 months later I was in the FBI Academy.
My answer was freighted with the stuff that makes people resilient — grit. It’s not knowing how, but doing it anyway. Pushing through the obstacles and crap that shows up in life, and always seeking ways to improve and be better at what we do.
Organizations need to be resilient as well. We all know that things do not always go according to plan, and employees can lose both heart and focus. When it happens, the people running the organizations need to be resilient leaders who are flexible and resourceful so they can create productive work environments for people. Uncertainty and ambiguity are the enemy, but if we want to survive in today’s environment, we’d better get used to them.
The right mindset produces the coping skills we need to resilient. Here are five mindset characteristics of resilient people:
1. Accept that it’s not all about you
In the FBI Academy, I was surrounded by colleagues who were truly extraordinary people. I did not feel as though I measured up against them; after all, most were seasoned armed forces personnel, successful trial lawyers, or stalwart law enforcement officers. I was a buyer at a fancy department store. When I stood and introduced myself at the FBI Academy, everyone turned to get a look at the fluffball who had accidentally found herself at the Marine Corp base In Quantico, Va.
I suffered the instant humiliation of being average, and being average in an organization like the FBI is akin to sanctioning a standard of failure. I could either wallow in self-pity or I could accept that it was not all about me.
Instead of worrying that I was not exceptional, I honestly evaluated my skill set and understood where I was mediocre and average; but this is what made me resilient — I knew I could improve.
If we focus on improvement, we shift the focus from feeling sorry for our situation to the humble acceptance that we all need to find where and how we can improve, whether it’s in our relationships, our ability to embrace change or in our corporate governance.
The pressure to be the next best thing is automatically lifted from your back, along with the stress and anxiety that comes with being “exceptional” in everyone’s eyes, especially your own.
Tip: Success will not make you a better person. All the self-esteem coaching and books in the world only gives you permission to focus on what you don’t have. You don’t need more mantras or affirmations; you need a better way to look at your world. No matter where you are in life, simply focus on how you can improve as a person.
Events in themselves are not necessarily traumatic. It’s the way we choose to interpret those events that produces the negative emotions. Events can be neither good nor bad; it is our interpretation of them that makes them good or bad.
If someone puts a gun to your head and orders you to run 6 miles, that is a negative event. If you run 6 miles to graduate from the FBI Academy with a throng of people cheering you on, it is a positive event. It’s the same 6 miles; what is different is your attitude.
Resilient people choose the right mindset when they focus and prioritize their thoughts based on what matters to them. This produces a mindset that teaches them how to fight for what they want in life without becoming a casualty themselves.
Tip: Resilient mindsets are those that choose to be the victory rather than win the victory. Real success comes from who they become, not what they achieve.
3. Refuse to play the blame game
The only four-letter word I never heard in my 24 years in the FBI was “can’t.” No bitching, whining, complaining or blaming others. As agents, we took responsibility for the cases we investigated and worked hard to help the victims. We looked struggles in the eye because they produced the kind of problems that were worth fighting for.
To make an excuse for yourself or shirk responsibility is immature. You might as well lower your standards here and now because you’re not resilient enough to face life’s struggles and endure the pain and ambiguity that is needed to move forward.
When you choose to live according to your values, you automatically generate a better set of problems. When you have better problems, you have a better life.
Tip: Ask yourself, “What am I willing to struggle for?” Remember: Life is hard. Pain is inevitable. Growth is optional.
4. Bring it on
One of the things the FBI liked about me is that I grew up on a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming. I was tough. scrappy and full of grit. They liked that I wasn’t coddled, pampered or entitled. When I was 5 years old, I got bucked off my pony, Socks. I learned early that getting knocked down was part of life; I also learned that getting back up was part of it as well.
Snowflake is a term used to characterize the young adults who are more prone to taking offense and less resilient than previous generations, or are too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own.
They are entitled people and they are not resilient because they need to feel good about themselves all the time. Entitled people are needy — they put themselves before others. Besides being a pain in the ass to be around, they crumble when things get tough. You can’t count on them.
The easy way does not create resilient people. You may want to start your own business or work your way into the C-suite, but you won’t end up a successful entrepreneur or executive unless you find a way to work through the uncertainty and ambiguity that comes with change and risk.
If you want the benefits, you also have to want the struggle. If you want a beach body, you have to want the sweat and intense workouts. If you want to lose weight, you have to want the hunger pangs that go with it. If you want success, you have to want the hard work, persistence, determination, and endurance that comes with success.
Tip: If you keep finding yourself wanting something but never getting closer, then maybe what you are looking at is a fantasy. Or even worse, a false promise.
5. Stop trying to be happy
Happiness is transitory. It can claim our full attention for a few moments, and then it disappears as it passes through our life. It doesn’t have the same heft as emotions and states such as sadness, joy or contentment. It’s a bit of fluff; nice, but of no real consequence.
Happiness depends upon external circumstances, in which you are never in total control. Happiness is anchored in the future and depends upon outside situations, people, or events to align with your expectations.
Joy and contentment, however, depend upon our internal circumstances. They can’t be bought and don’t rest on someone else’s behavior. You can get fired, dumped, pulled through the coals of a fire and still feel joy deep in your heart.
It is in our choices that we become mentally tough. We learn to prioritize our emotions, thoughts and behavior so we can pick what is important to us based on our values and beliefs.
Tip: All the “be happy” talk is a lie. Happiness is an emotion; joy is an attitude. Demand more from life than a few fleeting moments of an emotion that draws its power from others. Instead, dare yourself to dig down deep and find joy.
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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