How to Strengthen Your Mental Toughness Like An FBI Agent

LaRae Quy was a brand new FBI Special Agent, and it was the height of the Cold War, but she was given a huge job.

Her assignment was to go undercover and locate a known Soviet spy operating somewhere in Silicon Valley, and to convince him to start spying for the U.S.

Sound impossible? It sure did. The odds were long. Much was at stake. And failure was lurking around every corner.

Kind of like the world of business.

It turns out FBI Special Agent work has more to do with business than you might think. In business, your mental strength will determine whether you rise to a challenge or crumble. In Quy’s situation, we see what can happen when mental strength is broken down.

After Quy located and befriended the spy, who she calls Nicholas in her book Secrets of a Strong Mind, she set about understanding Nicholas’ greater purpose in life. Soon, she discovered he was very unhappy with his career. This was a key insight.

Eventually, Nicholas admitted to Quy that he was struggling to understand his own greater calling.

Why did Nicholas’ greater purpose matter so much? “If you are not doing something that truly has meaning and value to you, when you hit tough times, you’re going to quit,” says Quy. “A lot of us do that.”

The FBI was able to exploit Nicholas’ discontent – and failure to find his greater purpose – to persuade Nicholas to flip and start sharing intelligence about the Soviet government with FBI agents.

Quy’s experience with flipping this Soviet spy has some great lessons for strengthening your mental toughness in the world of business.

Why Mental Toughness Matters in Business

Nicholas was vulnerable because he was not living a life aligned with his greater purpose, which weakened his mental toughness.

Even if you’re not involved in international espionage, you will face situations where your mental toughness will determine your fate, or the fate of your business. Whether it’s losing a major client or contract, or your business going under, entrepreneurship is filled with stressful situations. These are the times when your mental strength will be challenged and your resilience tested.

Below, I share 3 specific strategies for how you can strengthen your mental toughness in the world of business.

1. Name Your Fears

Research has indicated that recognizing and acknowledging one’s fears is a critical step towards tackling and overcoming them. That’s why Quy recommends you actually give your fear a name.

“When you have a fear of something, you should label it, or give it a name. If you try to suppress it, it’s not going to work. The brain is smarter than that,” says Quy. “So naming your fear is how you control it.”

How to Apply This to Your Life: If you have a fear — such as a fear of public speaking or of “selling” — then give it a name. Acknowledge it. That’s the first step toward controlling your fears.

2. Take Confidence In Your Training and Skills

Jeremy Hall spent twenty years as a U.S. special forces operative, with stints in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Hall says the training he received when he first joined the U.S. Army helped give him the confidence to survive through it all.

“You don’t get a lot of rest until you go to sleep,” says Hall. “You’re always learning under pressure, constantly getting screamed at, and have to work together with people you’ve never met before. You may not even like the people you have to work with, but it doesn’t matter. You need to work together. It’s just like that in war.”

Hall was able to survive his military service because he knew the skills he had learned from military training would get him through the experience.

How to Apply This to Your Life: No matter what line of work you are in, taking confidence in your training and skills. Simply reminding yourself that you have training or skills to help you address challenges you face in business can help you survive through it.

3. Build Little Victories or Little Achievements into Your Life

Steve Gordon, a seasoned entrepreneur and marketing consultant in Tallahassee, Florida, says the key to mental strength is to create small victories or achievements which drive momentum and confidence.

Gordon recalled a business owner he met who told him “four years ago I was making $300,000 a year and had a multi-million dollar business. Within a year I was divorced, my kids moved with my ex-wife from New York to Minnesota and my business tanked,” says Gordon. It brought the man to the edge of bankruptcy, and despair. “He said ‘I had to figure out how to get back.’”

How did he climb back? He made his bed every day. Even though it seemed small, “it was a foundational little thing that got him moving in the right direction,” says Gordon.

How to Apply This to Your Life: If you are struggling, focus on a small victory each day, like making your bed, or working out every morning. This small achievement may help you gain clarity and mental strength.

Build Your Mental Strength Over Time

Building one’s mental toughness takes time. Much like working out at the gym, you cannot expect instant results overnight.

The point is to always try. “I had a mentor who said you can fail and we’ll figure out how to execute the next time, but what I can’t stand is if you don’t try your best,” says Hall. “I’m not going to be a winner at everything I do but I can at least find out where I am going to win and get better at that.”


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