5 Ways to Improve Your Mental Strength

Author: Kristen Lund Date: August 04, 2014

A small business owner’s life is filled with challenges. Here’s how to rise above.

As a former counterintelligence agent with the FBI, LaRae Quy spent 24 years exposing foreign spies and persuading them to work for the U.S. government—a career that demanded she never waver in dangerous and unpredictable situations. Today, Quy, a resident of Mill Valley, California, helps clients improve their mental strength to rise above the challenges that come their way.   

“I look at mental toughness as believing that we will prevail in our circumstances, rather than believing our circumstances will change,” Quy says. “It’s about reaching down deep and finding what it takes to keep moving forward.” Here are five of her suggestions on how small business owners can improve their mental strength.

1. Learn from failure.

Decades have passed since Quy’s time at the FBI Academy, but one memory stands out. The first time she took the fitness test, she began struggling on the ninth of 50 required pushups and failed the test. But she didn’t give up. Instead, she kept practicing and focused on the motivation behind her efforts. “It set the tone for how I was going to deal with adversity in the future,” Quy says. “I had to dig down and find my purpose. I believed in the mission of the FBI. It was my future, and it was worth fighting for.” She passed the fitness test on her second try.

     RELATED: 5 Keys to Failing the Right Way

2. Outnumber negative thoughts.

If your first response to an unexpected challenge is, “Oh, no,” or “I can’t do this,” that’s normal, Quy says. The human brain is hardwired toward negativity, and processing bad news faster than good news is a survival instinct honed over thousands of years. Psychologists have found that to overcome this natural bias, we need to generate five positive thoughts for every negative one. For example, if you walk into your office after a major storm and find the floor covered in water, you may immediately think your business will never recover. But right away, find the positives in the situation, such as “I’m surrounded by people who want to help me” or “At least our technology wasn’t damaged.”

3. Practice gratitude.

One trait of mentally tough people, according to Quy, is a sense of gratitude for everything that’s going right. “You have to work that into your way of thinking,” she says. “Otherwise, it’s a pity party, and it’s all about what you don’t have.” To cultivate the habit, Quy recommends creating a gratitude journal and recording several things each day for which you’re thankful.

4. Stop saying no.

Every time your response to a challenge is “No” or “I can’t,” your brain produces dozens of stress-producing hormones, raising your anxiety and reinforcing your belief that you’re incapable of handling a tough situation. (Through brain scanning techniques, researchers have discovered that seeing the word “no” triggers this process in less than a second.) Instead, tell yourself that you have the ability to deal with the perceived threat, and start tallying up your five positive ideas. Think about each one for at least 20 seconds, Quy suggests—letting the good stuff soak in is essential to overpowering your negative thoughts.

5. Visualize yourself succeeding.

If you’re stressed about an upcoming event, such as a major sales pitch, take a cue from professional athletes and visualize yourself in that situation—picturing details as precise as the room’s layout and your outfit. Take time to think through the other party’s responses and how you might react with confidence. The amount of time that takes is different for everyone, Quy says, but don’t obsess: If you’re ruminating about the future at the expense of other tasks, it’s time to move on.

READ NEXT: 13 Reasons Why You Aren't As Successful As You Could Be

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