As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I experienced some tough times while dealing with curious radio, television, and newspaper reporters. If I inadvertently revealed information that was sealed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, I could have been fired or even prosecuted.

Often, I’d fret that my words would be taken out of context or that I would be misquoted. I worried and lost sleep as I waited until for the interview to air or be printed.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, you know what it feels like to worry in tough times and you’re faced with uncertainty. This is when you need to be mentally strong so you can keep moving forward.

Here are 6 ways to stay mentally strong in tough times:

1. Control Your Thoughts

When tough times hit, the first thing we do is start to worry. But we need to control our thoughts because they control our emotions and behaviors.

Anxiety and fear are housed in our limbic brain system, but mentally tough people have figured out how to ignore them—or at least, control them.

TIP: Name Your Fear

Instead of pretending that you are not scared, admit what is creating the fear. Research has indicated that recognizing and acknowledging one’s fears are critical steps towards tackling and overcoming them.

If you try to suppress a fear or worry, it won’t work—the brain is smarter than that. Instead, name your fear or anxiety for what it is and you will actually lessen your discomfort. It’s very important, however, to keep the label to one or two words because if you open up a dialogue about it, you will only increase the emotional state of the limbic system.

2. Prepare For The Lonely Work

Self-awareness is not a prerequisite for climbing the ladder of success—but it sure helps to keep you there.

Self-awareness empowers you because it instills a confidence that comes from a deep understanding of who you are and why you are special. It’s called lonely work because this is one thing you truly must do for yourself.

TIP: Spend Time With Yourself

  • Get to know what makes you tick
  • Learn your strengths so you can use them
  • Accept your weaknesses so you can minimize them
  • Develop your strengths and manage your weaknesses; forget about trying to change who you are by trying to “work” on them
  • Give yourself permission to shine in those areas in which you are blessed

3. Get Priorities Straight

A recent Gallup poll indicated that 90% of workers were not engaged in their jobs. This is a modern day phenomena that started after Adam Smith, the father of industrial capitalism, stated that people were naturally lazy and would work only for pay.

Mentally strong entrepreneurs and leaders understand that wages are important—of course they are! But, if you are naive enough to believe that chasing after that almighty dollar will bring you happiness, I have a piece of swamp land in Wyoming to sell you.

TIP: Engage In Work That Provides Both Value And Meaning

Mentally strong people are smart enough to know that when they get their priorities straight, it does several things:

  • Provides work that is both engaging and meaningful
  • Offers opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Allows control over what we do and how we do it

4. Take A Risk

In firearms training I learned one thing: it’s not risk that will kill you, it’s complacency. Sitting in the same spot all your life will bite you in the butt when the unexpected lands at your feet and you face tough times because you won’t know how to move forward with confidence and flexibility.

The mentally strong use tough times as opportunities to take a risk because they understand that risks, and the change they produce, are what will save you from a life of complacency—and stagnation.

TIP: Calculated Risks Make It Easy

As an FBI agent, my colleagues and I took smart risks by planning what could go wrong, and then forging ahead.

Calculated risks mean looking at all the positive and negative outcomes and then proceeding forward by putting all of that information to best use.

5. Be Grateful—ALWAYS

Gratitude is the most powerful emotion in the world. It allows you to love not only yourself, but others as well.

Mental toughness strengthens our ability to distinguish positive emotions from negative ones. We can use this awareness to strengthen positive emotions like gratitude and control negative ones like anger. 

Another thing about gratitude—it is impossible to grateful and negative at the same time.

TIP: Keep Focused On Being Grateful When Life Is Taking A Down Turn

We perceive an act as more worthy of gratitude when it:

  • costs someone (either time or effort)
  • is perceived to be of value
  • is not obligatory or habitual in nature
  • produces relief or happiness

6. Control What You Can Control

When making an arrest, agents are given specific assignments; for example, “Cover the back door so the criminal can’t run away.”

It is the agent’s responsibility to control what they can control; they do not worry about what others are doing or any other aspect of the arrest.

TIP: Ignore The Things You Can’t Control

In the same way, you must ignore the things over which you have no power. You have limited resources, so why waste them on things that are out of your control?

For some, it might be the politics of your organization; for others, it might be your environment. Whatever it is, realize that you can only control the things that come under your purview. You might want to save the world, but do yourself a favor and take it one step at a time.

Mental toughness separates the successful entrepreneur and business owner from the mediocre. It allows successful people to keep moving forward when they hit tough times.

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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