As part of an arrest team in the uglier part of Oakland, my job was to cover the back door while the FBI SWAT team crashed through the front door with a bantering ram. These were the sort of criminals who did not hold day jobs—we had waited until 5:00am to make certain they had made it back home.

I heard, “FBI, come out with your hands up.” I tried to control my fear as I waited for one of the suspects to make a run for it out the back door. I was wearing a bullet-proof vest and knew that I was surrounded by highly skilled FBI snipers, but that was not enough to assuage my worry that something could go wrong.

Then a scuffle, shouts, and the back door opened. One of my colleagues stepped out and gave me the OK sign that the suspects were in custody. As I lowered my weapon, my emotions immediately calmed down—the pressure was off.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, you may have felt fear when in a tense situation; or, found yourself sabotaged by an unwelcome emotion when under pressure.

Our brains are hardwired to make us emotional creatures—first and foremost. No matter how tough and self-controlled we think we are, our first reaction will ALWAYS be emotional. We can dampen or deny our emotions, but we are kidding ourselves if we think we can actually control the way in which our brain processes emotions. 

You do have total control, however, over the thoughts that follow an emotion. If you are in control, you also have a great deal of power over the way in which you react to your emotion and the situation that created it.

Mental toughness is managing your emotions by controlling our subsequent thoughts and behavior in ways that will set you up for success.

The key is to be aware of your emotion. If you are not fully aware of what you are feeling, you will be clueless in how to handle it effectively. You cannot change what you will not acknowledge.

1. Self Awareness Is Essential

Mentally tough leaders understand that self-awareness is the first step in building an unbeatable mind. Self-awareness is not some touchy-feely exercise that is meant to make you feel better about yourself.

Instead, it requires mental toughness to come to terms with the good, the bad, and the ugly about yourself. You will need a strong mind to face who you really are, without the pretense of illusion or vanity.

And it takes an equally strong mind to not let your emotions jab you in the stomach when you admit to yourself that you are not Superman or Wonder Woman. If you are not in control of your emotions, you can feel like a loser and give up.

2. Self-Awareness Takes Honesty And Patience

Mental toughness requires us to develop our strengths, and just as importantly, manage our weaknesses.

That means identifying what triggers 1) positive and healthy emotions, and 2) negative and unproductive ones. Mentally tough leaders know what triggers both types. Whether you like it or not, only by learning and understanding what triggers unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior can you begin to notice it and control it.

3. Steps To Self-Awareness

  1. Stop treating your emotions and feelings as either good or bad.
  2. Admit each emotion has something to teach you, even your negative emotions.
  3. Recognize that pretending a negative emotion doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it’s not still there, lurking beneath the surface and ready to sabotage you when you least expect it.
  4. Put yourself under surveillance.
  5. Notice what event, person, or situation provokes a good emotion.
  6. Notice what event, person, or situation provokes a negative emotion.
  7. Keep a journal of what you’ve noticed.
  8. Explore why you experienced a good and positive emotion.
  9. Explore why you experienced a negative and painful emotion. Did I mention: Keep a journal of what you’ve noticed and explored—no matter how unpleasant the emotional experience.
  10. Work your way through the positive and negative emotion.
  11. Express what you are feeling in less than 3 words if it’s a negative emotion. Be honest and stop pretending your aren’t feeling jealous, envious, angry, etc. Do NOT engage in dialogue about these negative feelings, however, as it will only increase your anxiety.
  12. Drill down and ask yourself Why you do the things you do.
  13. Revisit your values.
  14. Spot your emotional reactions in others, including movies and books.
  15. Use stress as a time to get to know yourself better.
  16. Ask for feedback from people you trust. One more time: are you keeping track of this?

Facing the truth about who you can be hard—even ugly at times. But it will remain ugly only if you don’t start doing something about the things you don’t like about yourself. Getting in touch with emotions that produce the thoughts and behavior you don’t like takes courage and a strong mind.

TIPS:

  • Start on one area at a time.
  • Find a trustworthy mentor or coach to help you through the process.
  • Forget about perfection, just measure your success.
  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Keep a journal or record of what you’ve learned about yourself.

What strategy have you used to become more self-aware?

© 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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