Everybody wants to be a success. Or a hero. Or famous…or something. Some of our dreams are juvenile while others propel us toward a life of value and meaning.

When I was six, I wanted to be Daniel Boone. Biology, among other considerations, prevented me from being a tall man in the wilderness who was strong enough to defend the weak during the onset of the American Revolution.

My dream changed and matured over the years and I decided the best way for me to defend the weak and victimized in my world was to become an FBI agent. For my dream to come true, however, I would need more than wishful thinking. I would need a strong mind that could harness the energy of a six-year-old to deal with the brutal facts of life.

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Getting hired by the FBI was hard; staying in the FBI Academy during basic training was even harder. Harder than I could ever imagine. My former Marine and Army colleagues relished the defensive tactics and physical requirements of the Academy. 

I withered. I hadn’t signed on to train as though I could save the whole world; only that little part of it that I could influence and protect.

But, thinking small is not the FBI way. Everything I trained for in my new agents class prepared me to prevail in my circumstances, no matter how big or small the obstacle might be. 

I learned to be a doer, not a dreamer.

This is how a strong mind can quickly separate the doers from the dreamers:

1. Create The Right Mindset

Growing up poor on a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming taught me early in life how to cultivate a resilient mindset. It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t have enough money to buy me a long rifle like Daniel Boone’s, so I improvised with a long branch with a blob on the end that served as the butt. 

I carried it everywhere because I never knew when my brother would show up as one of the bad guys. I’d even built a jail out of sticks so I’d have a place to lock him up once I caught him. (Alas, my brother and I have never been close and now I begin to understand why…)

Later I learned that I had what researcher Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset look for ways to improve intelligence and skill sets to help deal with life’s challenges. They are resilient in the face of obstacles, learning how to adjust and adapt. Finally, they don’t fret that they’re not an expert because they know how to become better at about most everything.

The opposite is a fixed mindset where people don’t believe their abilities, skills, or personalities can change. They see challenges and setbacks as signs of incompetence and give up.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Dweck reminded readers that the jewel in the crown is the struggle itself. In other words, the way we focus on the effort of overcoming adversity is more important than the result. This singular focus always requires a strong mind.

Effort fosters learning; a doer does not give up. If the effort doesn’t teach you something, either about yourself or your situation, you still are nothing more than a dreamer at the end of the day.

How To Make It Work For You: According to Dweck, here is how to cultivate a growth mindset:

  • Even if something doesn’t come easily for you, don’t quit. Focus on the process—what you are learning rather than the result.
  • Don’t repeat the same behavior when you hit a brick wall. Come up with new strategies and skill sets to figure out a different approach.
  • Identify when you experience a growth mindset. What do you notice about yourself? Once you do, it’s easier for you to understand when and what circumstances fueled the growth.

2. Use The Right Language

The words we use can change our brains. If we change the way we use language, we can influence every thought, emotion, and behavior in our life because our minds are driven by the language-based processes of the brain.

fMRI scans reveal that when we see or hear a negative phrase, our brain releases a substantial amount of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These chemicals inhibit the logic and reasoning centers of the brain.  

When we say a negative word or phrase, more stress chemicals are released, not only in your brain but in the brain of the listener as well. The more we are exposed to negative thinking, the more our brain will generate additional negative thoughts and feelings. That’s how powerful language can be. 

The human brain is odd. It doesn’t distinguish between fact or fantasy when it perceives a negative event and assumes that a real danger exists. The fight-or-flight syndrome is triggered and the brain begins to rehearse strategies for things that may, or may not, occur in the future!

This is when those with a strong mind must be strict about the language they use. Piling on loads of negative thoughts and words is a form of self-sabotage. The quicker we can interrupt our brain’s reaction to the negative crap around us, the quicker we can take control of how we think, act, and feel.

When you shift your language from negative to positive, you maximize your potential to succeed. When you do, you move from dreamer to doer. 

How To Make It Work For You: First, determine whether the negative thought should be taken seriously. If not, move on. Second, reframe the negative thought into a positive one. If you worry about money, keep your mind focused on the steps you need to take to achieve financial goals. Third, get a grip on emotional incontinence when talking with others. Talk about things that are important to you.

3. Follow Your Curiosity

As children, we are naturally curious and curiosity is considered to be an important part of childhood as we discover the world around us. But studies show that a person’s curiosity declines with age. What’s even more interesting is that people become more apathetic as they grow older. 

Todd Kashdan is the author of “Curious?” He states, “If you take the fundamental things that people tend to want out of life—strong social relationships, happiness, and accomplishing things—all are highly linked to curiosity.” 

These factors of well-being are true whether a person is young or old. 

When we follow our curiosity, we often place ourselves in situations where we don’t know the answer and are willing to feel the tension of anxiety. Curiosity is about exploration—an eager attitude about the unknown that lies before us. 

Studies have found that this means it’s not just about doing things that you like. Curiosity requires growth and moving beyond our comfort zone—hence the anxiety.

People with a strong mind are not deterred by stepping into the unknown when exploring new adventures. They have grit and are not intimidated by things or thoughts that are new or different.

In his 1994 paper, The Psychology of Curiosity, George Loewenstein found that curiosity requires some amount of initial knowledge. His research determined that we are not curious about those things we know absolutely nothing about.

This changes, however, when we start to learn even a little bit about a topic or subject; our curiosity is piqued and we want to learn more. 

It turns out that the more we know, the more we want to know. Curiosity makes your mind active instead of passive, which can easily slip into apathy. Research shows that when you are curious, the limbic reward system of the brain is active. This is why it is important that teachers spark curiosity in the classroom and use curiosity as a teaching method.

How To Make It Work For You: Engage with new people and new experiences. Embrace the anxiety of novelty and different things because the more you interact with the unknown, the more you realize you don’t know. That can make the exploration all the more exciting.

© 2021 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths

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