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6 ways FBI agents increase their resilience

The ability to pick ourselves up when life knocks us down is called resilience. In today’s competitive culture, resilience has become a critical skill because it takes more than talent to succeed.

As a new FBI agent, I learned to be bold, take risks and put myself out there, even when scared to death of what I might face. Adversity creates many forms of stress -- whether it’s the stress that comes scaling a business, expanding into a new market or juggling the demands of family.

"The way in which we overcome adversity determines how we will achieve success." ~ LaRae Quy

More than talent, more than education, more than experience, the ability to bounce back from setbacks determines who will succeed and who will fail. That is true in the classroom, in sports and in the boardroom.

Here are six ways to increase your resilience:

Reinterpret negative events

Setbacks are a natural part of life. Resilience requires mental toughness because it is the ability to recover quickly from adversity, no matter your situation. Nip negative emotions and reactions in the bud, when they first appear. This is when they are the weakest.

Cold cases are those in which the leads have grown cold, but nothing motivates an FBI case agent as much as looking into the face of an innocent victim who trusts and expects them to find the answer.

To reinterpret negative events, agents reappraise the facts of the case to find new clues. As a result, they become wiser and more resilient investigators. They are better able to see new possibilities in how the case can move forward.

Quit is not a word used in FBI investigations.

Enhance positive emotions

Resilience is often described as bouncing back from whatever adversity you are facing; but sometimes, the only way out is through. So grit-up and keep moving forward.

Optimism and positive thinking are different things. Optimism is believing that your circumstances will change in the future -- and for the better. Positive thinking is not believing that your circumstances will change;instead, it is believing that you will prevail in your circumstances.

FBI agents are resilient because they are positive thinkers who do not look at their world through rose-colored glasses. Their buoyant outlook overpowers stress and sticky situations because they are confident they will find a way to get through the difficulty that lies ahead.

Hardship
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Get physically fit

Exercise can lengthen your attention span, strengthen your decision-making abilities, enhance memory, and empower you to handle stress.

Exercise can also enhance resilience because it activates genes for proteins that promote growth and repair of neurons damaged by stress. Becoming physically fit boosts endorphins as well as neurotransmitters responsible for elevating mood, and suppresses the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

FBI agents are required to maintain physical fitness standards through their career and are given time during the week to work out. Once a year, all agents are given a field FIT test to gauge their body fat levels as well as pushups, situps and a 2 mile run.

Stick with your tribe

Friendship are important; they can lift you up, provide security, and prevent slip-ups in both business and life.

As Sebastian Junger wrote in his book "Tribe,"We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding- -- 'tribes.' This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.”

A strong psychological thread within the Bureau is the concept of the “FBI family.” FBI employees will close ranks around one of their own if the individual is targeted or harmed in some way. The strong and unequivocal support of others is powerful because it increases an individual’s self-confidence, provides a safety net for those times when he or she falls, and enhances belief that he or she can overcome obstacles.

Bonding strongly with others in a tribe provides greater security than if we strike out on our own.

Imitate others

Look for people in your circles who have learned how to recover from hardship quickly so you can learn from them.

Research by psychologist Albert Bandura indicates that imitating the behavior of those whom we admire provides us with resilient role models. The “fake it until you make it” proverb will work but with a couple of important caveats:

  1. You cannot look to others to make you competent, knowledgable and confident -- you must own those qualities. There is a big difference between imitating someone and trying to be an imposter.
  2. The individual whom you are imitating must possess the resilience qualities you admire, and they must allow you to walk alongside so you can imbibe those qualities.

All new FBI agents are assigned a training agent, and these people are often those whom new agents will imitate as they learn their job. I found informal mentors were also a great way to learn how to do something, simply by watching and understanding how they developed their resilient qualities.

Stand up to stress

A resilient individual is not someone who avoids stress; rather, it is someone who learns how to tame it.

For years, psychologists distinguished between good stress, or “eustress,” which is caused by positive experiences, and bad stress which is caused by the bad stuff. A new body of research is suggesting that stress is not bad for you unless you believe it is bad for you. Seeing stressors as challenges rather than threats invites physiological responses that can improve thinking and cause less physical wear and tear.

FBI agents often compare “war stories” with colleagues, and since we all shared these experiences, we treated the experiences as stimulating challenges in our job to be overcome. However, if I shared these same stories with friends or neighbors, they treated them as potential threats to my safety. The difference in response created the tribe mentality (as described above) and reminded me that my outlook determined whether the experience was an exciting challenge or a threat to be avoided.

How have you increased your resilience when confronted with roadblocks?

 

LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. LaRae is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.

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