Americans elected President Barack Obama on the promise of change. But change is a two-edged sword. On the one side is hope; on the other is fear.
Politics is a unique barometer into the psyche of the American public. Candidates hold up a finger and try to gauge the way the wind of the future is blowing. If they’re elected and fail to produce the change they’ve promised, voters react by holding up a finger of their own and voting someone else into office.
Promises Are Based On Hope
Most politicians who deliver the hope they promise to voters are blessed by luck and good rhetoric. President Clinton talked about building a bridge to the 21st century, and Americans liked that promise of change because it was vague and yet hopeful without all the pain.
Sort of like a children’s book trying to explain the cycle of nature in a forest—first life, then decay, then life again.
We like our politicians to promise the hope of change without getting into the nasty specifics of the challenges that come with regeneration, decline, and—yes, change.
The Rocky Balboa Mentality
Americans are resilient. The difference between an American movie and a foreign film is that the American movie will always offer some ray of hope at the end. There is redemption in some form. Not so with many foreign films.
Watch The American with George Clooney to see a domestic “foreign film” that ends hopeless and without redemption (actually, don’t bother watching…really, don’t.)
They expose raw emotions that don’t come beautifully gift-wrapped. Americans love foreign films because they hit a genuine nerve—we’re not stupid, after all—but in the back of our mind we’re asking, “where is the hope?” This is both a sweet and powerful quality about America.
There’s a little Rocky Balboa in all of us and we route for the underdog. But this is the thing: we want the movie script ending. We expect change to always produce bigger and better things in our life.
Is it no wonder that Americans can’t produce politicians who know how to bring about change? The reason is that voters have ambivalent feelings about the kind of change we want. Change promises the hope of better things to come; but we fear it, too, because it could take us into the world of the unknown and uncomfortable challenges.
Change and Your Comfort Zone
The FBI Academy is sixteen weeks of training. They seemed long weeks to me because we spent them in constant training. The FBI training philosophy is really quite simple, really. It goes something like this—no pain, no gain.
If our comfort zone wasn’t stretched, and breached, the instructors weren’t doing their job.
It went way beyond developing physical strength—it was also about developing the strong mind that is produced by gutting through the discomfort. Whether it’s at the FBI Academy or in the office, here are characteristics of a strong mind:
- They are in constant training.
- They are preparing themselves for how to land on their feet when confronted with the unexpected.
- They are learning how perseverance will give them the final push in achieving their goals.
The No Pain, No Gain motto isn’t contained to the physical dimension of training—it’s equally important to pump up mental strength as well. This means knowing how to pull ourselves out of the trenches by our own Gucci bootstraps.
Change Means Confronting the Unknown
This is one of the most important lessons I learned from the FBI Academy about uncomfortable challenges and conflicts: to increase safety, move toward them.
People with a strong mind simply know how to keep calm and stay focused on their goal.
We learn skills, habits, and personal strengths. If we’re to handle the unknowns in our life effectively, we need to develop the strong mind that builds confidence in ourselves. In this way, we can accomplish our goals and overcome the difficult and unexpected obstacles that are presented by the unknown.
Control Your Fear
Psychologists explain that victims of domestic violence are often so afraid of changing the status quo that they stay in abusive relationships rather than risk the unknown. People prefer to stay within their safety zones because of fear. It’s why people don’t start new businesses and stop looking for love.
As a FBI agent, I have found myself in many situations where I felt genuine fear. Every time I pulled my gun when making an arrest, I had to be prepared to shoot to kill if the situation warranted it. I had to mentally prepare myself for the worse and lean into the training I’d received at Quantico.
Did I conquer the fear? No. Did I control it? Yes.
Strength and Courage
Where did the strength and courage come from? Sometimes it came from the knees that refused to buckle, the breathing that slowed down as I looked down the barrel of my gun and took aim, or the mind that stayed focused on the situation. At the risk of calling arrest situations a “perfect meditation,” I learned how to remain absolutely present in the moment.
Seconds, even minutes, could go by without losing attention or thoughts wandering.
There was fear, but I learned how to control it because something very important was on the line—the safety of not only myself, but others as well. I won’t pretend I wasn’t scared because I was.
But this is the thing: I did it anyway.
Why? Because this is what I was trained to do at the FBI Academy.
- Training is valuable because it forces you to do something over and over again. As a result, you build muscle memory.
- Training allows you to react without thinking about how you’d react.
- Training puts you in a practice situation so many times that when confronted with the real thing, you’ll react exactly the way you practiced it.
- Training shows that you can do this thing—whatever it is.
- Training is about building confidence, and confidence is a formidable tool against fear.
This is how strong minds form. You and I both have far more potential than we give ourselves credit for.
The only way to control fear is to face it. Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, not absence of fear.”
Here are some TIPS to help you control your fear:
1. Identify your fears.
Take out a piece of paper and make four columns. In the first column, make a list of things that you fear. In the second column, for each one of those fears, write down what would be the absolute worst thing that could happen if that fear came true. In the third column, write down how that fear is holding you back. In the last column, for each fear that you named, write down a way that you can face it.
Let’s take an example. If you’re afraid of public speaking, break it down into bite-size issues that can be addressed one at a time. Is it fear of stammering? Forgetting what to say? Fumbling words? Hyperventilating? Sweating? Take the time to list all your fears and write them down.
2. Build a relationship with your fear.
Decide how you can attack each fear on the list. Create a strategy for the fourth column. If your fear is extemporaneous speaking, read newspapers or on-line articles on various topics and then find a friend who is willing to ask you a question about one of them. Stand up when you give your response. Practice! A good friend will offer advice and good feedback.
3. Persistence is the key to overcoming fear.
The discipline of training creates persistence, which in turn, produces confidence. If you persist in achieving a goal, confidence in yourself will grow out of it. Once you face your fear, it begins to lose its power over you.
What would you like to change in your life? What fears are holding you back? What will you do about it? I would love to hear you thoughts!
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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders™
LaRae Quy is former FBI Agent and Founder at Your Best Adventure
She helps clients explore the unknown and discover the hidden truth in self & others
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- Leadership: Building a Character of Initiative (linked2leadership.com)
- Strong Leaders Move Toward the Unknown (linked2leadership.com)