You can read every leadership book out there, until you’re an expert in the art of managing other people.
But ultimately, this knowledge is useless if you don’t know how to manage yourself.
That’s according to Andrew D. Wittman, author of “Ground Zero Leadership: CEO of You.” (The book is available through Wittman’s website, but not on Amazon.) Wittman is a former US Marine, police officer, and federal agent; today he trains organisations and individuals on mental toughness.
In the book, he offers tips on tweaking your mindset so you can achieve your biggest and scariest goals.
Mental toughness, he told Business Insider when we spoke in October, comes down to the ability to control your thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and actions under pressure. Below, we’ve listed some of Wittman’s best tricks to develop these skills for success.
1. Use the 2-minute rule
When you’re faced with a stressful situation, spend two minutes thinking about how you’d accomplish the seemingly impossible task ahead of you.
Say your boss announces that he expects you to submit a project by 5 p.m. today and you know there’s no way you can do that. Take a mental break to think: “If this were possible, how would I do it?”
“You’re not arguing that it’s not impossible,” Wittman said during our interview. “But your brain will actually do the work and come up with answers” — answers that might help you get that project done by 5.
2. Avoid the ‘don’ts’
Your language makes a huge difference in your attitudes and your behaviour, Wittman writes. Try to omit the word “don’t” from your speech and your thoughts, so that you’re less focused on the potential negative outcome and more focused on the positive.
For example, instead of, “Don’t lose,” you’d say, “Let’s win.” And instead of, “Don’t be afraid,” you’d say, “Be courageous.”
3. Think like CRAP
That’s Clarity, Relevance, Accuracy, Precision. Here’s how it breaks down:
Clarity: What’s the target?
Relevance: Does this obstacle help me or hurt me in hitting my target?
Accuracy: Exactly how far away is the target?
Precision: Can that assessment be more exact?
If you’re trying to boost your sales numbers, for example, first find out the exact number you aim to hit. Then assess whether you need to focus on your coworker’s sales numbers, or whether that’s just a distraction. Next figure out how many more sales you need to make before hitting that goal. Finally, see if you can quantify that number further, as in how many sales you need to make per week or per day.
4. Take responsibility
Wittman advises keeping a running tally of every time you make an excuse or blame someone else.
If it happens more than three times, you know you’ve developed a habit of making excuses — and it’s time to break it. One way to do that is to ask yourself: “Is this excuse helping me get any better results?” If not, own up to your mistakes and fix them.
“Multitasking is the bane of the Average Minded,” Wittman writes, “doing a lot of things at once but never being great at anything.”
Instead, he advises concentrating your mental energy on a single target and how you can get there. Only after you’ve hit that target you can move on to another.
6. Identify your emotional driver
Wittman writes: “If you don’t know what you are willing to fight for and why, the chances are pretty high (100%) that you will quit fighting when it gets hard.”
In fact, his main goal as a mental toughness coach is to help clients identify their emotional driver and keep reminding them of it.
During our interview, Wittman said one way to find your emotional driver is to complete the “Five Whys” exercise. Ask yourself at least five times why you want to achieve your goal, until you get to the root cause.
For example, maybe you want to earn a promotion at work. Why? Because you want to make more money. Why? Because you’re saving up to buy a house. Why? Because you want the kids to have a backyard. Why? Because you want to make your kids happy. Why? Because you want to be the best mum you can be.
7. Craft an identity statement
At the very beginning of mental toughness coaching, Wittman asks clients to tell him who they are. They usually talk about their job, or maybe their role in their family. But Wittman encourages them to dig deeper.
Eventually, he helps them come up with a statement that reads, “I am _____ who does _____.”
His personal statement? “I am a man of excellence, who always keeps his word.”
From there, you can adjust your behaviour to match the values you aspire to uphold.
8. Desensitize yourself to your fears
Wittman said that when he started his own business, he was terrified of making sales calls. Specifically, he was afraid of getting flat-out rejected.
So he took on a project for which he had to make 50 cold calls every week. The idea was to systematically desensitize himself to making those sales calls — and eventually, he was able to do it without panicking.
9. Use criticism as motivation to improve
Whatever you do, Wittman writes, “DO NOT internalize critical comments that put you down.” Remember: When you’re in charge of your own thoughts and feelings, no one can make you feel bad about yourself.
At the same time, Wittman advises trying to look at each criticism objectively: “Think about what was said, but rephrase it to the most neutral and unemotional language you can conjure up. Then ask, “Is this an area in my life that could use some development?“
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