Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thoughts on mental toughness

DSC01631 (1300x996)The competitive advantages the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected, and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are and negotiating multiple priorities as she makes useful decisions without angst. Flexible in the face of change, resilient in the face of confusion.

And all of these attributes are choices, not talents….

  -- Seth Godin, on entrepreneurship

Two key traits required to succeed as an expat, partner, and entrepreneur are to make good choices and execute well on them.   In a world swimming with opportunities and options, this requires a degree of resilience in the midst of unfamiliar and changing circumstances. 

This abstract idea became a more concrete discussion as I read a recent Lifehacker article suggesting that healthy “mental toughness” requires attention to 13 positive attributes:

1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves
2. They Don’t Give Away Their Power
3. They Don’t Shy Away from Change
4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control
5. They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone
6. They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks
7. They Don’t Dwell on the Past
8. They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over
9. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success
10. They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure
11. They Don’t Fear Alone Time
12. They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything
13. They Don’t Expect Immediate Results

DSC01627 (1300x775)I’ve been tossing this one around with friends, and we differ on which are important and which we possess.  The list really should be cast as a test, similar to the “How Cambridge Are You” quiz making the rounds (and upon which I only scored 51%).

But, from the subjective discussions, I believe (and, I admit, others differ) that I practice most of these qualities in daily life.  But I know that I fall down badly on at least four: 2, 4, 5, and 7.

Tolerance and congeniality are beneficial traits in corporate and expatriate environments.   Good results flow from listening and learning, deferring to different cultural beliefs and social perspectives, making friends and encouraging networks of supplier, advisors, and customers.  Bu sometimes it degenerates to needless people-pleasing, sometimes through power exchanges, that are counterproductive in the long term.  To run my business successfully, there are times when I have to say No, fight the fight, and hold others accountable.  It doesn’t always come naturally.

Similarly, I’m a reflective person by nature and look at past events asking Why did this happen the way it did? and How could I have done better?.    Especially in the past five months, I’ve talked a lot out with others and made many changes that reflect hard lessons learned throughout 2013.  But the process still, too often, leads to If only and I can still fix this wargaming, replaying scenarios that are no longer relevant or even desirable.   I need to consciously force myself to accept that my past was imperfect, though well-intentioned, to face forward, to focus on new opportunities.  It doesn’t always come naturally.

Still, I consider myself a happy and, potentially, a successful person (in 2014 and beyond).  At the very least, I avoid all of Lifehacker’s corresponding qualities of unhappy people:

  • People are either good or bad
  • Anyone different/unknown is weird
  • Believing in myself requires me to block out other opinions
  • I have to feel whatever my thoughts tell me to
  • Control is a part of love
  • More is better
  • The worst things always happen to me

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The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.     --  Ulrich Tolle

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.   -- Kurt Vonnegut

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