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Why Americans Need to Reclaim Their Mental Toughness

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Why Americans Need to Reclaim Their Mental Toughness

After the terrorist attack of 9/11, FBI Director Robert Mueller required all terrorism leads coming into the FBI field offices be followed up, no matter how mundane or trivial. He was determined to prevent another terrorist attack from happening again. It put a tremendous burden on investigative resources and agents complained that chasing down bogus leads took precious time away from real cases.

As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I was briefed on all substantive cases in the event the media wanted additional information. One of them was a report from a local bank that their security personnel observed a male teenager selling drugs near their front lobby. The exchange was also on surveillance tape.

The teenager was carrying a large backpack, and when bank security walked by, they picked up a reading on their mobile biohazard sensors. Worried that the teenager might have an explosive device, bank security detained the teenager and contacted both the local police and the FBI.

It turns out that the teenager actually had been tested that morning for a thyroid condition, and the nuclear residue left over in his system had triggered the biohazard sensor. However, when the parents arrived they were furious at the security personnel and accused the bank of invading their son’s privacy. Even though their son had been caught red-handed selling drugs, they threatened to sue the bank and contacted a lawyer to pursue the matter.

The parents were so clearly in the wrong that even their normally greedy and unscrupulous lawyer told them they had no case.

This entire incident illustrates exactly what is wrong with this country today: no one is willing to take responsibility for their actions. Instead of being horrified that their son was peddling drugs on the streets of San Francisco, they pointed the finger at bank security and blamed them because their son was caught!

Daniel Burrus’ article where he cites concerns that many Americans today view their future as bleak. Parents are worried that their children will not have a richer, better life than they did. Contrast that with the attitude in China and India, where young and old are excited about their future.

The difference? Americans are too busy blaming others for their problems and mistakes instead of stepping up to take responsibility for their own future. We’ve begun to believe we are a privileged group of people.

Our society has raised a generation that feels entitled. Americans need to reclaim the mental toughness that imbued the veins of our predecessors, because while we’re sitting around pointing fingers at each other and whining because we don’t want to work hard, other nations around the world are stepping into the void.

My suggestion? We need to get over ourselves and put our shoulder into building our future. Here’s how:

1. Behave Your Way to Success

If you want to change your attitude, start with changing your behavior.

Our actions affect our attitude because we are motivated to justify our actions. When we are aware that our attitudes and actions do not coincide, we experience tension called cognitive dissonance.

To relieve this tension, according to the cognitive dissonance theory proposed by Leon Festinger, we often bring our attitudes into line with our actions.  It is as if we rationalize, “If I chose to do it (or say it), I must believe in it.”

2. Chose Your Behavior, Chose the Consequences

As an adult, and as a leader, you need to take responsibility for your actions. The only other option is to go through life blaming others for your lack of competence, innovation, and initiative.

The greatest stress in life is to hold onto an image of yourself that someone else created for you.

If you keep trying to live up to their standards, you will never achieve anything of genuine or authentic value. The only person you control is you.

3. Listen to Yourself When You Speak

In conversations, do you have a habit of blaming others for things when things don’t go the way you want? Rather than accept blame and responsibility for your actions, do you point the finger at coworkers, your parent’s influence, your upbringing, or others?

Stop and listen to yourself. If you hear blaming patterns in your speech, you can stop them.

4. Man-Up …. or Lean In

A challenge to man-up assumes the speaker is tougher than the other person. It suggests a lack of manliness and strength. This phrase contains certain sexual overtones because men can use it in a different way than women. After all, it would be hard to imagine a male candidate suggesting that a female opponent needed to be more ladylike to be qualified for the office.

But women today are not afraid of losing their feminine qualities by being tough and resilient, traits that have been mostly associated with masculinity.

The challenge to man-up encourages all of us to muster the courage to do what is right. Man-up and Lean-In are the same thing; both mean that you have the grit to do what needs to be done without making excuses for yourself or blaming others for your situation. It means grow up already!

Leadership is taking responsibility for your own actions, stop making excuses when things don’t work out right, and stop blaming others for your mistakes. Instead, develop mental toughness and adopt a Can-Do attitude—all it takes is a little discipline and hard work.

When you stop blaming others and take responsibility, life becomes much easier.

What solutions can you offer to encourage people to take responsibility for their actions?

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