Leaders: 6 Steps to Use a Positive Attitude to Strengthen Your Resilience

Heart Surgeons

A couple of months ago a good friend suffered a major heart attack. While in the emergency room, he had a second heart attack and almost died on the operating table.

The heart surgeon told my friend that he should recuperate in a short period and lead a normal life. In the following weeks, however, my friend did not improve.

He was weak, tired, depressed, and continued to experience debilitating chest pains.

The Heart of a Leader

Concerned, the doctor inserted a camera through an artery and into the heart to get a better idea of how the heart was functioning. With each pump, a good supply of blood was reaching all parts of the heart. The doctor explained that while there was severe damage to the heart, like any muscle, it would heal since the entire heart was receiving blood.

Armed with that knowledge, my friend went home and almost immediately began to feel better.

When he felt sharp pains in the heart as he walked or moved, he was not concerned since he knew that vital supplies of blood were reaching all parts of the heart, and not leaving other parts to atrophy. This knowledge gave him confidence to continue walking through the pain he felt because he knew his heart was healing.

My friend is not the only one who has used positive thinking to strengthen his resilience.

In my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind, I talk about how success as an FBI Agent often meant focusing on the things that I could control: my own beliefs, attitudes, emotions—and ultimately, behavior. I found several similarities between the way my friend and I both used positive thinking to become more resilient when confronted with the unexpected obstacles that show up in life and work:

1. Fill Knowledge Gaps

My friend gathered information that was meaningful to him in his particular situation. Once he assessed this information, he could move forward because he knew his heart was getting the blood it needed to eventually heal.

Similarly, as an FBI agent it was important to continue to collect evidence when faced with an obstacle.

Filling knowledge gaps by sorting facts from speculation was an important strategy so the next steps could be intentional, specific, and measurable.

2. Encourage Curiosity 

My friend and his family became experts in heart attacks. This curiosity increased their awareness of other knowledge gaps that existed.

Curiosity is one of the most important character traits an FBI agent can possess. When dealt an unexpected blow, it’s important to remain curious about the situation. Curiosity is a way to keep uncovering opportunities and further learning experiences.

3. Focus On the Presence of Positive Outcomes 

As part of his recovery, my friend started cardio rehabilitation. Even though he had major heart damage, every day he was able to see and understand that, as heart attacks go, there were many positive aspects to his situation.

When confronted with an obstacle, successful FBI agents do not waste time and energy searching for ways to reduce the impact of a bad outcome.

Instead, they look the situation square in the face and find ways of uncovering good outcomes in the wake of bad circumstances. It’s a simple shift in emphasis, but an important one and it is at the heart of positive thinking.

The difference is focusing on the good outcomes that come from bad experiences.

4. Renew Spiritually 

Since my friend was having a second heart attack while on the operating table, he was not given anesthesia because the surgeons wanted to make sure his brain was getting enough blood. As a result, he heard everything that was said and knew he came close to dying twice.

But he felt no panic; he was overcome with an incredible sense of peace and calm. It renewed his interest in spirituality. [Need Help in this area? See HelpOnTheWay]

When I retired from the FBI a few years ago, I decided to pursue graduate studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary. People thought it strange that I would move from FBI investigations to theological studies. To me, it was perfectly logical: FBI investigations uncover levels of truth, just as our spirituality does.

One of the best ways to foster a positive attitude is to acknowledge there is something bigger, better, and bolder than us. Click to Tweet

5. Recruit Social Support 

Heart attack victims often suffer from depression and my friend was aware of this. Instead of relying on medication, he focused on ways he could reach out to friends and family members for support.

To grow as an individual, we must be able to connect with others.The people we gather around us in times of crisis or obstacles should be ones that help us develop a positive attitude toward ourselves and our situation.

If we want to grow consciously, we must deliberately decide which connections will strengthen us and which ones will weaken us.

6. Practice Gratitude 

Needless to say, my friend was extremely grateful for the support and prayers that created positive thinking during this ordeal. But gratitude isn’t just about giving thanks or counting your blessings. It is noticing and appreciating the positive in the world. Even when the world is imperfect.

As law enforcement, I saw people in a variety of circumstances and came to appreciate that gratitude does not require a life full of material comforts.

Instead, it is an interior attitude of thankfulness regardless of one’s circumstances.

Leaders need to cultivate a positive attitude so they can maintain their resiliency. This will enable them to speedily recover from problems and maintain elasticity so they bend, stretch, and not break during challenging situations.

How do you maintain a positive attitude? How has a positive attitude helped you strengthen your resilience? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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LaRae Quy
LaRae Quy is former FBI Agent and Founder at Empowering the Leader in You
She helps clients explore the unknown and discover the hidden truth in self & others
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Image Sources: news.bbcimg.co.uk

L2L Contributing Author


  1. GLOBAL IMPACT on April 3, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    AWESOME! This is a great article

    • LaRae Quy on April 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      Glad you liked it and thanks for the comment.

      LaRae Quy 415.609.0608 visit my blog at http://www.LaRaeQuy.com/blog

      Author of “Secrets of A Strong Mind” available on Amazon.

      Society of Retired FBI Special Agents

  2. williamjameslew on April 4, 2013 at 2:31 am

    I literally don’t know how I maintain a positive attitude but I do and having done so find it hard understanding how and as you say ‘an interior attitude of thankfulness regardless of one’s circumstances’ is probably as good a description as one will find.

    Doubt is part of belief, I believe and on those sunnier days when there’s a God in the heavens and all is good with the world one’s duty is one’s joy but in those times of self doubt a resilience and stalwart moral code must take that place.

    A taught provoking article thank you.

    • LaRae Quy on April 4, 2013 at 2:45 am

      Hi William

      Good to hear from you. Maintaining a positive attitude takes work, I believe. On my better days, I can say that I’m grateful for so many things. On my worst days, I struggle to find the joy in my situation. As you say: doubt is part of faith. I truly believe that God can withstand any question or situation that we throw at him, but as soon as we do then it becomes as much about us, as about Him.

      I’m able to survive the lows by clearly understanding where rock bottom stands and how far I am from it. Once I have that point of reference, I know my way up. And that is both resilience and a positive attitude. It’s wise to get a lay of the land, as my friend did when he looked at his chances for survival. When times are tough, it’s not the time to pretend or sugar-coat the situation. Once you know the reality, you can begin to fill those knowledge gaps and strategize on how to move upward.

      So glad you liked the article and that it provoked deeper thoughts on how where to turn when we need to strengthen our resilience. We need to know where those safety nets can be found.

      LaRae Quy 415.609.0608 visit my blog at http://www.LaRaeQuy.com/blog

      Author of “Secrets of A Strong Mind” available on Amazon.

      Society of Retired FBI Special Agents

  3. Scott Crandall on April 4, 2013 at 8:26 am

    LaRae — I really loved your take on gratitude (noticing and appreciating the positive). I never looked at it that way, and I think it’s profound. Great article (as usual)!

    • LaRae Quy on April 4, 2013 at 11:55 am

      Hi Scott

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your support and kind words!

      LaRae Quy 415.609.0608 visit my blog at http://www.LaRaeQuy.com/blog

      Author of “Secrets of A Strong Mind” available on Amazon.

      Society of Retired FBI Special Agents