Imagine a freezing and windy day in the middle of winter. Fingers are so cold that you hug your armpits for the warmth of skin. An FBI firearms instructor shouts orders, and at his command, you drop to the ice and snow on the ground and aim your weapon at a target from the 50-yard line.
You fire and hope you hit the target. You don’t dare raise your head to see where the bullets hit (or didn’t) because another FBI agent-in-training is standing over you, aiming their weapon at the same target. Instead, you crawl forward 25 yards and hope the new agent is a good shot and will keep the muzzle elevated so the bullets whizzing over your head don’t hit you.
The purpose of the exercise was to build trust and teamwork, but all I could think about was making it to the finish line. Did I mention that it was a competition and we were racing against other teams of two? The winners were timed and then scored for accuracy.
My teammate and I didn’t win the competition, but we didn’t disgrace ourselves. The horror of those moments with live rounds of ammunition flying over my head left me with anxiety that I choked down because I didn’t want anyone else to know how much the exercise stressed me out.
We deal with stressful situations daily, knowing that giving up is not an option. We all fight our battles and need the resilience to land on our feet when confronted with anxiety, stress, and hard times.
The FBI Academy was filled with many people who acted as though they chewed glass and spit nails in their free time. As a new agent, I tried to emulate them. I thought mental toughness was learning how to plow through obstacles; you know, be a tough guy who never let anything or anyone stop them from reaching their goal.
Once in the field, I quickly learned that the tough guy act would only get me so far. Yeah, there were times during arrests when brute strength and ignorance served me well. However, as I became more experienced as a counterintelligence agent, I understood that mental toughness is managing emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that would set me up for success.
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