What a Former FBI Agent Just Taught Me About Confidence

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Recently I was lucky enough to have a Skype video call with LaRae Quy and she dropped huge amounts of knowledge. I would like to share the secrets I learned:

Confidence is not just faking it until you make it. LaRae Quy spent 24 years of her life in extremely tough situations. As an FBI counter intelligence and undercover officer she had her fair share of “defining” moments where the outcome could mean life or death. In these types of situations LaRae says:

“There is no room for faking it until you make it. You must summon the confidence from within first, and act on that confidence.”

In order to gain confidence you must be able to overcome obstacles. Some people gain confidence from success. That is great. What happens if you have never been successful in even a remotely similar situation though?

When LaRae was training at Quantico one of the requirements was to jump into a pool while holding an M-16 and then resurface and swim to the other side. The problem was, LaRae, growing up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming, never learned to swim. Even right before the exercise, she still couldn’t actually swim. But she understood that failure was not an option, she knew she had to do it and summoned the confidence to jump. Then she jumped. She is still here and believes that action is the proof of confidence. When you push your limits, your limits expand. You don’t fake courage. You take action.

LaRae Quy likes to use the term “Emotional Competence” instead of Emotional Intelligence. While they might seem one-and-the-same, the difference made perfect sense to me. Competence is a more relevant term than intelligence. I know a lot of intelligent people who are not competent. Competence is about action, while intelligence is about knowledge. This idea of competence over intelligence also manifests itself in a quote she told me during our video call:

“Theories are nice, evidence is better. Our lives are our evidence”

Competence leads to confidence. According this FBI Agent “Emotional Competence’” has 2 Main components: 

  1. Being Able to Identify The Feeling
  2. Regulating Your Feelings & The Resulting Actions

One of the main weaknesses we have when it comes to emotional competence is our vocabulary. When we discuss our feelings we are “ just fine” or “good”. This is weak and not descriptive. Being able to effectively identify and describe your emotion allows you to take the next steps in order to process and determine correct action. We need to be able to understand if we are angry, frightened, frustrated, jealous, concerned, worried, scared, or happy. Once we know what we are feeling we can then begin to understand why.

LaRae taught me that in order to be able to control (regulate) your actions and feelings there is a 5-step process:

  1. Quiet Your Mind
  2. Explore: Ask the Hard Questions
  3. Determine: Is This (Feeling/Idea/Perception) True?
  4. Decide What Needs to Be Done
  5. Take Action. Dare Yourself. Be Aggressive.

1. Quiet Your Mind – some people meditate. Some people exercise. Some people are religious. Whatever you do, make sure you have space and time to think about your thoughts. When your mind can focus and you are not being bombarded by outside noise, your ability to reflect and process information greatly increases.

2. Explore – this is where you ask what does this feeling do? Is it good for me? Is it self-limiting or is it helpful? Where does this feeling come from? Is it from my parents, my childhood, teachers, or friends and coaches? How did I get it? Why do I have it? Trace the origins. This is where all those questions must be answered.

3. Find Truth – is the feeling with its origin and meaning true? Does the feeling portray reality or am I making it up?

4. Decide What Needs to Be Done – what action if taken will move me closer to my desired outcomes? What action can I take? Where is my influence? Decide what you want to feel, what you want to accomplish and then focus on the actions that will get you there. By determining the best possible course of action, following through becomes easier.

5. Take Action – We need to challenge ourselves to proceed. All fear can be killed with action. Dare yourself to push your boundaries. Most limits are self-inflicted and can be broken. Break through those limits. Be aggressive with your actions and take control of your personal limitations.

The lack of confidence is present at all levels. Executive leaders feel unsure about their abilities just as much as junior analysts. It is rampant for both men and women, often though it is just expressed differently. Feeling afraid or questioning your abilities is ok as long as you do not dwell on the feeling and start believing it as true. Feel the feeling. Label the feeling. Then apply LaRae’s 5-steps to understand, question, and take corrective action. If you follow this process, you will be able to gain true confidence and thereby take more action in the future.

More about LaRae: LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. Government

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. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. LaRae is the author of “Secrets Of A Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.”

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