Escape: How To Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Watching Steve McQueen jump over a high wood fence on a motorcycle in the 1963 classic film The Great Escape is one of my favorite movie scenes. We all watch in anticipation, asking ourselves this one important question: Can he do the impossible?

This clip inspires us to see others overcome obstacles because, for a moment, we’re along for the ride; we experience the feeling of breaking through barriers to see what lies on the other side. When it comes to our own lives, however, we’re less adventurous.

Barriers take on the look of a wall designed to keep us confined and not a hitch in the plan that demands we use our resources.

Why can Steve McQueen jump the high wood fence on his motorcycle but we can’t escape from a bad relationship, change jobs, start a business, or lose 20 pounds? He is defining his future; we are stuck with an inevitable destiny.

A Different Approach 

Our approach to barriers is what determines our success. Strong minds use the same strengths that made them successful to get them through the tough times.

In our culture, we use the barriers that life presents us as a shield from risk, uncertainty, and discomfort. We hesitate to move out of our comfort zone. It’s easier to logically accept the facts surrounding our disappointment and not actually feel the disappointment. We convince ourselves that everything is “fine the way it is” so we don’t have to feel the regret of a life not well lived.

The only difference between a rut and a coffin are the dimensions. ClickToTweetThis

Getting Out of Prison

Our barriers can take many shapes and forms. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that something in our life is holding us back from experiencing a deeper part of who we are as a person. It’s even more uncomfortable to do something about it. To protect ourselves, we disengage. We pretend that it doesn’t matter if we don’t overcome an obstacle in our way. We don’t complain. We maintain the illusion that the walls surrounding us are not really keeping us imprisoned.

Steve McQueen’s character in the movie, Virgil Hilts, wanted out of prison. When taking a long look at the barrier in front of him, he knew it would be hard and he knew it would take all of his resources if he were to be successful.

3 Ways to Break Free

Let’s take a closer look at how he moved out of his comfort zone by using his strengths:


Virgil Hilts was persistent. He attempted many prison breaks and he never gave up. Persistence is the ability to maintain action regardless of your feelings. You press on even when you feel like quitting.

Persistence is an essential characteristic of a strong mind that can overcome obstacles. It is not stubbornness; it is getting yourself to do something you don’t want to do and not allowing yourself to come up with an excuse to avoid working toward your goal.

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge


In the movie, McQueen portrays Hilts as both bold and a bit irreverent. Boldness is our willingness to venture out and do the right thing at the right time, regardless of the barriers we may encounter. It comes from a confidence in ourselves that we can move beyond our comfort zones.

There is a difference between being reckless and accepting risks, however. A bold person is well aware of the risk and has decided to go through with the decision anyway, ready to accept the consequences if things don’t work out. They might make a mistake, but inaction will lead to emptiness and regret. It is often far more fulfilling to take a risk and fall flat on your face than not having taken it at all.

Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


If one prison break didn’t work, Hilts was flexible enough to immediately start planning on another one. Each time, incorporate what you’ve learned from the last experience into the next one.

Often, we have very little control over our environment. Even the best of plans can fail because people, markets, and business are not predictable. If we are going to survive in today’s world, we will need to learn how to navigate through the confusion that exists in relationships, investments, and life.

In my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind, I talk about how mental toughness is the ability to be flexible enough to act in the moment. As I learned as an FBI agent, it was essential for my survival to have a mind that was strong and flexible so I could respond from a place of strength. In a hostile and unpredictable environment, it is important to stay in the moment.

There is no time for trying to remember business school formats or emergency preparedness plans. This may sound easy, but it requires flexibility while breaking through barriers.

It’s OK to make plans; just make them in pencilClickToTweetThis

Breaking through barriers means embracing risk, uncertainty, and stepping into the unknown. Move out of your comfort zone by utilizing the strengths that have made you successful in the past. They will help you get through the tough times facing you now and in the future.

How have you moved out of your comfort zone? What strengths surfaced as you moved out of your comfort zone? How did those strengths help you move forward? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here! 
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

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
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Blog | Book

Video Sources: 

Hacking Your Mind

7 Ways Leaders Can Hack Into Their Own Life: Tips From A Former FBI Counterintelligence Agent

Hacking Your Mind

As an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent, I spent twenty-four years investigating people. But the most important life I ever investigated was my own.

When I sleuthed out my own story, I could begin to pinpoint patterns in the way my mental toughness was developed over the years—the times I’d persevered in business and life, and won.

Just as importantly, the times I’d given up and sold myself short.

Hacking Into Your Own Story

You can do the same by hacking into your own story so you can apply the same knowledge to understanding your behaviors, traits, and strengths. You learn which ones move you forward in business and life, and also identify the ones that hold you back.

In my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind, I discuss many ways to hack into your own life.

Here are 7 ways:

1. Take Ownership. FBI new agents spend a great deal of time defining their strengths, talents, and skills so they can quickly lean into them when confronted with risk, uncertainty, and discomfort. The secret to strong living in both business and life is being able to repeat instances of success again and again.

Hack tip: Train yourself to recognize your strengths by recalling a time when you reacted to adversity in a way that moved you forward in the direction you wanted to go. Chances are good that you responded from a place of strength, so take ownership of it by acknowledging it.

2. Strut Your Stuff. It is not uncommon for FBI agents to move assignments several times in their career. Over time, they will settle in one area of expertise that has been defined, in large part, by their strengths, talents, and skills.

Hack tip: Keep your strengths easily accessible by constantly working to develop them so you can call them into action when you need them. When you use your strengths, you’re in the zone where the right decisions come to you. You feel challenged in the way you like to be challenged.

3. Admit you’re not perfect. Survival in hostile and volatile environments often requires an honest assessment of talents and skills. A small but agile FBI agent may be a good choice for a SWAT assignment; a brawny but empathic agent might be used in sensitive interviews. The most competent agents are those who have identified their weaknesses so they can navigate their career in ways that allow them to minimize exposure to areas where they lack proficiency.

Hack tip: Do not worry about what was left out; instead, develop what was left in.  It is the mark of a strong and wise mind to respect your weaknesses so you can anticipate your response and minimize their impact. Read Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham.

4. Keep moving. FBI agents are placed in a variety of fast-moving situations. There is no time to let a self-limiting barrier keep them from confronting an adversary or pushing ahead in an interrogation. Constant training throughout their career allows agents to continually move though barriers, because the closer they get to them the more they can educate ourselves about them.

Hack tip: Break your barriers by continually pushing beyond the the limits you have set for yourself. You do not need total clarity to move forward. Many times, the steps to follow and actions to take will not reveal themselves to you until you have moved closer to the very thing that creates fear inside you.

5. Get emotional. FBI agents know that emotions like fear and anger are OK. It’s complacency that will kill them. A little emotion keeps them on their toes. Agents understand that an emotion like fear is their early warning system in fast-moving situations. Their awareness of the fear doesn’t mean they back away from the unknown because they don’t know what they’ll find; instead, they move forward with caution and strategy.

Hack tip: Acknowledge your emotions for what they are rather than let them lead you towards poor judgments and irrational behavior. Learn how your brain recruits your body to express emotion. Understand what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it. Emotions are often a pacifying system to deal with stress, and as such, can be excellent indicators of a change in our environment.

6. Put yourself under surveillance. FBI agents routinely place the target of their investigation under surveillance to uncover patterns in their behavior. It is an essential first step in an FBI investigation. A surveillance log is kept, and once a target’s normal routine is established, it’s much easier to recognize aberrant behavior.

Hack tip: Keep a log of everyday activities so you can pinpoint situations that influence your attitude or behavior. Rather than reviewing your daily activities as a linear recitation of facts and figures, scan them so you can identify highlights: specific experiences that produced a reaction or moved you in some way. Once those experiences have been identified, you can drill down further to see whether you responded the same way on other days or in different circumstances.

7. Scare yourself. Much of the training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia involves moving new agents out of their comfort zone. If instructors aren’t challenging new agents physically, intellectually, and emotionally, they aren’t doing their job. It’s not a bad thing to be alert and uncomfortable. Training does not encourage agents to become paranoid, but a little discomfort keeps a person from becoming too comfortable with past or current success.

Hack tip: To gain a better awareness of your behavior in situations of risk, uncertainty, and discomfort, go out of your way to place yourself in uncomfortable situations. Expose yourself to activities that you might ordinary avoid because you’re worried about the downside. Your awareness of your reaction to risk, uncertainty, and discomfort is more acute and focused when you purposely place yourself in these situations. Use them as a learning tool so you can anticipate your responses when confronted with the real thing.

What tips would you add on how to hack into your life?


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here! 
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

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
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Blog | Book

Image Sources:

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!


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here! 
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

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
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Blog | Book

Image Sources:

Heart and Mind

Lead With a Strong Mind and Soft Heart

Heart and Mind

The Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament is a brilliant summary of what it means to lead with a strong mind and soft heart.

The writer tells us that we are most fully alive when we do good to others.

The Apostle Paul wrote this almost two thousand ago, and yet as an FBI Agent, I am surprised at how his exhortation of teamwork and leadership seems to perfectly encapsulate modern thinking.

On Leadership and Paint Balls

Several times a year the FBI firearms unit requires agents to qualify with their weapon. Our training frequently included various forms of stress tests where we worked in teams to make arrests.

To make the scenarios even more stressful, we frequently were given special guns that shoot paint balls, and then sent out to discover how much control we had over our mental and physical reflexes when making those arrests.

Nothing goes unnoticed with a paint gun shootout. Every mistake is splattered somewhere—the paint bullets can leave bruises and stick to hair for days.

Of more importance, however, were the red splotches that indicated one of our team members had been shot or killed.

To Live or Die

We put on goggles and Kevlar helmets; our instructors gave us the arrest scenario and then acted as observers as they watched our every decision and the movements required to carry out our decision.

We entered old houses with attics and blind corners, no obvious plan or path to follow, so we improvised and adapted to our circumstances as we moved along.

When you’re in the thick of it, all you really think about is surviving.

You don’t want to scrub paint off your clothes when you get home or feel the sting of a paint ball hitting your hand or neck.

The trials are physical as well as mental, but in a stress course of this type the mission is threefold:

  • The mission
  • Your colleagues
  • And yourself

—in that order.

Inspect What You Expect

In our review at the end of the day, the observers talk about what happened and what they saw.

Without fail, the biggest mistakes focused on the lack of communication between the agents.

Many times, one of us could see when another agent was headed for danger or taking too much risk. Rather than warning that person, many of us were too afraid of getting hurt ourselves to find a way to prevent the inevitable paint ball hit.

On Business and Life

Firearms training taught me many lessons about business and life. It taught me about the importance of building a strong mind while keeping a soft heart—Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians was right. We are more fully alive and human when we use our talents as leaders to build up our teams and put their needs before our own.

Here are three ways that the paint ball exercises helped me understand how “doing good to others” can create leaders with a strong mind and soft heart:


Our firearms team did not communicate well with one another because we were too caught up in our own dramas. Each was strategizing on what to do next and what to anticipate.

In a hostile and unpredictable environment, it is important to stay in the moment. This may sound easy, but it means staying fully focused on the needs of the people with whom you’re communicating and putting their needs before your own.  This means that you do not come first—and this is why really paying attention to someone else can be so difficult.

  • Here are a few ways to stay in the moment with another person:
  • Make good eye contact to let them know that your focus is on them.
  • Give them your full attention.
  • Fight the urge to race ahead when they are speaking.
  • Watch for eye movement when speaking because you may have touched a soft spot.
  • Observe their lips when speaking because people compress them when they are stressed.


Leadership begins with knowing who we are and what we believe. Authenticity is the need for leaders to be themselves regardless of the situation. For this reason, it is more than self-awareness; it is the ability to share the deepest and truest part of ourselves with others.

In a changing and volatile environment, it’s not how you decide; it’s about why. The why of a decision in the midst of confusion and uncertainty is a fusion of the heart and mind. There is no time for trying to remember business school formats or emergency preparedness plans.

The journey toward authenticity is twofold:

  1. Discovering our personal values and beliefs
  2. Exhibiting behavior that is consistent with those same values and beliefs.

We can be authentic leaders if we are committed to be being true to ourselves—regardless of the situation we are in or the people around us—so we can be real and genuine.


We should not be unfazed by the failure of a colleague. If we can alert them to a danger that lies ahead, we should do so. If we pushed aside our selfish desire to get ahead, perhaps there would be fewer bodies lying by the side of the road.

Leaders can create a pre-emptive culture in their own environments. This is the true definition of teamwork, where each member watches the back of the others and warns them against making career errors.

Not every master plan is genius. Not every scheme works. As leaders, you know this better than anyone. Circumstances and environments can change quickly, in business and life, and even the best plan is impossible to follow. If you do good to others by building your team up, your world won’t fall apart when the unexpected shows up.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” ~ Ephesians 4:29

How can you combine a strong mind with a soft heart? Do leaders always need to be team players? How can you make a hard decision with a soft heart?


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here! 
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

LaRae Quy is former FBI Agent and Founder at Your Best Adventure
She helps clients explore the unknown and discover the hidden truth in self & others
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Blog

Image Sources:

3 Ways Leaders Can Cure Complacency


I spent over twenty years working as both an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent.

My job was to identify foreign spies who were operating in the United States, find out what they were stealing and stop them, assess whether they possessed the type of information the U.S. needed, and if they did, find ways to persuade them to work for our government.

I share the lessons I learned about surviving in an environment of deception, hostility, and fear.

Coincidentally, these same conditions also exist in business and life.

If you are going to survive in today’s world, you will need to learn how to navigate through the smoke and mirrors that create confusion in investments, marketing, and relationships.

Lead Yourself

The first person we need to lead is ourselves. We do this by leading with personal strength rather than a plan. Powerful leaders are empowered from within.

Plans fail because people are not predictable and we have very little control over our environment. Survival depends upon flexibility, breaking through barriers, and accepting new challenges.

Complacency will lead to extinction.        

FBI defensive tactics trained us to always lead with our strong side. I’m right-handed and both my right hand and leg are stronger than my left. We were taught us that if we lead with our strong side,  it’s easier to stay on balance when confronted with the unknown and we’re better poised to react in a way that could save our life.

We are more vulnerable when we’re approached from a weakness or blind spot.

Leading From Strength

Instead of sending us to the gym everyday to build up the muscles on our weak side, we spent our time learning how to lead most efficiently from our place of strength. This meant that we had to know our weaknesses and manage them as best we could while relying upon our strengths for survival.

Complacency is toxic because it is a stealth attitude that creeps up on us without our awareness. It makes us vulnerable because we’ve unconsciously let our guard down and are no longer alert to the nature of threats that surround aspects of business or aspects and life.

When this happens, we’re no longer operating from our center, from that place of strength that gives us balance. Complacency can often be a subconscious need to re-evaluate our goals, mission, or vision.

Stop Complacency

Here are three ways to prevent you from becoming complacent in your business, leadership role, and life:

1. Create an Inner Circle

We all have an inner circle of close friends, family, and others we interact with on a regular basis. To maximize their impact on your life, ask yourself whether they are the right people with whom you want closer interaction.

By forging your inner circle with intention, you can collect people who reflect back your full potential.

  • Collect people who see the best in you and believe in your dreams for yourself.
  • Eliminate people who take advantage of your generous nature.
  • Discard those who ask for more than their fair share.
  • Protect yourself and fill your life with people whose values match your own.
  • Surround yourself with people who accept your gifts, in return.

2. Find a Mentor

There are few people more valuable than mentors. They should be inspirational; more importantly, they need to be able to see and accept you for who you really are.

They need to encourage you to keep charging ahead, keep chasing your dreams, and keep making plans.

Mentoring fills us with hope.

Fill in the following sentences:

  • A great mentor in my life is ______________________
  • I could be a mentor to___________________________
  • I am inspired by _______________________________

3. Look for Adventure

Adventure is about taking risks, large and small, and this requires enthusiasm. It means stepping out into the unknown to discover your full potential.

Staying open to new experiences is a daily adventure because you don’t know what you’ll find in those new experiences. Maybe you’ll discover that you want to do something different, that you want to write a mission statement, or have a new vision for your life.

Complacency and adventure cannot co-exist.

Fill in the following sentences:

  • It would be fun to _____________________
  • I would like to try _____________________
  • I would step out of my comfort zone by ___________________

You must learn to lead yourself before you can lead others and this can only happened if you are empowered from within. The world provides enough deception and isolation—don’t worry about being afraid of the unknown. It’s the complacency that will kill you.

When was the last time you thought about the quality of your inner circle? How are you a mentor to others? What was your last adventure?


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here! 
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

LaRae Quy is former FBI Agent and Founder at Your Best Adventure
She helps clients explore the unknown and discover the hidden truth in self & others
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Blog

Image Sources: