Think about the differences in these two sentences:

Look what I became. 

Look what became of me.

Despite the small word difference, what do these sentences say about the speaker’s mental attitude? Although they’re nearly identical statements, one is active and the other is passive. In the first sentence, the speaker has taken ownership over their life and became something by doing something. She owns the results, regardless of what those results are. Her approach and self-commitment have made her powerful, and that power came from within—hence a powerful mental attitude.

In the second sentence, however, the speaker allowed something to be done to him. He is a mere recipient, accepting whatever the world is dishing out at that particular moment. He doesn’t own anything— instead, he is owned by his circumstances. He is coming from a place of no power—hence a powerless mental attitude.

When you have a powerless attitude, you’re constantly blaming external forces for your difficulties. Simply put, nothing is your fault. Say you fail a school exam, and you decide to blame it on your professor’s poor teaching methods. This means the only way you can pass your next exam is to have a different professor. If that doesn’t happen, according to this logic, all future failed grades are the teacher’s fault, not yours. Unfortunately, when you adopt this pattern of thinking, you put yourself at the mercy of others, relying on others to change or behave differently in order to fix your situation. As a result, you have no power over the outcome.

A powerful attitude, on the other hand, allows you to take ownership of your situation. You acknowledge and accept that you have played a role in some way, and by doing so, you have the ability to change its course. To turn the exam scenario around, you might say, “I know I failed my test, and maybe my professor does suck, but I can study harder, join a study group, work with a tutor, or talk to my teacher to see what more I can do.” Now you have power; there are actions for you to take to alter or enhance your circumstances. You are at no one’s mercy but your own.

In the Service, we were primed from the first day of training to take responsibility for everything we did. Accountability was paramount. No one wanted to hear excuses—they wanted to hear us take ownership of a problem and fix it. If you had a breach in security, physically lost sight of a protectee, or failed to report to your post on time, they didn’t care about the why (the stairwell wasn’t secured, my radio stopped working, my car didn’t start). They wanted to know the how, as in how it happened and how you were going to make sure it didn’t happen again.

I have always opted in life to risk making the wrong decision rather than taking someone else’s advice and then blaming them if things went wrong. Because two things are bound to happen here: 1) you come to resent the person you listened to, and 2) you come to resent yourself for listening to them. There is nothing worse than looking at a parent or spouse or friend and thinking, I’m in this shitty situation because I listened to you.

So instead, my mindset has always been, “Okay, I did what I thought was best. Right or wrong. But if it doesn’t work out, there is no one else to blame but me.” Now, this doesn’t mean I never take advice or heed the recommendations of my personal counsel. It just means that after identifying, discussing, and analyzing all my options, I take full ownership for the final decision made. Regardless of whether in the end I’m a hero or zero, I own the outcome by virtue of a powerful mental attitude.

Excerpted from Becoming Bulletproof published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2020 by Evy Poumpouras.

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  • Evy Poumpouras is multi-platform journalist and host who frequently appears on NBC, MSNBC, CNN, and ABC. She covers a wide range of topics, such as national security, law enforcement, personal protection, behavioral analysis, situational awareness, and how to live life fearlessly. Evy can currently be seen as an Assessor on the Bravo series “Spy Games”.  Inspired by a once secret World War II government program called “Station S,” “Spy Games” follows 10 contestants as they battle it out in the ultimate game of espionage. In addition, Evy’s book, BECOMING BULLETPROOF, will be released via Simon & Schuster on April 21, 2020. In it, she shares lessons learned from protecting presidents, as well insights and skills from the oldest and most elite security force in the world to help you prepare for stressful situations, instantly read people, influence how you are perceived, and live a more fearless life. As a former Secret Service Special Agent, she was part of the protective details for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as former Presidents George W. Bush, William J. Clinton and George H. Bush.  She worked complex criminal investigations and undercover operations, executed search and arrest warrants, and investigated both violent and financial crimes. Additionally, Evy was an interrogator for the agency’s elite polygraph unit and trained by the Department of Defense in the art and science of lie detection, human behavior, and cognitive influence. Outside of her role as a journalist, Evy is a TEDx speaker and international advisor whose expertise is sought worldwide. She has been a keynote speaker for NASDAQ, SOCOM, Yankee Stadium Series, United Technologies, Corcoran Group, Tyco, Skanska, Red Door Spa, amongst many others. She is an Adjunct Professor for The City University of New York where she teaches criminal justice and criminology. Evy was also cast on CBS’s TV series “The Hunted.” Evy holds a Master of Science from Columbia University in Journalism, a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology from Argosy University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Affairs from Hofstra University. She is also a former New York City Police Academy recruit, and a graduate of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Secret Service Academy, and the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute. Evy is the recipient of the Secret Service Medal of Valor Award for her heroism on September 11th.