The ability to change and adjust to a new environment or ways of living and doing things when circumstances change, is important for success as well as mental wellness. Having a flexible mindset is more helpful in such situations.
If you are adaptable and able to change easily, you are a flexible thinker. Psychological flexibility is the ability to respond to change in a situation while still achieving a valued goal. This is most evident in a situation of urgency or distress.
Flexible thinkers are able to:
Consider a different perspective
You are able to look at a problem or situation from different angles. Situations are not just black or white, good or bad but rather you can see all sides with a good amount of objectivity.
Consider someone else’s point of view
You are a flexible thinker if you know that not everyone thinks like you or have to like the same thing as you. While you may not always agree with them, you are ok that other people have their own opinion, interest and views about life.
Inflexible thinkers tend to ascribe blame to the first evidence that they find. For example, if a friend does not return a text, it means they have been cancelled by the friend. They will not consider other reasons such situations that may prevent the friend from replying. Flexible thinkers will consider other possibilities and reasons for an action.
Flexible thinkers recognize that not everything stays the same and there is a need to find different ways of doing things based on the situation at that time.
How to be more adaptable:
Befriend your emotions
Many people are afraid of negative emotions such as anger, sadness, jealously etc. Emotions are really just a response to a thought in our head and are neither good or bad, until we take action as a result of that emotion. An angry thought is not a bad thought until we lash out at another person and hurt them. If we learn to recognize those emotions that can result in bad behavior, we will learn to resist the fight or flight response. Learning to tolerate and manage these emotions will help us to be less impulsive and help use to think clearer and more creatively about a problem.
Be willing to learn
Recognizing that you may not know it all, will help in being adaptable. Willingness to learn from others and explore possibilities will open up our minds to consider other ways of doing things. Sometimes the fear of failure is the biggest hurdle to change and being adaptable. Fear of failure is often one reason behind inflexible thinking because we attach a fixed value and criteria to the idea of success. Adopting a growth mindset allows us to look at success from a bigger point of view.
Know your values
The world likes to tag us with a value by comparing us to other people and we end up believing that the number of medals, ‘A’s, likes, followers, defines who we are. Being aware of your strengths, what you believe in and stand for in life can help to clarify who you really are as a person instead of being caught up in chasing credentials. Living by your own values rather than getting sucked into the competition and doing things just to impress, can free us to explore other meaningful ways of doing things.
While values and believes can be strong anchors in a storm, it can also nail us down and prevent us from trying something different and new. For example, believing that we are nothing unless we score straight ‘A’s is a value and not a very helpful one. If a belief or value is the underlying reason for your inflexible thinking, it would be good to assess if it’s helping you in reaching bigger goals in life as well as your mental wellness.
Personal change, especially changing habits of the mind and behavior are never easy. What would really help is to find a strong motivational factor. Also, you need to know that our brain is plastic. It will change and grow according to what we choose to think about. No matter how hard wired we are, we can change the way we think if we consistently work on it. One way to have a more flexible mindset is to try something new regularly. Slowly, your mind will connect new ideas, new ways of doing things and become more accustomed to change.