Mental Flexibility Is Not a Sign of Weakness, but of Wisdom
We live in a changing world. Change is a characteristic of life. The only thing that doesn’t change is the fact that all things will change. This being so, we must be creatures of change if we wish to succeed. That is, we must learn how to adapt to the changing circumstances in which we live.
All too often, however, people resist change, trying to hold on to the old way of doing things. It doesn’t make senses to cling to the past, for it will vaporize in your grip, and you will find yourself with nothing to hold on to. As an expert on change, Charles Darwin wrote, “It’s not the strongest of the species nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
The point, then, is if we wish to be beacons of strength, examples of resilience, and models of success, we need to make our motto ADAPTABILITY or MENTAL FLEXIBILITY. To gain the most from life we must master the art of adjusting to changing circumstances. Making adaptability a major goal opens our life to adventure and excitement, for we can never know where our changing path will take us. On the other hand, if we refuse to change, we can be certain of our destination, which is FAILURE.
Here are some points to ponder as we nurture and develop adaptability:
1. Adopt the correct attitude. That is, welcome change rather than run from it. Embrace it because our struggle to adapt brings out the best in us. It makes us stronger and wiser, and positions us for success.
2. Understand we have to BE before we can DO and DO before we can HAVE. In other words, we have to BE flexible before we can DO what is best for us, and we have to DO what is best for us before we can HAVE success. So, it all begins with the correct attitude.
3. If we want to grow, we must be willing to stretch. After all, change is nothing more than life stretching, reaching further, and becoming more than it was. So, when we learn to adapt, we synchronize ourselves with life. By “going with the flow” life will be working with us and success will become all that easier. But resisting the inevitable brings only exhaustion and fruitlessness.
4. When you are perfectly aligned with life and everything is going your way, take advantage of your blessings and put them to good use. This is the EXPLOITATION phase. But no matter how good things are, never neglect to search for new and better ways of doing things; look for alternatives and alternate solutions. This is the EXPLORATION phase. Always EXPLOIT your good fortune, but never neglect to EXPLORE new opportunities, for EXPLORATION is preparation for future change. It may not completely protect you from a disastrous change, but it will at least soften the blow; thereby providing you with more energy to deal with the change.
5. Embark on a path of endless personal development as the more skills and knowledge you get, the more options you will have, and the more flexible you will become.
6. Take a balanced view of the world, balancing positive change with acceptance of what cannot be changed. Do your best to contribute to life by improving it where you can, but accept with equanimity what you cannot change. And cultivate the wisdom to distinguish between what is possible and what is impossible to change. And never forget that what is impossible to change today may be possible to change tomorrow. Always remain flexible, not allowing your beliefs to grow rigid. Remember that rigidity of thought is rigor mortis of the mind.
7. Adapting to life includes ACCOMMODATING others. Since people are the source of our power and crucial to our success, getting along with others should be a major concern. Learn how to accommodate the needs of others. Personal, business, and family relationships are not only about fulfillment; they are also about adjustment.
8. Develop the habit of questioning yourself and monitoring your progress. Ask yourself, “Is this the only way of doing this task? Is it the best way? What other options do I have? How can I improve the situation? What was impossible for me to do in the past that I may be able to do now? What relationships do I need to mend? Knowing that it is impossible to help others without helping ourselves, who should I be helping and how?” Questions such as these will nurture our adaptability.
10. Our attitude has an immense impact on our body. Resisting change and an unwillingness to adapt to our changing environment causes stress, which wreaks havoc on our immune system and body in general.
Pursuing goals is good, but if we are overly attached to the outcome we may not be flexible enough to alter it when necessary. I love to set goals, but I recognize that life’s plan for me may be better than my own plan, so I try to remain flexible and stress free. Sue Petrie Marsha expressed it best when she said, “Blessed are the Flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.”
11. Some conservative thinkers are uncomfortable with change. They wish to leave well enough alone. But the problem is, if you leave things alone, you will leave them alone in a whirlpool of change. So, if left alone, things will change, and if we don’t, there will be a mismatch, an incoherence with reality, leaving us ineffective. We always need to be on the lookout for new solutions, failing that we will find new problems.
12. When you’re listening to the viewpoint of another and are tempted to disagree with it, remember that you will be changing your own opinion in the future. So, does it really make any sense to debate the point? Rather, remain open. The more ideas you have to draw upon, the more flexible, creative, and solution oriented you will become.
13. Did you ever notice that the only people we consider intelligent are those that share our opinions? If so, it’s time to get rid of that narrow viewpoint. When your companions give their opinions, rather than focusing on the differences between theirs and yours, focus on the differences their opinions have made in their lives. If their opinions have made them better people, it’s time to think about changing your viewpoint.
14. Don’t cling to your opinions, for they are nothing more than knowledge in the making, nothing more than potential truth. Remember that you don’t own the truth because it is shared by all. Everyone is necessary to arrive at the big picture.
15. To benefit from the wisdom of others, don’t get turned off by how they present their opinions. Focus on the substance, not on the presentation; focus on the gift, not on the package.
16. Whenever the opinions of others make you feel uncomfortable, don’t run and hide. But be especially alert for hidden treasure. For whenever we are forced to step outside of our comfort zone, we grow.
17. To be flexible, we must be willing to break from tradition, custom, and habit. We must be willing to question everything. Keep an open mind, and remember gullibility enslaves you to the opinions of others, while skepticism frees you to discover the value or uselessness inherent in the ideas of others.
18. Don’t rely exclusively on the left hemisphere of your brain. That is, don ‘t depend solely on logic or rational thought. Increase your use of the right hemisphere, which is the seat of intuition and creativity. Become more attuned to the arts, nature, beauty, and the wisdom of your inner voice.
19. Learn from any source you can. Friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. Books, magazines, and newspapers. New information is the source of new options, and new options offer greater flexibility.
20. Adjust your attitude and perspective. They filter reality, acting as colored glasses, distorting everything you see. When you begin to view strangers as friends you haven’t made yet, rather than potential threats, you’ll become more flexible.
21. Learn to view the world through the eyes of another. How would you see things differently if you were an infant, five years old, or a teenager? What if you were a member of the opposite sex? Or ninety years old? Or gay? What if you were confined to a wheelchair or a prison cell? What if you
were raised in poverty in the third world or were homeless in North America? What if you were a faithful follower of a different religion? What if you were a traffic cop, schoolteacher, or bank teller?
Use the power of your imagination to place you into as many roles as possible, for flexibility consists of understanding the viewpoints of others and learning as much as possible from them.
22. Be alert for opportunities while remaining willing to move in unexpected directions. And plan for the future, but be prepared to adapt to it. In other words, expect the unexpected.
- Adaptability: The Art of Winning in an Age of Uncertainty by Max McKeown
- Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges
- By Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney
- The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles By Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte Ph.D.
- Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected By Tania Luna and LeeAnn Renninger PhD
- Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking by Richard E. Nisbett
- University of Kent: Adaptability and Flexibility