Be clear about your goal but be flexible about the process of achieving it. – Brian Tracy
In a literal sense, you can see how flexibility is important to bouncing back: a stiff board will not resume its shape once it is warped or stretched in some way, but a piece of rubber will.
In the same way, flexibility is essential to your ability to bounce back in life.
Here are a few reasons:
1. Flexibility enhances problem-solving skills.
The more flexible you are, the more ideas you will come up with regarding solving a particular predicament.
A rigid approach results in one solution and it’s usually the same one you always use whether it works or not.
2. Flexibility allows you to change your behavior to meet the challenge of each unique stressor.
Each adversity in your life brings a unique set of circumstances with it. Utilizing a “one size fits all” approach by employing only one coping method may not work for each stressor.
It’s best to be open to new and/or different ways to approach a situation.
Researcher George Bonanno calls this “adaptive flexibility” and notes that people who are resilient in the healthiest ways utilize this skill well.
3. Flexibility allows you to roll with the waves instead of getting crunched by them.
Have you ever stood in the ocean among large, crashing waves? What you quickly learn is that if you just stand there stiffly, a big wave can completely wipe you out – knocking you off your feet and tumbling you over and over.
Pretty soon you learn to pick up your feet when the wave comes in, allowing it to carry you safely to shore.
This is how it is with challenges in our lives, too. If we cling to one way of dealing with them, we inevitably will get knocked flat.
But if we do something different – perhaps even counter-intuitive – we still get pushed by the challenge, but we’ll end up on our feet.
Learning to stretch
So, how do we learn to be more flexible?
Here are just a few ideas:
1. Try doing something different every day.
You may be in the habit of doing the same thing over and over. We all do. We’re human and we like routine.
But, to train your mind to start getting out of its rut, try doing something differently each day.
Maybe you want to take a different route to work.
You could read the paper starting with the last section instead of the first.
Try brushing your teeth with your other hand.
Wear your watch on your other wrist.
2. Study creativity.
I have to confess that I am not the most flexible person in the world.
One of the things that has helped me be more broad-minded is to read about creativity.
There are tons of books out there on creativity. And remember that creativity doesn’t always have to do with art. It often is just about teaching your mind to think differently.
3. Play challenging games.
Now, this is a fun way to learn to be flexible!
Word games are often helpful in learning to look at things in a different way.
For example, the New York Times crossword puzzles that I enjoy are incredibly tricky because the clues often have more than one meaning.
This makes me have to widen my imagination to different possibilities each time I’m searching for an answer.
Or how about Angry Birds?
This popular little game can also teach you to think outside of the box as you try over and over again to get those pigs. Finally, you shoot the Angry Bird at something you never think will work and – boom! – down comes the structure and all the pigs with it.
4. Do a resiliency review.
Think back to difficult times from your past. Note two or three of them and then look at how you handled them.
Did you do the same thing each time? If so, jot down some ideas about how you can handle the next challenge in a different way.
Just like stretching keeps our physical bodies in shape, being mentally and emotionally flexible will help keep your resiliency muscles in shape.
Here’s to being outside of that box!
What are some of your ideas for increasing flexibility?
Reference: Mancini, A.D. & Bonanno, G.A. (2010). Resilience to Potential Trauma: Toward a Lifespan Approach. In J.W. Reich, A.J. Zautra & J.S. Hall (eds.) Handbook of Adult Resilience, 258-280, The Guilford Press: London, New York.