How To Develop Mental Flexibility

authenticity happiness mental health mindset self-mastery May 30, 2022
woman stretching before a run

The ability to adapt to change is fundamental to our survival, as well as our personal evolution. It helps us to cope with tough situations, learn, solve problems, develop confidence and become more resilient.

Adaptability is also our key to mental health, especially during times of uncertainty.

Mental flexibility, also known as cognitive or psychological flexibility, is defined by how a person “adapts to fluctuating situational demands; reconfigures mental resources; shifts perspective, and balances competing desires, needs, and life domains” (Kashdan & Rottenberg, 2010).

In simpler terms, it’s our ability to roll with the punches and change our thinking.

There is ample evidence showing that better mental flexibility improves satisfaction in life.  

Mental rigidity prevents us from adapting

Think about the most difficult people you have had to deal with. They are stuck in their ways, close-minded, and just have to be right. 

People who are rigid try to bend the world to fit their views, and have a hard time being able to see things from another perspective. Temper tantrums or big reactions can occur as a response to being unable to adapt to change. 

“Mental rigidity” is a trans-diagnostic factor across the spectrum of all mental health disorders, and patients with psychiatric disorders often show more rigid thinking, emotions, and behavior as the disorder progresses, regardless of their diagnosis.

As Einstein said, tomorrow's problems can't be solved with today's thinking. We need to be mindful about evolving and growing with this new present moment and its demands. 

Going with the flow

There are many things we don’t have control over in life, particularly when it comes to the decisions and actions of others. But we can always choose how to respond.

When something unexpected happens, take note of your initial reaction and ask yourself, “Is this serving me?” If you experience feelings of frustration or anger, acknowledge them, let them go and accept that the situation is out of your control. Then, do what you can in that moment to move forward.

We have to let go of the idea of perfection, because our perfectionism is no more than an illusion that we have to change something about ourselves in order to belong. 

What is your goal? What is the endgame? Do you need the A, or can you take the C+ and have more fun in the process? 

Be intentional about shedding away what no longer serves you.

Letting go of attachment

The mind can't tell the difference between us where we physically are, and what we daydream about. Wherever you place your awareness, that’s where you are.

Do you notice that when something really upsets you, the more you think about it, the more upset you become? 

When we stare at something for so long, the mind gets attached to the physical and confuses its identity. That is why letting go can be difficult.

Too many of us are still holding on to our old “I am” stories and won't let it go because we're too rigid.  but we need to remember to practice self-forgiveness.

Lao Tzu said, “It is only when I let go of who I am, that I become who I might be.”

More flexibility means more possibility 

When you choose to have an experience and remain flexible, you will discover that it doesn’t have to look the way you think it should in this physical space. Our world is changing and evolving constantly.

The universe is conspiring in our favor, and there are endless ways that something can play out. 

Our job is to create, to decide what we want to experience, and to move in that direction regardless of whether things get tough. 

How can we show up to meet unexpected changes? 

First, we must take a hard look at ourselves and do a radical self-assessment. Understand where your fear is, because that's the only reason why we don't want to let go of the old “I am”. 

Then, when the moment comes, make the decision to let go of anything that no longer serves you. Lean into that discomfort, and get into alignment with yourself.

Only you can determine what is right for you. It's what you feel in your heart, the thing that pushed you down this path in the first place. It's not about the attention, it’s about showing up for your mission. 

For more on mental flexibility, check out Go With the Flow with Felicia Miller Johnson on the IS THAT SOO Podcast.