Flexible people can bend with the storm rather than be broken by it. They know how to adapt and adjust to new circumstances that call for new ways of thinking and behaving. They have resilience – the ability to bounce back from adversity.The principle of flexibilityTo be flexible is to be open to change in yourself and in the world. As circumstances alter, you are able to modify your plans and behaviours. You are able to adopt new ways of thinking that help you cope with a changing world. You are able to let others hold their own beliefs and do things in ways appropriate to them – while you do what is right for you.

Flexibility in thinking means:

Your values are preferences rather than rigid, unvarying rules.
You are open to changing ways of thinking in the light of new information and evidence.
You view change as a challenge rather than a threat.

Flexibility in behaviour means:

  • You are able to change direction when it is in your interests.
  • You are willing to try new ways of dealing with problems and frustrations.
  • You can let others do things their way.
  • You avoid distressing yourself when things turn out different to how you would like them to be.
  • Why flexibility is important to emotional health

Flexibility aids survival in a changing world. The world, as it always has, continues to change – but the pace of change is increasing. If there is not a corresponding change in attitudes there will be distress. We see this in the so-called ‘generation gap’. Parents who are inflexible find it harder to cope when their children behave in ways unthinkable in their generation. We can cope better when we see change as a challenge rather than a threat.

Flexibility leads to better problem-solving. As Roger Von Oech states, there are times we need to step outside what we know or usually do and look at a problem from new angles in order to find new solutions (Von Oech, Roger: A Whack on the Side of the Head. Angus & Robertson Publishers, Sydney, 1984). Even negative events – like being made redundant – can create opportunities to ‘step outside’.

Flexibility will make it easier to change your goals to suit new circumstances. Getting older or sustaining a disability, for example, usually requires one to adapt to significant lifestyle changes.

Flexibility will help you break out of boring routines and maintain stimulation and variety in your life. It will also help you manage your time better, by enabling you to change your plans to suit changing situations.

Developing flexibility

Use rational self-analysis to identify and change inflexible thinking. Watch especially for any black & white thinking or demanding ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’.

Expose yourself to new ways of looking at things. Read books that adopt positions other than yours, talk to people with differing views, watch movies you would normally not bother with.

Practice flexibility by rearranging your office or home furniture, hanging some new pictures, visiting places you have never been.

Get into the habit of pausing before you take action on a problem and look at ways of solving it different to what you would normally do. In other words, attempt to act out of character on a regular basis.

Learn how to problem-solve

The technique of problem-solving is described in detail in Choose to be Happy and GoodStress. What follows is a summary of the process you can go through to solve more difficult problems which require a structured approach.

There are eight steps:

Spell out the problem: state the problem in concrete terms. Be specific and break the problem down into its various parts. This will help you see it more clearly and work on it in small chunks.

Collect information:
gather whatever information on the problem you can find.

Set goals: set a direction in which to go by turning the problems into goals. State them as specifically as possible, so that you can know when they have been achieved.

Develop alternative solutions: first develop a range of possible strategies to achieve the goals you have set. Use the brainstorming procedure – write down every potential solution you can think of, no matter how way-out they seem. The idea is to generate the largest number of options you can. Then decide which strategies to pursue.

Identify any blocks to your strategies: are there any things which might get in the way of the strategies you have chosen? Identify them now.

Develop tactics: your strategies (or ‘sub-goals’ are aimed to achieve your general goal). Now generate some tactics – specific ways of achieving your strategies or sub-goals. Tactics are what you actually do. Once again, use the brainstorming method described in Step 3. Then select the tactics to put into action.

Act on your tactics: now carry out the tactics you have chosen.

Evaluate the results:
if you do not get the results you want, don’t give up. Just go back to an earlier stage of the process and start again from that point.

Here are some tips to aid your problem-solving:

Keep in mind that there are no black or white answers.
Judge potential solutions on their level of usefulness, not on their ‘rightness’.
Be open to looking at a range of options. In a rapidly changing world, it is necessary to look beyond old solutions.

Accepting reality

It makes sense, wherever possible, to change things you dislike. But there will be some things you will not be able to change. You then have two choices – you can rail against fate and stay distressed; or you can accept reality and move on.

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