Go Ahead, Change Your Mind: The Power of Emotional Flexibility.


Welcome to Format Free Fridays at AskDrDarcy.com, the one day a week when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life:  Unsolicited Advice.

One of the main principles in the field of resilience is the concept of flexibility, that is, the ability to remain open minded to alternative choices and options.  We’ve all seen flexibility’s antithesis:  Those individuals who are stubborn, close-minded, and strongly aligned with rigid concepts.  Studies show that their fixed ideas of right and wrong result in significantly greater levels of stress and discomfort in their lives.  In my ongoing quest to share with you my morsels of insight, I’ve chosen to spend today’s post discussing flexibility.

Superficially, it’s the characteristic that allows us to look cool regardless of what’s going on in our life. But perhaps the greatest benefits occur beneath the surface.  Flexible people enjoy greater levels of peace.  More specifically, they experience far lower levels of stress, and that’s where the real dividends of flexibility add up.  With such clear benefits, why is flexibility so hard for many of us to cultivate?

Humans, as you may have noticed, are creatures of habit.  We love certainty, and certainty is the foundation of security.  So you can see how counterintuitive flexibility can be.  Furthermore, we exert far less mental energy when we follow a routine, whether it’s a schedule or a belief system, which makes embracing change a phenomenon that requires much greater effort than following the status quo.

In contrast, new activities and thoughts require lots of energy.   When we engage in them, we activate the prefrontal cortex of our brains, which is an evolutionarily younger area compared to the parts of our brain that we use when we follow routines.  In short, flexibility requires us to build brainpower.  And when we’re inflexible?  Our brains essentially atrophy.

Mental flexibility allows us to adjust to our constantly changing environment.  The trait is the common denominator among all species that have survived through evolution.  Yet, society is quick to judge those who change their minds.  Politicians are among those most harshly criticized when they change their minds, often accused of being inconsistent.  Minds, by the way, are creative vessels which lend themselves to growth, change and flexibility.  Personally, I have always admired people who have their egos in check enough to admit to changing their minds.

Enough preaching.  Below are 6 tips for cultivating the power of emotional flexibility.

6 Flexibility Training Tips

1. Listen to people who you disagree with.  Find validity in their perspective.  Then, imagine yourself supporting that opinion.

2.  Look for commonalities in opposing opinions.  Most disagreements argue different sides of the same coin. Identify what the coin is and then find examples of agreements.

3. Don’t get distracted by semantics or details because neither promotes flexibility. Words and details are often the focal points for disagreeing.  Moreover, they rarely represent the true point of a discussion.

4.  Begin questioning yourself.  Why do you feel the way you feel?  Does this belief bring you happiness or relentless disappointment?  Does your opinion, feeling or thought serve you?

Pretend it’s not you you’re critiquing, as most people have difficulty with self-critique (that pesky ego). Instead, pretend it’s your boss, partner or someone else’s idea you’re assessing.

5.  Ask as many questions as you can think of before forming an opinion.  Flexible thinkers are data collectors.  They are also great researchers and know how to tap into sources who know more than they do.  Use the internet to confirm data.  I research my blog topic virtually every day that I post, if for no other reason than to confirm my thoughts with the thoughts of experts whom I trust.

6.  Accept change.  Our world is ever evolving.  Nothing stays the same.  Those who push against change push against the inevitable and create their own suffering.  Trust in change and know that there’s a reason for everything.

In conclusion:  If you don’t bend, you break.