What is Psychological Flexibility?
Psychological flexibility simply means acting on longer term values rather than short term impulses.
Basing your actions and decision making on deeper values that we carry growing up from many phases in our life rather than a shallower level of our being like a strong urge called for by a present moment. It is considered a fundamental aspect of psychological health.
Unlike long term values, short term ones are an impulse which are a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act. Lashing out is an example of an impulse. Most impulses are dominated by an extreme emotion or thoughts that someone is feeling. These sudden bursts tend to result regrets. Psychological flexibility is breaking out of these impulses.
That is why thoughts and emotions tend to become unreliable indicators of long term values. When you trust your thoughts and emotions to a great degree and act based on them, you can often overlook a number of things. These are the more important, sustained patterns of actions which bring true meaning, vitality, and richness to your lives.
Psychological flexibility represents the acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) model of health.
According to New Harbinger Applications, psychological flexibility is coming in full contact with painful experiences and with uniquely chosen values while consciously choosing to act and engage in a meaningful life.
In this concept you do not try to escape or shut out painful experiences but instead, you restructure your perception towards it with the aim to live a meaningful life.
Here are 5 ways to achieve psychological flexibility:
Awareness and acceptance
-Recognize values you hold dear and drive you more in decision making. Do not rely on your emotions and thoughts that urge you to act outright.
-Accepting one’s emotional experience can be described as the process of learning to experience the range of human emotions with a kind, open, and accepting perspective.
-Take a moment to internalize a present situation and act accordingly based on what the situation affords, changing your behavior in the service of chosen values.
-Slowly stop your impulsive responses and learn to take a moment and act accordingly to what the situation truly needs.
Instead of lashing out to an offensive conversation with your friend, take a moment to breathe and respond calmly. In the end, you’ve avoided fanning the flame and welcomed your friend’s opinion. You don’t have to agree with his opinion, but that doesn’t mean you should violently react either.
Find ways to stimulate your mind
Enrich your hobbies. Find time to enjoy activities that helps you relax and enjoy. It need not to be something complicated, you can learn new words or historical facts.
Some trivia to memory is great mental exercise that activates parts of the brain’s essential structures.
Do things differently
Do things that deviate from your daily routine. For example, if you always have sunny-side- up eggs, try to mix it up a bit and have scrambled eggs for the day. If you always hold your cup with your right hand, hold it on the left. If you like to sit on a particular chair every breakfast, try sitting in a different seat.
By mixing simple things up like this you recruit pathways in the brain that are not as active as the ones used by the default behavior of your routines, thus providing another flexibility stimulus for your mind and strengthen your psychological flexibility.
Welcome new ideas
Instead of doing the ‘same old, same old’, do something different for a change. Wear something different than your usual choice of wardrobe. Hang out in a new place rather than your usual hang out places.
Learn new hobbies. Instead of your drawing pass time, try new drawing techniques, painting, or writing. If you like to jog every morning, take a different route and appreciate the sceneries you pass by.
This, too, activates and stimulates the brain in novel ways which helps keep the mind and psyche balanced and nimble.
Get out of your comfort zone
In general, people have a natural tendency to maintain familiar behavioral patterns and habits. But just like how your muscles have to push and pull against resistance to exercise and become resilient, your ‘brain’s muscles’ must encounter resistance to benefit it too.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Try to challenge yourself with mildly stressful activities on a regular basis. Get out there and learn new hobbies and skills.
Begin a new exercise routine. Meet new people. Do a harder crossword puzzle than usual. Read a book with a different genre. Start a conversation instead of waiting for someone to talk to you. Learn to assert yourself rather than say nothing when something bothers you.
These simple, but not always easy, suggestions help most people improve their behavioral and psychological flexibility leading them to a more mentally supple and comfortable life. Just remember that it’s okay to work in your own pace.