Read time: 4 minutes
We all like to grow, get
stronger, and/or evolve to make ourselves better. Often we might think the most
important parts of our body to work out to make stronger might be our arms and
legs, core (belly) and our chest. We also might run, do push-ups or sit-ups,
yoga, or play sports. All of these activities are wonderful and can help us
grow stronger physically is wonderful.
However, the most important muscle in our body is our MIND! It needs exercise, work, and challenges to remain strong. It also needs practice to become more flexible. This is where we will begin our blog, with a conversation about mental flexibility (for more on the topic of psychological flexibility listen to Episode 59 on the Act To Live Podcast.
First, let’s ask the
question, What happens if your mind is not flexible? The short
answer is we get mentally get stuck. We also might repeat unhealthy thoughts that
might lead to unhealthy behaviors. We often can feel negative about
ourselves or others, which perpetuates the stuck thoughts.
Here is a list of things that may influence all of us to get mentally stuck (an inflexible mind):
- Mental stories we cling to
- Past experiences
- Believing what others say
- Distance from our values
- Rewards from avoiding being flexible can lead to comfortable with stuck thoughts
- Holding onto thoughts can be easier than looking for other options
thoughts (and feelings) can be overwhelming
You see, there are many factors that can influence us from even
attempting to see different perspectives. Fears and anxiety are
real emotions to us all. We might be hesitant to try see new perspectives
because our past experiences have not been positive related to specific
topic we struggle with. Mental stories we cling to might seem easier to
believe in, even though they might not be factual. This goes along with believing
what others say, instead of thinking for ourselves, or questioning what
others say in order to see other perspectives.
Our values can guide us through life. Being kind, compassionate,
honest, determined, and hardworking can sometimes seem far away because the distance
we put between our values and our thoughts are clouded by the reward of avoiding
more challenging thoughts. Perhaps we feel the reward of avoiding
challenging thoughts because we don’t have to put in the work to discover
the perspectives that are truly tied to our values.
Finally, the process of seeing optional thoughts might be overwhelming. Not only the process itself, but the fact that there are options to our automatic attitudes and perspectives can also be overwhelming. All of these can keep us psychologically stuck.
So then what might be getting unstuck (or having a more flexible
mind) look like? Well, we call that psychological flexibility.
Here are some definitions of being psychological flexible:
- Creating optional thoughts
- Creating new ideas based on who we are (our values)
- Awareness - being aware (mindful) of our challenging muddy thoughts
- Learning to let go of judgments and judgmental thinking (look for future Act To Live Episodes on EGO in the future)
- Being able to use open language like “can”, “might”, “perhaps,” (the language we use is powerful)
stepping outside ourselves to see what others MIGHT see in order to get a
new perspective on ourselves
How can we start to practice being more psychologically FLEXIBLE?
Like anything, learning a new instrument, a new hobby, or taking a class where
the content is new to us, we need to start out small. Flexibility starts
with what we do every day. Below are few ideas:
Start with something easy in your life, something you do every day that has little emotion attachment to it.
Example: What food do you eat for breakfast? If you eat the same thing for breakfast, see if you can flex a little and change it up. Not big changes (yet), just a little big at a time
For me, I love yogurt with blueberries and granola. I might try a different fruit with no granola. I might try a different yogurt. Again, start out small!
See what emotions, thoughts, and even behaviors are triggered by these subtle changes. You might be surprised.
Example: I used to run only in the morning. What reason did I have for only running in the morning? Well, because I thought, “I can only run in the morning.” This is an inflexible thought process. When I did not run in the morning I would create negative thoughts, and then would not feel positive about running. Then one day I decided to TRY running/walking in the afternoon or at night 1 day a week. What I found was I COULD run and be successful. Also, I found my perspective of “I can’t do it,” changed to “I can!”. We just need to try.
You could also look at a situation that might have a little more emotion to it (not much more, just a little), and see if you can think of another perspective. Even if you don’t like that perspective, try to see something you might not have seen before. Flexibility is not about liking everything we think of as options, it is more about opening our minds in order to allow other ideas and thoughts in our mind.
Example: When I walk my dog, I have to cross a lot of streets with stop signs. I would get SO incredibly angry at people who were not using there turn signals and stopping at a stop signs. My rationale for my frustration was from the thought, “they are being danger, and they must lack intelligence and compassion.” I was spending so much energy on these thoughts, I felt my anger rising each time. I realized, that is not the person I wanted to be and wanted to adjust something about my thoughts.
So I started small. When I saw someone blog through a stopy sign, or not use a turn signal, I thought begin to think, “I can’t control them, and, I don’t know them.” This put some things into perspective. I then started thinking, “I wonder if they are in a hurry for someone else (if they are late picking up a child at school,” “Maybe they are going to the hospital,” or “They might be late for work and could get fired if they are late one more time.” This opened up the value of compassion that I was lacking before, and other values I was feeling distant from like kindness and openness.
Let’s end this walk through our mind newly flexible mind with a few quotes to inspire us all to create more psychological flexibility:
“If the mind is flexible, the world is flexible” ~Sakyong Mipham
“Mind is a flexible mirror, adjust it, to see a better world.” ~Amit Ray
If you want to learn more about Act To Live,
check out our website, past blogs, and our biweekly podcast:
Be well. Be you.
With compassion, kindness, and hoping for a little flex in our minds,
Co-Host of the Act To Live Podcast and Blog
- Russ Harris (2013). Getting Unstuck in ACT