Published: 28 June 2018
Life is full of many changes like leaving school and starting university. Or finishing university and looking for a graduate job. These changes can be exciting and also scary. Human beings seem to be hard-wired to resist change. And some people find change more difficult than others.
The Concept of Psychological Flexibility
Although psychological flexibility primarily refers to the ability to adapt to change, it encompasses a number of different aspects (Kashdan, 2010).
- Recognizing and adapting to the demands of different situations. The more rigid someone is, the more he or she tries to apply the same solutions to different problems or events. However, what works in one situation may not be effective in other situations. Therefore, we need to be able to recognize when a situation calls for a different type of response and be able to adapt our behaviour accordingly.
- The ability to change behaviour when it interferes with successful functioning. Too often people want others or the situation to change rather than recognizing that they only have control over themselves and not others. The more we can be flexible in response to others or situations rather than demanding that things be different, the more satisfaction and success we are likely to experience.
- Maintaining a sense of balance in life. For both mental and physical health we need to be able to manage stress. The best way to do this is to take care of our physical and emotional needs. In particular, we need to care for our bodies with proper nutrition, rest, and exercise. We also need a balance between recreation and study.
- Consistency between our values and our behaviour. Many times people experience regret or stress because they don't always act in ways consistent with what is important to them. Inflexibility or difficulty adapting their behaviour based upon their beliefs can create emotional distress. For instance, someone may believe in the importance of study but is unable to set limits on socialising. As a result, they experience discomfort and stress due to the conflict between values and behaviour.
The Inability to Tolerate Discomfort
Change involves loss and discomfort. Even a good change such as starting university may bring the loss of day-to-day interactions with former school friends or the normal feelings of incompetence while learning something new or even changes in schedule. These potential losses and discomfort can greatly influence our decisions. People with greater psychological flexibility have a greater ability to tolerate the discomfort of both emotional and physical pain.
How to Become More Flexible
- Cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring involves changing the typical thought patterns that cause maladaptive behaviour.
- The Thoughts Diary is a particularly useful tool to help identify and change negative or unhelpful thinking styles. By asking yourself the questions ‘is this thought true?’, ‘where is the evidence for it?’ and ‘is this thought helping me?’ you can discover which thoughts you want to focus on and which thoughts you want to let go of. Once you have identified the unhelpful patterns of thinking and developed some coping statements that are more helpful, you need to strengthen those statements through repetition—reading, writing and saying them over to yourself.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to notice when you are caught up in negative or unhelpful thoughts (e.g., “I don’t want to study now - it’s boring”) which can derail you from your studies and lead you to procrastinate. Once you are aware of buying into your negative thoughts, you can learn to refocus on the present moment to take action in a valued direction (e.g., sit down to study). A simple mindfulness exercise focuses on the experience of eating a sultana. If you don’t have a sultana at hand a piece of fruit or chocolate will do. Now eat the food in slow motion with a total focus on the taste and texture of the fruit, and the sounds, sensations and movements inside your mouth. While you’re doing this, all sorts of distracting thoughts and feelings may arise. The aim is simply to let your thoughts come and go, and allow your feelings to be there, and keep your attention focused on eating the sultana. What you may notice is that there is so much flavor in one single sultana or piece of fruit. You probably noticed things you had never noticed before about eating this food. The same thing happens when you are sitting in a lecture or at a social engagement when you are caught up in your thoughts. Too much attention is being taken by your inner experience rather than what is going on around you. As a result, you miss out on important events or information. If your thoughts are negative or unhelpful and you are consumed by them, they are more likely to leave you feeling depressed, stressed or anxious and to become less productive. The key is to learn how to let them come and go, that is, practice mindfulness. Now it’s your turn to ‘get out of your head and into your life’ by practicing full engagement with all the five senses in a number of daily routines (e.g., having a shower, brushing your teeth and washing the dishes). Remember, when you notice yourself being distracted by thoughts and feelings unrelated to the present moment, acknowledge them, thank your mind and return to the here and now. Mindfulness is a skill like any other, the more you practice it, the more familiar it becomes. You can search the web for mindfulness exercises and start practicing now (www.actmindfully.com.au).
- Exposure therapy. Many people with psychological inflexibility will avoid situations that create discomfort. The result is usually increased fear and dissatisfaction. However, if instead, they learn to deal with these situations, they are likely to develop a greater belief in their competence as well as reduced negative expectations.
Extract from Dr Monica A. Frank at Excel At Life: http://www.excelatlife.com/articles/change.htm
Find more information on coping with change here - https://student.unsw.edu.au/psychological-flexibility