Mastering Flexible Thinking for Success and Happiness
Our thoughts are inextricably tied to our feelings and perceptions of ourselves and the world around us.
Cognitive flexibility is an essential executive function skill that allows us to make new connections, take different standpoints, solve problems, and come up with original solutions.
People with a rigid way of thinking are closed-minded. They do not accept other people’s perspectives, firmly believing that they know best.
An inability to shift your focus and see the situation from a different viewpoint can frustrate you and prevent you from taking advantage of opportunities in life and your career. In addition, it can harm your relationships and well-being. This is why developing flexible thinking is vital for your success and happiness.
How Stress Makes Us Feel Overwhelmed
A rigid way of thinking can get in the way of your accomplishment and cause you to feel stressed all the time. In addition, rigidity can cause you to repeat unproductive behaviors over and over, which can build tension and make you feel overwhelmed.
While little stress might encourage you to perform better, chronic stress can be destructive to your health, relationships, productivity, and well-being. Excessive stress can deplete you and prevent you from recovering, leading to burnout, anxiety, and depression.
It can stop you from moving forward and make you feel bad about yourself because you can’t adapt to new requirements.
However, with practice, you can train your mind to be more flexible and become more resilient, successful, and happy.
What is Flexible Thinking?
Flexible thinking, also known as mental agility, is the skill that allows us to gain knowledge and meaning from our experiences, shift perspectives, and adapt to changes.
It involves the ability of the brain to switch between different cognitive skills, consider many views on a subject, and think differently about it.
Also, cognitive agility is essential to resilience because it helps us adapt to harmful situations and bounce back quickly.
In short, having a flexible mind can help you deal with problems, make good decisions, and get back on your feet quickly after hard times.
How Does Flexible Thinking Help Combat Stress and Increase Resilience?
Resilience is the ability to deal with the bad things that happen in life, recover quickly, and come back stronger than before.
However, resilience is not a characteristic you either have or do not have. Instead, resilience requires acquired and established attitudes, ideas, and actions. Flexible thinking is an integral part of resilience and good mental health.
In other words, cognitive flexibility can help you better manage your personal and professional challenges and be happier.
How to Build Cognitive Flexibility
A flexible brain is one that is elastic and active. Through our experiences, the brain evolves by either reinforcing existing behavioral patterns, changing current habits, or adapting to wholly new patterns.
The elasticity and flexibility of the brain allow you to adjust to new conditions, change strategies, and come up with unique and original solutions to problems.
Here are four strategies to help you master flexible thinking for success and happiness.
Evaluate the True Context and Scope of Your Stress
You can overcome mental rigidity by regularly checking the validity of your thoughts. So, evaluate the actual context of your thoughts and monitor your inner self-talk. Consider the evidence in support of and against your beliefs.
By being more conscious of your negative thoughts, you will be able to examine the scope of your stress and disconnect from one restricted way of thinking. In addition, this can make you more sensitive to others’ points of view, boost your empathy and flexibility, and improve your communication with others.
Learn When to Take a Break and Engage in Other Activities
When you are exhausted and overworked, thinking flexibly is much more challenging. But changing your routine can stretch your brain. So, instead of sitting in a café during your lunch break, try a little mindfulness exercise in the park. Try something new or take up a new hobby. If work is getting you down, grab a cup of coffee with a friend or take a nice walk.
Adding changes to your routine can help you solve problems better, be more creative, and feel less stressed.
Explore New Ideas
New problem-solving approaches can help you break old thinking patterns, make new connections, and gain fresh, original perspectives. So, in addition to deliberately focusing on your challenges, allow your mind to wander. Despite the traditional belief that mind-wandering is a lack of executive control, research shows that allowing your mind to wander has some benefits.
Letting your mind wander can help you explore creative ideas. and come up with new ideas and solutions.
Spontaneity sparks creativity and helps you explore new solutions. So, allow yourself to be spontaneous and get out of your comfort zone. For example, schedule unstructured time in your daily plan – set aside time to do whatever you want, be it the whole day or a small space of time in the afternoon.
Flexible Thinking is a Valuable Lifelong Skill
Cognitive flexibility is key to creativity and innovation. People with flexible mindsets are better equipped to deal with stress. They deal with problems and find solutions by coming up with new ideas, making connections, and looking at issues from different angles.
Also, flexible thinking lets you recognize your own mistakes and learn from them to figure out and change cognitive distortions such as confirmation bias or polarized thinking.
Lastly, being resilient requires thinking in a way that lets you quickly adapt to changes and recover from whatever life throws at you.
One of the ways that I work with clients is by helping them learn how to think more flexibly and to see what is possible.