Psychological flexibility and resilience are key components of a meaningfully productive life, helping us navigate change and bounce back from adversity.
We can’t predict the ways in which our life will change, but we can learn to respond and adapt in productive ways
The modern world is unpredictable and constantly changing. And change is not something I’ve been a fan of throughout my life. In fact, it’s been a challenge for me to adapt to change.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as my husband and I have been discussing some big changes as we approach retirement–including downsizing from the house we love and considering plans to travel more in an RV to visit our kids around the country and see some parts of the country we haven’t seen before.
While these changes are exciting, they also challenge my home-body-routine-favoring personality. As I’ve pondered all this, I’ve thought a lot about the importance of being flexible, adaptable, and resilient in the face of unexpected difficulties.
As I dug into the topics, I’ve come to understand that flexibility and resilience are vital traits that can boost productivity by helping us accommodate change, navigate challenges with a positive mindset, and adapt to different situations.
Definitions and Differences:
What is flexibility?
Oxford: “the quality of bending easily without breaking”; “willingness to change or compromise”
Dictionary.com: “the ability to bend easily or without breaking”; “the quality of being easily adapted”
Cambridge: “the ability to change or be changed easily according to the situation”; “the ability to bend or to be bent easily without breaking”
One self-described researcher named Anan Bari Sarkar, in a post on Quora, talked about “psychological flexibility” as “the ability to accept difficult thoughts and feelings without judgment, and to take action in accordance with your values. It is a skill that can be learned and developed over time.”
Another article on Medium describes flexibility as “the ability to adjust to changes in your life without creating stress or drama. [and notes that] Being flexible in life means that you can change your plans and adapt to new situations easily.”
What is resilience?
Oxford: “the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”
Dictionary.com: “the power or ability of a material to return to its original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched”; “the ability of a person to adjust or recover readily from illness, adversity, major life changes, etc.”
Merriam-Webster: “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress”; “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”
Cambridge: “the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”; “the ability of a substance to return to its usual shape after being bent, stretched, or pressed”
From the Medium article I mentioned earlier: “People more inclined toward Resiliency can maintain (or regain) functionality and vitality despite trouble or setback. They effectively combine strength and adaptability. Natural confidence and a positive outlook allow them to view difficulty as opportunity and failure as growth. They assume that their personal best is yet to come and don’t get stuck in disappointment. Instead, they envision the bright and assorted benefits that will result from the eventual attainment of their goals.”
Flexibility and resilience are different but complementary:
Sarkar, in the Quora post I mentioned earlier, noted that “While psychological flexibility and resilience are related, they are not the same thing. Psychological flexibility is a skill that can help you to cope with difficult emotions and situations, while resilience is a trait that can help you to bounce back from setbacks.”
Flexibility–the ability to adapt–is an important component of resilience–the ability to bounce back from difficulties or setbacks
“Resilient people understand that life is unpredictable and unexpected things happen so they are often able to roll with change and welcome it as part of life. They know that challenges are important for personal growth and recognize that there are things that they cannot control, focusing on the things that they can control and adjusting to the new reality using their strengths. However, the main personal characteristic that resilient people share is that they cultivate an attitude of flexibility, gratitude, and compassion.”
The Importance of Cultivating Both:
It’s easy to see how flexibility and resilience impact productivity. Both give us the ability to overcome obstacles and setbacks, try new approaches, and persist when things are difficult. In addition, according to the Mayo Clinic, “Resilience can help protect you from various mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Resilience can also help offset factors that increase the risk of mental health conditions, such as being bullied or previous trauma.”
These mental health conditions can make productivity difficult, so anything that helps us avoid or minimize them will contribute to a more productive life.
Tips and Techniques for Cultivating Flexibility:
One coach offers several suggestions for developing psychological flexibility, including:
- Introspection: “know more about yourself: your values, goals in life, behaviors, things that trigger your stress responses and how you cope with them. Exploring your mindset and thought patterns allows you to pinpoint where you may have a difficulty and address the issue in a more personalized way.”
- Mindfulness: “Maintain an awareness of your thoughts and emotions, as well as the surrounding environment. Pay attention to when your most intrusive and negative thoughts occur and actively stop them by countering them or by realizing they are just momentary ones. The words we use have power and are capable of forming neural networks in our brains. The more we use certain words, the more we reinforce them and the thoughts they represent.”
- Staying present and learning to let go of resistance to change can foster the flexibility that will help us to be more productive in both the immediate and long-term. Mindfulness practices like meditation can help.
- Gratitude: “Countless studies have shown the immense benefits of gratitude on the brain. When you focus on your blessings and good fortunes, you train your mind to handle stressful situations in a systematic way by looking at problems as mere happenings, and to see solutions/opportunities in a clearer way.”
- A “solution” mindset: “Instilling a “solution system” by documenting your negative thoughts or issues to handle allows you to rationalize the situation you are facing. Document or write down the problem, the cause of it, what you can do to solve it and the outside influences you can’t control.”
- Support system: “Research has proven how a social support system can have a positive effect on our mental health and on the quality of our life. Surround yourself with trustworthy, honest and positive people who would also keep you in check. Learn how to build your communication skills as well as how to deal with the difficult and toxic people who might be present in your life.
Other strategies for cultivating flexibility include:
- Open-mindedness: Embrace change and avoid getting stuck in routines.
- Continuous learning: Keep updating your skills and knowledge.
- Diversify experiences: Expose yourself to different cultures, people, and situations.
Strategies for Building Resilience:
According to an article on Everyday Health, “resilience isn’t a fixed trait (you can grow your capacity to practice resilience). And it’s not constant, in that you might demonstrate a lot of resilience when it comes to one challenge you’re faced with, but struggle more with being resilient when it comes to another stressor you’re up against.”
To help build our personal resilience:
- Embrace challenges and understand that setbacks are part of life (and not a reflection of your worth): See them as opportunities for growth.
Think of the growth mindset that Carol Dweck famously wrote about in her seminal book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Whereas a growth mindset believes skills and abilities can be learned and sees challenges, and even failures, as learning and growth opportunities, a fixed mindset sees skills and abilities as innate and unchangeable and sees challenges and failures as evidence of personal inadequacy. Guess which mindset is more resilient?
- Stay connected: Maintain strong relationships and social support. The Mayo Clinic recommends: “Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with needed support, guidance and acceptance in good and bad times. Establish other important connections by volunteering or joining a faith or spiritual community.”
- Positive self-talk: As we discussed with respect to flexibility, how we talk to ourselves matters. Shift from negative to empowering beliefs.
- Self-care: Physical fitness, nutrition, and mental wellness practices all matter. We are better able to bounce back from adversity when we are well and strong. An article from the Mayo Clinic offers suggestions such as: “Tend to your own needs and feelings. Participate in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Get plenty of sleep and create consistent bedtime rituals. Eat a healthy diet. Practice stress management and relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing or prayer
Flexibility and resilience are important components to a productive life. Fortunately, both of these can be learned and intentionally cultivated. I encourage you to take small steps in your daily life to cultivate these traits.
What do you think?
What strategies will you implement this week to build your own flexibility and resilience? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Links
- How can you lead with resilience and flexibility?
- Cultivating Resilience: Mental Flexibility – Balance Health & Healing
- Yes, You Can! Tips to Build Resilience and Emotional Flexibility | Jefferson Center
- Cultivating Resilience Practice 8: Flexibility | Bold Blind Beauty
- Embracing flexibility: Cultivating resilience in uncertainty
- Resilience and Flexibility | Bright Concept – Consultancy
- Cultivating an attitude of Flexibility and Resilience (JOURNAL EXERCISE AND FREE MEDITATION)
- Resilience, Stress Tolerance and Flexibility skills | by Enkhtuul | Medium
- 30 Quotes That Inspire You To Be Resilient And Flexible At Work
- Resilience in the Workplace: How to Be Resilient at Work
- Five Lessons on Flexibility from the Pandemic – Thrive Global
- What Is Resilience? Definition, Types, Building Resiliency, Benefits, and Resources
- What is the difference between psychological flexibility and resilience? – Quora
- Why Flexibility is Important for Resilience and How to Become More Flexible. — CoreChange
- Resilience, Stress Tolerance and Flexibility skills | by Enkhtuul | Medium
- Resilience: Build skills to endure hardship – Mayo Clinic
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