Having psychological flexibility can make you resilient and will support your recovery.
I am inflexible. My heels are stiff and sometimes sore.
It comes from a recurring injury to my left heel. Doctors call it Plantar fasciitis. My heels are stiff and a little painful in the morning and take a few minutes to warm up. Sometimes the condition limits how fast or how far I can run. I don’t let it change my level of activity, it is more an irritation than anything else.
Our bodies may be inflexible and so can our minds. Flexibility is a key aspect to living our physical lives and it is also a key aspect to the health of our minds.
How will flexibility help with your healing and recovery?
An inflexible mind is like hardening of the arteries, only it’s your soul and your emotions that pay the price. You harden and the cracks drain away your life.
Psychological flexibility means having an adjustable mind or holding your thoughts lightly. An inflexible mind is like hardening of the arteries, only it’s your soul and your emotions that pay the price. You harden and the cracks drain away your life.
Inflexibility can cause you to lose all hope of real change. Your imagination stalls and you lose track of a positive future and you no longer take the time to play. Literally, addiction is having a stuck mind, or an inflexible mind where you overuse one behavior long enough that it becomes an entrenched way of thinking and behaving (an addiction). And sometimes we fall into rigid ways of thinking (rigidity or black and white thinking, over-reacting or catastrophising, and ruminating) that exacerbate our mental illness.
Psychological flexibility has been shown to increase your:
- Protection against anxiety, worry, and depression
- Resilience to overall pathology, and long-term disability
- Overall work performance
- Ability to learn
- Ability to avoid substance abuse
- Overall quality of life
Flexibility has many benefits, but at times life can seem to conspire against us. As we age, inflexibility will assault our bodies and it can plague our minds.
If you have experienced an addiction or a mental illness and that can contribute to inflexibility. You may be clean, or you may be in a healthier phase of your life, but mental inflexibility can cause you a different set of challenges because of a need for control or certainty, insecurities or a feeling of a lack of safety, isolation, avoidance or fixations.
How can you increase your mental flexibility?
- Invest time in any activity that engages you in the present moment – This can be golf, ping-pong, card games, hobbies, a peaceful walk or closing your eyes and meditating. Becoming more aware will make you more available to your thoughts, your emotions, your runaway beliefs and the choices you have. It prevents you from going on autopilot and reacting, making assumptions, avoiding or tuning out. We become more aware of what is happening rather than our reactions to what is happening.
- Play – This one is similar to the first one, but needs repeating because addiction, trauma, and mental illnesses can cause you to grow up too fast. Life becomes too serious. Play and laughter will help to counter seriousness and inflexibility. Play works to increase blood flow to the brain and improve your mental flexibility. Aside from the suggestions I made above, spending time with good friends, watching comedy and participating in hobbies are excellent ways to play.
You are not your thoughts, your life is much bigger than just thoughts or emotions.
- Change your relationship to your thoughts – This one sounds like something Yoda might say: “Relationship to your thoughts you must change.” You are not your thoughts, your life is much bigger than just thoughts or emotions. Recognize your thoughts, name them and let them pass. “My mind is anxious and telling me that everyone hates me,” then take a breath and let it go. It is much more difficult in everyday life, but practices like journaling, closing your eyes and breathing for 5-10 minutes every day, weight lifting, meditation, or counseling can help.
- Name and invest in your values – You have something unique to contribute to your relationships, to your work, and to your world. What you value is part of this contribution. Your values motivate you, inspire you, improve your persistence and your ability to bounce back after a setback. It’s not enough to make a list of your values and then put them into your smartphone or daytimer (I confess, I have done both of these things). Time for another Yoda moment: Values that you act on will act on you. Only when you take action on a value will that action change you and improve your psychological flexibility.
- Try new things – It does not have to be jumping out of a plane, or getting a tattoo, or quitting your job to follow your dream. This can be anything from a different project at work, meeting new people, travel, reading books out of your comfort zone, or taking on volunteer projects that stretch you. The exact activity does not matter, but the practice of trying new things is what is important. Expect failures and missteps. That is where your brain gains new territory which is translated into psychological flexibility.
- Push back against your resistance – My shoulder is sore most days. If I let it be, I feel very little pain. But if I push it just a little, I feel resistance and discomfort. If I don’t push back against this resistance, over time, it will severely restrict my range of motion. Your resistance can be manifest in many ways that range from anxiety, to stiff muscles, to fear of change, to craving predictability and comfort. Pushing back will maintain, and increase, your psychological range of motion.
For an article on the benefits of a wandering mind, click on this link. You will laugh and you will learn.
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Keep it Real
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