When we think of flexibility, most people probably imagine stretching or yoga instead of our thoughts. But what if we could cultivate a flexible mindset to promote good health in our mental and emotional wellbeing?
Our mind is like a muscle, the more ways that we stretch it, the more flexible it becomes. With practice and awareness, we can begin to develop a more agile mind which helps us to live more resilient, creative and fulfilled lives.
Mental (cognitive) flexibility is about personal adaptability and our willingness to shift our thought patterns to respond to given situations in less regimented ways.
Flexible Thinking Benefits
Developing a more flexible mindset allows us to evaluate and adjust to the different tasks, roles and responsibilities we are presented with each day with less stress.
Cognitive flexibility is related to our perceptions, emotions, actions and even our deep motivations. A change in environment, attitude or behavior will also influence the way we think. Feeling optimistic or happy creates more broad and inclusive thinking. On the contrary, fear narrows our focus. When we are able to make a mental shift without remaining stuck in a particular mindset, we’re practicing mental flexibility.
A flexible mindset moves us away from limiting thought patterns to more openness and possibility.
How to be More Flexible
While some people naturally have more cognitive flexibility, we all have the ability to become better with intention and practice.
Here are five brain exercises to further improve your cognitive flexibility.
1) Change your scenery. Go for a walk around the block. Take a coffee break. Take a vacation. Switch up your environment, and you will feel your mind shift. Exercise offers a great mental boost while offering a change of scenery.
2) Try something different. Learn to play an instrument or dance, cook a new recipe or even pick up a new language. “In a study led by Koutstaal, older adults who participated in a variety of novel and stimulating activities over a three-month period demonstrated a significant gain in creativity, problem-solving abilities and other markers of 'fluid intelligence' when compared to the control group.” Novelty encourages mental flexibility and over-time supports brain growth to maintain those changes over time.
3) Question your thoughts and words. Become more aware of what you are saying and thinking. Listen to your words. Instead of being attached to your current way of thinking, try a different perspective. Substitute negative or rigid thoughts and words that don’t serve you with more positive ideas and phrases.
4) Be spontaneous. Change up your routine. Drive a different way to work, take a new fitness class, or try a new recipe. Or once in a while change the order of your day. Getting out of the time-rut can be very mind-expanding!
5) Mix up the way you think. Going back and forth between a focused/detailed task and then something less focused can lead to more creative and innovative ideas. Alternate periods of focused thought and diffused attention (do something in an unfocused way while you are also doing something else) for best results.
These five tips will not only help your brain to grow in agility and flexibility, but they should also leave you feeling more resilient, creative and much more confident about accomplishing your personal goals.
1) Take an honest assessment: how cognitively flexible are you?
2) In what ways are you open to other people’s perspectives, approaches, and ideas?
3) In what ways could you better develop your flexibility of thinking?