What. A. Year.
There have been so many curveballs this last year, whether it be schools closing, opening, and closing again, restricted activities, reduced ability to spend time with loved ones, or changing regulations. The ups and downs have created feelings of frustration, anxiety, and uncertainty for many people. Upon reflecting on the daily struggles that many are facing, a keyword that comes to mind is flexibility, and to go one step further, psychological flexibility.
Psychological flexibility is a term from acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) and is described as the ability to be fully present in the moment and to act according to your values. This stance is chosen despite internal or external obstacles and does not mean that things magically get better. Rather, psychological flexibility indicates that you are living a personally meaningful life and are better able to adapt to the challenges that do (and will) arise. Psychological flexibility is linked to better mental health and life satisfaction.
How does one foster psychological flexibility?
Becoming psychologically flexible is an ongoing process, and comes down to three core ideas: mindfulness, personal values, and committed action.
Mindfulness is the idea of becoming aware of your experience in the present moment. Instead of thinking about the future or dwelling on the past, prioritize the present moment and all the experiences that come with it. This can include noticing internal factors, such as thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations that may be present, but also external factors.
A key component of mindfulness is nonjudgmental curiosity. Sometimes, resisting something only makes it stronger, and mindfulness encourages awareness instead of resistance. Instead of wishing you felt a different way or judging thoughts and feelings as they come up, simply acknowledge them, be curious, and then let them pass by. There are a ton of mindfulness exercises and resources online. A good place to start are simple breathing exercises.
Everyone values different things, with a few examples including connection, creativity, wisdom, patience, bravery, honesty, and compassion. You can see a comprehensive list of values here.
Discovering what you personally value can provide guidance and meaning in otherwise uncertain times. How you achieve those values can change, for example finding connection online instead of in person, but the core remains the same. Adapting behaviours and thoughts to align with your core values despite obstacles is a key component of psychological flexibility.
Once you know what your values are, taking steps consistent with those personal values provides purpose, meaning, and a congruent sense of self. These steps do not have to be huge or intimidating, but rather can be small, manageable, daily actions that are in line with who you want to be. If a core value is bravery, commit to doing one small thing that scares you every day. For wisdom, try to deeply understand alternative perspectives to your own. Be curious and open instead of feeling the need to be sure or right. Not taking meaningful action can lead to stagnancy, which can be a challenging place psychologically and emotionally.
As an example, consider how you can be psychologically flexible when schools are back to being online or government regulations place restrictions on your favourite activities. These changes are out of our control and may cause us to feel more stress, frustration, or anxiety.
Being psychologically flexible does not mean that things are easy, or difficulties do not exist. It means being self-aware, willing to adapt, and commit to living a life that has personal meaning no matter the circumstance.
There is a photo below to explain this concept further. Hope you enjoy it!
If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook - Thanks!
- Chantal Côté, R.Psych, Pyramid Psychology - helping older children, teens, and young adults learn how to build bulletproof mindsets.
Chantal Côté is a Registered Psychologist in the province of Alberta and the owner of Pyramid Psychology. Pyramid Psychology mission is to help teen girls build Bulletproof Mindsets. Youth are full of greatness and uniqueness and it is a gift to have them share this with the world. Pyramid Psychology supports teens (and parents) that are struggling with anxious and overwhelmed thoughts and feelings. Meeting in person in Southeast Calgary, on-line for those living anywhere in Alberta, and outdoors for walk and talk sessions, Chantal uses a trauma informed lens and invites people to try thought based, mindfulness, and expressive practices to manage and weather the storms of life.