Is Flexible Thinking the Key to a Happy Life?

flexible thinking
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I wrote my book Elastic Habits because I discovered that flexibility was the main driver of behavior change. If behavior changes through consistent action, then whatever enables consistent action is the most valuable activator. That’s flexibility.

Everyone does well when they’re fully motivated and have enough time and energy to act. That’s what, 5% of the time? Real progress requires constantly overcoming internal and external resistance to action.

When you’re flexible, you gain significant power to overcome obstacles. If you will only go in a straight line, a big boulder will stop you. If you’re willing to go around, over, or under it, you can proceed! It’s a shame then, that most people pursue goals in a straight line method. Ironically, it’s done this way because it feels stronger (“No excuses, I’ll do this no matter what!”). It’s far weaker.

Imagine a boxer who only throws right jabs. How easy it would be to defend! It doesn’t matter how powerful he is if he gives you an easy defense. His power can be neutralized. But now imagine if he has a full arsenal of different punches. Uppercuts, hooks, jabs, and crosses. Now you’re in real trouble, because he has multiple ways to attack! Flexibility activates power.

Mental Flexibility = Mental and Emotional Power

If punch flexibility creates fighting power and behavioral flexibility creates the power to change, what can mental flexibility do? And what does it actually mean?

Mental flexibility, or flexibility of thought is the ability to think laterally. This idea is layered in the following ways.

  • Creativity: Instead of assuming one way of doing something, do you ever consider alternative approaches?
  • Problems: Instead of ruminating on issues, can you shift your focus to solutions or blessings instead?
  • When you initially assume something, do you ever challenge it? If so, how quickly?

Mental flexibility’s main purpose is to prevent you from feeling stuck. When people feel stuck, in nearly every case, they are creating that reality with rigid thinking.

Rigid vs Flexible Thinking

I’ve felt stuck physically before, meaning that I’ve felt out of shape or in a fitness funk. But how does that make any sense when I can exercise in this instant? I make it reality when I let rigid thinking loop endlessly.

  1. “I don’t feel like lifting weights.”
  2. “I am in a funk.”
  3. “I haven’t worked out yet.”
  4. “That confirms I am in a funk.”
  5. “I don’t feel like working out.”

Can you see how rigid thinking feeds on itself? Whatever rigid negative thought you have will generally compound unless you challenge it. Which number in the list do you think is the root of the problem?

It’s 2. “I am in a funk.” While this thought may seem innocent and merely observatory, it’s loaded with dreadful implications. First, it implies finality. A person in a funk can’t do much, can they? Thus, thinking you’re in a funk is like saying, “I’m thirsty, so I guess I can’t drink water.”

This is a common and harmful thought pattern. When you have a negative feeling, it does not have to result in any certain thought or action. In other words, the admission of a feeling is NOT a contract!

Mental flexibility allows us to escape these harmful thought patterns. Here’s how it’s different.

  1. “I don’t feel like lifting weights.”
  2. “I could go for a short walk instead.” (flexible idea, positive emotional shift)
  3. “That felt good!”

A short walk might not be the type of progress you envisioned initially, but look at how positive this sequence is compared to the rigid thinker. And it matters even more for the next instance. The next time you have the idea to lift weights, think of the difference. With rigid thinking, you’d’ remember where you left off: “Oh right, I’ve been in a funk,” and you will likely continue to feel that way, feeding the thoughts and emotions that enable it.

With flexible thinking, however, you will remember your last attempt as a pivot to success.

Thinking Patterns and Emotional Health

The prior example shows how flexible thinking and ideas helps create behavioral success. But it’s much more than that. It’s absolutely essential to your emotional health to be able to shift your thoughts and behavior when necessary.

Emotions are cyclical just like thought patterns, and they feed each other. Thus, the flexible thinker is able to “catch” the beginnings of a negative cycle before it gets bad. It’s amazing to think that a rigid thinker can turn one bad day or event into a bad week, month, or life. That sounds absurd, but think about what rigid thinking is and does. By its nature, it doesn’t change, it embeds itself deeper and deeper into your habits and psyche.

Today, I encourage you to monitor your self-talk. Challenge negative thoughts for veracity. Look for opportunities to pivot your thinking to a more useful place. The first step to increasing your flexibility of thought is awareness. Ask yourself questions about recurring thoughts and ideas, such as what purpose they serve, and if they are accurate.

Your thoughts are your world. Take care of them. Think with flexibility, and then you can keep the thoughts and ideas that serve you best. Challenge rigid thoughts that feed themselves, trap you, and steal your life force. Like anything else, the more you practice challenging your thought patterns, the better you’ll get at recognizing them and pivoting to better ideas.

The ultimate guide to flexible thinking and behaviors is my book Elastic Habits. It has a new low price. You can check it out here on Amazon!

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