Put simply; you are psychologically flexible when despite unpleasant thoughts, feelings and external distractions you can continue helpful behaviours or change unhelpful behaviours in service of your goals.
Helping you move forward and live your values.
If you are like most people, then you spend a lot of your time trying to change, suppress, avoid, or analyse your internal thoughts and feelings.
When you are psychologically flexible, you reduce your tendency to control your thoughts and emotions and overcome them instead of reacting to them.
When fear is telling you to close up, rush, mumble and freeze as you stand up to give that presentation, you can bring open non-judgemental awareness to your internal experience and act in a way that helps you deliver a confident presentation.
As a result, you are less prone to being derailed by your unhelpful thoughts and unpleasant emotions.
You can bring more of your attention towards actions that help you achieve your goals, increasing your performance, motivation and well-being.
Luckily, psychological flexibility is something that can be trained through Acceptance and Commitment Training.
Below are the six steps to becoming psychologically flexible.
When you are in contact with the present moment, you are not “stuck” in the past ruminating on negative thoughts, fantasising about the future, or worrying about what you need to do next.
For you to make contact with the present moment, you must actively bring your attention to what is happening internally and externally.
So you can experience your world more directly and without judgement.
Mindfulness isn’t just about breathing exercises and meditation; it is about building an attitude of openness, acceptance, and commitment to living your life consciously and on purpose.
Defusion From Your Thoughts
Your mind is a drama queen because it has evolved to keep you safe from harm.
The only way that it knows how to do this is to give you the worst outcome or be highly critical in its observations.
I’m a bad person
I’m not good enough
I can’t learn a new language
It is easy for you to become fused with these thoughts and see them as true.
And paradoxically you do get relief from thinking these thoughts.
Telling yourself that you can’t learn a new language helps you to avoid any embarrassment when speaking a new language.
These thoughts act a convenient justification or diversion from the more profound truth about your behaviour.
Instead, defusion allows us to see our thoughts for what they are, just thoughts that appear and just as quickly disappear.
We can choose to pay attention to them and see if they are relevant.
There is no need to change the negative thought (i.e. trying to think positively).
You can watch what the mind saying without being driven by it.
Self As Context
Since you were born and started to speak, you’ve been asked many questions about yourself.
How old are you?
What do you want to be?
What do you like?
Who are you?
Over time you’ve built a consistent story about yourself.
You have a story about what you’ve done and what you like.
About why you have problems or how you can’t be like other people you admire.
Why you can’t be a leader, be confident, be authentic.
Typically all of your stories have some truth in them.
The problem is that these stories that you have created are considered “true” because they are right and not because they are useful in helping you achieve your goals.
Your problem is that any real solutions do not exist within the story that you tell yourself and in fact, any way out of the story invalidates the story of who you are.
You’ve become rigid and inflexible with behaviours that support your storytelling.
However, there is a part of you that is telling yourself these stories and can notice your experiences.
You can step back from your stories and see them as if you were sat in the audience in the theatre.
A place from which you can observe your experience without getting caught up in the drama unfolding on the stage.
We all want to avoid unpleasant situations and emotions. In fact, just think about how we describe emotional pain, as actual physical pain.
You’ve hurt my feelings.
When you choose to avoid situations where you feel anxiety such as giving that presentation in front of your colleagues, you are refusing to accept them.
And this works in the short term; no presentation means no anxiety and no negative thinking.
But in the long term, it keeps you stuck.
Acceptance isn’t about rolling over and giving up.
It’s about understanding that unpleasant thoughts and feelings are part of life.
That to move towards our goals we need to be open to experiencing unpleasant emotions and thoughts.
you can’t achieve anything meaningful without the fear of failure,
you can’t change for the better without worrying about changing for the worst,
you can’t become who you want to be without losing who you are now.
Having Defined Values
When faced with a difficult choice what direction do you take?
How do you know which choice will be the right choice?
How can you act in such a way that you’ll ensure that you continue to make progress in your life and your career, thus moving towards your goals?
Values are at the heart of what it means to be a human being.
Values are your freely chosen life directions that act as your compass so that you can act in a way that is authentic to yourself.
When you act on your values, you demonstrate what is important to you, and your actions have a quality of purpose.
Values connect you with the things you ‘feel’ are important rather than the things you ‘think’ are important, a subtle but essential difference.
Taking Committed Action
When we choose to get lost in the past, worry about the future, react to our emotions or believe our thoughts we stay in stuck in self-defeating patterns of behaviour.
Committed action is a step-by-step process of acting to create a whole life of integrity, true to your authentic self, your deepest wishes and desires.
It is the difference between being interested in achieving your goals and being committed to achieving your goals.
If you are merely interested, you will continue to justify, avoid and give in to your thoughts and emotions.
But if you have built psychological flexibility you’ll be in contact with the present moment and will be able to take action based on your chosen value.
Living from a place of authenticity takes courageous and committed action.
But ultimately the more you act this way, the more vitality and energy you gain.
You give up the struggle with yourself which frees you to engage with life fully and live life on purpose.