Way back at the beginning of the year, you probably thought that things in your life were happening at a pretty rapid pace.
By March however, Covid19 was playing a major role in the United States and the amount of new information coming at us felt like an avalanche. We were (and still are) experiencing information overload. Clients, friends, and family all have reported weekly and daily changes in their thinking and behaviors at home and at work.
Even more than that – information often changes hour by hour, leaving us breathless and making us feel like we are in a never ending race, simply trying to keep up. Learning as we go is unnerving because there is so little time to dwell on anything – because if we try, we might miss out on that new information that just came in!
Psychological flexibility is needed now, more than ever: the ability to “be in the present’ and do what matters. Mental agility is the key to not just our success, but often our survival. With so many things in our lives being reshaped by this global pandemic, we need to access a broader range of skills. Open-mindedness and adaptability to change are critical for these hyper-evolving times.
How Do You React to Change?
- Do you see unpredictable moments as positive or do they derail you?
- Can you cope with and manage lots of tasks at the same time?
- When responding to the unexpected, can you adjust your thinking and your behavior or do you freeze up?
We need good mental agility (AKA cognitive flexibility) to shift our thinking more easily from one concept or task to another when things change or when we get new information. The faster and more easily we can do this, the greater the level of cognitive flexibility – and the less anxious and stressed out we can feel.
This does not mean doing a lot of things at the same time (AKA multi-tasking). As folks in my Time Management training programs know – I think that’s very ineffective and wastes precious time. It is much more effective to focus on one thing at a time and perform it well.
Good mental agility helps you succeed when circumstances change. When you encounter a hurdle, you don’t get freaked out or mad. You tackle it and look at a few possible solutions instead. Cognitive flexibility helps you stay resilient in the face of pressure which in turn is good for your mental health. It also allows you to better balance work and non-work, increasing your ability to ‘change lanes’ more easily. You don’t feel as overwhelmed with new challenges which in turn helps you adapt more quickly and easily.
Additionally, for many of us, it can help us focus on what needs to get done instead of being distracted by new information or getting angry at having to change plans (yet again!).
What if I’m not good at Cognitive Flexibility?
Like most skills, when you increase your awareness AND practice, you improve your ability to be ‘cognitively flexible’.
Ways to Improve Your Cognitive Flexibility:
– HEALTH: Exercise, diet and sleep – these are the most obvious aspects to healthy living and go a long way toward true wellness and improving cognitive flexibility
– RELAX: Mediation increases the ability of the brain to switch between tasks. Mental breaks of calm replenish energy. And if you ‘zone out,’ don’t worry. Letting your mind wander might mean that you stumble upon novel ideas, and new ways of looking at things.
– LEARN: Learn something new. Seeking out new experiences expands your mind and makes you do and think about things differently.
– READ/PLAY: Reading activates parts of the brain that lead to improved neural function. Depending on what you read, you can learn alternatives, challenge assumptions, reduce rigid thinking, and improve your problem solving ability. Games are another way to stimulate your brain and may even help you build new neural pathways.
– STOP A HABIT: Shake up your routine. Take a different route to run the usual errand, put your work area in a new place, or take a walk outdoors. Even a small change can help build and strengthen new pathways in your brain.
– FOCUS: Silence your phone for periods of the day. Constant interruptions are bad for cognitive flexibility because interruptions stop you from focusing on a single action and seeing it through to completion before moving on to the next thing.
– EI: Emotional Intelligence is generally defined as ‘the ability to identify one’s own emotions and those of others, harness and apply them to tasks, and regulate and manage them.’ Engaging with people who see things differently than you can allow your mind to stay open and may inspire new ways of thinking.
It’s not possible to know how long the need for psychological flexibility will be needed for daily life. But it’s a good skill to have and improving it will provide you with advantages long after we move on to whatever is next.