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A Flexible Mind May Help Us All Flourish

Updated: Jun 12, 2022

It is discouraging to try and penetrate a mind like yours. You ought to get it out and dance on it.

Mark Twain.

The interaction starts out rather normally, even pleasantly. Within minutes of hearing this or that – it could be about politics; it could be about coronavirus; it could be about the state of the community, whatever; I am stomping out the door. Upon departure, I notice myself muttering under my breath…wondering if this person’s brain has been deprived of oxygen.

What causes this friction and what is the solution? I have come to believe it is largely about rigidity and flexibility. Others are rigid. I am flexible. Hah.

Okay, I am working on it. Why? I care about my relationships, I care about my country and my community. I care about living a good life.

Inflexibility is getting stuck in repetitive, unproductive ways of thinking, feeling, doing which continue to get us nowhere. Rigidity is unproductive and impractical, not to mention stressful.

Being flexible is associated with many beneficial outcomes including increased resilience, learning, happiness, physical and mental health, adaptability, creativity, ageing well, and… better relationships.

Flexibility does not mean giving in to others. It means going at things differently, more effectively, so that we can achieve our goals and live up to our ideals.

For example, instead of stomping out the door when I hear something I disagree with, I might try taking a deep breath, saying something to myself like “here’s a chance to dance on your brain, June.” That mental image of dancing on my brain while thinking of Mark Twain twisting his mustache, makes me smile. A sincere smile instead of a frown can shift up the whole rigid dynamic inside me and also between me and whoever I am wanting to clobber.

Flexibility allows people to move their minds around, to switch gears, to pull up adaptive perspectives in new situations, to dump dysfunctional ideas and habitual interpretations. Flexibility enables people to hold their thoughts and emotions more lightly. Flexibility allows us to mix up our behaviors so that we have a wider variety of useful responses to events, problems, people. This sort of flexibility is related to intelligence, wisdom, creativity, even emotional intelligence.

What are some ways of increasing our flexibility? Look for people who are good examples of flexibility and steal what works for you.

My husband’s mother, Ruth (Gram), was a wonderful paragon. Throughout her 100+ years, she was curious about different views and the people who held them; travel helped stoke her fascination. Gram recognized her emotions, but I never saw her let them rule her so that she could not live her values.

Maybe it helped that Gram was what we might call “mindful” these days – she stayed focused on the present moment while calmly acknowledging her thoughts and feelings. (I think her love of daily poetry reading helped). Like most teachers, Gram was a planner, but knew how to move things around when life intervened.

Other ideas for increasing flexibility include reading books set in different cultures or listening to politically divergent podcasts.

Change up the rules of a game you play. This can be a crack up after you get over the shock. I know someone who plays ping pong more like racket ball. He hits the ball in the air and off the walls and ceiling. My husband and I never laughed so much as we did after playing his version of ping pong.

Just do something different from usual. Try a bite of unusual food. Give a playful remark if your retorts are usually serious. Mix it up.

Keep a flexibility quote in your mind. One I use is “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” Now I do feel badly about the image this conjures up, but it does help me stay focused on my goals while using a different approach… not letting my thoughts or emotions get me off track.

As I listen to the confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, lofty images of freedom, justice, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all seem vague and lofty.

If you have found something that is going to help you achieve those transcendent images, stay the course. But maybe you are more like the 93 percent recently polled who are sick and tired and discouraged by what is going on around you (and within you). If you are noticing that you are not helping things get any better, consider trying a bit more flexibility… along with me. Think of Gram. She could have been the one who coined “blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.”

How might you practice a bit more flexibility and Journey to The Good Life?


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