Today, we are going to explore techniques that can help us effectively deal with challenges by evaluating how we respond to different difficult situations. This will allow us to focus more on what is important to us. This is incredibly important especially during times of ambiguity and uncertainty. We will look at something called psychological flexibility and how, through the skill of mindfulness, this can help us connect with our values and drive productive, adaptive behaviours that will ultimately have a positive impact on our wellbeing as we adapt to the new normal.
What is Psychological Flexibility?
Psychological flexibility is defined as fully paying attention to the present moment, and embracing feelings, thoughts, beliefs and perceptions about the current reality we are in. Then being able to choose the most helpful way to respond, in order to bring about a better outcome that aligns with what is important to us.
Biases, and emotions can often lead us to respond to a given situation in a way that can be counterproductive, and lead to negative outcomes. E.g. instant emotional reactions that lead to impulsive or counterproductive behaviours.
Whilst these counterproductive actions may alleviate some discomfort in the short term, they reinforce certain unhelpful behaviour patterns that will not serve us in the longer term. The idea with increasing our psychological flexibility is to build a tolerance to discomfort in order to behave in ways in that bring us closer to our core values and overall purpose. This has the added benefit of being generally better for our long-term wellbeing.
How to: Psychological Flexibility
Consider this term “I am a failure”, when we have thoughts like this one, the idea with the psy-flex approach is to distance ourselves from this thought so that it doesn’t haven’t a detrimental effect on our future behaviour or wellbeing. For example, compare the previous term with: “I am noticing that I am experiencing thoughts of feeling a failure”. By noticing and calling out the thought we distance ourselves from it and acknowledge that it is only temporary and can watch them come and just as easily go. Just because we have this thought does not mean it is true. Finally, we can decide that even though we are experiencing this thought to engage in a behaviour that will be productive to our current personal goals, for example persevering with a task, putting yourself forward for a project.
STEP 1: Try to notice counterproductive, and negative thoughts when they arise.
STEP 2: Acknowledge that these thoughts are fleeting and temporary, we can do this by re-phrasing the thought/feeling using: “I am noticing that I am having a thought/feeling of x in this moment”
STEP 3: Choose how to proceed, for example “Even though I am experiencing this thought/feeling I will still [insert positive action that will bring you closer to your personal goals/what is important to you]
Consider a recent challenge and how you reacted:
- Could you have created some distance between you and any negative thoughts and feelings about this challenge?
- How could you have seen this challenge in a more self-caring way?
- Could you have acted in a way that aligns more with what is important to you in life?
You might like to try and use the three steps above to think about a way you might have created some distance and ended with some meaningful action.
Values as a compass
To increase our psychological flexibility, we need to have a fairly good understanding of what is deeply important to us, as it is this that will act as our “compass” when we are searching for helpful ways to respond in challenging situations.
The role of Mindfulness
It’s one thing understanding what PF is, but its another thing trying to practice this on a daily basis when it is so easy to switch to “auto-pilot” that dictates how we then react to different situations. Like PF mindfulness is concerned with paying attention to the present moment. However, mindfulness is the way in which we do this. We can define mindfulness as paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally. Simply put, this means taking in all the information from our five-senses and noticing thoughts feelings without judging if they are “good” or “bad” and allowing us to respond in a way that serves us better. Developing our mindfulness muscle allows us to respond in a more conscious and intentional way.
- Try out our online mindfulness resource 10-minute mind.
- City’s Centre for Excellence in Mindfulness Research (CEMR) is running online mindfulness drop-in sessions.
How can it help to adapt and make the most of our new normal?
These skills are essential for our wellbeing at the best of times, as they can help us to align our day-to-day lives with our core values and the things that are important to us. However, it is arguably even more vital for us to practise these skills now more than ever as they can help us uncover behaviours that might be causing us undue stress/ and stopping us from behaving in ways that will be the most helpful to our wellbeing long term. Embracing an acceptance-based mindset, does not mean giving in to a negative environment or “giving up, indeed it is about seeing our feelings and emotions as a very small part of reality, and taking a perspective where we can observe them as they pop up. Psychological flexibility, and mindfulness allows us to better influence our response to these challenging times in a stronger and more considered way, increasing the sense of purpose we might feel and in turn our wellbeing.
KEY QUESTIONS TO ASK OURSELVES WHEN FACING CHALLENGING SITUATIONS:
What feelings do I notice are coming up for me?
What is the most useful way to respond?
What is the ideal outcome for me right now?
What are the specific aspects of this situation I can control?
What value can I use to help guide my behaviour right now?
All the best,
Emily, Ailbhe and Jonny