A to Z of coaching: F – Flexibility

When times are stable, there is a certain value in focusing on keeping things steady, on maintaining the status quo.

Some of us have lived through such eras. Some of us have enjoyed long, unbroken runs of predictable success. Some of us have indulged in the certainty of knowing what was coming next.

But those good runs came to an end, as all streaks inevitably do.

Right now, we’re living through a time of great uncertainty, with the pandemic accelerating other disruptions in the technological, social and environmental domains. It’s not a comfortable time if your primary yearning is for things “to go back to normal”.

While not all of us are in the same boat, and circumstances play a significant part in how well our lives are playing out, it is also true that how we interact with the changing world determines our ease with it.

Psychological rigidity, where we seek to avoid the mental challenges we face, is a poor long-term strategy for handling what comes at us. In the professional context, greater rigidity only ensures that the breadth of what we are capable of contributing will shrink progressively with every new disruption.

The opposite of rigidity, of course, is flexibility. At our best, we are open, compassionate and curious, willing to embrace whatever situations or opportunities that may arise.

Psychological flexibility, as popularly defined in ACT (see below), has three key elements:

  • the ability to feel and think with openness
  • attending voluntarily to your experience of the present moment
  • moving your life in directions that are important to you

Trust me, it’s easier said than done. It’s not just a case of ‘lightening up’ or ‘chilling out’. Developing our flexibility requires hard work, but is an excellent return on invested energy.

Coaching provides a secure environment for the development of psychological flexibility. By opening to what’s really going on, and gently exploring options that are in greater alignment with values and aspirations, we can build our capability to handle whatever arises.

Exercises:

As referenced above, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a highly useful methodology that has evolved in recent years from approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It underpins much of my coaching work and is particularly effective in helping develop psychological flexibility.

Here are two assessments that allow you to see where you are today in regards to psychological flexibility. Both are simple and quick, the first allows a visual representation, the second a brief questionnaire. If the results pique your curiosity, I would advise further research.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

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