How to easily boost your flexible thinking skills

To help you deal with challenges, feel more confident and behave more skilfully, even when faced with unexpected demands

Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the often stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears regularly.

Faith WoodQuestion: With so much forced change being implemented in my workplace over the last 18 months, I’ve found myself becoming quite resistant and perhaps a bit resentful.

My colleagues and family have started accusing me of being overly rigid in my thinking. This is exactly the opposite of the person I used to be. How do I get back to being a bit more open-minded or flexible in my thinking?

Answer: I imagine that you’re not the only one struggling to cope with the ongoing pivots required in the workplace these days. Recognizing that it has taken a toll on your overall approach to life is an important first step to recovery.

Flexible thinking plays a major role in our happiness and productivity. It’s associated with enhanced brain function and an ability to enjoy greater mental and physical health, higher levels of fluid intelligence and many other advantages. Such as:

Coping with change: Flexible thinking helps you accept that change is natural and continuous. Maintaining a flexible mindset helps you adapt to new circumstances faster and experience less stress.

Staying updated: Applying new information keeps you from becoming stuck in the past. You can master the latest technology or follow revised guidelines no matter where they’re coming from.

Finding solutions: Recognizing a wider range of options makes you more adept at resolving difficulties. You will see that there’s more than one way to repair your dishwasher or discipline your children, for example.

Transforming your relationships: You help others feel validated and respected when you look at a situation from their perspective. You’ll feel more connected and encounter fewer conflicts.

Avoiding frustration: Why miss out on life because you’re clinging to old expectations?

With these benefits in mind, it makes sense to invest time in some techniques to increase or regain your flexible thinking. Here are a few techniques you can invest in straight away:

Practise mindfulness: Observing your thoughts without judgment and living in the present makes you more agile. Try meditating or just cutting back on distractions.

Play with words: Language affects how you think. For example, humour is often based on words having multiple meanings. Study jokes or invent your own. You could also read more poetry and drama and work on expanding your vocabulary.

Invent games: Shake things up the next time you play cards. Create your own house rules.

Explore functional fixity: Take an ordinary object and imagine three alternative uses. For example, you could pick tennis balls or staple removers.

Talk to yourself: Stress interferes with creativity. Use your self-talk to provide reassurance and guidance when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Ask yourself questions that will clarify your priorities.

Alter your routine: Small steps add up when you’re trying to break out of a rut. Buy a different brand of shampoo or ride your bike to work instead of driving.

Exercise regularly: Physical and mental well-being are interrelated. Work out at least three days a week and incorporate more activity into your daily life. Studies show that aerobic exercise is especially beneficial for stimulating creativity.

Sleep well: Rest and relaxation are also essential for keeping your brain in top condition. In addition to planning for seven to eight hours of sleep a night, focus on getting enough REM sleep, which is when most of your dreams occur.

Upgrade your diet: What you eat can strengthen or weaken flexible thinking. Cut back on processed foods, especially those high in sugar, while introducing more fermented foods into your diet. Also, omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fatty fish, enhance many cognitive functions.

When you use flexible thinking to deal with life’s challenges, you’ll feel more confident and behave more skilfully, even when you’re faced with unexpected demands or last-minute changes.

Investing in a few of these ideas should help you lean away from that rigid, pessimistic mindset that’s been plaguing you.

Ask the Conflict Coach for help. 

Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.  For interview requests, click here.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the authors’ alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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