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What Is Cognitive Flexibility?

 

One of the key ingredients of emotional intelligence is an acute self-awareness of how we’re feeling at any given point of time. Only when we know how we feel, we can examine them, reflect on them and respond accordingly to the circumstances around us.

Asking ourselves questions like, “How does this make me feel?”, “What is my opinion on this issue?”, helps us explore our emotions that will guide our eventual behaviors.

Flexible thinking or Cognitive flexibility is our ability to shift our guided thinking and responses to match new and unexpected situations thrown at us. It is our willingness to see things differently, and because life has no guarantees that it will always turn out the way we expect it to, mental flexibility is a great tool is keeping an optimistic outlook in the face of hurdles and unexpected curve balls on our path.

Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to adapt to change, and mental shifting is the process that makes it possible to adapt to the change.

 

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On Cognitive Flexibility, Spiro & Jehng (1990, p. 165) states: “By cognitive flexibility, we mean the ability to spontaneously restructure one’s knowledge, in many ways, in adaptive response to radically changing situational demands…This is a function of both the way knowledge is represented (e.g., along multiple rather single conceptual dimensions) and the processes that operate on those mental representations (e.g., processes of schema assembly rather than intact schema retrieval).”

 

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Navigating Change In An Uncertain World:

 

The funny thing about humans is that we yearn for change but cling to the familiar as if our life depends on it. We adapt rigid routines and can’t imagine shaking our predictable status quo. We don’t move out of our silos, our comfort zones, for the fear of risking failure.

Carol Dweck, the expert on Growth mindset, talks about how our Paradigm shifting happens in three planes.

  • On the X axis is our mindset.
  • Y has our expertise.
  • And Z is where our extrinsic and intrinsic motivation lies.

When we leverage all these above aspects, we can navigate change well. Whether we like it or not, our life will grow through milestone events like graduation, job search, marriage, childbirth etc, the natural development life stages that most of us go through.

Only when we are keenly aware of the changes that are happening within us and to our circumstances, can we ensure we are staying relevant to our times and growing.

 

Flexibility Needs No Training Manual

 

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What Do The Mentally Agile Do On A Daily Basis?

 

Developing a more flexible mindset allows us to evaluate and adjust to the different tasks, roles and responsibilities we are presented with each day.

One of the biggest signs you have a flexible mind is that you see problems as not terrible issues, but as situations or hurdles that need to be overcome. A flexible mind allows us to take a 35000 feet view of where we are to gather perspective on our long term goals and not take any small setbacks seriously.

Instead, adopting flexible preferences about ourselves, others and our circumstances helps us leave room for improvement for the long run. It helps us be kinder by replacing words like, ‘must’, ‘should’ and ‘need’, with ‘prefer’, ‘want’ and ‘wish’.

When we’re mentally agile, we are not limiting ourselves to binary thinking or “black and white” thought patterns about anything. We’re opening ourselves up for possibilities and discarding our old habitual behaviors. We’re unleashing our inner resilience and adaptability to look at new possible solutions for the roadblocks that lie ahead of us.

 

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How To Train Your Mind To Become Flexible?

 

The best part about neuroplasticity is that our brains can continue to develop in our adulthood. And through practice and patience, we can create new pathways, and break the wiring between old and unwanted bad habits and behaviors.

Here are a few things you can try to develop a flexible mind.

1. Change your routine. Plan to be spontaneous and see the beauty in novelty.
2. Ask yourself if your feelings or emotions towards something or someone are valid. Who put those thoughts into you in the first place?
3. Learn something new. Pick up a new recipe, or a new skill and engage yourself in the learning process.
4. Take a brain break. A break is a really good for a brain that’s been working hard and focused so much that it has stopped thinking of alternative possibilities.
5. Do something differently. For a routine task on your daily calendar, approach it in a novel way and see if that works.

Developing mental flexibility is not just blindly becoming optimistic for the sake of becoming one, but it is because we have great goals and we can’t afford to abandon them without trying harder.

 

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‘You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.’

~ From Jonathan Livingston Seagull By Richard Bach. A book on the possible consequences of casting off tired routines and all the ways of thinking.

 

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On Flexible Thinking And Leadership Agility.

 

The Skills You Urgently Need To Be Workplace Ready. (Podcast)

Listen to it HERE.

 

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