Inflexibility is one of the most damaging personality traits you can have. It can cost you opportunities, impact friendships and, most importantly, cause major problems in your relationships. People with a non-flexible mindset have an inability to go with the flow. They are rigid in how they feel things should be done, and are often unable to shift gears when things don’t go their way. This is especially problematic for couples once they have become parents, where being able to go with the flow is just about the only thing keeping you from disaster.
“Flexibility is one of the most beneficial attributes a parent can have when it comes to raising a child,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University. “Instead of situations only being black and white, flexible parents are able to be more responsive to their children and view situations from different perspectives. This mindset not only makes children feel better supported but allows parents to feel less stressed when things do not go as planned.”
For some parents, the idea of being flexible and letting some things go runs counter to the very idea of parenting. They believe that flexibility equates to inconsistency and that children who are exposed to a more relaxed approach may no longer feel that they can be disciplined. However, Hafeez says that is not the case.
“Exercising flexibility can diffuse conflicts between a child and a parent and keep a level of calm in the household,” Hafeez says. “Children mature at a fast rate and it is likely that one day will require different parenting skills than the next.”
Flexibility comes when you can see a situation for what it is, rather than what you want it to be, and accepting those circumstances. It’s an active choice that you have to make, now allowing yourself to be carried away by your emotions.
“Flexible thinking begins with taking an active role in our ability to direct our lives instead of being swept along from stimulus to reaction,” adds Ramsey Bergeron. a life coach and motivational speaker. “Otherwise, we drift along and feel like the world happens to us instead of feeling like we have the ability to influence it.”
Developing a more flexible mindset, or simply keeping yours in shape, requires stepping outside of yourself, listening more intently, not responding so immediately, and more. Here’s what to know.
1. Listen to Their Side More Often
During any disagreement, it is tempting to want to adhere to your side of the discussion and have that be the final word. But — and this shouldn’t be news — it’s important to listen openly and at least hear what they have to say. Even if it doesn’t change the scope of the argument, it is important to validate the other person’s feelings and at least acknowledge that they’re being heard. “Flexibility can help children feel that they are still their own person, despite having to listen to a parent,” Hafeez says. “It minimizes the fear children have when they know they did something wrong and may make them more likely to be honest with their parents.”
2. Be Open to New Ideas
For parents, there is often more than one way to go about things. A willingness to look at other ideas and other routes in is crucial. Be open to new parenting skills and realize that you aren’t going to get it right the first time, or even the second or third. “Being a flexible parent takes practice and can take some people out of their comfort zone,” Hafeez says. ‘But, it can strengthen the relationship between a parent and a child for the years to come.”
3. Make Time to Be Still
If you are a slave to reacting to the things around you, and often allow yourself to be swept up by your emotions, then you will never be able to develop a fully flexible mindset. Staying in that place means that you are simply allowing events to happen to you rather than taking control.
“Having awareness between stimulus and reaction is where flexible thinking begins and breaking down old patterns is born,” says Bergeon. “A vital tool to help with creating that pause between stimulus and reaction is meditation.”
Making the time to sit quietly for 20 minutes to still your thoughts may seem like a luxury to a parent, he adds, but it can make all the difference in the world in how you view the rest of your life. Set the alarm just a little earlier to get it in before the whole house wakes up.”
4. Stop Seeing Only Failure and Success
People who have rigid mindsets tend to view situations as either “good” or “bad”, a “failure” or a “success”. And they react accordingly. However, not everything is so black and white. Those with a flexible mindset look at life as a series of opportunities to learn from and seek constructive ways to overcome challenges. In other words, they bring perspective.
“If you think back to some of the things you are the proudest of in your life, how many started as a ‘bad’ situation that you overcame?” asks Bergeron. “At the time it may have seemed ‘bad,’ but it forced you to adapt and grow into who you are now.”
5. Practice Acceptance
How will you react when something doesn’t go your way? Very often, people set certain expectations for how an event, meeting, or exchange will transpire but the reality is different. When those expectations aren’t met, it’s common for people to become angry or withdraw, bringing everyone, and everything, down with them.
Adapting a flexible mindset means rolling with the punches and choosing to not let things affect you when they don’t go as planned. It can even mean laughing in the face of disaster and , well, choosing to accept joy, even when everything around you is telling you otherwise.
“Flexible thinking won’t eliminate curveballs from being thrown at you,” Bergeron says, “but it will help you avoid stepping in front of the plate and get hit by it.”
Pain, he adds, is inevitable. But suffering is optional.
“When something happens that upsets or bothers you, ask yourself what about the situation do you have control over? If the answer is nothing, then let it go.”