What is psychological flexibility?
Psychological flexibility is arguably a fundamental aspect of good mental health. But what is it exactly, and how can you have more of it?
“A healthy person is someone who can manage themselves in the uncertain, unpredictable world around them, where novelty and change are the norm rather than the exception.” (Kashdan and Rottenberg, 2010). 
Psychological flexibility means we can stay present with and adapt to the challenges of life. We take useful action despite our thoughts and feelings, and stay true to our values.
This can include things like:
knowing what to focus on and what to let go of
Recognising when they behaviour we choose isn't helping us anymore
Acknowledging when we are wrong with our assumptions and working to change them
Finding balance in areas of our lives that we might overlook, as well as the ‘important’ areas too.
continuing towards our goals despite setbacks
finding creative ways to deal with challenges.
And now for psychological inflexibility
How do I know if I'm flexible in my life or not?
When trying to understand flexibility, it helps to consider the opposite, psychological rigidity. Often a part of mental health issues will look like this:
Refusing to change our painful behaviours or see what we are hurting ourselves or others.
using ‘avoidance coping’ (putting our head in the sand instead of dealing with things)
overthinking and worrying instead of adapting
over focussing on some areas of life and neglecting others
Being incapacitated by a build up of chronic stress
Unable to plan and move towards goals.
FORGET BEING NICE
Psychological flexibility doesn’t mean you are always nice and accommodating. It doesn't have to mean putting aside your own negative emotions at the expense of being perceived as accommodating. Remember, it means that you are able to discern the best approach to a situation.
THE BENEFITS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL FLEXIBILITY
The recent Covid-19 pandemic provided a perfect laboratory for examining the role of psychological flexibility in the face of mass stress.
A UK study found that those who exhibited psychological flexibility during the pandemic had higher levels of wellbeing, lower anxiety, and lower Covid-19 related distress. 
As well as less anxiety and low moods we can:
have better relationships
be proactive instead of reactive
regulate our emotions and have steadier moods
be resilient in the face of stress.
PILLARS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL FLEXIBILITY
contact with the present moment
self as context
So what do these mean and how do they work?
HOW TO BE MORE PSYCHOLOGICALLY FLEXIBLE
1. WORK AT ‘ACTIVE ACCEPTANCE‘.
Note that this is not acceptance in a ‘just got to get on with it’, passive kind of way. But as:
“the active, voluntary embracing of moment-to-moment experience….a wilful experiencing of feelings as feelings, thoughts as thoughts, sensations as sensations, and so forth.” (Chin et al.). .
2. RECOGNISE THAT YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS (DEFUSION).
Fusion is when we think we are the content of our thoughts, instead of realising that we are something bigger than just what we think and feel. What ACT therapy calls ‘diffusion’ means creating some distance from our thoughts and knowing that they aren't ‘who we are’ or wholly accurate. You might be ‘a person who is experiencing anxiety and doubts myself sometimes’ rather than ‘ I am a nervous wreck my whole life and will never amount to anything’.
3. BE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT.
Mindfulness is a tool that helps you be aware of the present moment. How do you feel right now? What are you thinking? What is going on around you? It helps us to make better choices with what we are actually dealing with, instead of using rigidity to operate our lives or act out automatic responses of ways of behaving.
4. WORK ON YOUR CREATIVITY.
Creativity doesn’t have to mean making art. It can mean learning to brainstorm, or challenging yourself daily to do one thing differently. It can be using different cutlery, experimenting with different personal hygiene routines or working from a different environment in the house.
5. LEARN TO CHANGE PERSPECTIVE
One of the fastest ways to shift our mood and perspective is to see a situation from someone else's perspective.
6. WORK ON LIFE BALANCE.
Take time each week to check in on yourself and each section of life including work, family, social life, hobbies and spirituality. Take action on areas you want to spend more time on.
7. SEE BEYOND ASSUMPTIONS.
This is especially important when it comes to relationships. We have a tendency to assume what people mean or may be thinking, which I would refer to as ‘mind reading’. This is a slippery slope for your mental health. Question all assumptions you are making about the narrative and meaning we assign to what people say or do. You will be shocked at how certain a conclusion we draw, from very little evidence.
To move beyond assumptions, learn how to ask forward looking ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions, and how to reflect back until you are clear on what the other person is saying.
8. RECOGNISE YOUR VALUES AND PRIORITIZE THEM IN YOUR ACTIONS
If we don't get clear on what matters to us and incorporate it in how we live, we can often feel tired and stuck. On the other hand, if we prioritise our values we’ll feel more energised and accomplished attending to them. We become more committed in our actions, and feel less stressed when speed bumps present themselves as we have a guidance system that fulfils us.
Want to become more flexible in life? I support many people on their journey towards this destination in a way that feels tailored to them. Submit your enquiry in the enquiry box, or email me email@example.com.
 Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 865–878. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.001.
 Dawson, D. L., & Golijani-Moghaddam, N. (2020). COVID-19: Psychological flexibility, coping, mental health, and wellbeing in the UK during the pandemic. Journal of contextual behavioral science, 17, 126–134. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcbs.2020.07.010.
. Stefan G. Hofmann, Gordon J.G. Asmundson, The Science of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,
Academic Press, 2017. ISBN 9780128034576, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-803457-6.00036-2.