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Four Simple Ways to Increase Your Psychological Flexibility

Four simple tips for making your mind more nimble

Most people know the importance of becoming and remaining physically flexible. But surprisingly few people understand the importance of working on their psychological flexibility. Nevertheless, psychological flexibility is very important for staying emotionally fit and mentally nimble. Here are some ways to work on your psychological range of motion.

First, try to keep your mind stimulated by learning something new every day, if possible. It needn't be anything complicated or long. Simply trying to commit a new word, historical date, artist's name, or bit of trivia to memory is great mental exercise that activates parts of the brain's essential structures.

Second, do something differently often. That is, introduce some change in familiar routines. For example, if you're in the habit of sitting in the same place while watching TV, sit in a different place once in a while. If you always hold your coffee cup with your dominant hand, have a cup while using your other hand. By mixing it up like this you again recruit pathways in the brain that are not as active as the ones used by the default behavior thus providing another flexibility stimulus for your mind.

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Third, do different things. Instead of doing the "same old, same old" do something different for a change. For instance, have some tea instead of coffee; wear different clothes than usual; hit the stationary bike instead of the elliptical at the gym; order some different dishes when you get take out; etc. This, too, activates and stimulates the brain in novel ways which helps keep the mind and psyche balanced and nimble.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, get out of your comfort zone. In general, people have a natural tendency to maintain familiar behavioral patterns and habits. Indeed, this is often the path of least resistance because these well-worn routines are as easy as they are comfortable. But just as skeletal muscles have to push or pull against resistance to get stronger, the brains "muscles" (i.e., certain structures and neural pathways) must encounter resistance to benefit, too. Keep in mind it is often said that the path of least resistance usually goes someplace you don't want to be. Therefore, try to challenge yourself with mildly stressful activities on a regular basis. So, drive in the left lane instead of keeping to right; do a harder crossword puzzle than usual; start a conversation instead of keeping to yourself; assert yourself rather than saying nothing when someone bothers or upsets you; etc.

These four, very simple, but not always easy, suggestions help most people enhance their behavioral and psychological flexibility thus leading to a more mentally supple and comfortable life.

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well.

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D., is Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute.

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