The world can feel like an uncertain place. Unless we can learn to live with not being sure, it’s very easy for us to become overwhelmed. What my research in psychology and neuroscience has taught me is that getting used to the intrinsic uncertainty of the world is essential for success: the people who thrive are those with the ability to accept and adapt to constant change and uncertainty.
The good news is that we can improve our ability to adapt. It takes practice and we often need to push ourselves outside our comfort zone. I managed to overcome my reluctance to speak in public and adapted over time to the demands of being an academic psychologist.
Harnessing the benefits of an agile mind can be transformative. It’s important to remember that we are active stewards of our own well-being, rather than passive victims of change and so we must actively manage our approach to life. Our natural skills of agility are necessary to help us navigate a complex and unpredictable world. I have seen time and again how developing an agile mindset—the capacity to flex our thoughts, feelings, and actions—can transform our lives and bolster our resilience.
Maintaining a flexible mind allows us to thrive amid change. The first step is to accept that change and uncertainty are an inescapable part of life. Our lives will change, many times, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. It is how we navigate those shifts that shape our present and our future happiness. If you are reluctant to change, or wary of trying out new things, this is something you need to work on.
Whether it is coping with a difficult boss, managing a complex team, dealing with hyperactive children, resolving a dispute with a friend, or boosting your energy, you need an internal compass that helps you choose the right strategy for the moment. If this compass is off even slightly, you can veer a long way from your course. Here are four important ideas that will point you in the right direction as you navigate your way through life.
- Mental agility: The capacity to be agile and nimble in how you think, act, and feel so that you can navigate your way through all sorts of terrain, the rough as well as the smooth, and adapt well to changing circumstances. The science shows that agility is made up of four distinct components—what I call the “ABCD of agility,” adaptability, balancing our life, changing or challenging our perspective, and developing our mental competence.
- Self-awareness: An ability to look inside yourself so that you can gain a deep self-understanding and appreciation of your core values. This will help you become more aware of your hopes, dreams, and abilities.
- Emotional awareness: Part of self-awareness, but so important in our lives that it becomes a pillar of its own. Learning to accept and nurture all your emotions, those that feel bad as well as those that feel good, is vital. As is the ability to regulate your emotions and harness them in service of your values and goals rather than letting them boss you around.
- Situational awareness: This feeds off two of the other pillars, self-awareness, and emotional awareness, but also incorporates the capacity to understand your immediate surroundings—to look outside—so that you gain a deep intuitive awareness of the context as well as your own“gut feelings.” This mix of inner and outer awareness informs you as to how well you can operate in that environment.
These four vital psychological talents are a potent mental weapon to help you make the decision to stick or to switch to another approach, and to get that decision right more times than you get it wrong. Ultimately, that will help you to operate at the top of your game.
Adapted excerpt from Switch Craft by Elaine Fox and reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright 2022.