It’s likely we all assume there’s a degree of flexibility in the way we think about things. But is this assumption fair? Or are you a bit more rigid in your thinking than you’d like to admit?
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, ‘flexible thinking’ is the cognitive ability to consider a range of possibilities, outcomes, intentions, perspectives, and explanations (etc).
Flexible thinking is widely regarded as necessary for good mental health and the ability to form and maintain relationships with others, whether that be in your personal or professional life. Put it this way, you can assume the worst, or the best, or you can consider the entire spectrum of possibilities available.
So let’s dig a bit deeper and see where you could add some more flexible thinking into your world.
A flexible thinker has the ability to consider a range of consequences to their actions. Whether they be positive or negative consequences, a flexible thinker will ponder a variety of outcomes without simply being optimistic or pessimistic. You might have a tendency to lean towards one or the other, most people do, but think about whether you overshoot or underestimate regularly and that should give you a good indication of where you may need to balance things out a little.
It wouldn’t be right to say that a flexible thinker has no bias towards optimism or pessimism, rather that they would consider upsides and downsides and then lean towards the most helpful or beneficial. This includes other people’s behaviour as well. A flexible thinker will likely base their perspective of a situation on someone’s intentions as opposed to a snap judgement on their behaviour.
For example, if you sent an email to a colleague and they’d failed to reply within an expected timeframe – you might feel annoyed and make the assumption that they were being ignorant or lazy – or you might assume they’re super busy and hadn’t had an opportunity. You would consider both as well as a heap of other explanations. Based on this, you may check in on them but you wouldn’t make any accusations, you understand there could be a variety of reasons behind their lack of response. And that’s fair, right? You would expect the same benefit of the doubt if the boot were on the other foot!
Flexible thinkers also have the capacity to understand that their particular way of thinking about things isn’t factual. They’re able to shift into considering things from another person’s perspective, taking on board that the way they see things isn’t necessarily how everyone sees things and that other interpretations are also available. This is basically showing empathy and is hugely beneficial when building great relationships and rapport with others.
On the flipside, flexible thinkers have the ability to detach somewhat emotionally from outcomes. This isn’t to say that they lack emotions, they just know that things evolve and change over time. So, they don’t get stuck in the way they feel about a certain situation at that moment. They understand the temporary nature of thoughts and feelings. You would kind of ‘go with the flow’ a bit more than those that are quick to leap to an emotional conclusion based on what’s happening right now.
It’s fair to say that if you’re a flexible thinker you will look at both sides of the coin in a balanced way, however as previously mentioned, you may lean towards the most helpful or beneficial perspective. This is especially true if you need to motivate yourself or you have a desire to achieve something. It would then be way more beneficial for you to lean towards a positive rather than negative outcome. And if you’re a flexible thinker, you’ll understand this and naturally apply it.
But flexible thinking can easily be learned, so don’t worry if you’re not there yet! All you need to do is make a conscious choice to approach things differently and consider the scope of possibilities available. Loosen your grip on any self-imposed hard and fast ‘rules’ and prepare to switch and shift more fluidly when needed. Over time this will become more ingrained and eventually it’ll be second nature to you.
I invite you to think about this ‘flexibly’ for a while.
Are you a flexible thinker? Are there ways you could improve your thinking towards situations? How would flexible thinking benefit you?
Flexible thinking is just one of the amazingly useful topics we cover in our bespoke Purpose, Progress, Performance programme.
- Have fun and build stronger relationships based on authenticity and trust.
- Understand each other’s strengths, differences and how they complement each other.
- Have honest conversations about what you all need and how you can support each other.
- Gain the tools you need to build individual and group wellbeing and resilience.
- Create a blueprint of shared values, behaviours and ambitions.
- Become a cohesive and effective team that achieves more together.