Health & Wellness Articles

6 Ways to Maintain Your Mental Flexibility

Learn to Roll with the Punches and Dodge Life's Wrenches

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In order become more flexible, it helps to first recognize and record situations where you most frequently try to steer the ship. Observing your own inflexible behavior lets you notice those situations where you could sometimes stand back a bit and let others take the lead. At this point, you’re not trying to change your behavior; you're simply becoming aware of the points in your day where you could opt to be less rigid. Jot down these situations for future reference.
Practice Flexible Actions
You know that practicing yoga, stretching after workouts and getting regular massages can all help your body become more flexible. Of course, we’re not talking about physical flexibility in this instance, but many of the same philosophies apply to your mental behaviors.
In yoga, if you want to really get a good stretch and build strength, you’ve got to come to class regularly and practice your postures, continuously pushing yourself a little further. Similarly, if you want to maintain a mellow attitude, you’ve got to practice stretching beyond the normal limits of your mental flexibility. For example, if you’re constantly cleaning up the kitchen and bathroom before you leave for work, you can practice your flexibility a few mornings a week by leaving the breakfast dishes in the sink and the bathroom counter a mess. If you’re the one that always makes the weekly date night plans, let your hubby know that you’re leaving this week’s reservations up to him. Each time you stretch and try a new way of interacting with your environment, you become more flexible and it becomes easier to let go. Again, as it is in yoga, so it can be in life!
Set Small Goals for Mental Stretching
Once you’ve spent some time observing and tracking your inflexible behaviors and you’ve started to practice being flexible in certain situations throughout your day, the next step is to set small goals for mental stretching. Great runners set weekly mileage goals when they’re training for a marathon. Successful dieters set reasonable targets for steady weight loss each week. If you want to keep up your motivation and see change quickly, choose how many times you’ll be flexible throughout your day or week, write down your goal and post it where you can see it.
How will you know whether your habits are really improving? Make sure to track your practice. Jot it down in your planner. Text or email yourself a quick note. Make a chart and stick it on the fridge (after all, you love charts!). As you see your behaviors moving toward that goal line each week, you’ll know that you’re moving toward a lasting change.
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About The Author

Megan Coatley Megan Coatley
Megan is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with a masterís degree in applied behavior analysis from Western Michigan University. As a health and wellness coach, she combines her passion for nutrition and fitness with her professional talents to help others creative positive, lasting change and live healthier lives.

Member Comments

  • I learned that in fitness I have to balance strength and flexibility to avoid injury. I was actually too flexible for my strength. I think I may need to stick more rigidly to my program and not let myself be so flexible! - 5/31/2015 11:36:43 AM
  • I very nearly had a panic attack at the thought of leaving dishes in the sink... apparently I need this article :) - 4/11/2014 9:55:01 AM
    i liked this article very much it had alot of information - 12/15/2013 7:42:12 PM
    i liked this article very much it had alot of information - 12/15/2013 7:41:45 PM
  • Good one. Thank you for sharing. - 8/9/2013 7:59:48 AM
    I choose to not cross out the 'im' and to make it 'I'm possible'. That works for me. :) - 8/7/2013 8:24:32 PM
  • A "weekly date night"? The chance would be a fine thing!!! - 8/7/2013 11:09:53 AM
  • All things are possible through him who strength me daily. Great article. - 7/4/2013 9:51:22 AM
  • My take on this is that one should be sufficiently self-aware to recognize what causes stress, and to try to structure your life to reduce that. If you can't stand dishes piled in the sink, build the habit of putting them in the dishwasher. Or, if you can't stand washing dishes and would rather deal with them later, do that. The stress comes from feeling like you have to do things that are contrary to what you're inclined to prefer. Sure, there are plenty of times when you can't control those sorts of things, but when you can control what you can control - do. - 7/3/2013 11:09:17 PM
  • crap why cant you edit your posts I saw typos that the spell checker missed. Rats. - 11/9/2012 10:28:21 PM
  • I suppose everyone bring their own perspective to this article judging by dome of the comments !! All I know from personal experience is that my Dad was a very stubborn and at times negative man and I am sure it contributed (or at the very least exacerbated) to his Alzheimer's . - 11/9/2012 10:27:16 PM
  • This is a fabulous post! Thanks for sharing your ideas. You may also want to add this info from a new study was posted in the Mayo Clinic Journal last month which found that moderate exercise combined with, of all things - computer use - reduced the risk for memory impairment in those over 70. Since so many of us use a computer these days and we don't always think it's a good thing, it's nice to know that we are stimulating our brain cells - as long as we do some Yoga, brisk walking or another form of moderate exercise along with our Facebook, twitter and other computer uses! - 8/30/2012 2:00:36 PM
    I like to change "Impossible" to "I'm Possible". :) - 8/29/2012 7:26:04 PM
  • Learning to let go and let other people do things their way sometimes is a very important life skill to develop. Often the inflexible person does not realize how much they alienate others, including family members, by making them feel incompetent and worthless. For example, when a wife redoes the dishes her husband just washed, because she notices tiny soap bubbles on them as they were drying. Can you imagine how small the husband feels when that happens? You can't treat people like children all the time and expect there to be no consequences.

    I know someone who has unfortunately made it to his 60s without realizing the impact his perfectionism has on others. His need to have everything done his way, which he believes is the only right way, makes it difficult to be around him sometimes. In my opinion, this is a sign of a sort of immaturity as a person. It's a mark of maturity and growth to let go and realize the world keeps spinning regardless of your actions. - 8/29/2012 12:19:51 PM
    I know I have to have the dishwasher loaded a certain way or it drives me crazy and I have to say something when somebody doesn't do it "right". So I can practice flexibility by realizing they will get clean anyway and it really itsn't that important. So I need to let it go. I think the thing with leaving dishes in the sink drives us crazy too and of course it just takes a minute to put them away so why leave them? We have to learn to be flexible on these little things to be flexible on the bigger things. We have to learn not to let it stress us to leave the dishes. - 8/29/2012 11:13:57 AM

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