Whether it’s being in a relationship, your career or taking care of your kids, staying connected to your values helps support psychological flexibility. What is psychological flexibility? The technical definition is “the ability to contact the present moment more fully as a conscious human being and to change, or persist in, behavior when doing so serves valued ends” (Biglan, Hayes, & Pistorello, 2008). Therefore, the more you are able to connect to your values, the more you are able to live a more meaningful life.
Similar to adaptability and emotional intelligence, psychological flexibility means moving toward discomfort instead of moving away from it. This moving towards allows for deeper experiences, growth and accomplishing the goals you set out for yourself.
This may seem overwhelming if you are someone who tends to avoid conflict, uncomfortable emotions or situations. However, research shows that trying to get rid of uncomfortable thoughts or feelings is counter productive because it actually increases its frequency, strength and duration. Rather, it is suggested to connect with your emotions, thoughts and attitudes lightly and see that they are part of the human experience.
Connecting lightly with your emotions can be extremely helpful in stressful times because it allows you to slow down, observe rather than react and be more present. Having an increase in stressors and responsibility makes this challenging, yet being persistent, getting help when you need it and being open and willing can be a wonderful transformative opportunity.
6 Core Principles of Psychological Flexibility
Dominance of the Conceptualized Past or Future – Limited Self-Knowledge
When we get caught up being stuck in the past or worrying about the future, we miss something more important, something that has the most power, the present moment. Being trapped in the past or future is associated with having issues with mental health, ie. anxiety and depression. In order to change this pattern we must be willing to look at what’s going on in our internal and external worlds.
When I work with people I help them gain awareness on how their external environment is a reflection on what’s going on on the inside. From there it’s as simple as taking a deep breath, slowing down and moving with what’s coming up. A common metaphor is to see yourself gently being carried down a stream. If we hold onto a branch at the edge and resist going with the current, we struggle, use up our energy and get nowhere. It is when we go with the flow of the current, observe, feel and allow that we can experience less resistance and more psychological flexibility.
2. Cognitive Fusion
Being stuck also shows up when we are stuck in our thoughts, feelings and/or attitudes. How are your thoughts keeping you stuck in your past? How is holding onto your feelings helping you in the short term? long term? How accurate are your beliefs about yourself and are they helpful?
Again these thoughts may provide short term relief. However, it is more helpful to look at the emotions underneath these thoughts and feelings which allows you to move through them instead of holding onto them. Our consumerist society reinforces quick fixes rather than looking at the root of the problem. This creates a build up of unresolved issues, emotions, thoughts and beliefs that take us away from living out our values and intentions.
3. Experiential avoidance
It Is when we don’t allow ourselves to feel what is coming up in a given moment. These suppressed emotions then create unhealthy avoidance behaviours like drinking, smoking, drug use, emotional eating, and retail therapy. By not accepting these emotions and giving them space to be there, they build up causing stress in the mind, body and spirit. This creates a vicious cycle of having unhealthy coping mechanisms to avoid these feelings, which then affect your health, ability to function and focus and most of all, live out your values and intentions.
4. Attachment to the Conceptualized Self
Attachment shows up in different ways. I’ve written about attachment styles: how letting go can be challenging, how we are attached to our belongings, and looking at the clutter they create. The same goes for the stories we tell ourselves about our past and the things that have happened to us. If we don’t allow these stories to change then it prevents us from moving forward.
One way to see the power of your story is to look at a difficult situation you’ve been in where you addressed your emotions, feelings and beliefs around what happened. See how the story has changed over time, this is a reflection of how you have changed and grown from that experience. If the story hasn’t changed then that may be an indicator that it’s time to create a new story that puts you in your power.
5. Lack of Values, Clarity/Contact
When we are stuck in a broken record of thoughts, feelings and behaviours, it often stops us from getting out of an uncomfortable or challenging situation. This also makes it hard to know what direction to go in, let alone know what you want. This can be attributed to being in fight or flight mode where our frontal cortex is unable to operate to do the problem solving needed to move forward.
What can help you gain clarity is to ask yourself questions that help you connect to your life purpose, values and intentions.
Is this situation in alignment with my values?
What’s missing in this situation?
What do I need to change in order to connect more with my values?
Are my thoughts limiting beliefs that don’t match my core values and represent my true self
6. Unworkable Action
These are actions that take us away from being connected to ourselves and in a way have us “check out” from the situation. Things like consuming alcohol, not socializing, exercising or having suicidal thoughts, take us away from taking action that can help us. These actions tend to be impulsive, reactionary rather than mindful and intentional. It is likely that they stem from a triggered and a lack of awareness around the trigger. Slowing down, noticing thoughts, and speaking to someone about them can help shift these reactions to more mindful conscious actions that keep you connected and thriving.
How to become psychologically flexible while working from home, taking care of your children, and staying true to your values.
Working from home with the kids and possibly even having to take care of your elderly parents is more than anyone can handle. AND it’s also an opportunity to take an inventory of where you can let go and be more flexible. Going through this 5 step process can help give you some breathing space and reconnect to your values in a time when it matters the most.
What can you let go of to make room for yourself while being able to still care for those around you?
Step 1 – Connecting With Your Values
What is your life purpose?
What’s important to you?
What thoughts and feelings are getting in the way?
What makes you feel happy, grounded and at peace?
Step 2 – Make a plan
What are some daily habits and routines that you can introduce to help you live out the values you created in step 1?
What thoughts and feelings do you want to change? How can you get help to make that shift?
Step 3 – Minimize
What can you let go of in your spaces?
How can you spend your time differently to stay more connected to yourself?
What thoughts that take you away from your values and life purpose?
How can you make time each day and/or week to let go of these attachments to make room for what’s important to you?
Step 4 – Organize + Design
Now that you’ve taken time to get rid of what’s getting in the way of you living out your values and intentions. It’s time to organize what’s left.
How can you create spaces that support you and your family?
What time management systems can you implement to help you better take care of yourself and your family? ie. meal planning and meal prep each Sunday for the week.
Step 5 – Sustain
What did you notice through the process of letting go?
Where were you being psychologically inflexible?
How can you change your daily habits and routines that implement more self care and less limiting beliefs?
Who can help you integrate these changes?
To learn more about how you can change your inner patterns to become psychologically flexible check out this blog.