How to Be More Flexible

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If you have a fixed set of preferences, find it difficult to adjust to change, or have been told that you have a rigid way of thinking, you may find yourself wishing you were more flexible.

Flexibility

Mental flexibility is the ability to dynamically change one’s course of thought or action, based on the requirements of a situation. It involves being able to abandon a previous pattern of responses in favor of an alternate response that better suits the current circumstances.

“Flexible people are highly adaptable and can adjust quickly to new situations. They tend to be versatile thinkers, who are able to be creative and take alternate routes to make things happen,” says Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of ‘Your Happiness Hypothesis Method.’

This article explores some of the characteristics of flexible people, the benefits of this trait, and some steps you can take to be more flexible.

How to Be More Flexible

Below, Silva shares some strategies that can help you be more flexible:

  • Consider alternate options: If you’re prone to inflexible thinking, you may only be comfortable with a certain way of doing things. However, it’s important to remember that there are many solutions to any given situation and more than one way of doing things. Consider different options and weigh the pros and cons of each one before making a decision.
  • Start making small changes: You can practice being flexible by making small changes to your daily routine. For instance, if you generally watch television before you go to bed, try reading a book instead. Or, if you normally take the bus to work, try cycling instead. Doing things differently can help you practice the skill of adapting.
  • Try new experiences: Make it a point to regularly try out new experiences. For instance, you can try out a new restaurant or cuisine at least once a month. Or, you could try a new activity such as learning an instrument, playing a sport, volunteering, taking a cooking class, going hiking, or doing any other activity that appeals to you.
  • Meet new people: Meeting new people of diverse backgrounds can expose you to different perspectives. Seeing things through someone else’s eyes can help you understand that there is more than one way of doing things.
  • Look for opportunities: You may find yourself looking for excuses to avoid pursuing routes that are beyond your comfort zone. However, if you would like to be more flexible, try to look for opportunities instead of focusing on obstacles, mistakes, or failures.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your stance: Take the time to gather information before choosing your best option. Don’t be afraid to change your stance as you take in new information. There is no shame in changing your opinion as you become better informed.
  • Challenge your beliefs: If you have a certain way of doing things, it can be helpful to introspect on it and ask yourself why you’re insistent on doing things that way. Use your critical thinking skills to determine whether that’s actually the best way.
  • Maintain a positive attitude: While going out of your comfort zone can be difficult, it can be helpful to maintain a positive attitude as you work on creating new thought patterns. You can try engaging in positive self-talk to get yourself through challenging tasks.
  • Be more perceptive: Try to be more perceptive of others' thoughts and feelings. Most flexible thinkers are highly emotionally intelligent. Being able to gauge others’ feelings will help you be more empathetic and considerate.
  • Get some exercise: Research shows that being more physically active can help make your brain more active as well, boosting cognitive function and mental flexibility.
  • Seek therapy: If you are experiencing problems at home, at work, or in social settings due to your inflexibility, it can be helpful to see a therapist. They can help you examine your beliefs, challenge problematic assumptions, and develop coping skills that promote flexibility.

Characteristics of Flexible People

This is how flexible people compare to people who are rigid and inflexible.

Flexible People
  • Dynamic and versatile in their thinking

  • Open to new ideas and ways of doing things

  • Willing to try new experiences

  • Able to adapt to different situations

  • Capable of dealing with unexpected stressors

  • Mindful of others’ thoughts and feelings

  • Likely to suggest creative solutions to problems

Inflexible People
  • Rigid in their thought processes

  • Fixed in their habits and preferences

  • Often unwilling to try new things

  • Flustered and uncomfortable in new situations

  • Unable to cope with unexpected challenges

  • Inconsiderate of others’ preferences

  • Resistant to change


Benefits of Being Flexible

Flexibility is a trait that can come in handy in several situations. For instance, being flexible and open-minded at work can help you be more efficient and deal with unexpected stressors.

Being flexible in your daily life can help avoid frustration and conflict if things don’t go your way, which in turn can help reduce your risk of health conditions like anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Additionally, being flexible with your food preferences and being open to different experiences can be helpful while traveling or during social occasions with friends and family.

Flexibility is also an important ingredient in relationships, and can lead to better success in romantic relationships, smoother family dynamics, and better well-being overall.

Potential Pitfalls of Being Less Inflexible

While discussing the benefits of flexibility, it's also important to consider the costs of being inflexible.

Clarissa Silva

Linear, clear-cut thinking, and resistance to change can be catastrophic in times of crisis.

— Clarissa Silva

Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if you're inflexible:

  • Are you facing friction in your personal relationships because you're set on only doing things your way?
  • Do you struggle to maintain friendships or frequently fight with your partner?
  • Have you noticed that more dynamic thinkers at work are performing better than you are?

If you answered yes to these questions above, it's possible that you might have a tendency to be inflexible.

If you're unwilling to be flexible, it might make others feel that their opinions, schedules, or way of doing things are not important to you. That can come across as undervaluing them, which can be hurtful. So, it's important to consider other people's feelings, when necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I be more flexible at work?

    If you'd like to be more flexible at work, try to be more willing to take on new projects. So, if your manager asks if you can take on a small side project, say "yes," but only if you know you have the bandwidth to do so.

    Maybe you tend to cut conversations with colleagues short. Try stepping away from your desk for a few minutes and converse with your coworkers. You don't have to get into long discussions as that will limit your productivity, but it can help you learn how to handle interruptions and make time for others. Additionally, positive interactions at work can help make employees feel more valued.

  • Do I always have to be flexible?

    No, you do not need to be flexible all the time. If you're too flexible, you may risk getting burnt out, abandoning your values, and not fulfilling your own needs. Being too flexible might make you become a people-pleaser. For example, the effects of caregiving can include burnout and depression. So, it's important to be mindful and not stretch yourself too thin.

A Word From Verywell

All of us wish to be more dynamic and flexible. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to develop this trait. The key is to try new things, meet new people, and be open to new experiences and perspectives. 

Being more flexible can help you adapt, cope with stress, be more creative, and have better relationships.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.