Well, 2020 is just about behind us and never before has the need to be flexible been so apparent. If nothing else, that historic year taught us how to roll with the punches. Being forced to become more adaptable is one of the few silver linings we might take with us into 2021. With that in mind, I choose to see this new year as The Year of Flexibility. The following reflection on Flexible Thinking is the first in a series of thoughts on the importance of living flexibly. I’m starting with Flexible Thinking, because the way we think determines our choices and reactions in our daily lives,
A friend who is into such things told me something wild about commercial jets. He said that airliners in flight are actually off-course the majority of the time! (Yes, these are the same planes that we all fly across the country in.) They go off-course by a few degrees—this way or that way—and must constantly readjust their headings to stay on-course. Luckily for everyone, despite being mostly off-course, they always end up on the runway they’re supposed to. And consider this: Pilots don’t judge themselves for frequently being off-course. Pilots don’t immediately just give up when the control tower tells them they need to correct their flight path. In fact, pilots expect to be off-course; making course-corrections is how long-distance air travel works.
Wouldn’t it be great if we all could apply those principles to how we live our lives? Wouldn’t it be great to not automatically beat ourselves up when we stumble off-course—even if we stumble off-course a lot? To just make another behavior adjustment and then keep going?
Shifting Our Mindset
It all comes down to mindset; how our habitual attitude sets up strategies for dealing with obstacles and setbacks. Our mindset develops over time. It’s so ingrained that most of us never question whether it truly serves us or not. The hitch is, a mindset that is unquestioned may become entrenched and inflexible over time.
Changing a way of thinking from inflexible to flexible is simple, if not easy. To change requires two things:
First, acknowledge that attaining perfection is not really possible, but excellence can be achieved with focus, effort, and course correction. (Also, in many cases good enough is good enough, so let’s be selective about where we spend our valuable energy.)
Second, challenge any self-talk that makes one feel like a failure. Making a mistake does not make anyone a failure, it is just an “off-course” incident. Stopping and taking a break does not mean one is giving up, it usually means it is simply time to recharge.
It is easy to see how and why flexible thinking is an important aspect of living mindfully!
The Importance of a Positive Mindset
Flexible thinking does not dwell on the negative. Flexible thinking might look to the past for constructive information, but it doesn’t look back wallowing in regret. It looks forward, focused on the most promising choices it can see that lie ahead. If someone’s most cherished plan ends in failure, that does not make that person a failure. It simply means that that person has been off-course. Flexible thinking allows anyone the grace to take stock of what went wrong, and what lessons can be learned to guide future choices. This is true in all aspects of life, from relationships, to career plans, to eating strategies.
Sometimes even the most flexible of thinkers feel lost, or stuck, or pissed off at the world. All that is fine, as long as, in time they re-engage their flexible mindset. Hey, like we discussed at the beginning: it’s completely fine to be off-course before they course-correct! So as we start our journey through 2021, let’s embrace our off-course/on-course flight path. It might just be a great year after all.