It’s a fact, the more black and white you are about how you see the world and the more rigidly you live your life (how life MUST be or SHOULD be), the more misery you will have in your life. Life has it’s own agenda and if you expect life to be a certain way in order for you to be happy, you will be fighting a losing battle. Research has shown time and time again that the key to happiness is to be psychologically flexible. In other words, the more able you are to look at life in many different ways, the happier you wil be.
For example, if your partner comes home late and doesn’t bother to let you know where they are or that they would be late, you can react in many different ways.
Rigid response: A loving partner should always tell me where they are and if they will be late. This must mean they do not care about my feelings. If you think in this way you are highly likely to feel angry and miserable.
Flexible response: I’d prefer my partner to let me know where they are but it might be that the battery on their phone ran out or they have been so busy and a bit absent minded. I will ask them to let me know next time. Thinking in this way and looking for rational alternatives (psychological flexibility) will lead you to feeling less negative emotions (therefore happier).
So what can you do to practise more psychological flexibility?
Learn to monitor your ‘mental diet’ and dismiss black and white/rigid thinking. The more rules you have for living, the more likely it is that they wil be broken (life has a habit of doing things it’s own way despite our planning and wishes). Learn to separate and detach from thoughts. Open up to other ways of looking at things. Play devil’s advocate. Allow your thoughts to open up and be freer in your thinking and interpretations.
Try to engage fully in the here-and-now. Work on focusing in the present moment and embracing what life brings you. You may not always like it but learning acceptance and practising looking at life from many different angles is a fantastic mental skill that will help you to be more resilient in life. Be awar of your thoughts, challenge them, Ask yourself if it a helpful way to look at a situations and regularly ask yourself, “Is there another way to look at this that will make me feel better about this situation? Is there a rational alternative?”
Do what matters
Be connected to your values and be clear about what they are. Set yourself goals and improve your skills to reach these goals.
People who do not learn psychological flexibility tend to end up bitter and twisted. They are cynical and see life in a very rigid way. How many “musts” and “should” do you have about life? Work at doing away with them. Ask yourself why something should be a certain way. Who said? Where’s the life rule book stating this is so? Thoughts can be challenged and reframed – this is the essence of psychological flexibility.