January 24, 2013

Be Flexible

Ever heard of behavioral flexibility? It describes a person's ability to respond and adjust his or her actions based on external stimulations. Ben C. Fletcher, who writes "Do Something Different" for Psychology Today boils it down like this:

People with LOW behavioral flexibility tend to:
- stick to routines
- go to the same places
- have strict schedules
- hang around the same people.

People with HIGH behavioral flexibility tend to:
- act differently in different situations
- try new things
- resist routine
- not rely on habits.

Mr. Fletcher uses behavioral flexibility to explain work-related stress: people who are inflexible tend to describe themselves as stressed, anxious and depressed while at work. He argues that it is not the job itself that causes these feelings, but rather a worker's inability to meet demands, leading him or her to blame the workplace instead of reacting in a resilient way.

I certainly fall into the inflexible category of routine, schedules and living within a well-defined comfort zone. Work stress is also a complaint near and dear to my heart, so this perspective is a challenging one for me. I want things to happen my way, on my timeline, according to my standards. When that doesn't happen (nearly always), I end up dissatisfied, disappointed or angry. Thankfully, Mr. Fletcher's theory isn't all gloom-and-doom. His suggestion? Ride the wave! By being flexible, "people become better equipped to deal with the world. As a result, they perceive it as a less difficult place."  Doesn't that sound nice?

The bottom line is to go with the flow. Look for ways to reconcile situations instead of fighting them with predictable tendencies. Try to see things from your boss's point of view or adapt to a coworker's work style, even if its just for one project. Who knows? Maybe their approach isn't as infuriating as you once thought. And just think of how laid back you'll appear to your coworkers!

To read more about behavioral flexibility and coping mechanisms, check out this article. To learn how to "Do Something Different", head over to Psychology Today.

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