How to Train Your Psychological Flexibility

Psychological flexibility translates into facing your difficulties, both the everyday and extraordinary kinds, more skilfully. But, how do you train this capacity?
How to Train Your Psychological Flexibility
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 13 June, 2023

Psychological flexibility is one of the fundamental capacities for adapting to different circumstances and getting the most out of every situation. It also serves to avoid wasting time in unnecessary tensions or conflicts with others or with reality itself. In short, being psychologically flexible contributes a great deal to our well-being.

It’s important to bear in mind that psychological flexibility isn’t an innate capacity in humans. Therefore, it needs cultivating. But, for some people, this can be an extremely difficult task. However, there are certain exercises that can be useful. We’re going to explore some of them.

“The man who comes back though the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out.”

-Aldous Huxley-

Woman thinking
Cognitive flexibility helps us to better tolerate changes.

1. Develop your capacity for contemplation

At first, you might think of contemplation as something passive and uninteresting. But, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize that it has enormous dynamism and it stirs what you have inside you. When you contemplate, you look at something, without moving. It means observing and focusing all your attention span on what you’re looking at.

The key lies in only focusing on seeing and capturing, not on judging, giving your opinion, or developing ideas around what you’re looking at. It’s an exercise that you can carry out every day.

Start with simple objects. Capture their texture, color, aroma, shape… all their complexities. Follow on with a pet or an animal you see outside. Once you’ve done that, you can start on people. Contemplation will help you develop psychological flexibility.

2. Be rebellious against automatisms and routine

Rebellion is almost the opposite of contemplation. But, this doesn’t mean that it’s not a good way of exploring your psychological flexibility. Rebellion calls for insubordination in the face of convention.

For instance, what’d happen if you were to intentionally wear mismatched clothing or start writing with the opposite hand to the one you normally use? Rebellion doesn’t mean attacking the social order but contradicting its automatisms and routines. Doing so gives you a new perspective, which affects your psychological flexibility.

3. Talk less and listen more

Much of your psychological rigidity is the result of being too focused on yourself. You have a tendency to only be interested in what you think and believe. If you meet someone who thinks or feels differently, you feel tense and automatically believe that the right thing to do is to persuade them to see the world as you do.

Listening carefully is an excellent strategy for training your psychological flexibility. Listening means, like contemplation, focusing on what the other person says, without thinking about what you’re going to reply and without judging their words. Listening actively and intentionally will make you more permeable to new ways of understanding reality.

4. Say yes to everything for a week

Make up your mind, just for a week, to say yes to everything. Firstly, this will alleviate the cognitive wear and tear associated with making decisions. Secondly, it’ll be a great challenge to your mental rigidity.

Saying yes means opening yourself up to new directions, suggestions, invitations, and even criticism from others. It’s true that it’s demanding, but it’s worth it.

This strategy will make you realize that occasionally straying from your usual path can be interesting. You might even find a surprising way of proceeding for the better that you decide to incorporate into your routine. For instance, a new route for traveling to work.

Friends talking on the street
Getting out of automatisms and routines is a way of training cognitive flexibility.

5. Read, travel, and talk

Getting in touch with other ways of thinking is the best way of acquiring greater psychological flexibility. In the first place, you establish this contact via conversation. Therefore, it’s worth occasionally talking with people who are outside of your closest circle. It’s even better if you apply active listening when doing so.

When you travel, you have the opportunity to meet people with different ideas and customs. Practicing empathy will not only make your journey more enjoyable, but it’ll also help you be more psychologically flexible. Reading also generates this effect, as long as you read widely and value the content of everything you read.

As you can see, training your psychological flexibility isn’t difficult at all. Quite the opposite. Indeed, with a certain amount of willpower, you can exercise your open-mindedness and take advantage of the flexibility derived from your ability to adapt. This means you’ll dilute the rigid ways of thinking that are preventing you from fully enjoying your journey through life.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Pastor, M. C., & Ruiz, J. D. E. (2012). Flexibilidad psicológica. Herramientas para una vida plena.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.