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Inflexibility can be “kryptonite” for your career or business – and it isn’t much good for your relationships either. Here’s some smart ways not to get bent out of shape.

Ever wondered why some people can bend like bamboo while others are as intransigent as the sturdiest oak?

Why is it some that people can float nicely with the tide, while others rigidly stick to the “my way or the highway” motto?  

And why do some businesses thrive in uncertain times while others falter and flop?

“The ability to be flexible in your thinking can bring untold advantage to your working life and personal relationships,” says Dr Rosina McAlpine, Life Coach, author and Associate Professor at The University of Sydney Business School. 

Here are her top tips to stretch your mental mindset. 

Recognise the warning words

“People who are inflexible often tend to think in a very black and white way,” says Dr McAlpine.

“They may use strong negative words like always, never, impossible, disastrous. They tend to be very absolute in their thinking, a practice known as all-or-nothing thinking.”

This extreme behaviour is at least partially to blame on our ancestors; a throwback to primitive responses when we had to make the snap decision to fight or flee when faced with a life-threatening situation.

In the modern world though we don’t have bisons to fight and this extreme reaction isn’t usually necessary.

So what can you do if your cavewoman (or man) gets the better of you? 

“Take a step back, think calmly and deliberately try to think of middle-ground situations – rather than absolutes,” says Dr McAlpine. 

“Think ‘grey’ instead of ‘black and white’, ‘sometimes’ instead of ‘always’, ‘well-seasoned’ instead of ‘old’ and ‘manageable hiccup’ instead of ‘life-changing catastrophe’”.

“In business too, don’t rely on strategies or words that focus solely on the known and familiar. This can render firms inflexible and place them in danger of extinction. Out of the box thinking and being curious leads to innovation.”

Stretch your thinking …like a scientist

Scientific experiments are usually a series of failed attempts, each failure offering some new piece of information; a piece to the puzzle which can lead to greater success.

So instead of fearing your failures, use information from past defeats to stretch your thinking to take a new direction.

“Ask yourself would it really hurt to look at this from another perspective? And could it even help?” says Dr McAlpine.

“As Thomas Edison said when you have exhausted all the possibilities – remember you haven’t.”

Up your tolerance quota

“Highly adaptable people make a practice of being tolerant, resilient and self-correcting,” says Dr McAlpine.

Next time you feel inflexibility creep into your thoughts, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I being simply competitive rather than visionary?
  • Could I be more tolerant or more approachable on this issue?
  • Am I basing too many decisions on planning without the ability to change the goalposts?
  • Can I do it differently? With more creativity?

After all, in the words of Einstein, another famously flexible genius:  “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.”

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