Mindset: Psychological Flexibility
Beliefs about life are mental models we hold about reality. We don’t distinguish between what we believe and what is real when beliefs become deeply ingrained without being challenged by contrary experiences. We communicate rigid, persistent demands about ourselves, others, and the world with words like “must” and “should,” characterized by awfulizing, inability to tolerate discomfort, and devaluing our competency. Examples of rigid beliefs are, “I must succeed or else I am a failure,” “Other people should respect me,” and “Things ought to be as I want them to be, or I cannot cope.”
Such rigid thinking increases stress, rumination, and anxiety; creates conflict and resentment toward others, and is linked to difficulty recovering from stressful events.
Every person has certain signature strengths. Still, most people are not truly aware of their strengths because they feel so ordinary to them that they don’t think of them as strengths, or their strengths blindness is culturally biased by significant others who mainly focus on a person’s weaknesses than on promoting strengths.
A person can enhance their strengths as well as develop new ones. However, if ignored, our strengths can atrophy as well.
Using strengths is linked to higher wellbeing. On the other hand, strengths estrangement leaves the individual alienated from their strengths. It is accompanied by unspecified unhappiness since one is not living following one’s core self.
Strengths allow us to be at our best selves. Tools to increase strengths awareness and develop and optimize them facilitate being at our best.
Beliefs about personal strengths
Your beliefs promote or hinder your strengths development. You might see your weaknesses, as opposed to strengths, as the greatest growth areas, causing you to focus primarily on deficits, hindering you from learning about strengths and using them optimally. Alternatively, you may believe that talking about and expressing your strength is showing off or boasting. Because we use our strengths automatically, we falsely assume there is nothing special about them, and everyone can do it. People also hold limiting beliefs about the malleability of their strengths, believing that their strengths are fixed and cannot be further developed and enhanced. Finally, sometimes people are jealous of or feel threatened by one’s strengths, consequently providing negative feedback. When such feedback is considered valid, people may believe one of their strengths is their weakness.
Uncovering false or misleading beliefs about your strengths and whether these beliefs limit how you express them daily is liberating.
Explore what your strengths mean to you, what it means to express them, and what would happen if you did. Uncover any false or unhelpful beliefs that negatively affect your happiness and wellbeing.
Select a personal strength. Think about one of your strengths by asking, “What is something I am naturally good at and enjoy about myself?” Write the strength you have chosen.
Uncover limiting beliefs about strengths. List all your beliefs that come to mind about strengths.
Consider the consequences of holding such limiting beliefs about your strengths. How do these beliefs influence how you use your strengths? What impact do these beliefs have on how you feel, behave, and talk to yourself when you use or consider using this strength? Does holding this belief serve you? Write as many positive and negative outcomes as possible.
Rewriting Rigid Rules About Living: Increasing Flexibility
Persistent, unreasonable demands about ourselves, others, and the world are not necessarily consistent with reality and can create problems. Many things in life are outside our control. Flexible beliefs help us adapt and cope with internal and external stressors, improve tolerance to uncertainty, increase self-efficacy, and benefit wellbeing.
Replacing demands with flexible preferences is as simple as thinking about what we prefer to happen instead of thinking about what must or should happen. For example, “I would prefer to do well and be liked, but I can tolerate if this does not happen.”
Recognize rigid “demand thinking” and replace it with more flexible “preference thinking.” Substitute absolutist automatic thoughts with rational alternatives and disengage from unrealistic expectations directed at self and others. Repeat this practice whenever you notice demand language that puts unreasonable pressure on you or you set standards concerning things outside your control.
As a first step toward forming flexible beliefs, identify rigid beliefs. Demands and expectations about yourself and others that focus on how things “should be” include words like must, never, should, ought to, cannot, and should not.
Now, think about such a rigid belief and write it down.
Next, reflect on your rigid belief. Think about the rigid belief you wrote in the previous step and repeat it silently to yourself so it is clear. Now, answer the following questions: How does this rigid belief make you feel? What demands are you making that you have no control over? In what ways does this belief set unrealistic expectations about yourself or others?
Replace the rigid belief with a flexible alternative. Think about how you might change demands into flexible preferences, what you would prefer instead of making demands. Consider flexible alternatives that entail your preferences and desires. So, how would you prefer things to be in this situation? Start with, “I would prefer …” or “I would like …”
Reflect on the flexible belief. Ask yourself: How does this flexible belief make you feel? In what ways does this belief set more realistic expectations for yourself or others? How does this belief give you more control in this situation?
General reflection: How was it to complete this exercise? What is the most valuable insight you gained? How did it feel to think about things in terms of preferences instead of demands? How did it feel to set more realistic expectations for yourself or others? How has this exercise changed your thoughts about yourself, others, and the world around you?
Increasing awareness of energizing activities
Activities that rely on one’s strengths are enjoyable and energizing psychologically, even if they make you physically tired. While high performance can result from strengths use and learned behavior, increased energy most often applies when using character strengths.
On the other hand, when weaknesses are used, they lead to feelings of negativity, disengagement, and lack of motivation. People perform weaknesses poorly and find them de-energizing or draining. When we use our strengths, we feel energized and engaged. Using daily reflection to analyze daily activities concerning energy levels increases awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses.
Exercise: Red and Green Activities
In this exercise, we call activities that rely on your strengths and provide you energy “green activites.” These are activities you genuinely enjoy doing, make you feel energized, make you forget time, you look forward to, and you can do well even under stress or fatigue.
Activities that rely on your weaknesses and deplete your energy are called “red activities.” These activities you do not like doing, make you feel depleted, seem to pass very slowly, you don’t look forward to, and require a lot of effort and self-control to do well.
Record your “green” and “red” moments daily for the upcoming week. Note separately for the green and red activities a brief description and indicate the energy levels. Use a scale to indicate enhanced or depleted energy: (-2) required a lot of energy, (-1) required some energy, (0) did not require energy but did not give energy either, (+1) gave me positive energy, (+2) gave me a lot of energy.
At the end of the week, examine the two tables you generated with your observation. Select the five activities that energize you most and list them in a table you might call “My Top 5 Green Activities.” These are the “Activities that make me feel most energized.” Next to these, note what strengths you may be using during each activity, “Strengths that I am using during these activities.”
Similarly, prepare a table of the five activities that depleted your energy, “My Top 5 Red Activities.” The first column is “Activities that make me feel most depleted,” and the second is “Strengths I lack during these activities.”
Evaluate what you have learned from this exercise. How can you use your strengths more often? How can you effectively deal with situations that deplete your energy? For instance, delegate your energy-draining areas to someone or reframe those tasks. Alternatively, marshal your strengths to build your energy ahead of time, so you have the baseline energy you need to get through an energy-draining task.
Strengths can be underused or overused, both leading to negative consequences. The purpose of regulating strengths is their contextually appropriate optimal use. At times, your honesty strength might need to be dialed down while your kindness strength is dialed up.
First, select a strength to reflect on. For example, choose a strength you wish to use more of or that you tend to underuse or overuse.
Think of an example of when you overplayed this strength. What did you do; what did overplaying this strength look like? And what were the consequences?
Imagine a volume knob with the lower end indicating “too little” use, the higher end “too much,” and the mid-range indicating “optimal” use. For the above example, where would you see the overuse situation correspond on the knob?
Now, consider an example of when you underplayed this strength. What did you do; what did underplaying this strength look like? What were the consequences?
On the imaginary volume knob, indicate the extent you were underusing your strength in this situation.
Finally, think of an example of when you used this strength optimally. What did you do; what did optimal use look like? What were the consequences? If you don’t have a concrete example of optimal use, imagine what such optimal use of this strength would look like and what you would expect the outcome to be.
On the volume dial, indicate the optimal use for this strength at this time.
Reflection: Do you tend to misuse this strength in your daily life? If so, is your tendency to overuse or underuse it? What triggers you to misuse this strength? What could you do to use this strength more optimally?
Flow is a psychological experience when one is fully immersed, absorbed, and energized during an activity. It is linked with intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, and time spent doing schoolwork for adolescents.
Increasing awareness of flow-states is achieved by keeping track of such experiences through daily recall of activities that caused flow, for example, at the end of the day. Recording characteristics of these activities over a period and then exploring ways to integrate these into other daily activities expands the ground for flow.
Flow characteristics include
Intrinsically rewarding activity.
Belief in potential success.
Immediate progress feedback.
A sense of personal control or agency.
A sense of deep focus and effortless involvement that makes other needs negligible.
Intense concentration and loss of self-consciousness.
No concern about others’ judgment.
Merging of action and awareness.
A sense of time distortion, either time slowing down or passing quickly.
Think of a time when you were completely absorbed and focused on what you were doing, when you felt positive and secure about your abilities and were not worried about failing.
Write about this experience. Write your thoughts, feelings, impressions, and actions. Alternatively, a coach might ask the participants the following questions in a guided discussion:
What was going on? When did you have this experience? Where were you?
Who were you with?
What was happening?
How or what did you feel?
How did the experience start?
How did you feel after the experience was over?
Evaluate the exercise. How did the exercise of recalling your flow-state feel?
Are there more examples of activities that you recognize as flow states? If so, what are these activities?
Do the examples you mentioned share a specific characteristic? For example, creativity may be involved in all or most of the examples. Or the activities are always carried out alone or with others.
Can you do these activities more often?
If so, what could be the first step to doing these activities more often?