The Power of Cognitive Flexibility

  • Oct 06, 2023
Do you remember the first few weeks of the pandemic? Do you remember how chaotic things suddenly became? How differently each family or even each individual in one family reacted to the forced restrictions?  Some went into denial, some were frustrated, some were paranoid and a few were able to adjust to the changes that were thrusted upon them. Why did we see such a huge spectrum of behaviour patterns? Why did individuals in the same family have completely different reactions to the exact same situation? This is a classic example of cognitive flexibility! 
Cognitive flexibility plays a vital role in various areas of life, including education, work, relationships, and adjusting to new environments. It is especially relevant in situations that require adapting to changes, dealing with uncertainty, and finding innovative solutions to complex problems. We use this mental ability in our day-to-day life quite regularly.
Look at the situations given below
  • When we travel to a new place, we adjust to the surroundings. We try to look at the map to understand how to navigate this new place.
  • When we go from home to work, our tasks, responsibilities, expectations , everything changes and we adapt to the change.
  • At work when we are interacting with colleagues and trying to find a solution, we listen to various perspectives. We analyse the possibilities and come to the best possible solution.
  • When a student is in the school, there is a constant change happening all through the day in terms of subjects, skills and activities.
In every single situation mentioned above we are using cognitive flexibility to adapt to the new environment, switch between the tasks, brainstorm, learn something new and create out-of-the box solutions.
Since this ability gets used so frequently by pretty much everyone, imagine what will happen to a person who does not have cognitive flexibility? That person may struggle to adjust to new situations, environments, or changes in their personal and professional life. This leads to resistance which leads to increased stress levels.He/she may not be able to take in another person’s point of view leading to conflicts, friction and unhappiness in their lives.In many cases, cognitive inflexibility leads to emotional rigidity where the individuals face difficulties in managing stress, coping with setbacks, or effectively navigating emotional challenges.
There are numerous factors that can influence cognitive flexibility, including genetics, environment, and individual experiences.While it is important to consider that cognitive abilities can vary among individuals, it is equally important to understand that cognitive flexibility can be developed and strengthened through practice and intentional efforts.
Here are some simple strategies that can help -
Embrace novelty - Consciously Engage in new experiences, activities, and challenges that expose you to different perspectives, ideas, and ways of thinking
Switch Up Routines: Intentionally introduce variety and change into your daily routines. This can include trying different routes to work, changing your exercise routine, or rearranging your workspace. Small changes can help break mental habits and foster cognitive flexibility.
Learn from Mistakes: Embrace a growth mindset and view mistakes as learning opportunities. Analyze your mistakes and setbacks, consider alternative approaches or solutions, and adapt your strategies accordingly. This cultivates a flexible and adaptive mindset.
Engage in Brain-Stimulating Activities: Engage in activities that challenge your cognitive processes and require flexible thinking, such as puzzles, brain games, crosswords, or learning a new language. These activities promote cognitive flexibility by exercising your mental abilities and encouraging novel thinking.

Remember, building cognitive flexibility takes time and consistent effort. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small successes along the way. With practice and the right strategies, you can enhance your cognitive flexibility and develop a more adaptable and open-minded mindset.

Contributed by

Deepti Thakar

Mental Health Practitioner, Carpediem EdPsych Consultancy LLP

Carpediem would like to acknowledge the use of photo by Neotam on Pixabay


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