Careful planning is important in reaching our goals – whether in your personal development, in your career, improving your finances, starting a new business, or getting physically fit.
You can’t plan everything. Sometimes things do not go completely to plan, and you have to face “surprises”. It is best to be as prepared as possible and to keep the plan flexible, so that when surprises appear you can more easily adapt to them.
Whilst keeping your mind open you may seize opportunities out there that you couldn’t have foreseen at the planning stage. In the instance where new opportunities seem as though they might get us to our goal faster, a question will arise – should I take this opportunity? And, most importantly – is it worth the risk?
I’m talking about the opportunities that come up suddenly and unexpectedly, in which you have a limited time to make a decision, and the outcome seems to be really rewarding. To spot and take advantage of situations like this, there are two key questions you need to ask yourself – how to seize the opportunity, and how to know whether it is worth taking the risk.
3 steps to be psychologically more flexible
To start with, in order to see available opportunities or additional and unused resources, one needs to be psychologically flexible. That means keeping your mind a bit more open, acting on longer-term values rather than on impulse.
Kashdan and Rotterburg (2010) define psychological flexibility as the measure of how a person:
(1) adapts to fluctuating situational demands
(2) reconfigures mental resources
(3) shifts perspective, and
(4) balances competing desires, needs, and life domains.
Thus, rather than focusing on specific content (within a person), definitions of psychological flexibility have to incorporate repeated transactions between people and their environmental contexts.
Psychological flexibility is a relatively new field, which started in the late 80s. The concept is used widely in psychotherapy, because (and this is the good news for us) it is something you can practice and get better at.
Here are 3 steps to be psychologically more flexible:
Accepting negative emotions and experiences, rather than trying to control or eliminate them, is a healthier way to approach the complexities of human life and establish a good foundation from which to make better decisions.
A curious mind-set allows you to observe your negative reactions without judgment and enables you to see what you can learn from them. Curiosity engages your sense of logic and inhibits emotional “gut” reactions, allowing you to learn from these situations and identify intelligent next steps that can lead you towards your goals.
Once your mind is freed from the exhausting struggle that comes from resisting or stressing about emotional states, it is easier to commit to the right actions or behaviours that will lead you towards the things that you value most
It is interesting to note that these ideas appear, in one form or another, in many places; from the teachings of Buddha, to the writing of Descartes (Third Discourse).
How to make decisions in a limited time-frame?
When we make quick decisions, we tend to make them in a state of uncertainty, as we don’t have enough time to evaluate all the pros and cons – and we can’t be sure of all likely outcomes.
Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes in his recent best-seller “Thinking Fast and Slow” that we are constantly coming to conclusions about our situations and we are usually wrong, because we are hard-wired this way. He explains that this is because of our antipathy toward effort.
“It’s not necessarily that we don’t like to work, but when there are two ways of doing the same thing; one easy, one hard, we naturally gravitate to the easy way, that’s the right answer,” he says. “So the bias toward finding the easy way means that sometimes we pick the easy way and we get to the wrong answer.”
Kahneman suggests strengthening our decision-making skills by monitoring our decisions. “If every time that you come to an important decision you map out the inputs, you’ll better see the incompleteness in the story that you are telling yourself.”
Also, we need to be aware that we’ll bring all sorts of unexamined assumptions into any situation. “We need to apply an open, innovative mind in examining our blind spots; it is the start of designed thinking.”
Image credit: Shutterstock