How to improve your flexibility and resilience


Have you ever wondered how to improve your flexibility? What does flexibility mean? I’m not just talking about physical flexibility but your emotional and cognitive flexibility too.

I believe you should work on building your flexibility and resilience before you really need them and here’s a good illustration of why.

Amy Purdy wanted to escape, see the world and create a life story of adventure.

When I heard the story of this remarkable young woman I felt the emotion well up inside me. I think you will too. But this is not only an inspirational story. It is also a lesson for life because it illustrates the power of flexibility and resilience.

Stick with the video to the end and I defy you not to feel the emotions welling up with pride felt in overcoming obstacles and achieving something great. Let me know what you think.

How to improve your flexibility: It’s what you do with it

I often tell clients that it is not what happens to you that matters it is what you do with it. What I mean by this is that you can rely on life to turn up issues, problems, blocks, barriers, limits and occasionally disasters. That is life! But what are you going to do with these life events when they happen to you?

When something bad happens it is a shock and sometimes it takes a while to recover from the initial shock. You will see that with Amy. After that what you do defines whether your life will be changed in a negative way or in a positive way.  You have an (often untapped) element of choice and control in how you respond any event.

The most beneficial response you can make to almost any event has within it flexibility and resilience. You may have heard me tell the story of the palm tree on the beach after a tidal wave has gone through. The palm is flexible and bends with the force of the water but springs back afterwards.



This image captures the two most important aspects of reacting as well as you can to life’s problems. Be flexible and bend with the force and then remember that you are the same no matter what happens. Nothing that happens to you can take away your personal value, self worth and power. These give you resilience.

Learn how to improve your flexibility and resilience: Flexibility exercises for men and women

Physical flexibility

Take exercise. Simple.


Emotional flexibility

Practice recognising that feelings are fleeting reactions to events and don’t always mean very much. Furthermore feelings are usually created by your interpretation of the meaning of something that has happened. Some of the time this interpretation is wrong, hence the emotion does not accurately reflect what has happened to you.  When we consider depression and anxiety we can see that interpretations are often wrong and unhelpful.

Cognitive flexibility

Make an effort to see the other person’s point of view, consider alternatives and learn to recognise that your response to any situation is only one of a number of possible responses you could make. This is always true but mostly goes unnoticed.

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The benefits of thinking about our ancestors

I have quite a number of family members who practice geneology; piecing together the detective story that makes up our individual family histories. I also know quite a few people who could not care less who their distant ancesters where, what they did or where they came from.

Yet our ancesters gave us our genetic heritage.

Who we can be is down to them.

And, the good news is that it seems they can continue to give to us.

The link below takes you to a short article that illustrates some of the valuable side effects from simply spending a little time (5 minutes) thinking about your ancestors. But let’s widen this viewpoint. I also consider that there are benefits from stretching our thinking beyond our ‘normal’ viewpoint.

This in my view could include thinking about other cultures. Which brings me to the logical point that we probably don’t have enough relationships with people from other countries.

Many mental health problems can be characterised by a narrowing of attention coupled with a cognitive bias. This leads to the potential for distortions and down right errors in our thought processes about the world; the wider world as well as our own small part of the globe.

Are we isolated and insular in our own country, and in our own internal lives? If so thinking about ancestors could be the answer.

The benefits of thinking about our ancestors

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Assume you have no will power

Bill Buckley and Dr David Purves at BBC Radio Berkshire

I had a quiet New Year’s Eve because I was booked to appear on the BBC radio on New Year’s morning. I talked about how to keep resolutions. Many of us make resolutions but only about 28% of us manage to keep them for more than about 30 days. Making a resolution is the same as making a goal and I am a fan of good goals.

So what is that makes goals and resolutions so hard to keep? Research carried out by Professor Riachard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire has shown that the way we go about making and then implimenting goals is the problem.

People who manage to keep goals go about things differently from those who do not manage to keep their goals. I have made the positive factors into a neat list of 5 do’s and the unhelpful factors into a list of 5 don’ts.

5 Do’s

1. Make a step by step plan
2. Tell others about your goals
3. Think about good things that will happen if you achieve your goals
4. Reward yourself for making progress towards your goals
5. Record progress in a journal

5 Don’ts

1. Motivate yourself by focusing on a role model
2. Think about bad things that will happen if you don’t achieve your goal
3. Try to suppress unhelpful thoughts (don’t think about food, drink or cigarettes)
4. Rely on will power
5. Fantasize how good life will be when you achieve your goal.

Your environment

Finally, what can you do to make the envrionment you live in work to your advantage. By environement I mean your work, home of leisure contexts and the places you spend time in.  Let me use the example of wanting to quit smoking. If you still go to the same places and do the same things while you are in the early stages of trying to quit then all of the habitual associations found in those places will work against you. Will you go to the same place you have your first cigarette of the day and expect to use only will power to overcome the cravings? If so you are setting things badly against yourself.

The enviroment captures associative strength from the behaviour you perform in that environment. Put simply, go someplace you always smoke and you will want to smoke more than if you go someplace you don’t smoke. The old places make you think about smoking and it makes it easier to have a cigarette even if you are committed to quitting. You have to change the places you go to help ease the burden of habit.

Eventually, you have to create new routines in new places where you spend time and where habits have NO SMOKING, HEALTH AND FITNESS as their associated message rather than the other way around. Keep your resolution always in mind. If it is important enough to be a resolution or a life goal then give yourself the best shot you can at realizing it.
Use all the tools at your disposal, that way you have a chance of not being the 78% of people who fall the first hurdle in the New Year’s Resolution stakes.

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