Tips for Improving Cognitive and Emotional Flexibility

Estimated watch time: 5 mins 24 secs


Part of resilience is learning how to be flexible in your thoughts and emotions, particularly as you approach challenging or stressful situations.

This video guide encourages you to take a look at how you approach situations and how you react to stress. Understanding how to approach what you can and cannot change, as highlighted by the Serenity Prayer, is key to being resilient.

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Cognitive and Emotional Flexibility

In today’s lesson we are going to cover cognitive and emotional flexibility. That might sound a little daunting, but it’s not. Let’s take a look at a really good example.

Many of us, if not all of us, are familiar with the Serenity Prayer,
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This in and of itself and in it in a nutshell, is ‘Cognitive and emotional flexibility’.

Are you flexible? No, I’m not talking about physically flexible. Are you flexible about the way you look at things? Can you see others perspectives? Are you flexible how you approach different challenges or is there your way or the highway? When you react emotionally to stressful situations, do you react in a negative way? Are you reactive?

Let’s consider these things as we move forward.

So a resilient individual is able to overcome a life crisis. And here’s five ways that we can do that.

First of all, like the Serenity Prayer suggests, we accept what we cannot change. We do not have full control over anything except for ourselves. That’s it. So can we accept the things that we have no control over?

Choose our future. We can dwell on the past. We can be angry about things that happened in the past that will negatively affect our future. We’re allowing those experiences to rob us of the future that we could have.

Connect. Connecting with others. Connecting with people around us that can help us overcome a crisis. Maybe that’s in the form of a support group or a community group.

Set goals. Get moving. Look, things are not going to change unless we’re active in changing them. We can’t sit back and wait for everybody else to do the work for us. We need to be proactive.
And lastly, give back. It is a foundational activity that provides positive emotional results.

So accepting the situation, accepting what’s going on, even if it’s painful and frightening. It’s an important part of cognitive flexibility and sometimes it’s not just acknowledging what’s going on, but also accessing what can’t be changed. What can be changed? Is it out of our control? If it’s out of our control, then there’s really nothing we can do about it. And if we give it more of our time and attention, it is just going to rob us of our future. Maybe the goal that we have isn’t feasible, but perhaps at one point in time it was. But now where we are, it’s no longer feasible. Then it’s time to abandon that goal and redirect towards something that we’re able to accomplish. What can we change to make ourselves and our emotional flexibility more powerful?

“I get it.” “Just get over it.” “It isn’t an option.” Very often if we hear those words, it can make us pretty angry.

Let’s look at some cognitive reappraisal. This is what we’re doing when we’re looking at a traumatic situation or stressful situation and finding the positives. We’re going to find alternatives for the neutral or the negative events. Why? Because it helps us and helps us accept others for who they are. It helps us get a better sense of community. What’s going on around us. What we can do to help. It heightens our appreciation for the everyday. Maybe we are looking at the trees a little bit more. Maybe we’re hearing the kids play in the park.

It can renew our belief system of faith that we separated from for some reason. Essentially, if we’re using what we need to, our coping strategies will become more effective. That will help us increase our emotional strength and we can learn from these opportunities, as I like to call them, a negative or traumatic event.

Very often we identify a shift in our values or priorities. What was once really important isn’t really so important anymore. And maybe we turn more to family and friends than success and money. So cognitive reappraisal also has cognitive reappraisal of failure.

Resilience, being a resilient individual requires us to handle failure. This is something that we have to meet head on. We have to identify that failure is going to happen. And it’s OK because we’re human beings. But we’re going to meet it head on. We’re going to use it as an opportunity. We’re going to learn from it. And we’re going to become better because of it.

In the next lesson we will discuss facing fears.

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