It often seems that the more stress we are under the harder it is to be flexible. We get attached to one track of thinking. It’s really hard to stop and examine the options.
One solution is to prepare in advance. A good baseball player is supposed to think before each play about the possibilities, to think, “Based on the current situation, if this happens, then I will do this. If the ball is hit to me, then I will throw it to third base because there’s a person on second. If the ball is hit to right field, I will back up the third baseman for when the throw comes in,” etc. etc. Watch a professional baseball game and you will see that everyone moves as soon as the ball is hit because they know that if they’re not catching the ball they’re supposed to be doing something else.
A casual ball player assumes they will know what to do when the play starts and so they are often either not in the right place at the right time or have to hesitate when they get the ball because they’re not sure what to do. This is one of the reasons why a pickup softball game has a lot more errors and running around and is usually higher scoring than a professional game. When things are moving fast it’s hard to stop, assess, and make a reasoned choice.
How can we apply this lesson in daily life? Well, maybe if we know that a certain person always reacts to new ideas with push back, we can be prepared to wait while they process it and then approach them again in a couple of days. I once had a boss who would say no to my ideas and then a month later say, hey why don’t we do this, as if it was his idea. I knew it wasn’t intentional; he didn’t remember that I suggested it first. He just needed to work his way around to it. If I got my ego out of the way, I could see that if we got there in the end it didn’t matter how.
Of course, we can’t always be prepared for every eventuality. So what else can we do to be better able to handle the curveballs?
I find my thought processes are most rigid when I am very attached to either the way that I am doing something or my expectation of the outcome. Like the person on the train track who is so stuck on the idea that the only way off the tracks is in the car.
I used to have a really hard time changing plans. Once my thoughts were moving in one direction it was really hard to change them. On one occasion a friend asked me to join them for dinner after work. I had already made plans to stay home and take care of a few chores. I was so committed to my plan that I hesitated for a really long time before answering and gave the impression that I didn’t really want to go. In fact, I was trying to decide how important it was to stick to my original plan. Finally, I did go and have a good time, and the chores got done eventually.
I’m better about this sort of thing now. For one thing, I’ve learned that it’s ok to say I had plans and I need a few minutes to think about it. I have also worked hard on not being so attached to my preconceived ideas.
The person with the stalled car on the train track is in trouble because they are so stuck on the idea that they arrived there in the car and the only way out is in the car. Other solutions include getting out of the car and running away; getting out of the car and pushing it; and getting out of the car and asking for help.
Expectations, attachment, judgement: these are the enemies of flexibility. Acceptance, preparation, and humility are some traits we can cultivate to more us towards less stress and more joy as we move through life’s challenges.