Life is a long series of small and big choices, from the minor ones like what we eat for dinner to the big life-changing cross-roads, like career path, choice of life partner and deciding where to settle. As humans, we are creatures of habit, and it is hard-coded in our genes to create patterns and repeat actions that have proven to previously work well.
I have written in a previous blog post “Your habits: from narrow forest path to expressway” how our brains all the time work with patterns.
If we were constantly encountering the same situations, this might have been an optimal strategy in all situations. But this is not how life is. Instead, life constantly exposes us to new tests and new challenges. If we then have limited our actions to a single way of responding, we would be like a boxer who only knows how to do left jabs and constantly attacks in exactly the same predictable way. It goes without saying that he would be very easy to defeat.
It’s the same way in real life. Instead of being the boxer with limited abilities, we should instead strive to become masters of martial arts, a fighter with flexibility and versatility. He or she has become proficient in a variety of tactics and strategies, although some remain favourites that eventually develop into perfection.
But it’s not enough to master the different techniques, it’s just as important to be flexible. What separates the champion from the amateur is the ability to constantly see the situation just as it takes place in the present and choose the best way to act in that specific situation. Sometimes this may be offensive to move forward, but sometimes it may be better to duck for the hits and take a step backward and wait for the right moment to strike.
This is not easy. To see the real-world situation requires us to take ourselves outside of our prejudices, and watching the world with a non-judgmental curiosity without any preconceived view, that is to be mindful.
It also requires being empathetic with the ability to understand how people around us think and react. This of course applies to the persons closest around us. An open, perceiving and present attitude, strengthens the ties to the people who matter most to us, but the ability to observe and understand is of equal importance regarding our opponents. The good diplomat knows that the most important thing in a negotiation is to understand not only what the opponent wants to achieve, but also his values and what drives him.
Being flexible in life is not an ability we are naturally born with, but a conscious life-choice and something that needs to be trained and integrated into our lives, the same way as the karate master must continue to practice every day to keep on top.
We need to train our conscious awareness – to see without judging. But we must also constantly challenge our habits, choose new ways to drive home from work, read books by new authors and on new topics, travel to get new experiences and be curious and listen instead of talking when we meet new people.
Life is a great adventure that constantly offers a stream of new opportunities that constantly pass by us. Flexibility means noting these opportunities and catching them on the fly, seeing the new roads and have the courage to climb the mountain in front of us instead of turning around. Take a chance and see what’s happening. If the outcome does not suit you, then choose another direction. But this way of living does not mean to always choose the new road. That would not have been particularly flexible.