There are two primary types of thought: Rigid and flexible. Rigid thinking means you’re stuck in a specific thought pattern, unable to see alternative choices. Rigid thinkers may struggle with problem solving and even personal relationships. These are the individuals who are “always right” and stuck in a routine. They are only able to see one path and that is the path they are on.
This is simply a different way the cognitive function has developed.
Flexible thinking is often referred to as cognitive flexibility. This means an individual is able to adapt to new thinking patterns. These individuals often see more than one solution to any presented problem. They are able to stop what they were doing and pick up a new task with little to no thought about the transition. Flexible thinking means that an individual can see from multiple points of view, instead of maintaining a narrow vision.
Those with flexible thinking are also:
- Able to quickly process new information
- Good at reasoning
- Good at problem-solving
- Able to break down elements
- Able to recognize solutions quickly
- More focused
- Able to work around sudden changes
- Able to follow thought trains
- Have a better memory
- Have better self-control
- Understand other people
- Able to maintain healthy relationships
- Prone to fewer conflicts
- Able to cope with feelings of frustration
- Less stressed, in general
- More aware of surroundings and themselves
- Well adjusted
Throughout development, there are a variety of tests that can be done to test cognitive flexibility. These tests include the A-to-B test and the Card Sorting test. These are often given to children to test their adaptability. Adults can be tested through every day struggles and how well they handle change.
Flexible thinking is essentially measured by three abilities:
- The ability to transition between two or more tasks or disengage from a previous thought.
- The ability to update beliefs based on new information and develop an appropriate response.
- The ability to consider multiple elements of a single observation (problem/situation) and use the new response on the new situation.
These abilities are seen in flexible thinkers and are absent in rigid thinkers. As such, rigid thinkers are often stuck with the inability to process new information. This actually makes it hard to cope with uncontrollable situations, like moving or losing a job. Rigid thinkers tend to stress about events like this, which can cause a decrease in overall health. Flexible thinkers are able to problem-solve and come up with an adaptive solution to these same problems, which means they are generally healthier.
Boost Your Skills & Become A Flexible Thinker
After reading the benefits of flexible thinking, you’re probably eager to unlock that part of your brain. It’s not going to be easy at first! You’ve likely been stuck in a rigid thinking pattern for so long that a new method of thought will be intimidating. This is exactly why too many people get stuck in the same thought patterns. Learning to be a flexible thinker is tricky, but it’s not impossible. The methods outlined below should be a good starting point for you.
Start with your diet.
Step one to adapting a new mode of thinking is to get your diet on track. This means eating healthy and cutting out foods that are overly processed. For many, it’s convenient to eat fast food or processed food. However, opt for quick, but healthy, snacks instead. You can keep vegetables around to snack on or make your own smoothies in under a minute! All you need is a good blender to get on the right track. You may want to add supplements to your diet if you’re missing essential nutrients.
Get a proper night’s rest.
Sleep is important because it lets your mind reset and prepare for the next day. If you’re not sleeping right, then your brain isn’t working right. You need your brain to be on the same page as you in order to adapt your thinking. If you struggle with insomnia, try a herbal remedy to go to sleep at night. Try and get to bed at the same time every night so that you’re getting the optimal amount of rest. This will help you to wake up feeling invigorated and ready to face the day. A nice change from typically waking up exhausted and ready to go back to bed.
Exercise gets your blood pumping which helps deliver oxygen to your brain. This boosts your cognitive abilities and can help you think clearly. This is a big part of adapting a new thinking pattern. After all, without the ability to think, how are you going to think? It’s confusing, right? Well that’s how your brain feels when you’re not getting the right amount of nutrients, sleep or exercise!
Mindfulness and meditation.
These techniques are ideal for learning where your thoughts come from. Meditation helps to clear your mind and give you the room to focus. Mindfulness teaches to see your thoughts and not focus on any particular one. You simply observe and learn.
Read and write.
These activities spark creativity and also help to adapt new thinking patterns. You can choose anything to read, but the newspaper won’t help. You should opt for creative writing, like poetry or fictional stories. You can also choose to read humorous anecdotes. If you really want to challenge yourself, try writing some of your own!
It’s all fun and games until… Actually, it’s just about the fun and games! One of the best ways to challenge your thinking is to take any ordinary object and find alternative uses for the object. You should aim to find at least 3, but see how many you can come up with! This will help you to see the different uses that might exist and allow you to see from a different perspective altogether.
Change your routine.
Human beings are creatures of habit. As such, it’s easy to become engulfed by our routines. Part of learning to be a flexible thinker is learning to step outside of that routine. You should start with a small change at first. Introduce new changes as you feel comfortable. Keep challenging yourself.