Five short, simple tips to increase your mental and emotional agility.
With the 2017 World Series starting today, I started thinking about curveballs. Curveballs are often thrown in baseball, and they’re thrown all the time in life. Sometimes we see them coming, and sometimes they come out of nowhere, knocking us to the ground. Even professional baseballs players with years of training and experience are occasionally blindsided by these balls. However, unlike the agility and flexibility that comes with being a pro ball player, most of us never developed the skills needed to turn a curveball into a base hit, let alone a home run. Instead, we get hit by the ball. And then we become discouraged, angry, anxious or depressed, uncertain about what to do next and wondering why the balls thrown at us rarely come in right over home plate.
Let’s face it: Whether in the game of baseball or the game of life, curveballs are inevitable. Life is full of ups and downs and twists and turns. And while we can’t control everything that happens to or around us, we can cultivate agency over our own lives and choose how to respond to our feelings by developing skills that increase our psychological flexibility and emotional agility so that we have options on to effectively manage whatever comes our way.
One of my favorite writers, Susan David, wrote a great book that explores how to navigate life’s twists and turns—those pesky curveballs—with self-acceptance, clear-sightedness, and an open mind.
In Emotional Agility, and as discussed on her website, Dr. David shares four key concepts:
- Showing Up: Instead of ignoring difficult thoughts and emotions or overemphasizing ‘positive thinking,’ face into your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors willingly, with curiosity and kindness.
- Stepping Out: Detaching from, and observing your thoughts and emotions to see them for what they are—just thoughts, just emotions. Essentially, learning to see yourself as the chessboard, filled with possibilities, rather than as any one piece on the board, confined to certain preordained moves.
- Walking Your Why: Your core values provide the compass that keeps you moving in the right direction. Rather than being abstract ideas, these values are the true path to willpower, resilience, and effectiveness.
- Moving On: Small deliberate tweaks to your mindset, motivation, and habits – in ways that are infused with your values, can make a powerful difference in your life. The idea is to find the balance between challenge and competence so that you’re neither complacent nor overwhelmed. You’re excited, enthusiastic, invigorated.
I love Dr. David’s work because it is so in line with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which is my cornerstone approach when working with people in therapy and coaching clients. ACT is a unique, empirically-based approach to personal growth and healing that uses acceptance and mindfulness techniques with commitment and behavior strategies to increase psychological flexibility and agility. This work helps us figure out and accept where we are at a given moment, connect with what is most important to us on a deep level and take actions that are in alignment with our values, which helps us ignite change in our lives.
In being mindful and developing an increased awareness about ourselves and any situation at hand, we also become more able to recognize the stories that we’re telling ourselves. So many of us go around “should-ing” and “can’t-ing” all over ourselves—especially when we’re thrown off our game. We might tell ourselves that we don’t have the internal or external resources needed to overcome challenges. It might be that we haven’t taken the time to slow down long enough to take a realistic appraisal of where we are. We listen to the stories created in our minds rather than draw from all of our senses. We let the curveball throw us off, telling ourselves stories—an often untrue or unrealistic ones—about our limitations, what we can’t or should do and that overcoming challenges is impossible.
Five Short and Simple Tips for Fielding the Curveballs in Your Life
In order to field the curveballs in our lives, we can develop and practice agility and flexibility in our whole being—mind, body, spirit— and in the different aspects of our lives. We can learn how to trust our senses and what our bodies are telling us. No more than we can think our way into catching, hitting or avoiding a ball in baseball, we are unable to use just our minds to get us through challenges and stay on a path that is heading toward where we want to go. We can learn to respond on multiple levels by using all of the information available to us through our whole being.
When thrown a curveball in life, the following simple five tips can help you ACT rather than just try to think your way around, out of or avoid a challenge.
1. Accept where you are at in the moment.
2. Explore and label the stories: should’s and can’t, must and have to, that your mind has created.
3. Connect with your innate values and figure out what it is that you need to do to be in alignment with what is important and meaningful to you.
4. Take the time to slow down and reframe your perspective. Look from all sides.
5. Take committed action that is in alignment with your values and goals.
Just like anything else worth doing in life, the above tips are designed to help you increase your psychological agility. It will take practice, perseverance, and persistence. But, with acceptance of where you are today and a commitment to take action to get to where you want to go tomorrow, anything becomes possible.
Today is the World Series of Your Life
The men playing in the kickoff game of tonight’s World Series didn’t get where they are by simply thinking their way there. They decided that playing pro ball was important to them and that is was a possibility. They took committed actions that aligned with their values and goals; they worked with coaches; and then they practiced, practiced, practiced. They trusted their guts and learned from the curveballs of the game—and of their lives—ways to increase their skills, strengths, agility, and flexibility. And, tonight’s game is a demonstration of the rewards of their chosen actions.
Where in your life could you use more flexibility and agility? What goals have you—or would you like to—set for yourself? What are the curveballs that seem to keep getting in your way? What is it that makes overcoming challenges—even seemingly simple ones—so hard for you?
If you feel unsure or overwhelmed by even thinking about what you can do to gain more clarity, flexibility, and agility in your life, working with a life coach can help. I offer customized Getting Unstuck Coaching, which can help you clarify your values, set and achieve meaningful goals and live a truly fulfilling and directed life.