Just like good physical health enables us to have more energy and vigor, having good mental health is also essential for maintaining our overall health and wellbeing, and to give us a sense of balance and perspective with which to approach our lives and our relationships, and all the demands and challenges that these necessarily involve.
In recent years there has been more widespread awareness on the importance of mental health for our overall wellbeing, as well as a growing interest in the wisdom of more “holistic” approaches to health, which include the whole body (the mental, physical and emotional) instead of just focusing on symptoms in isolation. Many of us have collectively made a shift in the realization that the mind and body are very much connected and that the health and wellbeing of one directly affects the other.
Sports commentators nowadays frequently talk about the “mental game” of an athlete and refer to their mental preparation as a crucial aspect for determining the outcome of a match or competition, and not just their physical fitness and stamina alone.
So it does seem that mind, and namely the “health” of one’s mind does in fact matter a great deal. If mental attitude is something that athletes and sportspeople can work on to improve their performance, then it seems that good mental health is in part (aside from individual hereditary and congenital factors) an aptitude and skill that we can all develop and learn to get better at to some degree, at least so that we can live our lives and meet its challenges more effectively and with more productive and manageable outcomes.
I first came across the term “psychological flexibility” a few years ago, and it’s about being able to change one’s perspective and attitude when feeling “stuck” in a limiting life situation. Just being willing to change our attitude and thoughts, and literally “change our mind” about something (or someone) is often the first step towards transformation. The Buddha taught that “we are what we think” and that “with our thoughts we make our world”. And in this sense I suppose the world that we each live in and inhabit on a daily basis, and through which we experience “our” reality, is really our minds. So optimizing mind health seems absolutely essential for improving quality of life.
It is certainly true that we’re not all born with the same life opportunities and life choices, or even with the same measure of health, but if we are all capable of thinking ourselves better, and also worse (unfortunately) from time to time, regardless of who we are, then it seems that gaining a better understanding of how our minds actually work and function more effectively and productively, would be a worthwhile lifelong Endeavour for maximizing our wellbeing.
It can be very difficult to accept that the way we see a situation is often simply down to our own personal interpretation of it, i.e. our “version” or “take” on life, rather than reality itself with a capital “R”. Psychological flexibility minimizes our “suffering” when we feel “imprisoned” by a certain situation, by allowing in one or more different perspectives. Seeing different viewpoints and learning to define our situation with more “neutral” words and fact-based information (rather than emotionally-colored opinions and judgments) can open up possibilities and stop us from coming back again and again to the same “fixed” conclusions that lead nowhere. By allowing and including different viewpoints and perspectives on our situation (which sadly means letting go of “only I know all there is to know about it and only I’m right”), allows change to come in.
If you approach psychological flexibility just as an exercise, knowing that you can always go back again to your original point of view if what you see from other perspectives doesn’t really help, then you have nothing to lose and it also gives you permission and freedom to temporarily look more openly at the situation you face, with a sort of scientific curiosity. By exploring different viewpoints you automatically become less attached and identified with your “own” limited and potentially limiting ways of seeing and interpreting, and this in itself can often mark the beginning of change. Change is always an ongoing process, not simply an instantaneous happening.
Psychological flexibility is simply a tool or technique for expanding our mental perspective and position, to literally “open our minds” to include a wider array of viewpoints and thus give us more space and possibility to move and grow, when that’s needed. Exercising a bit of psychological flexibility now and again seems like a win-win situation all round. Is there anything you can change your mind about today in order to start experiencing more freedom and wellbeing?