As babies we heavily relied on our innate mental and emotional flexibility. Birth alone already required us to quickly adjust to the dramatic changes of our environment and “life-style.” After nine months of free-floating in the cozy womb, the shock of suddenly having to deal with gravity, glaring lights and noisy people must have made many of us want to crawl right back into where we came from. And that was only the beginning. New experiences of hunger, cold, hard surfaces and full diapers didn’t help to make this new reality more inviting. Yet, even though we may have felt rather helpless and dependent on others, our mind didn’t just give up in the face of these huge obstacles – and our obvious limitation. Tirelessly computing and analyzing the massive amount of internal and external information, we quickly figured out that we can use our voice to get attention, that we can move and alter the position of our bodies just on our own, and that we aren’t just an extension of our mothers, but that we have our own, separate identity. All of these tremendous accomplishments are testimonies to the innate emotional and mental flexibility of our minds. But then somehow most of us loose touch with this powerful inner resource.
Entering into my thirties, I didn’t see the value in being flexible. Who needs flexibility when you have a clear plan? And I had my life figured out. I worked in a well-known cardiology department at the University of Munich and aimed on steadily climbing the career ladder all the way to eventually becoming a professor there. Since basic research was a requirement to advance in academia, I was about to spend the next two years in a post-doctoral fellowship at the Max-Planck Institute in Munich, which to be honest I didn’t particularly look forward to. But you do what you have to do, right?
Well, two unexpected events wrecked my well thought-out plans – and changed my life for good.
One night, after an especially stressful day in the hospital, I suddenly got yanked out of my sleep. Drenched in sweat, heart pounding, barely able to slow down my breathing, I heard from somewhere deep within a somewhat pleading voice asking me: “Are you sure you want to do this for the next 35 years?”
In that moment I realized that I had been so rigidly aiming towards my ambitions, that I had completely dismissed and suppressed any emotional awareness around whether I was truly pursuing the right path. The truth heals – and initially it can be hard to swallow. Despite my best efforts to dismiss this event as simply a sign that I was a bit stressed out and overworked, I couldn’t shake off the question on whether I was truly on the right track in my life.
Interestingly enough, a few weeks later, I received the news that my research position at the Max-Planck Institute was no longer available due to funding issues. From one day to the next my career had come to a screeching halt. I could neither go back to the hospital, since I was about to start my two-year research break, nor did I have anywhere else to go.
So I went with my best friend to one of Munich’s famous beer-gardens to commiserate with her. It was there, sitting under ancient chestnut trees, sipping sadly on my stein, that all of the sudden the flexible part of my mind kicked back in. “What about going to America?” – was the thought that bubbled up seemingly out of nowhere, placing itself dead-center into the forefront of my mind.
How about you? Do you consider your mind flexible or did it become rather rigid over the years? Since you may have not thought about this question until now, here are a few questions, which can give you an idea on whether your mind could use some “stretching” to gain its innate flexibility back:
Are you attached to your routines (how you get to work, where and what you eat, when and what you watch on TV, when you work out, what you wear…..)?
Do you get nervous or frustrated when things are not going to plan?
Are you afraid of trying out something new (because you may fail – or what others may think of you?)
Are you aware of your comfort zone – and does it tend to get smaller with the years?
Do you get easily bored?
Do you feel quickly overwhelmed when dealing with problems?
Do you resist life changes (aging, new job, kids growing-up, moving…)?
Do you have a strong sense of right and wrong – with not much room in the middle?
Were you ever told that you are judgmental or righteous?
Do you have a hard time forgiving others or letting go of the past?
Do you avoid taking risks?
If you agreed with more than 5 of these questions, chances are that your mind could use some stretching.
Listen to my interview on empowerment radio and learn how you can regain mental-emotional flexibility, so that you can shift more easily from problems to solutions, from boredom to creativity, and obstacles to opportunities.