What do you think of when you hear the word “flexibly”? I don’t know about you but I think of gymnasts and dancers who seem to be relaxed and able to move into any number of graceful positions. I also think about contortionists who can bend, twist, and wiggle into the smallest of places. I also think about the pretzel—not the stick kind but the ones that resemble a figure eight. So how do these images reconcile themselves to the habit of “thinking flexibly”. For me it is the ability to be what Angeles Arrien refers to as being “open to outcome not attached to it.” When we have a preconceived idea about how something needs to work and how the steps should be ordered and the results that we should get, we limit our ability to think flexibly. We see things the way we would like them to be rather than the way they are we are not thinking flexibly. We have a preconceived notion about how things will be and that is what we see. There is an expression that goes this way, “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Either way you are right.” So being positive or negative is not the point of flexibility. The point of flexibility is to be open to what is going on, capturing the “current best thinking”, being willing to change your mind, and being nimble in your thought process as it twists and turns and takes you through a plethora of possible scenarios.
Thomas Edison is the perfect example of “thinking flexibly” to me. He had a goal—develop an electric light. He tried over 10,000 times to make this a reality. Each time he was unsuccessful, he thought flexibly and came up with another game plan and tried again. Thinking flexibly didn’t mean giving up on his desired outcome, it meant looking at the information in front of him and making adjustments as needed.
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