What is Psychological Flexibility?

Psychological flexibility means “contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values”.

In everyday language, this means holding our own thoughts and emotions a bit more lightly, and acting on longer term values rather than short term impulses, thoughts and feelings.

Why?

Because thoughts and emotions tend to be unreliable indicators of long term value.  We have little control over them and they tend to ebb and flow – sometimes dramatically.  If we trust our thoughts and emotions and act based on them, we can often overlook the more important, sustained patterns of action which bring true meaning, vitality and richness to our lives.

It is for this reason that Kashdan and Rotterburg (2010) define psychological flexibility as the measure of how a person: (1) adapts to fluctuating situational demands, (2) reconfigures mental resources, (3) shifts perspective, and (4) balances competing desires, needs, and life domains. Thus, rather than focusing on specific content (within a person), definitions of psychological flexibility have to incorporate repeated transactions between people and their environmental contexts.

Psychological flexibility is currently measured by the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire (AAQ 2).  In a broad number of studies scores on the AAQ, indicating low psychological flexibility, have been found to predict the following:

  • Higher anxiety
  • More depression
  • More overall pathology
  • Poorer work performance
  • Inability to learn
  • Substance abuse
  • Lower quality of life
  • Depression
  • Alexithymia
  • Anxiety sensitivity
  • Long term disability
  • Worry

In other words ALMOST EVERYTHING!

You can read about how psychological flexibility is relevant to workplace performance here.

Kashdan, T., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health Clinical Psychology Review, 30 (7), 865-878 DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.001

12 Responses to What is Psychological Flexibility?

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  8. Scott Wright says:

    An interesting read and a good guide.

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