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 and goals rather than short term impulses, thoughts and feelings.


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


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
Please feel free to suggest changes to this page – contact Rob Archer via The Career Psychologist

67 thoughts on “What is Psychological Flexibility?

  1. What is “meaning, vitality, and richness”? Aren’t these also merely thoughts & feelings, and therefore not to be taken seriously?
    Why should we care about anything? Love is just a feeling—it will pass with little consequence if we don’t act on it. Same with tenderness and joy…just wait and they will pass with time. Nothing we feel nor think is important or should be given any importance.

    1. Maybe you are right. But it is a fact that many of those thoughts stop us from living the lifes we want.
      That is problably what they mean with those words.
      Tô wait for these feelings to pass, is to wait for life to end.

  2. Good informative article! Currently working on some ACT projects with a research group and the idea of Psychological flexibility is key to ACT

  3. Really interesting article! Learning to act on long-term values rather than short-term impulses is definitely something I am trying to work on.

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