Honestly, is it that hard to relax, shift gears and roll with the punches? Umm. Yeah; sometimes it is. And a job search or career issue can yield quite a few blows. Sometimes you feel down for the count. If you’re feeling rigid against life’s hits, here are some ways to loosen up and move with grace when you’re not in your comfort zone.
Why is it so hard?
I’m not sure about you, but I take great comfort in familiarity; so do many of my clients, according to what they tell me. This can be good. Routines and thinking in habitual ways saves time and energy; and is often efficient. But we sometimes get caught in what one expert in psychological flexibility calls “psychological stuckness.” And that’s not good, because it can stop you from moving forward in other, more productive or impactful ways. My client Jean had trouble getting unstuck when it came to embracing social media. In today’s world, this doesn’t serve the job seeker well. Mark almost turned down an offer (which was by the way, a perfect fit) because it was 25 miles farther than he had on his “wish list” for target companies.
Loosen your hold
Sometimes inflexibility stems from the fear of failing, being hurt or not being in control. The latter was very familiar to my client Julianna, a 40ish project manager and married mom of two. “I’m a Type-A-Perfectionist,” she told me. “I admit that sometimes I won’t do something because it might not be perfect.” Julianna’s epiphany came this winter when friends asked her to go cross-country skiing. She strongly resisted, thinking she’d fall, be cold and be bored out in the winter woods. Her friends didn’t let her off the hook. “Jul, it’s an hour or so of your life, for heaven’s sake!” So, she went. And had a great time! She said she hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. She also felt great about the exercise benefits. “That ah-hah moment made me realize that flexibility is important,” Julianna told me. “I try to work it into other parts of my life. And when my husband, Patrick recently lost his job, my new attitude made a big difference in how I responded and supported him.” Julianna had connected flexibility to being much about acceptance.
I’ve heard story after story from clients where their inflexibility – or someone else’s – caused problems in getting things done or moving forward. What I found most interesting, was that it also did a number on the unbendable individual’s self-esteem. One of my long-time clients, Sherri, was sent reeling recently. A nose-to-the-grindstone woman who had worked hard to get to a Senior Vice President role she loved. She had done “all the right stuff” – or so she thought. Got an MBA and other credentials. Worked long hours. Volunteered for extra committees. Hired a nanny to help with her two children. So, when she lost her job, victim to a major acquisition and restructuring, she was angry. Then, she allowed herself to let go. There were no bad guys here. She did nothing wrong. “They took over and didn’t need all of us. It really was just business.” In fact, Sherri gained major traction in letting go. “Now, when things aren’t going the way I hoped they would, I don’t stress like I used to. I go to a quiet place and meditate. Or at least breathe deeply, close my eyes, and give it up.”
Sherri decided to try real estate. And ironically, her new attitude enhanced her job security with the new employer. They remarked that they liked her flexibility. They had noticed she handled uncertainty well. And that was a good thing. She soon learned why. “You had better be flexible in real estate, or find another job,” she told me. “A client may or may not show up. Interest rates fluctuate. You have no control. I plan my day in pencil with several erasers by my side,” she joked. I thought it very cool that she transferred this new found talent for letting go, to helping her clients. “I tell them that when we sign the contract, we can do a little happy dance. We save the big dance for after the closing!”
Try to stretch
I believe that although we probably can’t force our personalities to change overnight, we can train ourselves to be more accepting and accommodating. If you want to loosen up, one of the best ways is to put yourself in a situation where you have to be flexible. Back to that psychological stuckness. A new challenge, though painful to take on, can help unlock your mental flexibility. Have you noticed that those people who are generally very rigid, have body language to match? Tensed up. Breathing shallow. Short choppy movements when under stress. One of the exercises I find helpful to clients is to help change their perspective about something by imagining themselves to be someone they think is physically flexible. Top picks have been Madonna and Derek Hough, the dance pro on Dancing with the Stars. I ask them to show me how that person walks and what gestures they use. Then I’ll ask them, “How would that person deal with the ___ issue that is challenging you?” Clients often laugh at this point. But they loosen up! The act of forcing themselves to physically act as a different person helps them reframe their problems and come up with new solutions.
Being more open-minded and flexible is not synonymous with ignoring your values or morals; it’s not being a pushover. But it does mean training yourself to engage with life as it comes. Living in the moment rather than focusing on wishful do-overs of the past or fear of the future. The good news is, that anyone can learn this at any age. My husband and I recently moved from the north woods to the metro area. I was honestly terrified of driving here. Always someone on my tail or aggressively weaving in and out. Streets seemed like mazes. After just three weeks of putting myself out there, it’s a piece of cake. I’m in the hood. I get it. The ability to change is just another muscle. One that needs regular exercise!