Why Is Adaptability Important To Mental Health?

Louis Laves-Webb

October 31, 2022

Our worlds are dynamic, fluid, and perpetually in flux.  Limitations in mental creativity, adaptability, or an improvisational skill set can leave individuals clinging to perfectionism or “decision tree” type ways of navigating the world that ultimately perpetuate the problems they may be attempting to solve.  

Think of a soccer player for a moment, there’s no “decision tree type formula” to successfully navigate the pitch, but instead it requires an adequate level of multiple skill sets, the ability to read the situation, think on your feet, and adaptably make “in the moment” shifts as events unfold, change, or your assessment of the situation enhances.  

Now, think of a baseball player playing shortstop with one out, a runner on first and a ground ball hit his way.  Whether you’re playing little league ball or playing for the Yankees, there is only one play; get the ball and throw it to second base in hopes of getting a double play.  It’s not a question of improvisation, the only question is whether or not you will complete the task successfully.  

Both sports/analogies have their place and naturally mirror the sentiment of controlling what you can, not trying to control what you can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.

These two sports analogies are inherently the issue at hand.  In any given life situation it can be paramount to know if you’re playing “baseball” or “soccer”.  However, due to the nature of life, relationships, and developmental experiences more often than not, the game is soccer.

To this end it can be worthwhile to cultivate psychological creativity, adaptability, and flexibility so that it becomes more readily available when needed.  

What are the mental health consequences of being unable to accept change?

When individuals have some shortcomings in their ability to accept change or be more flexible it can readily devolve into excess rigidity, frustrations, and interpersonal conflict.  Often times, individuals that have a more challenging time accepting change or living dynamically will “look for” rules where there aren’t any and develop rigid constructs pertaining to ways in which to navigate experiences that seem out of their control.  This may work in the short term or with less significant forms of change, but ultimately this futile attempt at control can result in obsessions, rumination, depression, and despair when things don’t work out “according to plan”.  

What are some ways to accept change and improve adaptability?

The answer is simply practice “don’t know”.  You can use various techniques or strategies such as: taking an improve class, going to a party by yourself, painting free hand, or putting yourself in a new or uncomfortable situation. However, the “work” is simply to improvise.  Paradoxically, even the question of what are some ways to accept change inherently misses the mark.  The question might be better framed as what if there is no “formula” to answer the question of how do we accept change, what would you do?  What would that feel like?  How might you respond?  

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