Become More Flexible

Being flexible doesn’t come naturally for many of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t practice stretching.

Can you do the splits? I can’t. And I’m not just talking about me as a grown-up.

I couldn’t as a kid, either. I was one of those girls who wasn’t naturally flexible or super athletic. Even my somersaults were a bit pathetic; just ask my elementary school PE teacher. Perhaps that’s one reason I gravitated toward pen and paper.

But I do know people who make the splits look easy. Maybe you’re one of them.

Either way, here’s what I’ve learned about most individuals who can do the splits: Learning to do them wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. The splits are only effortless for these people now because of hours and hours and hours of time, effort and uncomfortable stretching.

But it’s not just physical flexibility that requires time, effort and uncomfortable stretching. “The ability and willingness to adjust one’s thinking or behavior,” as Dictionary.com defines the word flexibility, does too.

3 reasons we might be inflexible

OK, so maybe you know someone born with a flexible personality or nature. They adjust. They adapt. They’re cool to be around because you’d never silently label them as “stubborn” or “difficult.” Maybe you are that person.

There will always be those individuals who fall into the Myers-Briggs or Enneagram personality types that tend to be more amenable. And let’s just say, they aren’t the more Type A personalities. Did I mention I’m more of a Type A personality?

Being flexible doesn’t come naturally for many of us. While I’ve grown in being more adaptable over the years, I still struggle with adjusting at a moment’s notice. My initial reaction to a new or unexpected change is often, “Um, no, thank you.” So, I can relate to Peter in the Gospels every time Jesus’ plan was different than his own. Let’s just say I’m sure there are times I’d have warranted a “Get behind me, Satan!” too.

So why do I, and perhaps you too, tend to be inflexible? Here are three main reasons I’ve noticed in myself and others.

1. We’re stuck in our ways. My husband Ted was 36 when we got married. So when I promised, “I do,” I figured there might be areas where he was stuck in his ways. Perhaps he had a “perfect” way of loading the dishwasher. (He didn’t.) Or maybe he’d insist I continue to take my shoes off at the door. (He did.) But despite my seemingly realistic expectations, what I didn’t anticipate was his bathroom towel territorialism.

Yep, you read that right. Ted was territorial with his shower towel.

After years of living with roommates whom he asked never to use or touch it, he was stuck in his ways. He wanted me — his brand-new wife — to follow the same bathroom etiquette. Now, it wasn’t like I wanted to use his towel. I liked having my own. But it was the “not even accidentally touching it” that got me. Weird, right?

But we don’t have to be single for a long time to be stuck in our ways. When I started grad school at age 22 and lived in student housing, I opted not to share an apartment. Why? Because I didn’t know anyone at school. I didn’t want to adapt to a stranger’s way of doing things. At 22, I was stuck in my ways.

2. We believe our way is the right way. No matter what side of the COVID vaccination argument you’re on (and this is certainly not meant to offer commentary on either side), there’s a chance you don’t want to date someone who believes differently than you do. If so, you’re not alone.

There are quite a few recent articles on how vaccination status affects dating. Several of them note how some online dating apps have added vaccination badges users can add to their profiles. One article even reported that “Dating.com said 86% of its users list the vaccine as a deal breaker — no shot, no date.”

A few years ago, vaccination status wasn’t on most people’s pro and con lists for potential mates. But today, whether someone is vaxxed or not — and the political views their decision may or may not point to — is becoming a place of inflexibility. There’s a lot of instant judgment of others based on one decision. Why? Well, because in our polarized society, many of us believe that our way is the right way.

A strong sense of being right isn’t limited to vaccination status, though. We see it also in our reaction to how a roommate thinks the kitchen should be organized or how clean the person we date keeps their car. And don’t even get me started on how someone else drives. Right now, Ted and I have an ongoing “discussion” about why I’m not using cruise control as much as he does.

3. We want to be in control. Over a decade ago, I started experiencing panic attacks. Each time one hit, I felt out of control. My heart raced and my chest tightened. Breathing became hard, and irrational fears tormented me. One of my responses was to control what I could. I’d sit down and take deep, slow breaths. What does this have to do with being inflexible?

I’ve found that many of us tend to be inflexible in one aspect of life when we feel out of control in other areas. It might be that there’s no control over marital status. Mr. or Miss Right simply hasn’t come along yet. Or perhaps there’s a demanding boss who gives no freedom at work. These situations can make us grasp for control anywhere else we can find it.

As a result, we become inflexible. We hold so tightly to control in the areas we can command that we’re unbending. Some people we know might even call us — gasp! — a control freak!

How inflexibility hurts us and others

Sometimes we’re unaware of how our inflexibility hurts others as well as ourselves. While I could give you a long list of ways, let’s just talk about two of them.

1. It shuts others down. The number one thing I’ve noticed is that when we’re inflexible, we tend to dismiss others’ thoughts or preferences. When we do this, it shuts others down. It devalues them and their input.

Remember how I mentioned that my initial response to a new or unexpected change is often no? Well, it took me almost 19 years of marriage to realize how this was hurting my relationship with Ted. My unwillingness to listen to and entertain his ideas was eating away at our ability to connect emotionally.

2. It stunts our personal growth. I don’t remember who said it first, but we’ve all heard that the only constant in life is change. But when we’re inflexible, we’re fighting against change. We’re refusing to adjust or adapt in certain areas of our lives. And when that happens, it stunts our personal growth. Because here’s the thing: Not all change is bad, right?

Just think, what might have happened if I’d decided to share an apartment in grad school? I may have made a lifelong friend. Or perhaps I’d have learned some new recipes, been introduced to a hobby I had yet to try, or even been better equipped to share a bathroom when I did marry.

When it’s OK to be inflexible

Now, for all of you “but what about …” readers, let me take just a moment to affirm that, yes, there are some things in life about which we should be unbending. For example, the fundamentals of our faith and the absolute truth that Jesus is who He says He is. He’s fully God and fully man, and He died on the cross as a sacrifice for us, rose from the grave and conquered death, and ascended into heaven where He intercedes on our behalf.

So, while I think it’s OK to date someone with a different opinion on vaccinations, they shouldn’t have a different stance on Jesus. Do they believe He was just a nice moral teacher whose disciples staged His resurrection? If so, be inflexible. Skip the missionary dating, and maybe don’t go out for a cup of coffee or a round of mini golf.

Flexibility takes practice

If you’re struggling to be flexible, there’s hope! You can do what those split- and somersault-capable people do: practice. Here are a couple ways to get started.

1. Listen. If you aren’t sure where you can be more flexible, listen to others. What areas do they want you to bend in? And consider that they may have stopped requesting because they know you aren’t flexible. You’ve shut them down one too many times. You may need to ask them directly how you can be more receptive to their thoughts and preferences.

2. Start small. Perhaps you’re too young to remember the movie “What About Bob?” (And maybe I’m dating myself by even mentioning it.) But if you have seen it, you may remember the phrase, “Baby steps.” In other words, start small. Be flexible in little things. As you do, you’ll build your flexibility muscles.

Go ahead and flex your flexibility!

For most of us, there comes the point in time when we’re probably too old to learn the actual splits. (I write that because I’ve hit that number. OK, maybe I hit it about a decade ago.) But age is never a disqualifier for learning to be more flexible.

So, go ahead and put some time, energy and uncomfortable stretching into becoming a person who adapts and adjusts. Your friends, family and coworkers will be thrilled.

Copyright 2022 Ashleigh Slater. All Rights Reserved.

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About the Author

Ashleigh Slater

Ashleigh Slater is the author of the books “Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard” and “Team Us: The Unifying Power of Grace, Commitment, and Cooperation in Marriage.” With over twenty years of writing experience and a master’s degree in communication, she loves to combine the power of a good story with practical application to encourage and inspire readers. Learn more at AshleighSlater.com or follow Ashleigh on Facebook. Ashleigh lives in Arizona with her husband, Ted, and four daughters.

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