The Flexibility Factor

Leslie Rhode trying to reach down and touch her toes.

I have a long way to go!

In my years of dance lessons and gym classes I have dreamed of being able to stand tall, reach down and touch my toes with my nose against my knees. My hamstrings have never allowed for that reality despite my stretching attempts. Researchers say if you practice anything for 10,000 hours you can become an expert at it, but I’m not ready to put that to the test when it comes to physical flexibility.

Then there’s mental flexibility or cognitive flexibility. Simply defined, it’s the ability to switch from one task to another or consider multiple thoughts at once. We all have troubles with this one from time to time. I know I have. I have watched my children learn to be more mentally flexible as they’ve matured. (Remember the temper tantrums in the grocery store? That’s often a child who is not mentally flexible!) Cognitive flexibility is a big challenge for my son who has had tough time transitioning from one project to another, especially at school. He also gets “stuck” on a thought or idea and struggles to move beyond it. Kids really have to practice stretching their brains to become good at it just like that hamstring stretch I mentioned earlier. Than as we age we have to keep stretching our brains to hang on to that mental flexibility. There’s an entire industry devoted to video games and exercises designed to keep senior citizens’ brains flexible.

Here’s where I’m going with this. I realize how important physical flexibility is to my overall health and how valuable mental flexibility is in my ability to function and learn, but let’s not forget about what I’ll call “life flexibility.” It’s the ability to accept plans B,C and D when plan A doesn’t work. It’s the willingness to stretch your skills in places they’ve never been challenged. It’s facing the fear of giving up what you know to jump into unchartered territory. Yes, I’ve been there. It’s not always comfortable.   It can be invigorating thinking about new adventures you may explore, but let’s face it – sometimes it stinks.

Maybe we should all practice stretching our life flexibility a little more. That way, we’re ready when the unexpected stretch comes along. My hope is to continually challenge myself to learn new things or try things I know I’m not an expert in, so I remind myself of the need to stretch. That’s one of the reasons I started this website. This is way out of my comfort zone. The confidence gained by tackling a task you know is difficult for you is a different kind of confidence you build by practicing a skill that comes naturally.

So what do you say? Let’s all stretch ourselves a little more and not get too comfortable in one role in life. Let’s teach our children to stretch themselves too. I don’t mean push them to do ten clubs and activities at one time. Maybe they try something new every year. They may learn they have an undiscovered talent or gift. They may even stretch us a little along the way.