Adaptability, or the ability to adjust to a variety of different circumstances, isn’t necessarily the sexiest of traits. But experts say it is essential to enjoying a happy, satisfying life, reports Huffington Post
“We constantly meet psychological challenges. Some of us succumb, we feel hopeless, disempowered, give up and some meet challenges, take the knock and learn something from it,” says Guy Winch, Ph.D. a psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. “Our ability to have life satisfaction, to be happy [and] to have good relationships really depends on our ability to adapt.”
Some people are naturally more adaptable to situations than others, Winch says. “You can see even from a young age people’s natural proclivities in how they deal with hurdles. But, that said, everyone can learn ways to be more adaptable,” Winch says. And to learn to be adaptable, one must first understand how adaptable people approach life differently. Here are a few habits they share:
Adaptable people know who they are: Adaptable people understand what it is that makes them who they are acknowledging the good and bad then use that understanding to their advantage.
“There are personality traits that may predispose you to being particularly good at handling positive or negative moments in life, and then there are other traits you might want to work on”, says Fred Bryant, PhD, a professor of psychology at Loyola University in Maryland. For example, an introvert who is aware that he draws strength from alone time will be sure to take a few moments for himself in big social gatherings so he doesn’t get overwhelmed. By understanding his natural inclinations and acting accordingly, one can adapt to a situation that may not come naturally, Bryant explained.
But it’s not about trying to change who you are. Instead, “if you know the hand you have, you can play to your strengths,” he says and that can serve you well in any number of situations.
They reinvent themselves: Adaptable people understand their personalities, but they also push themselves to grow and expand. This is especially valuable in the workplace, according to Bruna Martinuzzi, founder of Clarion Enterprises, a leadership training company based in Vancouver, Canada.
“Consider that when we push the envelope, and when we intentionally put ourselves in situations that are outside our comfort zone, we grow,” she writes in her book, “The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.” “Are you trading on old knowledge? Do you need to update your skills? ... We need to adapt by continually evolving and reinventing ourselves.”
Adaptable people don’t blame themselves after rejection: “Rejection is universally painful,” says Winch. “It’s like touching a hot stove. Our self-esteem usually gets hurt as a result. What a lot of people then do is go and add insult to injury by blaming themselves, and becoming self-critical.” But all that does is make the psychological injury worse.
But adaptable people don’t do that. They acknowledge the psychological injury, sit with the pain, then reaffirm what it is that makes them unique and valuable so they can dust themselves off, Winch says. If, for example, you’ve been rejected after a job interview, try sitting down and brainstorming a quick list of 10 to 15 traits that make you a good employee. Then, write a quick, two-paragraph essay about one of those traits and why it’s an important quality to have. The next day, pick another and do the same thing.
“Rather than blaming themselves for a screwed-up interview, they’re reaffirming what it is that makes them a valuable employee,” Winch explains. “That’s an adaptable thing to do.”
Adaptable people don’t wait for happiness: When it comes to adaptability, there’s so much emphasis placed on how people cope with crises and setbacks. But true adaptability is about more than that, Bryant argues. “The assumption is that if you can cope really well, then you’re going to be happy, but that turns out to be inaccurate,” he said. “The key is for people to understand and prioritise the need for positive experience. Part of adjustment is being able to find meaning and joy in life.”
Learning to seek out and savour positive experiences is a skill, and one that is under-appreciated, Bryant says. Adaptable people aren’t just good at coping with the hard stuff; they learn to actively seek out positive experiences and joy, in whatever way is best for them.
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