This is the eighth in our series of articles about The 8 Keys of Excellence, which serve as a foundation for our leading residential teen summer camp, SuperCamp. See our Intro article as well as links to previous Key articles here: The 8 Keys of Excellence: Principles to Live By.
Be willing to do things differently. Recognize what’s not working and be willing to change what you’re doing to achieve your goal.
Get off what’s not working. Shift perspectives. Maintain the ability to change what you’re doing to get the outcome you desire. The same approach—no matter how often it’s repeated—will usually produce the same result.
Flexibility is about not getting locked in to one way of doing something. If we’re trying to achieve something and it’s just not working, we try another way. Flexibility is about recognizing all kinds of habits or patterns or activities in our life that aren’t working and changing them, and even changing them again until we find the one that works!
The chicken and the dog and flexibility
Here’s a great example of flexibility. It’s about a chicken and a dog and a fence. The chicken and the dog were happily wandering around next to a fence one day when food that appealed to each was placed on the other side of the fence. The chicken attempted to get to the food by repeatedly pecking at the fence, apparently assuming it would eventually get through to the food. That poor chicken kept pecking at the fence until its beak was bloody, and still it didn’t get to the food. The dog also initially attempted to scratch through the fence but quickly realized that wasn’t going to work. When he changed his strategy and ran along next to the fence he soon found he was able to get around it—and he reached the food easily! That dog was flexible!
When faced with situations that are challenging or simply different from what you expected, you could be rigid and continue to do things the same way over and over. Or you could be flexible and change your approach. Which response has a better chance of producing your desired outcome in the long run?
Step one – admit when something isn’t working
The first step in using the Key of Flexibility is to admit when something isn’t working. When you’re struggling to achieve something, stop and have a closer look. Detach your ego from your actions and take an objective look at what you’re doing—or trying to do. Is it working? If not, why not? What are you doing—or not doing—that might be affecting the outcome? What can you learn from this? What are other possible approaches to this challenge? Note that what you’re really doing here is treating this setback as a learning experience. You use whatever information you can glean from what you’ve been doing, make adjustments and try again with a new flexible approach. (As you may have noticed, flexibility is a big part of living the Key of Failure Leads to Success. To refresh your memory about this Key, refer back to Key #5.)
Step two – embrace change
When elderly people look back on their lives, many express regret about the opportunities they missed because they were resisting change. They avoided going into unfamiliar territory. They simply didn’t feel comfortable trying something new or “different.” Even though some of those opportunities had appeal, they brought with them a level of fear or discomfort that the people preferred to avoid.
Why is it that people so often resist change? What keeps us from trying new things? Comfort? Convenience? Fear of the unknown? Using old familiar methods feels easier—even though it often isn’t. Complacency is the enemy of success. When you get comfortable, you stop moving forward. You dig in, shut down, doze off, disengage. Your spirit falls asleep. Don’t avoid change just because it’s a little bit out of your comfort zone. (For more about comfort preventing you from embracing change, see our previous article “Get in Your Growth Zone by Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone.”)
Rigidity is another enemy of success. How well do you handle change? Do you hold on to old ways of doing things even when they’re not working? We all do sometimes. It’s not easy to recognize or admit when something isn’t working. Some people routinely fight any kind of change, even change that may not directly affect them. You’ve probably known rigid, inflexible people who refuse to adapt to new circumstances. But how successful do you think those people are?
If complacency and rigidity are the enemies of success, change is its best friend. Change wakes you up, gets you on your feet, and engages you. Flexibility is a prime ingredient of a successful life in a changing world. Life refuses to conform to a plan. It’s fluid, dynamic, ever-changing. Staying flexible means having the courage and openness to change with it.
Accept change—in fact, embrace change—and you’ll change. You’ll learn and grow with each new experience and opportunity that you may well miss if you avoid change. Yes, we all know that change can be scary . . . we just need to realize that our personal growth is dependent on our ability to embrace change.
Step three – explore lots of possible solutions
When you realize it’s time to be flexible, start by promising yourself to be wide open to all kinds of new ideas. Learn to set aside your doubts and “listen” to your thoughts without judgment. Brainstorm. Branch out. Get creative. Explore as many possible solutions as you can and you’ll soon discover avenues for success that you never would have considered previously. Maybe you’ll even find ways to fine-tune current habits or projects and improve on things that are working. Life is fluid and changing, and options change too. By allowing yourself the freedom to investigate all kinds of alternatives, you’ll eventually achieve the outcomes you desire. So seek out as many options as you can—the more ideas you generate the better your chances are of finding the perfect solution.
Commit to flexibility—it works and it’s fun!
Every aspect of our lives demands flexibility. From everyday situations that are different from what we anticipated, to ingrained habits that we’d like to change, to projects that are just not going right, to relationships, we all face circumstances every day where flexibility is the key to success. When you’re flexible enough to look for and embrace the challenge of change, success will soon follow.
When you commit to flexibility, you’ll discover a side benefit. Not only does flexibility work—life’s more fun when you’re flexible! Being open to change, getting out of your comfort zone and exploring something new can be a wonderful, joyful experience.
So . . . admit when something isn’t working, embrace change, explore lots of possible solutions, move out of your comfort zone—and commit to flexibility!
Think in ink
We need to look often at our actions in everyday situations to see whether we’re being flexible or rigid—remember the rigid chicken and the flexible dog! If what we’re doing repeatedly fails to help us reach our goal, then it’s time to change our approach. Always considering alternatives leads us to new mindsets, new ideas, and new strategies—and ultimately to positive outcomes.
- In what areas of my life can I admit that something’s just not going right?
- Attitude toward school and/or homework
- Relationships with my parents and family
- Relationships with friends
- A habit I don’t like, but can’t seem to change
- A short-term or long-term goal I’m working toward
- What specific new approaches could I take in each area above that’s relevant for me? For example,
- If I’m struggling to get school assignments done on time, what exactly am I doing or not doing that’s causing that? What are possible changes I can make that will bring better outcomes?
- If my relationship with my parents is a struggle, what exactly am I doing or not doing (not what are they doing or not doing) that may be causing stress in our relationship? What can I do (or stop doing) that will make a difference?
- What is a recent situation where I was being rigid and avoiding change? How might the outcome have been different if I had embraced change and been flexible?
- What can I do every day to increase my awareness of times when something isn’t working—from everyday habits to relationships to long-term projects?
- What can I do to be more open to change and make the Key of Flexibility part of my life?
- What is one thing I can do today to reflect my increasing flexibility?
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
About the Contributor: Since 1982, SUPERCAMP, Monthly Mentor, has inspired and empowered thousands of teens to feel confident and motivated, and to excel in school and beyond. SuperCamp offers six-, seven-, and ten-day residential programs for students in middle school, high school, and first-year college. Living on a college campus is a great experience for teens and most of our grads go directly to a four-year college after high school. As teens from around the world gather at SuperCamp, they are inspired to believe in themselves and their ability to achieve, and they acquire learning and life skills that empower them to thrive in all areas of their life. Read More…
(See what some recent grads have to say about SuperCamp at www.supercamp.com/student-testimonials.)