This week in the Pacific Northwest, we have had a crazy shift back to winter. Here in the mountains, we awoke to 14” of snow on Monday and the kids had a snow day. I think I speak for just about everyone when I say my first thought was, “Seriously? WTF?!” The snow has continued to fall off and on throughout the week. All the farmers in the valley are praying for the survival of at least some of their crop. And the skiers (like my hubby and kiddo) are rejoicing for the bonus powder days in what was to be the last weeks that the resort is open.
I’ve been trying to just allow and accept, riding the waves of uncertainty this week. But I have to admit that over the past couple years, the words of mathematician John Allen Paulos have rung in my ears more than once,
“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.”
I you are an inherently anxious soul like me, you know that living with uncertainty all the time can be exhausting – especially if you are lacking in the “cognitive flexibility” department.
“What is cognitive flexibility?” you ask?
The easiest way to think of it is mental agility. It’s the ability to switch the process, task, or plan with relative ease and fluidity. To be clear, this is NOT my strong suit.
So, to get some guidance, I turned to nature to see how she does it. How does the natural world roll with the punches? How does she survive and thrive in uncertain times? What does the natural world show us about cognitive flexibility? I dug a little deeper into these questions and came up with “Nature’s Top Five Tips for Flexible Thinking.” Here they are, in no particular order:
- Stay here. Nature, as a general rule, doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the future or the past. It just is. So, one tip is to practice mindfulness and stay present.
- Practice. As uncomfortable as uncertainty is, the natural world is amazing at rolling with whatever comes her way. This is because she has millions of years of practice (and evolution) into adapting to whatever comes her way. Therefore, it seems that there could be some benefit to exposing yourself to new and uncertain situations so that you get some practice flexing your cognitive flexibility muscles. I don’t think it has to be earth shattering to have value. Things that come to mind are taking a new route home from work, trying a new recipe, or traveling to a new location.
- Creative play. Mother Nature is the single most powerful creative force on the planet. She’s busy repurposing stored energy into new life all the time. Making things is a fabulous way to stretch yourself and work through uncertainty. And bonus – it’s FUN!
- Diversity. Try mixing up your circle of people. Hang out with folks you don’t usually spend time with and see how they inspire new ways of thinking. Nature knows that biodiversity is what builds resilience and strength. This is true when it comes to flexible thinking too.
- Learn something new. Taking a class to learn a new skill is a great way to build cognitive flexibility. The natural world rewards those with skills and adaptations that offer any kind of advantage. Evolution relies on us making strides in new directions. So carving out some time to learn and grow new skills is paramount to fostering a flexible mindset.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein
I’m sure you could observe more ways that nature knows cognitive flexibility, but I encourage you (and me!) to give these a try. Please report back on how they work for you in the comment section below!
Shameless plug warning:
If you’d like to go to one event that could give you a chance to check off all five of these tips at once, I’d encourage you to check out one of my upcoming art classes! Not only will you get a chance to learn new skills, but you can meet new people, enjoy creative play, and exercise mindfulness! You’ll even get to practice sticking yourself into a new situation and showing your mind/body that you can roll with uncertainty like a boss. Click here for upcoming classes!