Friday, 26 August 2016

Observe and go with the Flow: 9 Habits to Build your Adaptability Muscle

Adaptability is a virtue that is vital for success, a sense of contentment and even for plain survival against tough odds in life. There can be no better teacher than nature when it comes to adaptability. Just look around and observe! We may call it by different terms and labels. But, the ability to sense changes and “adjust” accordingly is one of the finest qualities in life.

Not sure though, if adaptability is understood and appreciated enough. Especially in a dominant cultural milieu that celebrates valor, aggression, firm resolve, and the occasional streak of ruthlessness, all seen as vital for “achievement”. Perhaps we need to scratch beneath the surface of every “successful” outcome, and whatever led to it. That could give us a finer, nuanced understanding of the role played by adaptability in shaping many of those blockbuster moments of triumph.

It may just be that secret ingredient no valiant champion wants to share with you! They’d rather have you hooked on to the notion that it was some “superior” talent or extraordinary grit and effort that made it all possible. Mythology keeps everyone happy, for different reasons though!

As if lack of awareness and understanding wasn't bad enough. Unfortunately, we may have actually gone much further! By indirectly portraying adaptability and it’s variants as a “chink in the armor”, something perhaps meant for the “effete” and the faint-hearted ones, many have committed the blunder of ignoring a virtue that can actually make life much simpler. That’s what happens when myth-making, narrative-peddling and motivated label-creation go together. We effectively lose track of reality and perspective. The smart ones know better of course!

But, it doesn't have to be that way always, isn't it?

In this article, let us explore some of the qualities and skills that can help you raise the quality of adaptability in life. This is certainly not an exhaustive list!

Before we proceed, I suggest you jot down some answers and points for the following three questions:

  • What are the three things in your life that you are absolutely confident will never happen?
  • Think of two people in your life that you totally detest and hate. What will it be like to take some support and help from them at some stage in your life?
  • What are the two things or values in life that you’ll never compromise on?

We’re not going to work through these answers right now. Just jot down your thoughts and leave it there, for now.

Coming back to the skills that I have shortlisted for this article. Okay, actually, I’ve changed my mind! I’ll only talk about one skill. And that’s it.

Your lesson on adaptability has just started!:

Keen sense of observation, with a twist!

Obviously, you need to be able to observe, analyze and predict possible scenarios that may throw up “unforeseen” challenges. But what are you going to observe? Let’s go for the “twist” in the title of this section! That’s the meaty part, actually. The idea is to look for what you’d normally not look at or see. Listen for what you’d normally not hear, things that aren't that “audible” to you. And also, develop a sense or a radar to feel feelings that are unfamiliar, to the point of being non-existent for you. Have I scrambled your brain beyond repair with this one paragraph? Good, that’s what you need for adaptability.

To put it simply, we’ve got to work on discarding some of the filters and blinkers we use, to make sense of what’s happening around us. That is the quality of observation that will actually help. It maybe pretty tough for many folks, especially the ones who think they’ve got it all sorted in life! For those who have seen a lot of “success” already. The blinkers and filters are now part of their cellular structure! A few pointers that may help are given below. And of course, these aren't coming with any money-back guarantee, please:

Change of Routine

Sometimes, we get so used to regimenting our lives with such perfection: everything is in its place, and there’s an overriding structure that determines most of our actions. It of course makes life organized, efficient and even simpler. But it also leads to certain “convenient” and “predictable” ways of not just thinking, but even observing.

Break this cycle, and embrace a change of routine once in a while. Take the stairs instead of the lift, watch the weather channel for two hours, wear a color you’ve never had in your wardrobe, send five emojis in each sentence… you get the drift. Allow your brain to get surprised, and jolted out of those set patterns. Now go back to the issue where you wanted a fresh perspective. Or an issue where you think there’s nothing more to know. It’s all clear.
Keep observing without concluding and sorting out instantly.

Change of Place

In some ways, this is a variant of the first. I’d still want to emphasize this as a separate point. Sit in a different desk maybe, take a walk and sit in the park-bench, work from a different location, sleep in the guest room for a few days… Go ahead and define “change of place”. Again, it is a nice little way to gain a different perspective.

And most important point. Remember what I said about “no money-back guarantees”? So, don’t sit under the apple tree waiting for the apple to fall, and then feel bad there’s no new awakening to talk about! Don't pressurize yourself with expectations. Perhaps that’s when it actually starts to work. Even if it doesn’t, it’s okay, leave it. We all know where the original Eureka story happened. So, just chill!

Talking to people you’d normally not interact with

Again, it gives you fresh ideas and perspectives. So, if you’re a senior manager, go ahead and have coffee with two of your recent graduates. Laugh with them, listen in on the latest gossip, check out the new trends on the fashion high street… Allow yourself to absorb these new experiences. And leave it there! Chances are, your brain is exercised well enough to give you a vital “downtime”. More about it later.

What are the “pain-in-the neck” folks thinking?

These are the people you’d normally keep at arm’s length. They maybe your fiercest critics, or people who find you boring, outdated and matronly! People you don't like either, for various reasons. They have the habit of jutting in with opinions without asking. They sometimes confront you in public just because you once said that you don’t like wrestling with a pig!

So you want a fresh perspective? You might actually get all of that and much more! So, if it means swallowing your pride and chatting up with these “obnoxious” souls, so be it. 

Or at least find out what they think about certain issues that are bothering you. Don't get stuck hyper-ventilating at the lack of “nuance”, and the irreverence. You may actually discover quite a few things that’ll be handy later.

Taking yourself less seriously

Another important lesson, especially for those who believe they’re the centre of the universe. It’s okay to get overawed by your titles, designations, and those fawning courtiers and believe that you’ve arrived in every way possible! But it also leads to a certain condition called “know it already-itis itch”. Not particularly known to help you gain fresh perspectives. Rather, you’ll keep seeing what you want to see.
Learn to laugh at yourself once in a while. It helps!

Parking your intense likes & dislikes, for the time being

Your intense likes and dislikes are often related to your values, beliefs and attitudes. No one’s asking you to discard them in the quest for fresh perspective. But occasionally, it helps to secretly use two simple and powerful phrases: “What IF”, and “So What”. Check it out once in a while. It could also let you see the picture from the perspective of others. You don't need to do a Phd on empathy for that.

Proper rest & relaxation, and the twist again!

This is my favorite actually. In fact there’s a reason why your boss ensures you’re always over-worked, tired and near the point of burnout! Not everyone likes to have thinkers around! You know the folks who can think for themselves, without feeding on scraps of insights thrown at them! Well, that’s a topic that merits a separate article.

Coming back to rest and relaxation. Even short and frequent breaks are good to begin with. Just allow a little time for your brain to connect supposedly disjointed bits of information. And you’ll see wonders!

What’s that twist about? Go and search the internet for exercises that improve flexibility. Yoga is my favorite, just so you know. But if you like jumping on the trampoline, that may do as well! You see, there’s got to be something about it, when we talk about mind-body connection. Indulge in it. Allow the brain that much needed workout.

Wading into uncomfortable emotions, but not getting lost 

Now, I am not recommending this for everyone. If you’re already seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist, you might want to have a chat with them before using this tip. Else, skip this and hop over to the next one, please.

If you’re still reading this, then yes, it is a good idea to sometimes stay with the unpleasant emotions. Don't sink into them, and you’ve got to figure out your own way. But yes, our emotions are our finest and most sophisticated internal signaling system. At least take note when you’re getting those strange feelings of discomfort, exasperation… call it what you may. Find out what it’s trying to tell you.

and A Notebook of course

Well, if you start practicing at least three of the preceding points, I’d strongly recommend you keep a notebook with you. Jot down as many points, observations and data points as possible. Take special care to include the weird feelings, the funny ones, the obnoxious ones, and everything in between. Draw mind-maps whenever possible. Don't insist on relating every point to every other point. Your brain is much smarter than you think!

So, yes, that’s my cheat sheet for building adaptability in your life, with a few twists and turns included for fun.

Now, take a few days or weeks (the latter is recommended) to practice some of these skills. And then, go ahead and reflect on the three questions I shared with you at the start of this article. Use as many of these methods, and see what new insights you’re getting. Observe your thinking patterns too. That’s more than enough, actually!

Coming back to the Article. That’s it, nothing more to read here!
Now, go ahead, and embrace change.

It’ll be fun, more often than you thought!

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