Psychological Flexibility and Your Health

Psychological flexibility is an academic term that refers to your ability to “stay present and be willing to experience discomfort in order to do what is really important and what works”.   Fundamentally, it reflects your capacity to stay present and fully conscious in the moment, so that your emotional responses to situations are based on long-term values, rather than on short-term impulses.

But how does this impact your health and fitness?

The quality of your health is determined by your daily habits and rituals. For example, your daily habit of getting out of bed in the morning to go for a walk or to go to the gym contributes to your quality of life and longevity. Your daily choice to select healthy nutritious food, rather than fried or highly processed food, contributes to your long-term health.

However, if you allow short-term impulses determine your behaviour, then you constantly make choices that may satisfy short-term interests but will fail you and your health in the longer term. Examples include pressing the snooze button and going back to sleep, rather than going for your walk. Or selecting a donut for morning tea, rather than almonds and an apple. Ultimately, giving in to these short-term impulses don’t serve to better your health over your lifespan.

Regardless of your starting point, improving your health relies upon the degree to which you are psychologically flexible. As with most mental and emotional processes, this attribute can be worked upon and improved. There are three areas that contribute to your psychological flexibility:

1. Being present

Being engaged in the “here and now”. This refers to being aware of what is going on both outside and inside your body and mind.

2. Opening up

Your ability to unhook and stand back from your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Opening up is a way of making space for and accepting the presence of your thoughts and feelings, rather than causing yourself anguish by dismissing or disputing them.

3. Doing what matters

Your ability to be clear about and connected with your values. You take and sustain actions that are guided by and aligned with your values. You set goals and work to develop sufficient skills to achieve those goals.

As a team of Exercise Physiologists working to improve the quality of our clients’ fitness and health, we recognise the important contribution that one’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs have on achieving long-term health goals. Remember: being successful in your health and fitness depends upon adopting not only the right physical strategies, but the right psychological strategies, too!