Psychological Flexibility

Psychological Flexibility is a set of thinking and behavioural skills that supports holistic wellbeing, resilience and effectiveness in the workplace.

By practicing these skills, we become more self-aware and mindful of our approach, we learn to use values rather than emotions to guide our behaviour and we learn how to pursue meaningful goals.

The scientific evidence supporting psychological flexibility is impressive and the approach has been used in a wide range of organisational settings to boost employee health and satisfaction at work. Principles-led, it can be developed in a variety of ways, which is reflected in our approach.

So am I psychologically inflexible then?

If psychological flexibility represents a set of skills, then many of us could benefit from practicing these skills a little more.

Think about how you respond to challenges and setbacks. The types of situations you try to avoid. The actions you’ve taken which you later regret. Common examples of psychological inflexibility include:

  • Lashing out emotionally at others and regretting your actions later
  • Responding to events around you impulsively
  • Making decisions based on imagined futures
  • Getting caught up with worries to the detriment of taking helpful action
  • An unhelpful attachment to aspects of your identity, such as seniority or profession

Moving from inflexibility to flexibility is a learning journey. We’re not born responding to the world around us in an ideal and helpful way. It’s a function of our upbringing and life’s experiences. But change is always possible.

What does it mean to be psychologically flexible?

“Psychological flexibility is the ability to feel and think with openness, to attend voluntarily to your experience of the present moment, and to move your life in directions that are important to you, building habits that allow you to live life in accordance with your values and aspirations.”

Steven Hayes, ‘A Liberated Mind’.

When we’re psychologically flexible, we bring our best selves to each context. We don’t take passing thoughts and flashes of emotion as guides for action, but rely on our values.

These skills help us avoid pointless struggles with unwelcome inner experiences, ground us in the present here and now, while giving us clarity on what really matters so we can make progress towards our goals. While there are six key skills involved, we can also summarise them in the following easy to remember call to action:

Show up!

Become more aware of the present moment and avoid getting caught up in the disappointments of the past or worrying about the future. Show up in each context, mindful of what it requires of you.

Let go!

Let go of the struggle with your thoughts and emotions, while accepting the discomfort that comes with them while we’re doing something meaningful. Thoughts are just thoughts, and not always great signposts for action.

Get moving!

Clarify your values to identify what really matters to you in life, then use these values to help you guide your actions, as you pursue those most important goals.

How you can learn more about Psychological Flexibility

There are a number ways you can learn how to implement the principles of psychological flexibility in your everyday life. We offer structured training options, outlined below, as well as one-to-one coaching.

To get you started on our journey, check out the various psychological flexibility articles on our blog and have a listen to our podcast to find out more.

If you’d like to know more about our training options, have a look at the summary below. When it comes to one-to-one coaching, you can find out all about our coaching solutions here.

On our blog

We’ve discussed the various principles of Psychological Flexibility on our blog over the years. Here are a few short articles covering the essentials:

Training options

To maximise access to the training, we’ve created several training routes. Regardless of the route you choose, you’ll get an excellent introduction into these important life skills and have opportunities for one-to-one time with a member of the WorkLifePsych team.

We have three Psychological Flexibility courses, ranging from a 90mins introductory session, through to a one-day workshop. All courses can be run in person or via webinar.

Additionally, all our training courses can be augmented with the addition of one-to-one coaching following course completion, providing an end-to-end solution in personalised development.

We have something for every audience and context. Full details of these courses can be found on our Wellbeing Courses page.

What our clients say

We asked Richard to run a few of his ‘Psychological Flexibility 101’ sessions and 55 of my colleagues signed up for the initial workshops.

I was really impressed with their feedback and their comments in the brief online survey we used afterwards illustrated just how keen they were to learn more and start putting this all into practice.

Lorraine O'SullivanGroup People Director, Dentsu Aegis Network, Ireland
We are extremely pleased with the programme and its impact and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Richard and WorkLifePsych. They have exceeded our expectations.

Conall LaveryCEO, Real World Analytics
We recently invited Richard to our first learning festival, to deliver a keynote as well as a workshop on the topic of psychological flexibility.

Working in the public sector brings its own challenges and this is why it was really important to us to offer personal development opportunities centred on wellbeing, and practical tools for us to use on a daily basis when we may be feeling overwhelmed or experiencing anxiety.

Feedback from those taking part was extremely positive and we are already looking at working with Richard on other initiatives.

Ruxandra StewartLearning & Development Lead, Essex County Council
I initially attended the course in the summer of 2018 after which asked Richard to deliver the course to all our colleagues, at every level. Because, quite simply, the information was so very useful to maintaining a healthy mind.
Hamide AhmetHR Director, Tulchan Communications LLP