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3 Ways to Be More Adaptable
Explore the meaning of adaptability and how to cultivate it within yourself.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said, "Change is the only constant in life." If that's true, then we need to be adaptable.
What is Adaptability?
Being adaptable means you are flexible in your thinking and behaviors when the circumstances around you are changing.
Here's the technical definition
Jerry's version: Adaptability means being able to change what you do and how you react when things around you are different or unexpected. It's about being able to adjust your thinking, behavior, or feelings in new situations.
From the textbook: Adaptability is the skill of molding your actions and responses to the changing environment around you. Specifically, it is "the capacity to make appropriate cognitive, behavioral, or affective adjustments in the presence of uncertain or novel circumstances" (1).
What sort of changes might require adaptation? It could look like anything from an unexpected traffic jam that makes you late for an important presentation to a tornado that causes property damage. In each of these situations, you cannot change your environment, but you can adjust your response. Being thoughtful and considering multiple solutions will likely lead to good results. Freezing up or being angry at the situation won't change much at all.
Since change is a constant in life, adaptability is a skill that allows you to adjust effectively to that change. When you think rigidly, you may miss opportunities for better solutions because you refuse to consider ideas other than your own. This might push others away as they feel you don't hear or appreciate their thoughts and ideas. Getting other people's opinions on how to approach an obstacle in your life may yield a solution that you never thought of before and improve your interpersonal communication and relationships.
The ability to be flexible in your thinking is called cognitive flexibility–a component of adaptability. There are multiple benefits for people who demonstrate cognitive flexibility.
Benefits of cognitive flexibility:
- Ability to think in different ways
- Ability to change perspective
- Ability to adapt to a constantly changing environment (2)
Adaptability might be a beneficial skill to develop, given that it can help you see better solutions to your problems and help you succeed in an ever-changing environment.
How to Be More Adaptable
Since change is one of the only constants in the world, adaptability is a skill that can help you weather the storm. Some people may find adaptation easy, while others might find it more difficult. If you would like to develop this skill within yourself, consider building the following strengths.
- Build up your self-confidence.
Some people may not be adaptable because they don't believe in their abilities. Developing a greater sense of self-confidence can help you recognize that you can adapt to new situations.
- See a different perspective.
Looking at life from another point of view can help you realize there are many ways to solve the same problem. Consider a situation in your life that you need to adapt to and then approach that situation from someone else's point of view. It may help you see new solutions.
- Recognize that failure happens.
Your attempts to adapt may not work right away, and that's okay. Be persistent and keep working through life's challenges until you find a solution. Failures can serve as invaluable lessons on the path to success.
Are You Adaptable?
Answer the following questions with "yes" or "no" to see if you have adaptability or if it is a skill you might need to work on.
- Are you good at taking advice?
- Can you easily switch gears in new situations?
- Can you stand criticism?
- Do others think you're a bad loser?
- Do you want to have the last word?
- Do you feel you can't stand being contradicted?
- Do you put down others' proposals?
- Do you feel you don't tolerate critics?
For questions 1 to 3, give yourself 1 point if you answered "no." For questions 4 to 8, give yourself 1 point for each "yes" answer.
Higher scores could indicate less adaptable and more rigid ways of thinking. (3)
Adaptability is a skill you can use to respond more effectively to the ever-changing world. Being flexible and adaptable in your thoughts can help you see things from a different perspective which may yield better solutions to your problems. To help build adaptability and self-confidence, look at your situation from a different perspective, and recognize that failure is okay. Trial and error are a natural part of the adaptation process. Even if new adaptations don't work right away, keep at it until you find an angle that works.
- VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association.
- Buttelmann, F., & Karbach, J. (2016). Development and Plasticity of Cognitive Flexibility in Early and Middle Childhood. Frontiers in Psychology.
- Jackson, D. N., Paunonen, S. V., & Tremblay, P. F. (2000). Six Factor Personality Questionnaire: Technical Manual. Port Huron, MI: Sigma Assessment Systems.