30 Days of Personal Growth, Day 3: Being a Flexible Thinker


I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.

-Everett Dirksen

Among the most vexing words in the English language are should, must, need, always, and never. Why? Because they indicate rigid thinking, a giant boulder on your personal-growth journey. Behavior predicated on these words tends frustrate us, mostly because we assume we’ll always be control. “I must graduate on time.” “I should always eat lunch at 12:30.” “I never go to bed angry.” When these requirements aren’t met, we often cry, whine, and punch walls.

Being flexible, however, means understanding that not everything will go the way you want it to. It means being prepared for the possibility of variance at any moment. If you can learn how to think flexibly—how to be fluid in your expectations, how to adapt to your environment, how to handle last-minute changes—you can create peace in your life. Sure, you may want things to happen a certain way, but nothing says they should. The same logic applies to people: While you may generally want to be liked, it’s helpful to realize that you won’t be admired all the time. You don’t fall in love with everyone you meet, after all.

Instead of clutching your stiff demands, replace them with preferences. Change “I must save $50,000 by the time I’m 30,” to “I prefer to save that much, but I understand that certain factors may affect my goal.” You don’t really need to write five books the next three years—you just want to. Be ready not only for plan B but for plans K and Q. Anticipate delays you have zero control over. Expect dissent.

By all means, plan for your future and set goals that matter to you. While you maintain your preferences and strive for the outcome you most desire, remember that a failed (or delayed) expectation doesn’t have to shatter your world–you may just have to move your goalposts.


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