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.” Try as we might, it is impossible to predict the curveballs that life throws at us. Maybe your job is implementing a new software system and you need to learn how to use it, even though you have no experience with this technology. Maybe a hurricane hits your state and you have to live without power and water for a while.
Both examples represent unexpected changes in your environment that you must respond to. Approaching these situations with an open mind and a flexible approach will yield more positive results than approaching them with a rigid, closed state of mind.
Adaptability is the skill of molding your actions and reactions 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” (VandenBos, 2007). Being adaptable means, you are flexible in your thinking and behaviors when the circumstances around you are changing.
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 are unable to change your environment, but you can adjust your reaction. 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 of life, adaptability is a skill that allows you to effectively adjust to that change. When you think rigidly, you may miss out on opportunities for better solutions because you refuse to consider any 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. Multiple benefits for people who demonstrate cognitive flexibility have been identified.
Benefits of Cognitive Flexibility
Are You Adaptable?
Answer the following questions with “yes” or “no” to see if you have adaptability or determine if it is a skill that you might need to work on some more.
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 very adaptable because they don’t believe in their abilities. Working on developing a greater sense of self-confidence can help you recognize that you are capable of adapting 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
All of 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.
Adaptability is a skill that you can use to respond to the ever-changing world more effectively around you. 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, build up your self-confidence, look at your problem 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.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.