Mental flexibility: what it is, why it works and how to train it

Some of the skills that allow human beings to adapt to the changing environment in which they live are cognitive processes, learning, socialization with other people, among others.

In this sense, there is an aptitude of the human brain that should be underlined, to influence multiple processes of great importance for the adaptation of the human being to the environment, and it is none other than mental flexibility.

Below, we will take a closer look at what mental flexibility is and its importance in adapting human beings to various contexts and situations.

    What is mental flexibility?

    Mental flexibility is a capacity in the brain that allows effectively adjust cognitive processes and behaviors in new, unexpected and / or unstable contexts and situations, in order to adapt to the environment and the resulting requirements.

    It should be noted that mental flexibility is a very complex psychological construct, as it encompasses many human mental and behavioral processes and is constantly in a dynamic of change and adaptation depending on the environment, situation, culture, stage of life. cycle where the person is, etc.

    It also offers the possibility of restructure our previous knowledge while assimilating new learning, in order to be able to adapt to constantly changing demands and / or solve various problems or unknowns.

    On the other hand, mental or cognitive flexibility also allows people to work on multiple tasks in parallel or throughout a successive process, without the brain being overloaded and there being no interference between tasks. , it allows you to carry out all the tasks.

      Main characteristics of mental flexibility

      Mental flexibility is closely related to fluid intelligence and therefore influences human reasoning and the ability to solve various new problems that may arise in a flexible and efficient manner.

      In this sense, mental flexibility is one of the higher cognitive skills of metacognition and as such influences various cognitive processes such as behavior control, knowledge, awareness and learning, among others. A person’s knowledge of their own capacity within these cognitive processes It allows you to more effectively control your skills and knowledge so that you can act voluntarily and in a controlled manner to promote your own learning, and thus your own progress and improvement in different areas.

      Another characteristic is that mental flexibility influence executive functions, it is therefore very relevant in learning and therefore affects development throughout life, as well as academic and professional success. This is because mental flexibility allows people to make plans, set goals and objectives, start with already established plans, evaluate their own actions throughout the process, as well as learn from their mistakes. , correct them and prevent them from recurring.

      Mental flexibility also allows people take into account other values, beliefs and ideas, that is, other ways of thinking that others have and at the same time of understanding other points of view, of respecting oneself if they are different from one’s own, of being able to value other perspectives and options in addition to the one we had before. This is why mental flexibility is closely associated with empathy, which at the same time facilitates and improves a person’s ability to socially interact with others.

      When practicing Mindfulness, mental flexibility provides the opportunity to put in place all of the mental skills necessary to bring full attention to the present moment, so that the person is focused on all the nuances of the here and now. that better adaptation to certain contexts and circumstances can be facilitated. For that you have to have an attitude of openness to the experience and act without judging anything.

      As mentioned earlier, mental flexibility is that it provides the human being with the ability to quickly adapt to changes or innovations in the environment, so it is possible to change behavior over time according to the demands of the human being. context and also to anticipate possible errors or negative consequences in order to avoid them or at least to learn from them to prevent their recurrence.

      On the other hand, this mental flexibility helps people tolerate changes that may arise during a task and generate more effective alternatives.

      Good mental flexibility, which has been sufficiently trained by practice in tasks that require sufficient cognitive work for the brain to be exercised, this will make it easier for the person to transition from one task to another in an efficient manner sequentially without one interfering with the other, while still allowing the ability to perform two tasks simultaneously without losing focus and to accomplish them successfully.

        Its importance in a crisis situation

        In difficult times, such as those experienced by the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus, properly developed mental flexibility is a key tool for moving forward. endure suffering and emotional distress in the best possible way.

        Conversely, mental inflexibility can worsen problems that dragged on before a time of crisis, so this uncertain situation that is difficult to adjust to can lead to many types of problems.

        Mental flexibility it is closely related to resilience, a concept that in psychology refers to the ability of human beings to cope with adversity through thoughts and behaviors that allow adaptation. This is why it is necessary to take a step back, to consider all the alternatives to the possibilities that are within reach and to set in motion a series of behaviors that go towards the objectives that make it possible to achieve in these difficult situations and even to leave. strengthened in facing a future in which similar situations might arise.

          Tips for training and encouraging mental flexibility

          Some tips you may find useful train mental flexibility are the following:

          • Don’t be too rigid and open yourself up to new learnings, possible changes and other points of view.
          • Actively listen to others in order to value and know other ways of seeing things.
          • Try to see things from multiple perspectives or points of view.
          • Be proactive so that we are alert to any unforeseen events and take action.
          • Train creativity through various artistic activities.
          • Look for tasks that help the mind to function, such as learning a new language, reading, taking classes, etc.
          • Maintain curiosity for lifelong learning and in different fields (eg science, art, etc.).
          • Exercise because exercise has been shown to help the brain get oxygenated.
          • When faced with a particular challenge or circumstance, evaluate the many options available to us.
          • Exercises can also be performed to train the various executive functions.

          Bibliographical references

          • Andrade, MT, Trenes, MM and Gómez, E. (2014). Chapter 1: Cognitive flexibility. To E. Gómez and MJ de Córdoba (Coords.). Mental flexibility (p. 7-28). Granada: Edicions Fundación Internacional artecittà.
          • Jericho, P. (March 24, 2021). Practical advice for training mental flexibility. The country.
          • Regader, B. (Sf). Lara Tormo: “Mental flexibility is the key to enduring suffering.” Psychology and the mind. Retrieved from

          Leave a Comment