Are You Flexible?

Are You Flexible?

This weekend reminded me I am a very flexible person.  And I can’t touch my toes…

On Friday after work, I got in my car and drove 140 miles to Durham, North Carolina.  Since I wouldn’t be presenting until Saturday morning, I spontaneously took a detour off Google Maps and just followed the signs to one of my favorite destinations: a university.  In this case, it would be Duke University, considered one of the top institutions in the United States.

When I am on an adventure, I like to “just flow with it.”  Without a particular plan, I drove around campus and found the track, football stadium, law school and as fate would have it, a number of dead ends too.  After locating a visitor parking lot (which is always tough on a college campus) I roamed the university book store and then searched for one of the most motivating places most universities have to offer.   If you know me as a sports fan, you might think it was their Cameron basketball stadium.  If you recognize me for my academic background, maybe you guessed the Perkins Library.  If you understand my passion for flexibility, however, you would know the area on a college campus that gives me the most inspiration is “the quad.”

The word “quad” is short for Quadrangle and represents an open space or courtyard surrounded by buildings.  At a college, this open space usually has a large lawn and becomes a type of social meeting place for the students.  Late that afternoon, in the shadow of the Duke Chapel,  I found the quad buzzing with energy.  Students were found in the quad either reading, talking, playing sports and or taking photos on the grass surrounded by the amazing architecture of the buildings.  I realized my attraction to the quad wasn’t the flexibility of the people’s bodies as they moved through the area.  This interest was because of the way new ideas moved through their flexible minds.

A flexible mind is an open mind.  A person with a more flexible mind has the potential to explore  new ways of thinking, adapt to new situations and breakthrough old habits to develop new skills.  In a way, that is what a college is all about, right?  At Duke, I had to wonder.  Was this openness created by the Collegiate Gothic style architecture of the buildings?  Was it reinforced by the beauty of the trees and the good weather?  Was the atmosphere dictated by the tradition and history of the university?  I think these all contributed to the magic of the quad, but the final ingredient was the students’ ability to welcome change.  Sitting there, I realized mental flexibility is not reserved for elite colleges.  This atmosphere of growth can be created anywhere, because it starts in your head.  That night at the hotel, I decided to attempt to create a similar “quad experience” the next morning.

As a presenter, you set the tone for your “quad.”  By understanding your audience, you can either invite or reject a flexible atmosphere.  Although the walls of the convention center conference room didn’t have the same majesty of Duke, I was able to foster the same openness for the 100 coaches in the room.  I enjoyed presenting, but I didn’t test my own mental flexibility until I got to play the role of a student.  After I presented, I listened to the other presenters.  I was stimulated by some new ideas and even though some challenged what I previously believed, I challenged myself to entertain and accept them.  I “stretched” my brain by considering other points of view.  Those new ideas actually invigorated me more than delivering my own.

That afternoon I drove home fired up on the endorphins a flexible mind provides.  Because I was fired up guess where I stopped?  A Quad!  Because I was so close to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, I followed signs to the campus, found another “lucky” parking spot and after seeing the football field and university store, I again found a quad.  It had the same infectious energy as Duke.  This time, not far from the Old Well landmark (the symbol of the school), I saw formal photos being taken, a self defense class being taught, books being read and footballs and frisbees flying all while a band and science demonstration played in the background.  Everything again welcomed the flexibility necessary to explore new ideas.  Again, the youthful atmosphere was infectious.  This time I questioned whether it felt youthful due to chronological age or mental flexibility.  Because there were many adults enjoying the quad, I theorized perhaps staying mentally flexible could be as important to your health as staying physically flexible.  

As we get older, we don’t just lose flexibility in our bodies, we can lose it in our minds too. Yes, a doctor or therapist may evaluate the flexibility of your body to predict your health and longevity.  To keep your mind healthy, the great news is that it is as easy to stretch out as your body.  You just have to know how.  Here are 5 ways to increase the flexibility of your mind: 

5 Ways To Have A More Flexible Mind
1.  Go “New”

Try Something New.  Learn Something New.  Meet Someone New.

2.  Stop “Old” 

Take An Adventure.  Break With Routine.  Quit An Old Habit.

3.  Welcome Change

Entertain Another Point Of View.  Consider Other Options. Invite Compromise.

4.  Go Play

Creatively play with an idea.  Have Fun.  Teach It Someone Else.

5.  Stop Starting With “No”

Lose The Rigidity Of The Past.  Look For A Solution.  Find A Way It Can Work.

Why should you give the items above a try?  My weekend ended with one final “sign” reminding me flexibility isn’t just critical to your growth, but also to your life too.

On Sunday, I woke to the news that there was a powerful storm coming.  The weather report warned of 80 to 100 mile-an-hour winds and a flash flood warning was in effect.  The prediction did not disappoint.  Although a tornado did not touch down, the storm performed like one.  In a matter of a few minutes, there was an incredible surge of wind and rain.  Power was out for hours and reports of terrible damage arrived by phone.  When I finally went outside to assess the damage, I was shocked.  Trees were down all over our neighborhood.  But it was a tree in my own yard that gave me my final flexibility lesson.

All the trees in my yard withstood the storm except one.  An older tree was broken in half and lying right next to my house.  As I inspected the tree, I immediately realized why it was destroyed while the others stood tall: it had lost its flexibility.  When I examined the remains, the limbs and trunk of the tree were dead.  Because it had become rigid over time, it did not bend in the wind; it broke.  This lack of flexibility made the old tree unable to withstand the winds of change.

The tree reinforced a martial lesson I have heard for years: stay flexible and you can bend with a new force and come back stronger.  Become rigid and you might break.

When you hear flexibility, I hope you no longer envision doing a “split” or putting your foot behind your head. To be mentally flexible you must “split” from old thoughts and putting new ideas into your head.   Hopefully my message today reminds you to take some time today and  “stretch out.”

Yours In Strength,

Martin