Five Skills That Will Change Your Life: Be Adaptable (Skill #5)

By: Jim Murphy

Five Skills That Will Change Your Life: Be Adaptable (Skill #5)

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  1. Believe in your dreams.
  2. Compete (and live!) with freedom.
  3. Be fully present.
  4. Relax under pressure (control your physiology).
  5. Be adaptable (have behavioral flexibility).

“Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up… In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.” – Henri Nouwen

There’s a particular moment in life we’ve all experienced that’s extremely uncomfortable. It’s a moment where we feel stress or anxiety or fear. Usually, we back away. At least most of us have.

Generally those moments trigger something in the subconscious, some discomfort, perhaps the fight or flight instinct, in which we’ve too often taken flight. It’s those moments that the great ones have learned to adapt. To not retreat. To stay in the moment, as uncomfortable as it is, and be present to the discomfort.

The word comfort literally means “with strength,” while discomfort means “to deprive of courage” (old French). You might think of discomfort as “moments we’re forced to face the situation without the usual comforts.”

The question is, how do we have strength and courage in those key moments, the ones that determine success or failure, growth or limitation?

Perhaps you heard of the Stanford marshmallow study in which 4-year-old kids were presented with a marshmallow and told they could have a second one if they were able to get through a waiting period.

The kids who were able to handle the discomfort of restraining themselves from the tempting treat got the reward. In effect they had two options: instant gratification (tasty treat now) or delayed gratification (double the treat later). The delayed gratification choice, perhaps most beneficial of all, enhances personal growth by strengthening your inner being, not letting your feelings control you.

Some researchers call this skill executive or inhibitory control. It’s the ability to not act on impulses, to ignore distractions (like negative thoughts) and the feelings of discomfort. It’s the strength to control the urge that says “I must flee” or “I must self-protect” or “yummy, yummy in my tummy.”

These moments that we all face come in unique circumstances to each of us. It could be serving a volleyball at match point in the national championship, or a crucial putt to win your first PGA Tour event or major.

Thinking of the importance of the outcome (or your attachment to it) limits your adaptability. On the PGA Tour for example, golfers tend to have less success on birdie putts than on par putts of the same length even though they have identical value on the scorecard.

To be adaptable (have behavioral flexibility) is to be able to handle any situation, any person, any comment, any adversity, any unexpected or “hopefully-not-gonna-happen” moment… without retreating or being tentative.

Whether it’s a person that knows how to push your buttons, a situation that pushes you into fear mode, or moments when the lure of instant gratification is strong, either way, we need to get those buttons to become power on buttons rather than power off.

Behavioral flexibility is the ability to make every moment equal, to be your true self and have peace and confidence no matter what the situation. It’s the skill of being able to control your thoughts and your physiology under pressure; being able to adapt and not let your ego dominate you.

Whatever the moment is for you, you can learn to be adaptable. It takes practice and awareness and a few simple, although perhaps scary, techniques.

What to do

  1. Recognize the key moments in your life where in the past you’ve felt so uncomfortable that you retreated, in fear, discomfort, or frustration, rather than leaned in to the moment.
  2. Visualize that future moment, for it will surely happen again. Just the act of acknowledging the moment when you’re in it gives you power in that moment. See yourself acknowledging the moment, feeling the discomfort, then taking the step you haven’t taken in the past. See that next step, nerves and all, and see yourself taking it.
  3. You have to be wiling to face feelings that in the past you ran from. When you visualize, and when the moment comes, ask yourself, “Am I willing to face any feeling?”
  4. Ask yourself, “Am I willing to step into this moment with whatever it brings, even though I’m extremely uncomfortable and I may fail?”
  5. Then use an IX tool to step into the moment, perhaps Countdown Breathing, Box breathing, or Be Here Right Now.

In the past, in those pivotal moments where we were confronted with extreme discomfort, most of us gave in to fear and/or ego (not willing to fail or look foolish) and weren’t able to grow. Now even with baby steps, you’re expanding your comfort zone and what you believe is possible. You’re becoming someone you’ve never been before. Cheers to you!

Love Jim


We’re almost done with the home gym renovations. Our chest freezer/cold plunge is almost ready! The far-infrared sauna (with red light therapy) should be here in two weeks or so. Let me know if you use any of these tools!

My schedule: I’ll be heading out to the Middle East February 1st to the 12th or so (Dubai, UAE, and Muscat, Oman).

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