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Introducing psychological flexibility

Introducing psychological flexibility

Are we able to respond flexibly to our life and work challenges?

In the clip above, you will meet Sarah and Nick again, two managers at the same company. They respond very differently when things don’t go their way, but show a similar lack of psychological flexibility.

What is psychological flexibility?

Psychological flexibility asks us to believe that having negative thoughts, feelings and emotions is not inherently harmful to our health and wellbeing, it’s how we respond to these stimuli that can make the difference.

There are two factors that can prevent us from being psychologically flexible:

  • experiential avoidance
  • cognitive fusion

Experiential avoidance

The heart in the cartoon in the previous step is offering classic experiential avoidance. It is very similar to the ‘flight or fight’ model we looked at in Goleman’s mixed model of emotional intelligence last week, in that we attempt to alter, avoid or remove undesirable thoughts or emotions.

If we suppress our emotions or avoid situations where they might arise, we feel we might be able to reduce the worry and anxiety that these emotions engender (Flaxman and Bond 2010: 284-287).

Cognitive fusion

Cognitive fusion is almost the opposite, in that we align so closely with our emotions that we identify ourselves through them. We respond to thoughts and stories about ourselves literally and we are unable to see ourselves as distinct and separate from what we think about ourselves (Flaxman and Bond 2010: 284-287).

An example of this would be the person who describes themselves as ‘useless’ or ‘sad’ rather than being able to acknowledge that these are transient emotions or thoughts. This is often a subconscious thought process but can dominate behaviour.


Flaxman, P. E., and Bond, F. W. (2010) ‘Acceptance and Commitment Training: Promoting Psychological Flexibility in the Workplace’. in Assessing Mindfulness and Acceptance Processes in Clients: Illuminating the Theory and Practice of Change. ed. by R. A. Baer. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger

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Emotional Intelligence at Work

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