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What does being psychologically flexible mean?

This image of a person walking while holding on to balloons encapsulates what it is to be psychologically flexible
Young woman walking along holding bunch of red foil balloons
© Getty Images

You’ll see in the image above that the figure is carrying balloons. This image encapsulates what it is to be psychologically flexible (adapted from Ciarrocchi 2013), because the balloons represent potentially negative feelings and emotions, such as self-doubt, anxiety and uncertainty.

There are two important elements to this:

  1. While the figure is carrying the emotions with her (we all have to), she is not gripping them too tightly and nor paying much attention to them, but neither is she trying to avoid them or letting them fly away.
  2. While holding the balloons gently, lightly but with care, she is engaged in a much more vital journey; moving ahead with her life according to what she values.

Psychological flexibility

Steven Hayes (2006: 7), the originator of these ideas, refers to this phenomenon:

“Psychological flexibility refers to the ability to fully contact the present moment and the thoughts and feelings it contains without needless defence and – depending upon the situation – persist with or change behaviour in the pursuit of values and values-based goals.”

So how might we develop our emotional intelligence in this area?

Consider your own responses:

  • Are you able to recognise experiential avoidance and cognitive fusion in your own life?
  • Are you able to accept that setbacks and failure are normal and are a part of what it means to be human?
  • Are you able to put some distance between your experiences and how you respond to them?
  • Are you able to ‘hold your balloons lightly’ and move forward in a value-led direction?

Think about how your balloons might detract from your journey in life. You may even want to design your own figure holding your balloons while striding towards your value-led direction.


Ciarrochi, J. (2013) Joseph Ciarrochi [online] available from [15 August 2018]

Hayes, S. C., Luoma, J. B., Bond, F. W., Masuda, A., and Lillis, J. (2006) ‘Acceptance and Commitment Theory: Model, Processes and Outcomes’. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1-25

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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