When was the last time you scratched your nose?
No. Really. Serious question. When was the last time you scratched your nose?
I know. Something you don’t think about much, right? But it’s an important question nonetheless because what happens when your nose itches and your hands are full? You know, like when you’re holding your Blonde Cocoa Cloud Macchiato in one hand and your warm butter croissant in the other and you’re walking to your car and there’s no place to set either item down. How do you scratch your nose when it itches?
Either a) you don’t or b) you figure out a way to scratch your nose without using your hand or your fingers. Now, there are all types of ways to get this accomplished. You can use your shoulder, your forearm, or you can have someone scratch it for you (hopefully it’s someone you know because asking a stranger probably isn’t the best idea). Regardless, you develop a strategy or strategies to get it done. If one way doesn’t work (like if you’re also holding important papers under your arms causing you to press your armpits together to hold on to the documents so you can’t use your forearms) you try something else (like using a wall or secretly using the back of a strangers arm if you’re in a crowded elevator. What? You’ve never done that before?)
THE POINT IS you adjust your thinking to get the problem solved. And if you are this type of person, the one who keeps coming up with new ideas to solve whatever problem you might be facing, congratulations! You are utilizing a very important skill called
Cognitive meaning concerning the mind
Flexibility meaning able to be modified.
Now, don’t get freaked out by the term. You’ve seen it in use before today. In the world of education where I’ve spent most of my time, cognitive flexibility is defined as the ability to adjust ones thinking when presented with unexpected variables. For example, it’s when a robotics team has to adjust their carefully planned program because their robot isn’t working correctly.
In football, which is my favorite sport to watch, it’s the moment when the quarterback falls back to pass but ends up scrambling for yards because he sees his receiver isn’t open.
In parenting, cognitive flexibility is what your children use after you’ve told them 27 times why they can’t have ice cream for dinner, and they come up with reason #28 why they should.
In other words, it’s our ability to think on our feet.
And yet, not utilizing cognitive flexibility has very real-life consequences. Without it, we can become STAGNANT
And even more significantly, we run the risk of sacrificing our dreams and aspirations and we can easily find ourselves sinking into a state of perpetual purposelessness.
See, cognitive flexibility isn’t just necessary. It’s vital and it can be the difference between reclaiming living your best life, or losing it.
On March 23, 2018, I sustained what is called a widow-maker heart attack, the type of heart attack that is so severe that after I coded 9 times and didn’t die, the doctors and nurses took to calling me a walking miracle. Sounds nice, right? Just one problem. When I regained consciousness almost a week later it occurred to me that my legs no longer worked; and not only did they not work, no one could explain why.
And to make things that much more interesting, within the first month of my recovery, I developed infections in my right leg and left foot ultimately resulting in the amputation of them both, my right leg above the knee and my left leg below it. Suddenly, the woman who ran five miles every morning in preparation for the Peachtree Road Race found herself a bilateral lower limb amputee who was also now a partial paraplegic. Life wasn’t just handing me lemons; it was throwing them at my head.
In the subsequent days, weeks and months, I had to decide what I was going to do. On the one hand, I could just quit. Or I could flex my cognition and get back to the business of living. I chose the latter.
I know your story is nothing like mine, but I’m willing to bet you’ve had to regroup after things haven’t gone the way you planned and if you haven’t, well, in the words of my father, “keep living” because one day you will.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve had to re-envision my life to include my new normal. Had I not, I wouldn’t be here before you. The truth is, I needed someone to save my life and the only person who had the power to do that, was me. And when life comes at you fast, the only person who has the power to save you, is you.
Life altering events don’t mean we stop living. It’s not our circumstances but how we respond to them that matters most. And that’s why cognitive flexibility is so important. It affords us the opportunity to take life’s lemons and make one damn good lemon drop martini.