Adaptability is a Learned Skill

We have always lived in a world full of uncertainty, but this moment feels especially ripe with unknowns, doubts, and fears. This particular moment in time can feel quite overwhelming to many, which is why it is so important to continue to work to cultivate adaptability in ourselves. According to Sue Motulsky, Associate Professor at Lesely University, “Adaptability is often seen as a personality trait.” However, in a Washington Post article, Motulsky encourages us to think of adaptability as a skill that can be learned, even if in a trial by fire. She points to how people quickly adapted and worked online at the start of the pandemic.

In many ways, we are living through a period of acute discomfort and we are all adapting. We are all strengthening this skill every day.  Adaptability, by definition, comes as a result of challenging circumstances where one’s status quo is disturbed. How can we continue to strengthen our own adaptability during difficult times?

Firstly, it is important to understand your particular relationship with stress. What are your own responses to stressful triggers? We often need to reflect and assess to fully appreciate how stress is impacting us personally. Some people experience psychosomatic symptoms and get headaches, stomach aches, etc.  Some people throw themselves into work, or food, or TV.  When it comes to crisis or change though, many people have automatic negative thoughts such as “I can’t work from home well because I need more structure.” When a thought like this presents itself, look at it logically and try to think of counterpoints and examples that question the validity of that statement. It can be hard to notice these as automatic negative thoughts, so pay close attention to your inner voice and corresponding feelings.

To help adapt to unpredictable moments, embrace the mindset that change can foster improvement and set small goals for yourself.  Planning an entire project from A to Z doesn’t allow much room for adapting and iterating, so focus on the first step or two only. Part of taking small steps for big tasks/problems also means being able to differentiate between things that are outside of our control.

Lastly, reflecting on positive occurrences and feeling gratitude for them can also help build one’s adaptability.  If you still feel you are struggling with honing your adaptability and resilience, we encourage you to watch our videos on resilience and also take part in our new upcoming webinar series on the mental health and well being of biomedical researchers.

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