If you are known to be stubborn by your loved ones and if you do agree that you tend to “get stuck” on certain thoughts and behaviors patterns, these seven steps will help you go with the flow, instead of being rooted in your stance.
The dictionary meaning of stubborn says – “Someone who is stubborn or who behaves in a stubborn way is determined to do what they want and is very unwilling to change their mind.”
Why is it such a big deal? So many people are rooted in their opinions, beliefs and ideas.
But the thing is you could be harming yourself and your reactions to people and situations in life. Being able to “go with the flow” and be flexible in your thinking is a necessary skill for dealing with life’s inevitable changes. This is a trait that helps us adjust more easily to new circumstances, challenges and situations as they arise. Whether it’s starting a new phase in life, taking a new class or adjusting to an illness, being cognitively flexible helps us to grow and get along better with others.
However, for many people, this is much easier said than done—especially for those who tend to “get stuck” on certain thoughts and behaviour patterns.
Hand to heart, answer yes or no to the following questions:
- Do you tend to be stubborn, argumentative or oppositional, worry constantly, and get upset when things don’t go your way?
- Are you mostly uncooperative (or automatically say “no” to things)?
- Do you have conditions such as addictions, obsessive- compulsive tendencies, eating disorders, road rage?
If you have answered yes to even two questions you could be facing a challenge to be flexible in your mind.
The Biological Basis of Inflexibility
An area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG) tends to be overactive in people who have difficulty with cognitive flexibility. Located in the front part of the brain, the ACG is involved with shifting attention.
When the ACG works well, it allows us to focus on something, let go, and then shift to focus on something else. However, when it is overactive, there is a tendency for people to get stuck. Much like “being on a hamster on an exercise wheel, where the thoughts just go over and over and over.”
The good news is that there are some simple strategies you can incorporate into your life to help you become more flexible and adjust more easily to change.
1. Up your serotonin level
It has been noted that the ACG has many “serotonergic” fibers and that people who tend to be rigid in their thinking or behaviour may have a deficit of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that when in normal range, helps you stay happy, calm and focused
For many, a diet with a higher ratio of complex carbohydrates to protein can be helpful. In particular, you might try adding chickpeas and sweet potatoes to your diet because these foods help boost serotonin, are high in fiber, and are lower on the glycemic index.
Serotonin levels can also be raised by eating foods rich in L-tryptophan which is a building block of serotonin. Such foods include chicken, turkey, salmon, nut butter, eggs, and green peas.
Another way to increase L-tryptophan is by exercising. Exercise also increases your energy levels, reduces your worries, and can distract you from the repetitive thinking patterns that get stuck in your head.
3. Pen down what’s on your mind
Writing down your thoughts helps to “get them out of your head” and allows you to view them more rationally.
Try writing down:
- The thought that is stuck in your head
- What you can do to help offset the thought
- Things you have no control over with regard to the thought
4. Seek to understand
Simply put, try listening to the other person. Rather than automatically shutting down the conversation, seek to understand others’ ideas and rationale.
Many people don’t listen because they’re afraid if they do, it will appear like they agree with the other party. This is not a valid reason for not listening. Just because you understand someone doesn’t mean you agree with them. But you’ll have a better chance of stating your position if you can show that you at least have a good sense of the bigger context. And who knows, you might actually change your mind once you have the whole picture.
5. Be open to the possibilities
Overly stubborn people often believe that there is only one viable course of action. As a result, they remain solidly staunched in their positions.
By approaching a situation with an openness to at least explore other alternatives, you show some flexibility — even if you ultimately end up right back where you started.
When someone is trying to persuade you on something you vehemently oppose, ask yourself “What conditions would need to be in place for me to be convinced of this idea?”
By checking your assumptions, you might find yourself able to entertain other possibilities that weren’t originally in your purview.
6. Think before automatically saying “no”
Some people have the tendency to say “no” automatically—even before thinking about what was asked of them. This can be especially problematic in relationships. It is limiting and unnecessary to always dismiss ideas or deny your partner his or her requests.
To help with this, before responding, take a deep breath, hold it for three seconds, and then take five seconds to exhale, while actually considering what the best way to respond would be.
Tell the person to give you time to revert. And use that time to allow for more flexibility in your thought process.
7. Admit when you’re wrong
Being convinced that you’re right is one thing. Digging your heels in when you know that you’re wrong is inexcusable. In the latter situation, own up to your error and hold yourself accountable for your decisions and actions. In the long term, that will gain you far more credibility than sticking to your original plan.
While you can decide what you can live with, remember to be sensitive to the needs of those around you.
Being overly stubborn can become a habit. And while staying true to your stake in the ground is admirable, not every situation warrants that type of steadfast conviction. Rather than always pushing for your idea, decision or plan, recognise when it’s okay to go with a decision that you can live with even if it’s not your top choice. It may be that you have more to gain in the long term if you show that you’re persuadable in the short term.
At the root of all stubbornness is the fear of letting go of your own ideas, convictions, decisions and at times, identity.
But as renowned author James Baldwin eloquently stated – “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it… Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free… for higher dreams, for greater privileges.”
Allowing yourself the freedom of a flexible mind can result in greater value than you originally expected.