Psychological flexibility-like physical fitness, takes persistence and practice

Helen McGillivray is a psychological therapist with over 28 years of clinical experience, including 14 years providing psychological therapies. She specialises in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Helen is accredited with

The BACBP, the leading organisation for cognitive and behavioural therapies in the UK.

In this blog, Helen explores the journey to practicing psychological flexibility and some of the challenges you might be facing.

I wrote about psychological flexibility in a previous blog post - maybe you have been looking around the app and finding your way. You might be working your way through some of the ‘Look after your mind’ exercises in our Resources area. If so, what do you notice?

Are you becoming more aware of your inner world and how you show up in the world you live in? How you react and respond to the world around you? Are you noticing frustration and thinking “what’s the point in tracking my mood”? Either of these are fine - I might say “good noticing” and “keep going” – so what do you need to do to keep going?

Just like improving your physical fitness, this requires patience and of course practice, practice, practice.

We were born into this world as curious mindful beings, keen to explore the world around us. We have successfully evolved to survive and thrive. However in the modern world we live in, surviving sometimes means that we lose that sense of curiosity and playfulness that we once had. We become more focused on the fast paced, exciting, and sometimes threatening, world around us - our external world. At the same time we are less tuned in to our inner world – of thinking, dreaming, memories, noticing our emotional state and how our body feels. We are on a mission to be happy and we compare ourselves to what we see in the virtual ‘Instagram’ world. With the ongoing pandemic it is more important than ever to build our mental fitness.

If I was a personal trainer and you approached me to improve your physical fitness, I might enquire about your motivation to change and we would discuss goals. I would then prescribe you some exercises and set you off on a regime aimed at progressing towards these goals, checking in now and again to enquire about progress and tweaking the regime to progress and growing muscle. What happens is up to you. If you persevere, and are consistent and willing to put in the work, you will see results.

If I was a music teacher and you wanted to learn an instrument, what would the process be? To become more skilled with the chosen instrument would require commitment to ongoing practice before skills develop. Do you see where this is going?

In both these scenarios there would undoubtedly be good days, bad days and frustration. There may be thoughts about giving up, self-criticism, and perhaps joy as we progress. If we don’t practice, there will be no progression and we will remain stuck in the place we started. That’s our choice.

So, to improve mental fitness we need to pay attention to our internal world, notice thoughts, feelings, how our body feels, how we speak to ourselves in our minds, and consider how we want show up in the world we live in

As we practice these psychological skills, we become more in tune and are then more able to take action towards the things that matter most to us.

  • In your OK Positive app, go to Resources, pick one or two resources and do them regularly. Notice how each time is different and practice some more

  • On days where frustration takes hold, notice what your mind is saying to you and practice alternative responses. Be kinder to yourself, let yourself off the hook.

  • Be aware of your personal values and what matters most. Values can be your ‘life compass’ to navigate when things get tough.

Lastly, remember to have fun. Find exercises and resources that work for you. Short 5 minute practices are good, but be consistent. If you struggle to sit in front of your computer then perhaps walk around or lie down. Just like physical fitness, find the sport or activity that works for you. If it’s workable for your lifestyle, you will be much more likely to stick at it.