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Flexibility in the Face of Surprise

By Kimberly Burnham

The phone rings 30 minutes earlier than expected. It is your boss letting you know the project deadline has been moved up.  The cookies, a child has been looking forward to get burned, and are inedible. The connecting plane is delayed and you miss your flight. The store closed 10 minutes before you get there to buy milk. A friend arrives 20 minutes early to a surprise party.

Our lives are unpredictable and things change. How successful and happy we are often depends on how flexibly we are able to roll with the bumps in the schedule of life.

A recent article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience explains the role of the brain in our ability to be flexible. “The frontal lobes have figured prominently in most accounts of flexible or goal-directed behavior, as evidenced by often-reported behavioral inflexibility in individuals with frontal lobe dysfunction. There is mounting evidence that damage to the hippocampus can produce inflexible and maladaptive behavior when such behavior places high demands on the generation, recombination, and flexible use of information.”

Have you ever thought about the “flexible use of information?” Children, it seems, rarely have enough information. They constantly ask, “When are we going to get there?;” “How long does it take?;” What time is it?” and most of all; “Why?” They are trying to get enough information. Often when you give a child a lot of information they are more relaxed about the changes or the schedule. Sometimes an effective strategy is to visualize the day. Look at what comes first and how long will each activity take. Share the plan you have in your head with those around you. Let the child or employee or friend know that this is the plan even though plans change.

Some people love surprises, gifts for no reason, surprise parties, etc, while other people hate to be surprised. Surprises require flexibility.

One way to expand your ability to be flexible is to think about the information that you feel you need, when plans change. Take a moment and really think, “What do I need to know in order to adapt?”

The above exercise can also help with memory issues, which are influenced by the brain’s hippocampus. “Abilities as diverse as memory, navigation, exploration, imagination, creativity, decision-making, character judgments, establishing and maintaining social bonds, empathy, social discourse, and language use” are seen in the hippocampus.  In other words our ability to, “move through and create meaning of our world. ,”The authors of the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience’s article continue, “Hippocampal abnormalities can produce profound deficits in real-world situations, which typically place high demands on the flexible use of information.”

Another way to expand our ability to adjust to disappointments, surprises, deadline changes, and all those fluid situations in our life is to do something new: a new activity or an old activity in a new way.

Learning and telling jokes can also develop our ability to adapt to change. The reason many jokes are funny is that we expect a certain ending and then are surprised by the play on words, like — if you are afraid of change … feel free to donate those pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, here.

About Kimberly Burnham

Author of "Awakenings: Peace Dictionary, Language and the Mind, A Daily Brain Health Program" Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Integrative Medicine) investigates the relationship between memory, language, caring and pattern recognition to create a daily brain health exercise program enabling people to achieve better neurological health, mood, and quality of life. She is on a mission to create more peace and understanding in the world by collecting and writing about the nuanced meaning of “Peace” in 4,000 different languages and is looking for funding to complete the project. Known as The Nerve Whisperer, Kimberly uses words (books, presentations, and poetry), health coaching, guided visualization, and hands-on therapies (CranioSacral therapy, acupressure, Matrix Energetics, Reiki, and Integrative Manual Therapy) to help people heal from nervous system and autoimmune conditions. She also focuses on vision issues like macular degeneration and supports people looking for eye exercises to improve driving and reading skills as well as athletic visual speed. An award-winning poet, Kimberly grew up overseas. The child of an international businessman and an artist, she learned Spanish in Colombia; French in Belgium; then Japanese in Tokyo and has studied both Italian and Hebrew as an adult. The author of “My Book: Self-Publishing, a Guided Journal”, she can be reached for health coaching, publishing help, bible study zoom presentations or talking about peace at NerveWhisperer@gmail.com or http://www.NerveWhisperer.Solutions.

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