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Mental agility: why developing this skill could make a big difference in your career

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Lauren Geall
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Are you looking to get ahead at work in 2021? Here’s why developing your mental agility skills could be the answer. 

When you think about the kind of skills you need to succeed in the workplace, what comes to mind? For most people, it’ll probably be a combination of communication, teamwork and organisation – the kind of attributes you’d see listed on a job advert or CV.

But alongside these core skills, there are other areas of our working lives which would benefit from development – especially as we move into the ‘new normal’ of work after the pandemic.

According to Gemma Leigh Roberts, organisational psychologist and founder of The Resilience Edge, one of these skills we should be focusing on as we move through 2021 is our mental agility. 

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“Mental agility is the capacity to respond to events in a flexible way and be able to move quickly between different ideas,” she explains. “If you’re mentally agile, you can take in change and find the best course of action to move forward despite unpredictable events.

“It’s not about having all the answers – but about being confident that you can figure out a new way of doing things to get where you want to go.”

While mental agility shares similarities with problem solving skills, it’s more than that. People who have good mental agility are not only able to solve problems easily, but to handle a situation in which that problem may be constantly changing, and do so in a confident way – an ability which has become even more crucial during the pandemic.  

A woman on her laptop
“Mental agility is the capacity to respond to events in a flexible way and be able to move quickly between different ideas.”

“Using mental agility can help you to respond confidently and effectively to challenges and new situations, without feeling overwhelmed,” Roberts adds.

So, if you want to develop your mental agility this year, how can you go about it? We asked Roberts to share some of her top tips – here’s what she had to say.  

1. Write down as many approaches as you can

To improve your mental agility, you need to have a good problem solving foundation. To develop yours, Roberts recommends challenging yourself to think outside the box on a regular basis.

“When something happens that requires you to rethink your path forward, focus on working through all possible ways of responding to the situation and put them on paper,” she says.

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“Think not only about what you would do, but about how others might respond. Challenge yourself to write as many solutions as you can think of within 30 minutes. Doing this will flex your problem solving muscles and help you see options more clearly.” 

2. Protect your mental energy

Just as a car needs fuel to run, we need to take care of ourselves and fuel our minds to be able to respond well to challenges throughout the day – one of the key facets of mental agility.

“Think about what you need to help boost your energy throughout the day and how you can work it into your life,” Roberts recommends. “This will be individual to you – maybe it’s getting out for some exercise early every morning, taking a lunchtime nap, or relaxing every evening by watching a TV show or reading a good book.”

She continues: “Some things might not always be in your control, but there are always small things you can do to inject an energy boost into your routine.” 

A woman walking
Protecting your mental energy by going for a walk or run will put you in better stead to face problems throughout the day.

3. Reflect on the past 

For all the negative parts of 2020, it provided us with an important opportunity to learn from the way we dealt with the challenges we faced and put those lessons into practice going forward.

Look back at how you have responded to challenges in the past – this is probably something many of us have had plenty of practice with in 2020,” Roberts says.

“What did you do well and what could you do better in the future? Is there anything you would replicate or change about your reactions and behaviour? Write your thoughts down so that you can go back and look at your notes later.” 

4. Review and refine

You won’t be able to improve your mental agility overnight – to develop the skill in the long term, you’ll need to build it into your weekly schedule. 

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“Once a week as you’re working through challenges, take some time to reflect and jot down what has gone well, what hasn’t, and what you’d like to do in the future,” Roberts recommends.

“This shouldn’t take a long time – while point number three is a greater reflection exercise, this should be simple, just a few lines focusing on the here and now. Putting pen to paper will help you understand the situation, boost your self-awareness, and visualise how you can improve.” 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s junior digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.