If you served in the military no matter what branch of service you were in, you learned at some point the importance of having space to maneuver. Whether you were maneuvering pairs of boots, a tank, a ship, or a fighter jet, having adequate physical space was essential to executing maneuver smoothly and safely. Likewise, when we encounter challenges in life, our minds need maneuver space to mentally negotiate difficult moments. This series will highlight each month a different brief cognitive tool that you can use in your daily life to potentially create more maneuver space. Remember having maneuver space, or space to think, is a gift in life. Once you create it, use it to your advantage!
Check out Maneuver Space: Volume 1, Issue 1
Check out Maneuver Space: Volume 1, Issue 2
Check out Maneuver Space: Volume 1, Issue 3
Check out Maneuver Space: Volume 1, Issue 4
Embracing Psychological Flexibility
The concept of being flexible is something members of the military and Veterans can certainly understand. ‘Being flexible as Gumby’, has a literal meaning for many service members and is not just a proverbial saying. U.S. Army doctrine looks at the concept of flexibility both as a leadership and planning necessity. A flexible leader can mentally quickly adapt to a changing environment and avoid being overwhelmed or frustrated by new requirements or priorities. Similarly, a simple flexible plan allows units to quickly adapt to changing circumstances on the battlefield and is a hedge against rigid institutionalized planning methods that overly emphasize detailed procedures. There is a tool from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that highlights flexibility in a psychological sense. The Hexaflex illustrates the interconnected nature of psychological flexibility where our minds are: (1) accepting of what is out of our personal control, (2) clarifying and engaging in what is truly important and meaningful, and (3) committing to take action that enriches our lives. Remember, rigidity robs our minds of maneuver space to think. Therefore, being psychologically flexible potentially offers us further ability to mentally negotiate difficult moments.
Acceptance: Being willing to experience difficult emotions. Being open to whatever comes. This does not mean ‘giving in’ or radically changing one’s values. Rather it’s about being open to thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and urges that may come up when we act on things that matter to us. Not because we want to have them, but because we are willing to have them.
Defusion: Observing your thoughts without being ruled by them. Observing thoughts as they come and go without attaching meaning or judgment. Being able to take a step back from your thoughts so you can put them in perspective.
Self as Context: Flexibly taking an observer perspective on experiences of self. Conscious stable awareness of yourself. Observing yourself through pure awareness of thoughts, behaviors, body sensations, and mood.
Present Moment: Focusing on the here-and-now. Being in contact with the present moment. Be in the ‘now’….not stuck in worry (future) or rumination (past).
Values: Discovering what is truly important to you. Knowing what matters in your life and what can guide your behaviors. Values are words or statements that describe who you want to be and how you want to behave in the world. Live a values-focused life.
Committed Action: Taking action to pursue the important things in your life. Take effective mental, physical, and behavioral actions guided by your values. Set ‘SMART’ goals: Specific, Motivated, Adaptive, Realistic, and Timely.
Psychological flexibility is ultimately a way to reduce human suffering through acceptance rather than avoidance. Being flexible as a leader or a planner in the military was essential to adapting rapidly to changing conditions. Having psychological flexibility allows us to navigate life’s challenges and minimize suffering, pain, and frustration.
About the Author: Mr. Bongioanni is a licensed mental health counselor who also works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is also a senior leader in the U.S. Army Reserve. His professional interests include human behavior, applied psychology, and military cultural competence. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
 Department of the Army. (2022). Field Manual 6-0 Commander and Staff Organization and Operations. (p. 2-6). https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN35404-FM_6-0-000-WEB-1.pdf
 Department of the Army. (2022). Field Manual 5-0 Planning and Orders Production. (p. 1-23 – 1-24). https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN36775-FM_5-0-001-WEB-3.pdf
 ACT Patient Factsheet. Created for the ACT Mini Rotation Series (2013). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Intranet.
 Walser, R. D., Sears, K., Chartier, M., & Karlin, B. E. (2012). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Depression in Veterans: Therapist’s manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs., (p. 12, 16, and 58).
 Bethay, J.S., Weinstein, J., & Stubbs, W. (2022). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Strategies Guide for Anxiety and Trauma-Related Problems in Living. VA South Central Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC): U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs., (p. 1, 19, 29, 37, 43, 55, 56).
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.