Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center

Flexible Doing

What is Flexible Doing?

Are you satisfied with how you are living your life?

Most of us would like to know how to live a life that is increasingly fulfilling, is filled with meaningful relationships, and has a sense of purpose.  Although this may sound daunting, it is possible. We can learn better ways to manage life’s inevitable stresses and conflicts, including how to have difficult conversations and build positive relationships.

Unfortunately, we tend to fall into ruts and react to stress and conflict in rigid ways.  Sometimes we try to use strategies that worked in the past but no longer work as well.  For example, in your family, it may have been helpful to avoid conflict.  Now, however, it may impair your ability to form close and honest relationships with your peers.

"Flexible Doing” means pulling ourselves out of our ruts and engaging mindfully, not mindlessly, with life’s challenges—not only the occasional high-stress situations, but life itself.  Flexible doing means choosing how you want to live—with what values, what goals, and with whom. We are more flexible when we can live according to our values and utilize new skills to achieve our goals. Also, we work to maintain and deepen our relationships, even throughout the most difficult situations.

Values are statements about what we want to be doing with our life – they are the leading principles that help guide and motivate us. For example, you may value being a good friend, maintaining health and fitness, and being open and honest. A value is not something you do, but rather what guides what you do. Values are like a compass. As you know, a compass helps you navigate and keep on track as you are traveling. Our values do the same in our lives. We use them to choose the direction in which we want to move and to keep us on track. When you act on a value, it is like heading west. No matter how far west you travel, you never get there; there is always further to go.

Compass Goals are what you do (e.g., eating healthy, studying, making time for friends). A goal is something that can be completed, achieved, and “crossed off the list.” Keeping with the compass metaphor, goals are like the things you try to achieve on your journey west; they are the sights you want to see or the mountains you want to climb while continuing to travel west.

Some Examples of Goals vs. Values:

Goal: Run a 5k by the end of the year
Value: Physical Health

Goal: Spend less time worrying
Value: Act courageously

Goal: Experience more positive emotions throughout the day
Value: Be warm, open, and friendly toward others

Goal: Graduate college
Value: Personal growth and knowledge

Five Key Points About Values:

  1. Values never need to be justified.
  2. Values often need to be prioritized.
  3. Values are changeable and adjustable.
  4. Values are freely chosen.
  5. Values are lived daily in the present moment, goals are plans you make for the future.

Final note about values vs. goals: many people think of success as achieving goals. We invite you to consider a different definition: success is living by our values. With this definition, we can be successful right now, even though our goals may be a long way off.

Why Is Flexible Doing Important?

Engaging in flexible doing allows you to experience a variety of situations, both good and bad, in order to move towards your values. People who live a valued life experience a greater sense of meaning and purpose because they are better able to cope with the challenges that life throws them. If we are able to better cope and communicate with others, we experience deeper and more fulfilling relationships, which further increase our resilience in tough situations.

What You Can Do:

Learn how to clarify your deepest personal values. Once you have stated your values, it becomes easier to match your behaviors to your values. Try completing one of the handouts below. 

• Take the time to regularly identify your goals. Try creating SMART goals that are consistent with your values. SMART goals are specific, meaningful, actionable, realistic, and time-framed.

• Take action to live more according to your values and goals.  Think about your values and goals and the changes you need to make to fulfill them. Commit to what you want and write down the specific actions you want to take. Doing so makes it more likely that you will follow through with your plan. Be aware and plan for barriers that may arise (e.g., Value:  Physical Health, Goal: Work out 30-minutes at least 3x/week, Barrier: It’s freezing outside!, Alternate Plan: Do a yoga video in your dorm). Overall, individuals who live according to what they value tend to report increased satisfaction with their life.  

• Learn new ways of coping and self-soothing.  Try things like the following:

  1. Meditate—Meditation helps you live in the moment rather than anticipating fearful events. Meditation also increases self-awareness and promotes mental clarity.
  2. Exercise—Physical activity causes physiological changes such as increased blood flow to the brain and can elevate mood.
  3. Breathing exercises—Relieves tension and increases oxygen intake.  Breathe in relaxation and breathe out stress.
  4. Journal— Journaling helps you get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. Writing helps you to process your thoughts and problem-solve.
  5. Yoga—Try a yoga course at the FAC, or do some yoga in the privacy of your own room using one of the many videos available on the web.

• Learn interpersonal skills and communication techniques to enhance your relationships.  Check out the handouts below. 

Questions for Reflection:

• How do you handle conflict in relationships?
• When you consider your week and weekend, how were your actions in accordance to your values?
• What makes it challenging to live out your values?
• What are some techniques you use to de-stress? 

Related Videos:

Changing Values   
Happiness & Helping Others      
Kid President

Helpful Handouts:

10 Ways to Self-Soothe
Clarifying Your Values 
Communication Skills
Ways to Cope
Improve the Moment
Practicing Interpersonal Situations
Activating the 5 Senses
Setting Goals
Values Assessment
Trying on a Value