Mental Flexibility can save us precious time and energy by being able to change the way we think and respond to situations. When we worry about things beyond our control the “control, accept, and nowact” technique (CAN) can help us think more flexibly and see the world differently.

Can you think of a time when you’ve had some feedback? Perhaps someone said two really good things and one not-so good-thing, but you only remember the not so good thing.

Like a client review that had “well planned, easy to deal with, but a bit rushed”?

Think about how you’d react.

That last point that the job was “a bit rushed” is likely to really stick in your mind.

It might make you feel bad, you might keep thinking about it, wondering things like “What did they mean? What else I could have done? Will they want to do business with us again?”

Feedback is useful, but our brains don’t take in all feedback in the same way.

Our brains tend to dwell on negative feedback and give it too much weight.

The way our brains have evolved is no longer always very helpful and can slow us down. But why did our brains evolve this way?

If we cast our minds back to our really early ancestors and imagine Bob – popping his head out of his cave to go hunting. In the corner of his eye he sees a shadow. His brain focuses on the warning so he stays in his cave on high alert, in case the shadow turns out to be a sabre-toothed tiger.

Being highly responsive to possible threats kept our ancestors alive, but in the modern world, our brains still respond in the same way, even though these threats are typically not life threatening.

For example, when we get negative feedback or have a computer meltdown – our brains get the same flood of stress hormones.

We are hardwired to focus on the negative. This hardwiring is called the negativity bias.

And often, it’s easy to dwell on things that we can’t control, like price increases, the weather, or the looming tax deadline.

One way to overcome the negativity bias is to be mentally flexible and switch our focus.

The CAN technique is an effective way to do this.

‘CAN’ stands for:

Control: What can you influence? Where do you have room to move?

Accept: What do you have to let go?

Now act: What action can you take?

For example if you’re worrying about how much time you’re spending pricing jobs that go nowhere, maybe the things you can control are:

  • How much detail you put in your quotes.
  • How much time you spend doing each one.
  • What types of projects or clients you choose to quote for.

Then write a list of the things you have to just accept and let go, no matter how frustrating they are or how much your brain just wants to keep thinking about them.

In this example you might have:

  • The cost of materials is putting clients off
  • The market is really competitive at the moment
  • Interest rates are going through the roof

Now act. What can you do now?

Examples might be:
Give clients initial quotes with less detail, put in estimates and approximate ranges to save time and to gauge their interest.
Develop a standardized document that shows your value.
Work out what types of jobs and clients you’re more likely to have success with, then focus on finding and developing those opportunities.

The CAN technique stops us from being dragged down by the negativity bias and dwelling on problems that are out of our control.

Use it to take action, and you’ll have more confidence and motivation to take proactive steps towards overcoming challenges.