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By Ida Soghomonian (Psychologist)

“It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

The origin of the word ‘adaptable’ dates back to 1790-1800, meaning ‘to be able to adapt oneself readily to different conditions’.

Every individual has the basic innate capability to be adaptable – without this we would not be able to survive and function in the world. However how many of us do in fact adapt enough to function, cope and more importantly thrive? Who has the ability to prioritize, improvise, compromise, keep an open mind, face challenges without giving up, keep calm and persist in adverse situations? The answer is a resilient and adaptable individual.

Adaptability is the ability to adjust your approach or actions in response to changes in your external environment. It is a valuable skill for individuals. Our circumstances force us to evaluate or reinvent perspectives in our life, actions, and the choices that we’ve made. Sometimes these evaluations or reinventions are done by choice while other times they are forced upon us. Regardless, these changes can often be difficult.

Strategic adaptability is a planned ability to react effectively when business and environmental factors change unexpectedly. Many companies do a good job planning how to operate when things work out as expected. Companies that survive in the long run often plan for flexibility in response to the unexpected. On an individual level, a contingency plan and the awareness and forward thinking that we might be required to reevaluate, adjust and fine tune our approach prepares us for a better adaptation period.

Adaptability is the ability of a system to adapt itself efficiently and fast to changed circumstances. An adaptive system is therefore an open system that is able to fit its behavior according to changes in its environment or in parts of the system itself. That is why a requirement to recognize the demand for change without any other factors involved can be expressed.

Adaptability can include the degree to which adjustments are possible in behaviours, practices and processes. Adaptation can be planned or spontaneous, carried out is response to or in anticipation of changes.

Adaptation often requires you to stop following the status quo, to get out of your comfort zone, or to break routines. Our individual comfort zone helps us to decrease stress, reduce anxiety, and keeps us from taking risks. We need our comfort zone to go to every once in a while, however if we want to continually grow, challenge ourselves, we need to tolerate the discomfort and embrace the uncertainty that comes with stepping out of our comfort zone to be able to adapt to the changes that are necessary to excel.

Our ability to adapt to these situations and become comfortable with the ever-changing circumstances in our life influence our happiness, health, stress and general well-being.

Adaptability has many enemies, the main culprit being fear – fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of failing, fear of disappointment. Other enemies include lack of diversity, bias, habit, conditioning, stuckness, skill deficiency, short term and rigid thinking.

In their book ‘Super Brain’ Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi refer to the great physician Albert Einstein as a hero of super brain, as he challenged his own comfort zone, and the ideologies of his peers, went against the grain and stood firm on what he believed, which was quite different to the status quo. He used his brain in a way that any person can learn. They highlight that the key is adaptability. Einstein adapted by facing the unknown and conquering it – his theory of relativity and radical equations propelled him to be one of the most famous and admired individuals in history.

When you see a new problem, you can solve it in old ways o in a new way. The first is the easier path to follow, but one which will not get you the desired results. Instead of remaining stuck in old behaviours, which are wired in the brain, you can use your brain in the following, more effective ways for better results:

How to be Adaptable

  • Stop repeating what never worked in the first place
  • Stand back and ask for a new solution
  • Stop struggling at the level of the problem – the answer never lies there
  • Work on your own stuckness.  Don’t worry about the other person
  • When the old stresses are triggered, walk away
  • See righteous anger for what it really is – destructive anger dressed up to sound positive
  • Rebuild the bonds that have become frayed
  • Take on more of the burden that you think you deserve
  • Stop attaching so much weight to being right.  In the grand scheme of things, being right is insignificant compared with being happy

Chopra and Tanzi (2013) emphasise that taking these steps creates a space so that your brain can change. Nursing a negative emotion is the surest way to block positive emotions.

You are becoming more adaptable when

  • You can laugh at yourself
  • You see that there’s more to the situation than you realise
  • Other people no longer look like antagonists simply because they disagree with you
  • Negotiating starts to work, and you genuinely participate in it
  • Compromise becomes a positive word
  • You can hang loose in a state of relaxed alertness
  • You see things in a way you didn’t before, and this delights you

If you want to achieve success in any field, including your own optimum wellbeing and fullfilment, maximize your brain’s ability to adapt.


Chopra D.; Tanzi R.E. (2013) Super Brian – Unleash the Explosive Power of Your Mind. The Random House Group Limited.


Famous quotes on adaptability

“All fixed set patters and incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.” – Bruce Lee

“When you can’t change the direction of the wind adjust your sails.” – H. Jackson Brown

“Adaptability is being able to adjust to any situation at any given time.” – John Wooden

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson

“Adaptability is not imitation. It means power of resistance and assimilation.”                   – Mahatma Ghandhi

“Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.” – Max McKeown

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.” – Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Ida Soghomonian
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