Psychologies works with selected partners who pay to promote their products and services. Learn More

Keep it Happy – Be like bamboo!!!

Deborah Stephenson, trainee Ollie Coach, wonders why flexibility isn’t often something we focus on or acknowledge in ourselves or in others, but we should… it can make a huge difference to our lives and ultimately our happiness.

“The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists” – Japanese proverb

How flexible are you?

I don’t mean whether you can touch your toes or do the splits although I am full of admiration if you can, but if the last year has taught us anything, it is the value of flexibility. Consider the changes we’ve had to make to our lives, particularly over the last few weeks, as the situation switched and changed, and moved on again. We had to adapt – and quickly, along with our friends and family around us, all bumping along trying to find the best way.

It’s true that we may have met these challenges with disappointment, sadness, grumbles, anger or tears… we may have stuck our head in the sand or run away from decisions, despaired or sulked… but ultimately, young and old, we changed tack, adjusted and moved forward.

It will have been easier for some and far tougher for others, but whatever you faced and however you did it, it required adaptability, resourcefulness and above all, flexibility. If you are reading this now, then you have been all of those things and probably a lot more besides… so take a moment to recognise that.

Flexibility isn’t often something we focus on or acknowledge in ourselves or in others, but we should… it can make a huge difference to our lives and ultimately our happiness.

The Law of Requisite Variety – which I love, not only because it has a great name but also because of what it encourages us to do – is one of the cornerstones, or presuppositions, of Neural Linguistic Programming. It states that, “the system or person with the most flexibility of behaviour will control the system.” – the more flexible you are, the more choices you have in reacting to and managing a situation. More choice produces more opportunities to move forward and so it continues.

Inflexibility constrains and restricts us… flexibility gives us choice and freedom.

Which brings me to bamboo…

I lived for a while in Hong Kong where they use bamboo scaffolding instead of steel – yes, even for the skyscrapers. When I first arrived, I was astonished to see construction workers forty or fifty floors up on these seemingly flimsy structures. The tall slim poles looked as if they could snap at any moment and it made my knees ache to watch them, but this kind of scaffolding has been used there for hundreds of years.  Despite its willowy appearance, bamboo is very strong. It has a higher tensile strength than steel, and its lightweight flexibility makes it earthquake resistant.

“The strength of the bamboo is in its ability to bend.”

Be like bamboo…

But, I hear you say, people who remain rigidly focussed on a specific goal are often the most successful… I would agree, but I would also argue that their determination to achieve that goal will make them super flexible along the way. If something doesn’t work they are driven to find a way round it, explore other options, and take another route moving ever closer to their goal.

If what you are doing isn’t working, do something else. It may feel easier and more comfortable to do what you’ve always done and be how you’ve always been no matter how frustrated and stuck you feel, and doing something else can seem daunting… but make a change and go another way rather than continue with something that doesn’t work.

Notice when you are feeling hemmed in, constrained or stuck.

Sometimes the first instinctive thing we do goes ok, but often a pause is better. Take a moment to think, “is this my only option here ?”. The chances are it won’t be.

Sometimes we are more flexible in difficult situations because we have to be more creative in finding a way out… bring this creativity to all your choices.

Sometimes we get stuck in a pressure to find the “perfect solution”. This can lead to inertia…  different choices will simply have different outcomes, get on with one, and if it doesn’t work, do something else.

These are not the only solutions, and it will be different for everyone, but flexibility is liberating and change is an opportunity. I wonder if, when you look back over the last few months, the times when you adjusted and adapted worked better than when you rejected or resisted? And I wonder if maybe they felt better too, because finding a way through a situation often leads to a wonderful feeling of achievement and satisfaction…“This happened – it wasn’t what I was expecting, but I was creative and flexible and I got through”.

The journey you take is your choice… take a detour, explore a path you never noticed before, retrace your steps, climb a hill and look around, put on your wellies and wade through the puddles. Run, jump, side skip or skateboard. Leave the road altogether… creep through the undergrowth, go off piste, take a boat, a plane, a cable car or canoe… be flexible… don’t get stuck in a rut!

And there’s something else too…

It’s new year, and let’s hope for a better one than 2020, but I’m not one for resolutions. I’ve made them before and broken them before, and studies show I’m not alone… around 80 percent of new year resolutions fail. I have huge respect for people who manage to stick to them, but more often than not, no matter how good the intention, other things get in the way, and before we know it we are giving ourselves all kinds of negative self chatter and feeling like a failure, which is not a good way to begin the year.

Having said that, I am a big believer in the idea of fresh starts, new chapters, blank canvases, and moments of determination to be or do something better. A friend of mine choses a positive or motivational word to focus on for the year which is great because it can relate to all areas of our lives.

Instead of a specific resolution, how about choosing a word like “explore”, “collaborate”, “clear”, “progress”, “thoughtfulness”?… I am sure you’ll have better ideas that work for you. Make it something to something to work on or work towards with anything at any time, something to notice in ourselves and to look for in others, something to develop as the year goes on.

The strength of this approach is undoubtably its flexibility, and if you like the idea, then how about the word “flexible”?! Notice it in yourself as new situations arise, look for all the choices available, see where it takes you… and if you do end up being able to do the splits by 2022, then that’s an added bonus… (and do let me know!)

A Happy Flexible New Year to you all.

Deborah Stephenson, Ollie Coach trainee

I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far. 

To get in contact with Deborah, email

To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to

Caroline Chipper

Caroline Chipper


Co founder of Subconquest Ltd, that trades as Ollie and his Super Powers. My many years of commercial experience is being put to good use managing the business side of Ollie, including working with our Ollie Coaches, and managing our contracts. In everything we do its about making a difference to those we work with. To find out more go to