Switch Craft: The Hidden Power of Mental Agility (2022) introduces the concept of switch craft – the art of being able to change and adapt in this fast-paced world. Drawing on scientific research and real life experience, switch craft uses the four pillars of mental agility, self-awareness, emotional awareness, and situational awareness, to give us the flexibility and understanding to thrive in any situation.
Introduction: Embrace uncertainty and thrive in a complicated world.
We are surrounded by uncertainty. We are constantly bombarded with choices, then left to wonder how things could have been different. What if we had married a different person? Chosen a different career? Even simple day to day decisions can leave us overwhelmed.
The fact is, uncertainty is one of the only certainties in life.
If you’re not careful, you can deal with this uncertainty by making changes too quickly, or sticking with something familiar, even though it isn’t the best solution.
Introducing switch craft: The art of being able to make the right decision in the right moment.
In these summary, you will learn how to hone your switch craft by building and maintaining its four basic pillars. Through mental agility, self-awareness, emotional control, and intuition you can learn to flourish in this complex and rapidly-changing world.
So, let’s get started.
An agile mind can help you change, adapt, and thrive.
Meet Paddi Lund. Paddi spent 10 years setting up and running an expansive and hugely successful dental practice in Brisbane, Australia. On paper his life should have been perfect – he was financially well-off and his business empire was thriving. Yet, Paddi was profoundly miserable.
So, Paddi reflected on his situation. He realized that in building his empire he had lost track of what he loved – the dentistry itself. In a radical and life-changing move, he got rid of 80% of his clients, stopped all advertising for his practice, and transformed half his building into a cafe to create a happiness-centered dental business. Now he’s working a fraction of the time, has doubled his income, and is spending more time with family and friends. Paddi is happy.
Paddi turned his life around by finding a creative and agile response to his stressful situation. This ability – called mental agility – is the first pillar of switch craft.
Mental agility means being able to approach the complicated world with flexibility. It comes down to one basic decision – when you’re faced with challenges in life, do you stick or do you switch? While it is often easier – and sometimes useful – to stick with the current situation, being able to easily switch things up can help you thrive.
This was shown in a study on three cognitive biases in teenagers: Attention bias – whether they focus on pleasant or unpleasant things; memory bias – which type of things they’re more likely to remember, and; interpretation bias – what meaning they make of ambiguous situations.
The study found that biases towards focusing on and remembering threatening or negative words and situations – and interpreting ambiguous situations negatively – were tightly connected in those who struggled with depression and anxiety. For example, triggering a traumatic memory is more likely to make you focus on and interpret negativity around you.
On the other hand, those who were happy and thriving were able to think about negative things without experiencing all the other negative biases. In other words, they were more agile in their thinking, leaving them in a more open and flexible frame of mind.
What can you do to train this mental agility? Try paying attention to when you feel annoyed or upset and see if you can find other ways to interpret these negative situations. Maybe you’re bothered about a friend who is always slow to stay in touch with you. Sure, you can interpret that as her not wanting to see you, but there are always more positive explanations. Maybe she is too busy, or thinks that you are.
Your mental agility – this ability to stick or switch as circumstances require – can be applied to all sorts of situations. Whether you’re raising kids, managing a large project, or living in a long-term relationship, knowing when and how to change can help you thrive, and let you approach challenges with an open mind. Just like Paddi and his dental business, it’s always possible to change your life for the better.
Know yourself so you can make the right choices.
On a column in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, you can find a short maxim, inscribed over 2000 years ago. Throughout history, this simple piece of wisdom has appeared over and over again, from the works of Socrates, to the poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the words of Benjamin Franklin.
Today it can be translated into two little words: “Know thyself.”
This idea of being self-aware – aware of your own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, goals – is the second pillar of switch craft. It is directly related to the first pillar – mental agility – that you learned about in the previous summary. How can you change to fit the situation if you don’t know your abilities or values?
Now it’s time to ask yourself: Who am I?
The research on personality is extensive, though the current consensus is that it should be seen as a spectrum along five broad traits – conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. While all of these are useful to know, it’s this last one – openness to experience – which is particularly important when it comes to switch craft.
This trait relates to how varied and complex your mental life and experiences are, and hence how willing you are to try new things or entertain new ideas. Sound familiar?
To be able to try new things, you need to realize that your beliefs and opinions might be wrong, and sometimes changing your mind is a good thing. This so-called “intellectual humility” can be nurtured in a number of ways.
Firstly, try to listen carefully when you hear something you don’t agree with, without interrupting or ridiculing. Second, keep in mind that your ability isn’t fixed and unchangeable – change and improvement is always possible. Finally, celebrate your failures. Use them as learning experiences, and take those lessons on board.
But knowing yourself isn’t just about your personality and intellectual humility – you’ll need to reflect on what’s at the heart of your true self: Your beliefs and values. Beliefs are your deepest understandings and views about yourself, others, and the world. If you are honest with yourself, and ask probing questions – about what happened in a particular situation, how you felt and the conclusions you made – you can find your core beliefs. A thought diary helps.
Values, while related to beliefs, are more of a fundamental moral code that guides you through the world. It’s helpful to visualize values as a direction of travel rather than a goal. What keeps you going? What do you focus on? Think about key themes in your life, such as family, relationships, work, spirituality, and decide what you stand for.
When you have a good understanding of your beliefs, values, and personality, you can start to truly know yourself. Then when acting with the agility of switch craft, you can be sure that your choices are the best – for yourself.
Be in control of your emotions.
In April 1986, Jennifer Guiness was kidnapped from her Dublin home by a group of armed men. The group had mistakenly thought that she was related to the wealthy Guinness brewing company, and they proceeded to demand a huge ransom payment.
For eight days Jennifer was held captive. Being a strong, no-nonsense woman, she suppressed her understandable fear and remained calm – closely observing her captors. She noticed an older man who seemed quite intimidating, so she was careful and polite around him. On the other hand, there was a younger man who seemed a bit less confident.
Jennifer took a calculated risk, and would become angry at this man, shouting and demanding her freedom. She knew that this tactic probably wouldn’t work on the menacing kidnapper, but she figured she could unsettle the softer one.
Whether or not this strategy of emotional manipulation contributed to her release eight days later, it certainly empowered her and helped her through the stressful ordeal. And her agile and creative response highlights the third pillar of switch craft: Emotional awareness.
When dealing with the complicated situation, Jennifer was able to understand and control her own emotions, while also accurately interpreting the emotions of others. It’s in this way that knowing your emotions can give you the agility to take a particular action to achieve the desired goal.
All emotions are important. Yes, even the negative ones. When you feel angry or scared, for example, that’s your body telling you that you need to focus on a particular issue and make some sort of change. This is essential for adapting to a changing situation. On the other hand, positive emotions like joy, hope, or pride, can leave you motivated and inventive, making you more able to thoroughly think through your decisions, or switch tasks as required.
With that in mind, it is useful to be able to regulate your emotions, so you can react appropriately in a given situation. Sometimes it isn’t helpful to feel a strong emotion, which may cause you to act impulsively. If this is necessary, there are a number of ways you can control your emotions.
One way is to simply change the situation. If you are around people who are making you upset, try to get away from them.
If this isn’t possible, try to shift your focus to something more positive. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of a failed project, think about what went well.
You could also try to change your way of thinking entirely. Maybe try to see things as if from an outsider’s point of view, or look at the bigger picture.
If none of these work, you can adjust your own response. For example, if you find yourself constantly worrying about work, try getting more sleep, changing your caffeine intake, or getting more exercise.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to regulating your emotions, so it’s important to pay attention to the situation and what you are feeling, and then act accordingly. With practice and patience, you can maintain the emotional-awareness required for switch craft.
Learn to trust your gut.
In the summer of 1984, Elaine Fox was working as a chambermaid in a New York hotel. There, she became good friends with a girl called Jenny. One afternoon, Elaine bumped into Jenny at the beach – along with Jenny’s new boyfriend. She immediately felt that something was wrong. He was very handsome, charming, and friendly, yet Elaine couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable and wary around him. There was a subtle hostility in the way his eyes lingered. He didn’t do or say anything intimidating – it was just a feeling.
A feeling that turned out to be accurate. A few weeks later the boyfriend came to Elaine’s flat in a fit of rage, demanding to know where Jenny was. He stormed off after punching a hole through the screen door, before disappearing into the night. A few days and police interviews later it was discovered that the charming boyfriend had been on the run after a series of rapes in California.
Despite all the external evidence that he was a good guy, Elaine had trusted her gut and gone with her intuition. This kind of situational awareness is essential for making the right decision at the right time, and is hence the fourth and final pillar of switch craft.
Intuition is the unarticulated, almost imperceptible gist that you get in a situation. That feeling that something isn’t quite right, or that something is about to happen, that you can’t explain, but know to be true.
While it may seem like magic, intuition has been shown to be accurate and reliable. Your brain is constantly collecting as much information as possible, and using your prior experiences to make predictions. Even if your conscious mind isn’t aware of it, it is this process that lets you make the right decisions in complex and rapidly-changing situations.
When it comes to successful intuition, context is key. If you are sensitive to what’s going on around you, then your gut feelings are going to be more reliable.
So, how can you develop this context sensitivity, and by extension, your intuition?
A good start is to expose yourself to as many different experiences as possible. The more data you have to draw from, the more useful your response will be in a new or complex situation.
It’s useful to have a good idea of what is considered “normal” in a given situation. In a cafe, for example, you might expect people to be sitting around, relaxing, and drinking their coffee. So if you suddenly realize that the patrons are looking around nervously, you may need to prepare for action.
Here’s a small exercise you can do to start being more situationally aware. Place a coin on the upper-left-hand corner of your desk. Tomorrow morning, and every morning after, move it to a different corner. While this may seem deceptively simple, it will slowly train you to be more aware of your immediate surroundings. Over time you will start to shift this awareness to other aspects of the environment.
This heightened understanding of your surroundings will work to enhance your switch craft, and help you make better, more agile decisions in this complicated world.
Using switch craft as a tool to navigate the ups and downs the world offers can help you strengthen your ability to decide whether a situation calls for a switch in mindset, approach, or emotional response. Although the ability to switch from one task or thought to another can be difficult, learning switch craft will improve your quality of life over time.
Use the four pillars to guide you in achieving results and mastering switch craft for your daily lives and connections with others. Hone your mental agility, being prepared to stick or switch depending on the circumstances. Foster self-awareness, so you can know you are making the right decision for yourself. Understand and regulate your emotions, so you can use them to your advantage. And finally, learn to be aware of the world around you, so you can confidently go with your gut instinct.
Start integrating switch craft into your life today!
Switch craft is an ongoing skill that you need to develop over time. And the best time to start is right now. Try keeping a journal of your switch craft journey, addressing the four pillars you learned about in this summary.
Make notes on decisions you’ve made, and your thought process in deciding to stick or switch. Explore your personality, beliefs, values, and goals, to get an understanding of your true self. Record your emotions over different circumstances and times of the day.
Over time you will see yourself develop and grow, and before you know it you will be acting with confidence and agility.
About the author
Elaine Fox, PhD is a psychologist, author, and the Head of the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide, Australia. Prior to her move to Australia, Dr. Fox founded and directed the Oxford Centre for Emotions & Affective Neuroscience (OCEAN) at the University of Oxford, a renowned research center exploring the nature of resilience and mental wellbeing. A cognitive psychologist by training, she is a leading mental health researcher combining genetics, psychology, and neuroscience in her work. Dr. Fox also runs Oxford Elite Performance, a consulting group bringing cutting-edge science and psychology to those at the top levels of sport, business, and the military. Her 2012 book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain is an international bestseller.
Psychology, Personal Development, Health, Fitness, Dieting, Diseases and Physical Ailments, Nervous System Diseases, Behavioral Sciences, Success Self-Help
Table of Contents
The Fundamentals Why Switch Craft Matters
Chapter 1 Accepting Change and Adapting to It 15
Chapter 2 Managing Uncertainty and Worry 32
Chapter 3 The Flexibility of Nature 51
Chapter 4 Agility and Resilience 59
The First Pillar of Switch Craft Mental Agility
Chapter 5 The Benefits of Mental Agility 73
Chapter 6 The Nuts and Bolts of Agility in the Brain: Cognitive Flexibility 90
Chapter 7 The ABCD of Mental Agility 108
The Second Pillar of Switch Craft Self-Awareness
Chapter 8 Know Thyself 141
Chapter 9 Beliefs and Values 165
The Third Pillar of Switch Craft Emotional Awareness
Chapter 10 Understanding Your Emotions 187
Chapter 11 Learning to Regulate Your Emotions 209
The Fourth Pillar of Switch Craft Situational Awareness
Chapter 12 The Nature of Intuition 237
Chapter 13 Looking Outside: How Context Fuels Intuition 251
Conclusion: Some Key Principles of Switch Craft 270
Appendix 1 281
Appendix 2 282
Discover how expanding and improving your mental agility—your ability to flex your thoughts, feelings, and actions—can transform your life, bolster your resilience, and foster your zest for living.
Endless self-help approaches claim to have the answer. It’s important to be mindful, we are told, and to stay in the moment. Sometimes, we are advised to keep going no matter what, to be ‘gritty’. Others tell us that adopting a ‘growth mindset’ is key.
However, the truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with life. Elaine Fox, one of the world’s leading psychologists and performance coaches, has witnessed this time and again. In her work coaching top athletes, military leaders and business professionals, she has seen that it’s the people who know how and when to switch between different approaches – people who have an agile mind – who achieve the best performance.
Drawing on 25 years of scientific research, Fox shares with us her step-by-step guide to what she calls ‘switchcraft’: the set of skills we need to navigate a complex and uncertain world. Whether it’s coping with a difficult boss, overcoming a fear, dealing with hyperactive children, resolving a dispute with a friend or making a difficult choice about where to live or what to do, switchcraft helps us thrive in any situation.
Like your own personal life coach, Switch Craft shows you how to break out of a rigid mindset to restore your fulfilment, curiosity and zest for life.
“Switch Craft is a fascinating book, packed full of practical advice on how to help you survive and thrive in an uncertain world. Written by a leading academic, it offers real insights in how to cope with the stresses and strains of a post-covid world” — Michael Mosley, New York Times bestselling author and science journalist
“A book full of important insights. In clear and accessible language, Elaine Fox shows how psychological science can help you to be agile in meeting challenges and to be flexible when things change. Drawing on personal experience and years of applying her research in coaching elite performance, she shows how adopting a few key skills can transform your life in profound ways.” — Mark Williams, co-author of Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World and Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology University of Oxford