If you’ve read the book Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, then you’re familiar with the term ‘moving with the cheese’. The motivational book talks about how to deal with change in both work and life. Cheese, in the book, is used to symbolise happiness, success or anything that would be relevant to your situation. Moving with the cheese simply means changing and adapting to the inevitable change that happens in life.

Away from change and cheese, what the book hopes to instil in the reader is the virtue of adaptability. The word adaptability is derived from the Latin root adapto, which means fit, or matching. Thus adaptability is the ability to adjust easily and effectively to change. It is being open to modifying ones attitudes and behaviour to meet the demands of a given situation. It is being flexible, versatile, and resilient.

Adaptability is characterised by confidence, tolerance, empathy, positivity, respect for others, resilience, vision and attentiveness. Confidence means that you believe in yourself – you trust your own judgement and resourcefulness. Tolerance means you are open-minded and accepting opinions and practices different from your own. Empathy means that you can put yourself in other’s shoes. Positivity means being optimistic – always looking for the silver lining in situations. Respect for others is characterised by a sincere desire to understand and consider other people’s choices, commitments and needs in relation to yours.

Vision means having the power to imagine, be creative and also to suggest alternatives. Lastly, attentiveness means being aware of elements in the environment. It can be as simple as noticing when someone is getting bored, or sensing that now is not the right time to present your ideas. It’s also knowing when to act and when not to, and paying attention to others’ needs.

Adaptability is more than just saying, “yes” when offered a new challenge, it also means striving for excellence every step of the way. This virtue also means dropping the “that’s just how we do it” attitude when there’s a better way of doing things. Another aspect of adaptability is adjusting to change. Life is all about change, and if you don’t keep pace with that change you will be left behind.

This is the case with many careers, where you must constantly keep abreast of the latest research, new products, and new techniques. Would you want to be seen by a doctor who finished medical school 20 years ago and hasn’t bothered to keep up with all the new findings in the last 20 years? In your case, are you keeping up with the latest knowledge in your own career field?

Being adaptable is an important and desirable quality, which if practised correctly can lead to great things such as career growth, learning new skills, better relationships, and generally being happier when you see what you truly are capable of. It’s not always possible to know where a new life situation will lead, but if you approach it with a positive attitude, and do your best, it will usually have a positive result.

Challenge yourself this month on adaptability by thinking about something new that’s come into your life, which you’ve resisted, whether it’s at work, in your social life, around the house, or just something you know you should learn how to do but have resisted. Take on the challenge with maximum excellence and perseverance, and see how you do.

It’s, however, important to be aware that adaptability does not mean succumbing to any external environment that one enters. Neither is it becoming a puppet, people-pleaser or moulding one’s own personal terms and beliefs according to others. It’s possible to be adaptable and still maintain your individuality.