20 Ways to Stretch Yourself

“Sound when stretched is music. Movement when stretched is dance. Mind when stretched is meditation. Life when stretched is celebration.” ~Shri Shri Ravishankar Jee

Editor's Note: I originally wrote this article for Pick the Brain.

How much do you want from life? Right now, stop for a moment and think about one word you would use to describe your life today. Got it? If you knew you could open a door that would lead you to an even more fulfilling and extraordinary life, would you open it? What if there was some manageable pain involved?

Well, here's the good news and the bad news: that door does exist, but almost always, the pain does to.

All growth involves some level of discomfort. But the discomfort is short-lived. The growth is forever.

If you view life as a circle, most of us live  inside that circle where everything is comfortable and familiar. Occasionally, we might be forced outside by unexpected circumstances, and the brave among us might take a moment to look around at this new and scary landscape. But mostly, we scurry back to the safety of our circle.

Here's a truth you already know: really bold leaps in our personal growth and quality of life happen only when step outside of that circle and keep walking.

The world has so much to offer — great adventures, interesting people, beauty, learning, emotional development, profound experiences. And we have such a short time on this planet — somewhere around 30,000 days if we live to our mid-eighties.

Why do we resist stretching ourselves beyond our circles when real living is on the other side? Here are some of the reasons:

  • We fear the unknown. It might be worse than what we have now.
  • We fear failure and looking bad in the eyes of others.
  • We fear success. It will require more of us.
  • We have limiting beliefs about what we “should” do and can do.
  • We don't believe we are deserving.
  • We don't want to offend other people.
  • We can't or won't imagine how truly amazing life could be.
  • We think it will require resources we don't have.
  • We don't like discomfort.

On that 30,000th day, don't look back on your life and say, “If only. . . .” Life is a string of “right nows.” Whatever it is that you hope might happen in the future won't happen unless you are doing something about it right in this very moment.

Living outside of your circle doesn't mean you have to go climb Mt. Everest or make a million dollars (unless that's what you want to do). It does mean shifting up to the next level. Some stretches might move you forward a little, and some might propel you into an entirely new world. Both are good. All forward movement is good.

The key is to take action. Don't sit around waiting for something to happen in your life. Make it happen.

Here are some practical ideas for doing just that:

1.  Start with awareness. By reading this article, you are probably thinking about your life and how it could be better, more exceptional. Recognize right now that more is possible for you, and it can be achieved.

2.  Assess what you want. What do you want to achieve, learn, accomplish, enjoy and understand? Create a list with categories for career, family, travel, self-development, education or any others that apply to your life. Under each category, write down your heart's desire — without limitations.

3.  Pick your top five. Don't overwhelm yourself with everything on your list. You will not be able to do everything. But you can do many things and still make your life profoundly better. For now, pick your top five, but hold on to your list.

4.  Pick something easy. Create momentum and excitement by starting with an easy goal. Something that won't involve to much of a stretch. Maybe it's a trip you've wanted to take or a class you have been thinking about. Choose one item from your stretch list. When it's completed, start with the next goal.

5.  For now, don't think. Just start taking small actions. Write down everything to accomplish your goal — from making calls, saving money, setting appointments, doing research. Don't over-think it or question yourself.  Make your action list and then just do it. One action at a time.

6.  Challenge assumptions. Fear and self-doubt will creep in. You must challenge assumptions and negative thinking. If you keep thinking you can't do something, or you aren't smart enough, then you are creating a self-fulfilling cycle of inertia. Even if you don't feel confident, pretend that you do. Mentally resist when you start negative self-talk, and switch gears to thinking, “I can, I will.”

7.  Befriend failure. Begin to view failure as a friend, not an enemy. We are not handed a road map to explore new territory. We set out on our adventure with a hazy view of the way forward. We may take wrong turns, but we have to take them to find the correct path. Love every failure, because it is part of growth. If you avoid failure, you are restricting your life.

8.  Make it public. This is a real stretch, but a very successful one. When you begin a new goal or challenge, tell someone — anyone, everyone. Make it public. Now, you are accountable. It is human nature, when others are watching you, you will work harder. If you are serious about doing something, tell people. And tell them your deadline.

9.  Find a mentor. Find someone whose life you want to emulate. Study that person. Learn how they accomplished and achieved. If they are living and you can connect with them, ask them questions and advice. Find someone who will inspire you to move forward.

10.  Look stupid. Be willing to reveal what you don't know. Everyone has areas of ignorance. Truly smart people are eager to learn and willing to expose their lack of knowledge. Once you get past that embarrassment, the learning is the easy part!

11.  Ignore other people. Strive to detach from what other people think about you. People spend more time thinking about themselves anyway. The first and main person you have to please is yourself. Then your family and maybe a few close friends who are authentic. After that, you are chasing your tail. What other people think doesn't matter.

12. Stop resisting. Remember the old pinball machines? You'd pull a lever and the ball would bounce off walls as it sought it's way forward. Approach life that way. You are going to hit obstacles — whether it's negative people or circumstances. Instead of resisting, move in a different direction. Bad things happen along the path, but don't get stuck in them. Move away from them.

13. Think creatively. You don't have to be an artist to be creative. As you approach a goal or action step, challenge yourself to find a bigger, better, or different way. The internet is an amazing resource for this. Look at what others are doing. Steal ideas and make them your own. Think big. Now think bigger.

14. Remove distractions. Whatever you are working on, work on that one thing. Don't get distracted by emails, phone calls, other pending projects, or intruding extraneous thoughts. Focus on the task at hand, every single time.

15. Simplify everything. In order to achieve what will take you to the next level, you have to let go of what's tethering you to the mundane. Begin some mental, emotional, and mental housekeeping. Where are you spending time that is draining your energy and resources? Are you spending time caring for  material things that don't contribute to a better quality of life? Do you have too many mindless tasks? Start eliminating these things, and free up tons of valuable time.

16. Try new things. Whenever you have the opportunity, try something new. A new hobby, new friends, a new type of book, a new idea. Expose yourself to different ways of doing things and thinking about things. Find new environments for learning. This will open new pathways to growth that you never knew existed.

17. Set a big challenge. Chris Guillebeau, the founder of the blog The Art of Non-Conformity, has set the astounding goal of visiting every country in the world (except those in turmoil) by the time he's 35. He is 32 now. He chronicles his adventures for his blog followers. Create a big challenge for yourself, just for the fun of it. If you don't make it, big deal. But if you do . . . .

18. Join a community. There's lots of support out there for whatever you are doing. Get involved in a group of like-minded people who can cheer you on, inspire you, offer input and provide support.

19. Acknowledge yourself. Every step forward should be celebrated. We get so mired in the doing that we forget the being. Take time to ponder the growth you have made and the goals you have achieved. Share these achievements with family and friends. Write them down. You are becoming a different person.

20. Enjoy the process. As you take steps to stretch yourself and create a better life, don't forget to savor the “right now.” The process of growth is forever, so you will always be in process. All you really have is this very moment — this is your life, so see the beauty in it.

If you want to learn more ways to stretch yourself, please download a copy of my free e-book, How to Have a Meaningful Life.

Comments

  1. Christopher Lovejoy says:

    Hi Barrie, I quite like your list of reasons for why we might resist the dynamic of moving in and out of our circles of comfort. There are so many ways we can stretch ourselves – physically, sexually, materially, financially, romantically, emotionally, socially, mentally, intellectually, spiritually. When it comes to living a more fulfilled and fulfilling life, there’s no doubt in my mind that we live in a world of plenty.
    .-= Christopher Lovejoy´s last blog ..Personal Ascendance =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Chris,
      Yes, we do live in a world of plenty. We could live to be 500 and never see, do, and live it all! I never understand why people are bored or dissatisfied. Life is overflowing with abundance.

  2. Tess The Bold Life says:

    Barrie,
    This is not only inspiring it’s motivating, fresh and wonderful! My word is blessed and then I read one of the reasons I resist is …because I don’t realize how truly amazing life could be…I’m so comfortable with my blessed life I haven’t risked in a while. Thanks for the insight.
    .-= Tess The Bold Life´s last blog ..Feeling Jealous Shine Your Light On It… =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Tess,
      Sometimes when life is really good, you wonder how or why it could get any better. But our psyche is changing all the time, so as we shift internally, we feel those nudges to shift externally. You’ll know when it’s time for a good stretch! Something will start whispering to you.

  3. Excellent article!

  4. Barrie,

    #8, Make it Public, is my biggest stretch. Often when I make a goal I keep it private. It’s probably my struggle with self-confidence that keeps me from telling others what I want to do. But when I make it public, like tell my wife, I seem to have more energy to actually accomplish the goal. Thanks for a thoughtful list.

    Alex

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Alex,
      One year I gave up sweets for Lent. I told everyone in my family and my friends. But I forgot that we were going to be receiving about 2000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies delivered to our house about 3 weeks before Easter. I could smell Thin Mints wafting through our house, but every time I’d think of going near a box, I could see my kids waiting to undermine my promise. I didn’t eat one (until Easter day when I made myself a Thin Mint sandwich, followed by a Tagalong milkshake!).

      • Jennifer says:

        Last year I planned a visit to the UK. I told a lot of people. I am thinking of moving there so wanted to go for a longer period. I had almost managed to arrange this trip but chickened out at the last moment when things were going against me. So I had to let ‘everyone’ know. It felt and still feels like a HUGE failure.
        I’ve still not made the trip….

  5. This is a great list. I have to say it’s about as comprehensive as can be. Incredible advice to push past limits, make things happen, follow through, and stay positive through the process. Thanks!
    .-= Joe Wilner´s last blog ..Interview with Psychologist Mary Gregerson PhD – Discussion of Life Style Balancing =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I’m so glad you like it Joe. Thank you so much for being a regular commenter on my blog!

  6. I missed this on Pick the Brain so I’m grateful you posted it here too. We all need encouragement to step outside the comfort zone. I love the opening quote about “Life when stretched is celebration.” It’s good to remember that stretching leads to expansion and joy.
    .-= Linda Gabriel´s last blog ..Is Fear of Failure Holding You Back =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Linda,
      I’m so glad you liked it. The pain of stretching does lead to expansion and joy. We just have to get past the anxiety about the pain, right?!

  7. oh my friend – you are so wise! Your article is inspiring and really addresses the motivations and the pitfalls of change.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Not so wise — just a lifelong learner. The pitfalls of change are sure a lot easier with your dearest friends to support you!

  8. #15 simplify everything is the one I have to work on right now. I shall use your action steps here and get my mind wrapped around this one. My goals might be big but my path is cluttered so I’ve got to think smaller to achieve bigger. Thanks for this entirely inspiring and intensely useful post, Barrie. Much gratitude. I love the quote off the top — it’s brilliant.
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..A Simple Guide to Love =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      It’s a whole lot easier to write about these things than to live them. My problem now is that I have so many ways I want to stretch myself that I might be stretched too thin! Simplifying is harder than it sounds.

  9. Hi Barrie the one way to stretch myself which I find works really well in terms of taking me out of my comfort zone, is to do something new, something I have not done before.
     In my case I am about to travel oversees and spend six months studying at a foreign university so that prospect is quite real and daunting to me as I write this comment.
    Thanks for a great post,
    Stephen.
    .-= Stephen´s last blog ..Is it Meaningful or Random Part 2 An irrational Perspective in defence of synchronicity =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That’s a great stretch Stephen! Congratulations. Try not to think about it too much. Once you are there, I bet it will be so great that you wondered why you ever felt anxious. I studied abroad in college, but for only 3 months. It will be an experience of a lifetime, and six months will go by so quickly.

  10. Perfect timing. I am going on holiday for eight days starting this Sunday. It is part of my desire to explore more of the places around me. A part of me is wondering – can I do this? As a self employed person -who loves what she does- it is difficult to step away. After all it doesn’t feel like work for most of the time.
    There is a fear of success here. I might end up placing other demands on myself if I continue to stretch myself. Who knows where I will end up??Still I am willing to take that chance.
    .-= Cindy´s last blog ..Dealing With Change =-.