20 Ways to Stretch Yourself
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“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.