Why did you choose the word "stretch?"
Many of us are focused on the wrong approach to reach our goals and improve our lives. We think the answers rest with getting more: more time, money, or other resources. Most of us miss this critical point: We often overlook the value of what’s already in hand. When we stretch, we’re being resourceful with whatever we have by activating our creativity and engaging with what’s around. We also stretch ourselves – by putting ourselves in different situations that help us see our resources in new ways. So we’re not just stretching our resources, we’re also stressing ourselves when we learn to adapt whatever we have to meet our needs.
How can someone get started with stretching?
It doesn’t take a lot – start small. First, stop comparing what you have to others. That leads to what I call chasing, which makes us focus on the wrong goals. Second, warm up your stretch. Look around for an item and find three unconventional uses for it. It’s often easier to see how to stretch a physical resource than an intangible one such as time. Third, try some of these ideas out: Go a day without pre-planning how you’ll spend your time. Read something new. Do something mindless to recharge and spark creativity. Be grateful — and tell someone why. Stretching is all about activating what we already have and creative days – it’s hard to do that if we’re sitting still.
What are some pitfalls with trying to stretch more?
It is possible to over-stretch. Money is one example. There’s an important difference between being cheap where your pained to spend money, and being frugal, where you take pleasure in saving money. When you’re cheap, you miss opportunities to do things you want.
It’s also critical to learn how to calibrate our stretch. I recommend people get comfortable without planning everything and use improvisation to adapt to our very changing world. But if you’re not learning, you’re just flying by the seat of your pants.
How can stretching help in our family relationships?
Recognize that the quality of a relationship is not based on the amount of resources invested – the cost of a birthday present, the amount of time you spend with a child, and so on. It’s what you do with those resources that matter. Oftentimes, the most meaningful gifts are things you make that show the love and care that went into them. My wife rarely buys me anything for special occasions but she gives me the most remarkable and creative gifts. One of my favorites: a scroll to commemorate my 30th birthday where she traced all 30 years of my life by interviewing people who knew me (family, teachers, friends, colleagues) at different stages and then had them written on parchment.
Stretching also teaches us to avoid comparisons to others. Stop worrying what other parents are doing with their kids – whether it be extravagant gifts, overscheduled activities, or lots of tutoring when your child is already performing well in school. Step back and ask what your real goals are. My guess is that lots of decisions we make are driven by keeping up with others and not our real goals.
When we’re stretching, we’re also acting resourcefully to try to make the most out of what we have. Both my wife and I have demanding jobs. That’s why when we spend time with our children, it’s quality time. A ten-minute walk in to school for our daughter is more valuable than 45 minutes of disengaged time when we’re both on iPads.