As you may have noticed I spend a lot of time looking for ways to improve myself and my world. From there, one of the joys of doing this blog is to share what I’ve learned with others. So this week in a podcast by Brene Brown I was introduced to a man named Scott Sonenshein who gave me new ways to think about a couple of topics I write about quite often. His book, Stretch—Unlock the Power of Less and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagine describes people as either stretchers or chasers. And while the title might sound like a business or motivational book, it essentially offers several good ideas about how each of us can increase our wellbeing, peace of mind and creativity. Today I am sharing four ways each of us can stretch ourselves toward greater fulfillment.
First of course we need to define our terms. According to Sonenshein, all of us have been indoctrinated to believe and behave as if more is always better. What he means is that in the world today we tend to believe that people who have more than we do have far more advantages. For example, if we only had more money we could travel the world. If we only had more college degrees or were smarter we could get a better job. If we were more talented we could write a book. If we only had more friends we would never be alone. If we had more time we could be the success that we hope to be. That “more” idea lurks behind so much of our thinking we don’t even realize that it holds us back.
So what is the difference between stretching and chasing? Stretching is really about being resourceful. It’s about doing more with what you already have. It’s refusing to focus on what other people have or are doing, and instead focusing on what you have available to you right now in front of you. It’s a call to use your inherent creativity and become more productive or fulfilled with the tools and resources you have right now.
Chasing on the other hand is falling in step with the cultural belief that we always need more than we have in order to do something/anything. We tend to think we always need more time, more money, more intelligence, more schooling, more beauty, confidence, etc. The list is endless. What that does is make us wait or put off the good that is possible right now. Or that thought drives us to keep pushing for more than what we have, so we’ll finally have enough—unfortunately enough is always just out of reach. It is also an excuse to avoid doing the mindful, sometimes challenging and immediate work that we have to do if we want to live our lives by design. Yet, as Sonenshein repeatedly says, “We usually have more than what we need to achieve our goals.”
Another way to differentiate between chasing and stretching is to compare them in three different areas. In terms of beliefs or mindsets: Chasing relates to fixed or rigid thinking. On the other hand, stretching keeps us changeable, flexible and open to new options. In terms of action, people who are chasers look to acquire—acquisition becomes a primary goal. Meanwhile, stretchers look to expand in order to grow, to learn to imagine. They also expand their awareness in order to be more creative. In terms of motivations, Chasers are motivated by comparisons to what others are doing and how they do it. On the flip side, stretchers are motivated by their own goals and intentions.
Of course, as Sonenshein tells it, we all have a little of both inside of us—but which do we operate from the most? Interestingly enough, as Brene Brown said, it is tempting once you become more successful or satisfied to suddenly start chasing by becoming more “fixed” in our thinking. We end up comparing ourselves to others and hold ourselves back from just doing what we feel inspired to do. Or we spend much of our time just managing or protecting the status quo of what we already have and avoid trying new things or thinking new thoughts. And because we do, and can, we often occupy our time with acquisitions instead of learning to expand our creativity, try new experiences, and do new things.
In this podcast and a couple of YouTube videos of Sonenshein, he makes several suggestions about how a focus on our stretching nature can improve our lives. He sites numerous scientific studies that I don’t have time to share but are freely available in the book or online. Four recommendations he offers for us getting into the stretching mindset are:
- Own it. Whatever it is you want to do, make it something you really want to do. The more committed you are to an idea the more you will stretch to find ways to make it happen.
- Constraints unlock creativity. Like most people I tend to cherish my freedoms. But Sonenshein says that too much freedom, just like too much abundance, makes us think and act more conventionally. We limit our creativity because we don’t think we need it. But there is a reason for the statement, “necessity is the mother of invention” because when you have to come up with a new idea, you are more likely to apply yourself and get it done. People are usually more resourceful when pressed by circumstances.
- Outsiders are often the best problem solvers. We tend to think experts are always the best at solving problems but Sonenshein shares several studies where outside input is often far more capable at solving problems or triggering creativity than those who are most close to the situation. Experts are very good at specific things, but remember, “You can’t solve a problem at the same level as it was created.”
- Success comes from doing, not planning. Sonensheim makes a big point of avoiding over-planning. He doesn’t go so far as to say we shouldn’t, only that we should not become too attached to our plans. After all, there are never any guarantees that the future we planned for will even exist in the future. Hello 2020! Over-planning can become a trap if we never take steps into action or we rigidly attach ourselves to one way of doing anything.
Several of Sonenshein’s ideas were particularly relevant in my life. For the first time in my life I heard that too much abundance or freedom gives us “slack resources.” In other words, when I have more than enough to buy something new if or when something breaks, it’s really tempting to just buy that new thing rather than fix it or recondition it. (That is chasing behavior, NOT stretching.) Plus, I also realized that by giving myself a weekly deadline to do this blog, I actually hone my creativity and it motivates me as well as sparks my thoughts toward writing. Without my weekly deadline it is far too easy to put things off (even things I say I want to do) and find excuses not to do them.
Another idea that rang true for me was how easily it is to get sucked into the idea of what more is and how it applies to us personally. Typically when I tell myself that “less is better”, I mean it as related to consumption of material goods. However, after listening to the fifth or sixth Youtube video of Sonensheim I heard him say that the chaser mentality is one where we keep telling ourselves we need just a little more to be satisfied, to complete or finish anything. And there I was searching for more videos to listen to in order to find more ideas so I could include more fascinating tidbits in this post. I might be fairly okay with not over consuming materials goods, but I am often chasing more and more information to satisfy my curiosity and need to make my posts “just a little better.” I’m guessing that if we spend time thinking it through, each of us has a few “more” needs that we routinely chase without even thinking about it.
Clearly we don’t always need more, whether that “more” is material, mental or even spiritual in nature. While I didn’t hear him say it exactly, it became clear to me that chasers tend to focus on external things and stretchers work from within. Maybe that is why Sonenshein repeatedly asks us to recognize that we probably already have everything we need to solve the majority of challenges in our lives and to achieve our goals. Perhaps the SMART approach is to remember that what I have right now, within me and in front of me, is more than enough to make me happy and give me peace of mind.
Dr Sock says
Kathy, these two notions roll together a lot common wisdom, such as:
– constraints or problems spark creativity
– the importance of learning to live in and appreciate this moment right now
– seeking gratification through material acquisition is rarely satisfying over the long term
– more is not necessarily better
– comparing oneself with others rarely enhances one’s sense of well-being
That said, I generally find that breaking concepts down into binaries (either/or) tends to oversimplify complex ideas. It’s not either/or, but both/and, depending on context.
Madeline Kasian says
Very thoughtful post! I have always been a stretcher, my husband,too. In retirement,even more so.We of course had our career years and traveled, bought nice houses, clothes for work, entertained a bit more lavishly,etc. but never to the extent of our peers. We were savers early on. Now, in retirement and ESPECIALLY during Covid, we stretch as second nature and find our happiness quotient is pretty high,even though the economy has certainly changed our $$ picture for investments (like most everyone.)
Like one of your readers, I LOVE the ocean and grew up by the Jersey shore. For years, I made sure we had MANY yearly trips to the beach.. but over the last few years we have found incredible lakes in the woods, here in Arizona, and I have come to cherish that water experience, where we see wild horses, bird watch, and can swim,too. I have stretched my concept of happy “water” days and now I even PREFER the lakes.this means fewer long drives to California!!
I wonder if there is a natural level of “happiness” that people have inside.. .. a set point.. I have always been able to be pretty happy in most circumstances. As a young Mom,eating lots of beans and hamburger,sharing one car, and using a laundrymat, I was pretty joyful,being able to stay home and raise our son.Lots of lazy days at the park, at the library, and time with other Moms and their kids.Bliss!
Moving from a large and very beautiful home to a smaller retirement home: I made sure this house had all we “needed” just on a smaller scale, so I am very content with a smaller yard, but a great kitchen, same furniture from the other house, and even NICER neighbors! We also went down to one car in retirement (husband balked at this one but now is very content!) I prefer to stretch our money for other things than a huge house upkeep and car maintenance.
Giving up some of the pricier vacations we had planned for 2020 has been a STRETCH for sure and I am hurting a bit from some of what we’re missing, but I have plugged in local getaways to our mountain towns, at safe airbsbnb where we can go hike in the woods and do outdoor things,till Covid is over.
There is much contentment to be found in seeking that delicate balance between stretching and chasing.. we have to follow our instincts and talents, and LEARNING FROM OTHERS who have done it.. is a good thing!!!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Madeline. Thank you SO much for providing a wonderful personal example of stretching vs. chasing…especially in current times. I also think you are a wonderful candidate for rightsizing! When we learn to make choices based upon what really matters to us personally and stop chasing what others think is valuable, then we have found a big key to happiness. I’m glad you have redefined how to enjoy water, and many other changes that have been forced upon us this year. But just knowing you can do that wherever you are is so empowering. And while I have read that there is a happiness set point in most people, it can be adjusted with effort and it is only one part of the equation. Sounds like you’ve managed to do just that! Thanks again for sharing. ~Kathy
Thank you for the interesting post, and the mention of Brene Brown. I love her podcast and books. Especially her attitude in speaking up. I have been reading your blog for awhile, and was concerned when you took time off that you may stop blogging. I am glad you got reenergized and came back with such enthusiasm. I like your non-judgmental and positive attitude that is expressed in your writing.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Ruthie! Thanks for checking in here and letting me know that you also love Brene Brown and read my blog! It’s always nice to know that there are others out there and that you noticed I took a break. When you’re doing a blog for a long time it is hard to know for sure if anyone really cares. I really appreciate you telling me that. ~Kathy
Very interesting post. I think if we are honest with ourselves, anyone who has had a long career will recognize being both a chaser and a stretcher. I worked for years completely content as a teacher, then decided to return to school to become an administrator, for the prestige and for the income. I was very good at the job, but hated most minutes of it. In the last 5 years of my career, I decided to go back into teaching, and as soon as a position opened up in my district, left administering to return to teaching. I was never so fulfilled. Friends and colleagues wondered why I had taken a pay cut. It’s really hard to be a stretcher! As a teacher, with two Ivy League degrees, I felt I was constantly justifying myself to friends and colleagues why I was “just” teaching. I have always loved teaching, and was supremely happy to be just teaching again. I often said, how many people get to do what they love and get paid for it. I did increase my retirement salary by working for those years as administration, so I do not regret it.
Recently, after having been retired for 5 years, I tutored a neighbor youngster who was falling behind during the pandemic. It was definitely a stretch from my retirement. I needed to consult with colleagues who were still teaching, update myself on the research, and spend hours figuring out how to help this youngster. I was totally energized! And the child has gained a year in reading in 8 weeks over the summer. I stopped the tutoring due to his return to school and an uptick in the virus in our area. But, the ‘stretching’ was amazing for me. It pulled me out of my comfortable retirement zone. It helped me as much as it helped him.
Chasing, hmmm. I grew up on the ocean, and now live inland. Given the virus constraints, I have not traveled to family at the ocean this summer for the first time in my life. Nor have I had a place to swim, except for weekly swims at local lakes. I miss my pool laps, too. I feel that I am ‘chasing’ a place on the ocean. I don’t think I’m doing it to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. I really just want a place to swim and smell the salt. I am struggling with this. I live in a beautiful area, surrounded by woods and access to lakes. Do I really need the ocean? I think I do, having grown up there, but maybe according to the theory of ‘chasing’ I just need to figure out how to be content with the woods and lakes?
By the way, my husband is totally a stretcher. I need to listen to some of these podcasts and read the book!
Thank you, Kathy, for another thought-provoking post.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Annie! thank you so much for sharing some of your own personal experience with chasing and stretching. I think you explained your choices with your profession very well. Even though your heart told you you made the right decision, as you said, the pressure from others and our culture have us second guessing ourselves. Good for you for staying true to yourself.
And I think you decisions about living by or visiting the water on a regular basis is also a great example of how closely the choice between chasing and stretching can be. But from what I read from Sonenshein, it isn’t about not spending or buying, but rather being very clear about what it is that matters most to you. He explains the difference between being cheap and being frugal in a way I loved. He says something like, when you are cheap every dollar you spend makes you feel guilty. When you are frugal you delight in spending your resources on things that bring you joy. In my opinion that is a wonderful way to think of it. I think we chase when we buy things others or society tells us we should want or in order to “look good” in the eyes of the world. We stretch when we move toward things that make our soul’s sing. Sounds like water does that for you.
Thanks for sharing such great perspectives with us all. ~Kathy
Patricia Doyle says
Very interesting! I also like the idea that we have both within us. Like you became aware, I think in some areas I am a stretcher and in others a chaser. One of the phrases I hear myself say, in the chaser mindset, is “If only …” Yes, it’s a not enough phrase and one I’m finding myself using a lot right now. The idea of “stop planning and start doing” is another one I need to push myself towards! Thanks for sharing your new knowledge.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Pat! Yes of course you are both. And I while I don’t recall Sonenshein ever using the “if only…” idea I’ll bet it applies plenty because it does tend to tell us that we are “missing” something and if we only had that (or wait until we do) then everything will be good. It was a great reminder to me that even though so much of what is happening in my life and my world isn’t what I prefer or like, that doesn’t mean that right now today I can’t be content, peaceful and even happy. Enjoying ourselves today doesn’t mean we don’t want change, it just makes us grateful and appreciative of what we have, don’t you think? Glad you like the post AND you know I love sharing what I learn! ~Kathy
Hi Kathy, Thank you for bringing Brene Brown’s podcast into my radar. I have seen and listened to her being interviewed. I look forward to listening when the tables are turned.
Resourceful is a great word. Mentally and physically stretching. The four recommendations are great. An umbrella term for me is perspective. And back to gratitude with what we have right now. Perfect for our Thanksgiving weekend and a reminder for every day. I hope your special day, yesterday, was wonderful.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Erica. Yes Brene has a great podcast and I love almost all her guests. And you bring up something important that Sonenshein also includes and that is the idea that gratitude can help us be aware both of what we have and how to be resourceful in using it. Doesn’t gratitude help just about everything! Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to my Canadian friends! ~Kathy
Tom at Sightings says
Like Janis and some others, I was a chaser when I was young, building a career, raising a family. But ever since I retired? A stretcher all the way!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Tom! Yes, like I said to Janis, I think most of us are aware of our chasing when we are younger. (I hope so anyway) But I believe the author is also talking about “another aspect of chasing has to do with reaching for more comfort as we age and not challenging our minds in any way except what we find “acceptable.” I’d say that would be the biggest chasing strategy that we need to watch out for as we age. The more we try to “control” situations and avoid uncertainty the more we are “chasing” vs. allowing that change to stretch us into something new.” So that adds a deeper dimension onto what we chase and how many of us are likely doing that without too much awareness. Brene made a point of that in her interview that helped me understand that. ~Kathy
Donna Connolly says
Thank you for this informative and provocative post, Kathy. I hadn’t heard of stretchers or chases before, Makes complete sense. Although I’d love to be mostly a stretcher, I know that I am a bit of both.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna! Glad you liked it. And yes, like it or not there is something of both in all of us…just need to be mindful of how much! `Kathy
Janis @ retirementallychallenged.com says
Interesting topic. I may have been more of a chaser when I was young and working on my career and creating the life I thought I wanted, but I’m definitely more of a stretcher now.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Janis! Yes as far as our professions we tend to chase far more when we are younger…and probably with our acquiring things as well. Although I still know a lot of people like BIG and fancy at our age. But I also like how the author pointed out that another aspect of chasing has to do with reaching for more comfort as we age and not challenging our minds in any way except what we find “acceptable.” I’d say that would be the biggest chasing strategy that we need to watch out for as we age. The more we try to “control” situations and avoid uncertainty the more we are “chasing” vs. allowing that change to stretch us into something new. At least that is what I interpreted his saying although as I said, I didn’t read the book (yet.) ~Kathy
The Widow Badass says
Excellent post, Kathy! I think I tend to be more of a stretcher than a chaser however I appreciate (and need) the reminder to focus on being the former rather than the later, for true and lasting happiness.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Deb! Yes this guy nailed me but pointing out where I like to get “more” with the whole “information junkie” that I am! And when I think about my FOMO…there is some of that too. It is a really challenge to pull back and be present and happy with where I am and what I have right now. Of course, as Michelle said in her comment, that doesn’t mean we just sit around and do nothing. I guess you could say we just do it from fullness rather than from lack. Glad you liked it! ~Kathy
Nancy L Coiner says
Hi, Kathy — Great post, as usual! A wonderful ideal. One thing I like about Brenee Brown is that she never pretends those kinds of ideals (like “stretching” rather than “chasing”) are easy, natural, fast, or inevitable. We humans learn things by imitation, so it’s always easier to chase the success of someone else than stretch into one’s own competence. I have to remind myself of this ALL THE TIME. It’s time to listen to that podcast! Thanks for the gentle prod.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nancy! Thank you! And I obviously get so many ideas from Brene’s guest speakers because I love the way she thinks! And you said that very well, “it’s always easier to chase the success of someone else than stretch into one’s own competence.” That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from one another but it sure means we have to use what we have. ~Kathy
Hi Kathy, I am always looking for my next read. I am intrigued and I love the premise of this. I have been trying to stop the chasing, but didn’t have a clear frame for the actions I want to be taking. The opposite of chasing is not sitting around doing nothing! I look forward to reading this one!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Michele. Yes you might really appreciate this guys approach. He helps to put the idea of stretching into context with where we are and how we usually overlook all the advantage of that in sacrifice to the chase. And as you say, stretching is NOT just sitting around waiting…it is quite active in awareness, creativity and imagination coupled by corresponding actin. I look forward to reading YOUR blog post once you finish the book! ~Kathy
This is an interesting topic Kathy, as usual! I try to think what I can bring to an experience and what I can get out of it so I am in the here and now. Taking a few moments before buying, comparing, evaluating or even explaining comes under stretching rather than chasing which I think is a better way to live!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Haralee! I was believing that alot of my readers would appreciate this topic. He offers just a nice different way of looking at these ideas and makes them very approachable. Of course I haven’t read the book but like I confessed I read a number of articles and probably WAY too many Youtubes! Ha! If anything, it is that reminder for us all that we don’t need MORE to fulfill what our soul is calling for. ~Kathy