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.