How does it feel to reach up and stretch in the morning, or to bend and gently try to touch your toes?
When it comes to stretching physically, we need to exercise due care.
But that shouldn’t deter us from pushing our limits.
Personally, I used to love stretching – not only to limber up my arms or legs, but to nudge my gray matter to work harder and in different ways. To me, stretching the body and the mind go hand in hand.
If I’m honest with myself, I admit that I’ve grown lax when it comes to reaching for the sky or spreading my metaphorical wings into a larger space. Sure, sure. I have all kinds of “reasons.” Many are legitimate, the result of real world constraints. And some of those reasons are little more than bad habits.
Stretching our minds, stretching our skill sets, stretching our tolerance for certain aspects of daily life in order to grow stronger, more agile, more competitive – aren’t these necessities? Should we allow “life” to knock these routines out of the daily running?
The Benefits of Stretching in the Morning
Stretching – of the yoga sort or the gym mat sort or the waking in the early hours and extending our limbs – provides enormous benefits. (I’ve just been reading about them, and now I’m crawling out of bed… I’m sipping my java… I’m reaching, I’m leaning, I’m bending…)
I don’t know about your body’s rhythms – physical or mental – but when I wake up I generally feel tight, a little sluggish, heavy even. A good stretch could improve the situation. This source describes a few of the positive effects including:
mental release and relaxation, relief from muscle tension and greater range of movement. Stretching can even enhance posture by strengthening the muscles that support the back…
Sounds good to me. And after my little stretch – yes, I really did stop everything and stretch – I find my mood has brightened! I’m noticeably more energized, and ready to begin the day.
The Benefits of Stretching the Mind
Most of us over the age of 40 pay attention to news concerning keeping our brains tuned as we age. (I certainly do.) And in recent years, we’ve been encourage to exercise our brains by continuing to learn.
This article from About.com looks at the importance of stretching the brain if we hope to keep Alzheimer’s at bay. Among the activities and behaviors recommended (though we all know the jury is still out on Alzheimer’s): physical exercise (good for cognitive functioning), speaking a second language, reading – and not necessarily your same old stuff, along with memorization.
Games are also suggested. In fact:
Games that require more strategy, as opposed to the luck of the draw, may be more effective in challenging your brain.
I can’t recall the last time I tried to memorize a paragraph or a poem. How about you? And what about those games that require us to see many moves ahead and to outmaneuver our adversaries? Kegels with bagels? Right, we do that. But what about working the “strategy muscle” more often?
Gain New Skills, Take a Risk!
The notion of stretching professionally was referenced in the recent Times interviews at Corner Office, as one of four CEOs mentions that women typically prefer a greater level of preparedness than men before taking on a new role.
Clearly, there is nothing wrong with preparation. But at what point are we allowing our comfort zones to hold us back? Or fear of failure?
While I’m not a big fan of stretching the truth (euphemistically called “fake it til you make it”), there’s no question that a little “spin” is de rigueur in the business world and may encourage us to rise to a challenge.
So what if we took more professional risks? What if we stretched ourselves in jobs that push us to perform in new ways and that require new skills? What if we explored other means to move beyond our all-too-familiar, and reap the benefits of new versions of success – and the adventure of the experience?
Technology Tantrums or Temptations?
Stretching my technology skill set can elicit a tantrum, a tirade or a tempting engagement. A few nights ago, I dove headfirst into a task that I usually delegate to a proficient techie. I thought I could do it, I knew it would be a struggle, but I went for it all the same.
I researched, tinkered, tried and persisted. Eventually… success! As I neared the last “stretch,” I could almost feel my mind straining to hold new knowledge in place, to recall the detailed sequence I was going through, and to pay attention to visual cues along the way, as my memory tends to be visual.
It wasn’t easy, but I remain pleased with my efforts and my outcome. More importantly, I’m encouraged to try it again – pushing so I keep moving forward – and never surrender to inertia or stagnation.
“It’s a Stretch”
The expression “it’s a stretch” can apply to an unlimited set of behaviors or activities. Generally, we deem an activity a “stretch” when we’re running low on time, energy, or other resources. Or, when we don’t think we have what it takes in terms of talent, ability or emotional capacity.
Perhaps your stretch is running five miles. Perhaps it’s memorizing a Shakespearean sonnet. Perhaps it’s going back to college or taking a university course online.
For that matter – loving someone can be a stretch if you’ve been badly hurt, parenting can be a stretch even on the best day, and plunging into unfamiliar professional territory demands that we stretch – if we’re to survive in a highly competitive world.
Limits do exist, but I’m convinced that we have fewer than we imagine. Acting on that knowledge builds confidence. And so I’m determined to remember: Stretch in the morning, stretch my mind, know that I can – and see where it takes me.
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