Current headlines paint a picture of a world where uncertainty and fear are the dominant themes. This unprecedented time has been marked by increased market volatility, supply chain disruptions, international travel restrictions, and bans on public gatherings. There are no shortage of questions surrounding the global pandemic and how it has the potential to touch all aspects of our lives, both personal and professional.
Despite this, challenging times present us with the opportunity to examine our values, our beliefs, and our conduct. It is from these moments of self-reflection that growth can occur. There is a mounting body of scientific research that demonstrates how making do with less and better utilizing the potential of the resources we currently have leads to better results in life. Whether you want to find a new job, start a business, get healthier, raise successful children, or improve your relationship with your significant other, using the resources you have more effectively can yield results better than you could ever imagine. Let me introduce you to the stretching mindset.
Having More is Always Better, Right?
I’m a chaser. Since I can remember, I have always been one. Chasing has become second nature to me. I chase time. I chase money. I chase connections and experiences and feelings. Worst of all, I chase happiness. I know I’m not alone because everyone close to me chases after something, yet I have never stopped and questioned my insatiable need for more and the dissatisfaction I so often feel with what I have readily at hand. Chasing is simply who I am and there’s nothing wrong with my, or your, unrelenting search for more.
That’s what I used to believe before I discovered an alternative way of living. In Stretch, Rice University professor Scott Sonenshein, introduces readers to the value of “stretching,” a concept best summed up by the timeless wisdom of making the most of what you have. Stretching has become a lost virtue in our age of plenty. For many of us, the idea is synonymous with frugality, a word that all too often elicits memories of stingy family members and sibling hand-me-downs. Why should a pervasive feeling of lack be the only alternative to a life centred on accumulation?
Stretching isn’t a chronic feeling of scarcity, it’s actually the antidote. The chasing mindset has become so deeply entrenched in our thinking, that when a problem arises we immediately assume that allocating more resources to it is the solution. Whether it’s a struggling department at work, poor academic performance by our kids, or a relationship in need of a boost, our first thought is to provide a bigger budget, hire private tutors, and buy the perfect expensive gift. Professor Sonenshein would advise us to pause and take stock of the resources around us.
The Problems with a Chasing Mindset
You may be wondering what’s wrong with a chasing mindset. After all, life’s most meaningful accomplishments become a whole lot easier to reach when you have the right resources at your disposal. If you want to start the business of your dreams, raise a healthy and happy family, or graduate from a great school, you’re going to need money, time, support, and know-how. No one can argue with that. But research tells us that we often get overzealous when amassing resources, which can lead us to underutilize, or worse, squander what we have worked so hard to obtain.
Chasing leaves people less satisfied and successful because it’s a mindset built on our habit to compare ourselves with others. Upward social comparison is intrinsic to human nature. We measure how we’re doing in life by looking at how our friends, family members, and neighbours are doing. But many of us don’t stop there. Increasingly, we aspire to lead lives in sync with the rich and famous. Chasing after these lifestyles is an exhaustive pursuit and that can take a serious toll on our mental health as we find ourselves tying our self-worth to the fortunes of those who seem to have it all.
Chasing also leads to mindless accumulation and resource squandering. For chasers, more is always better and the number of resources they acquire can become an aim in itself. If you believe that having an endless supply of resources will always yield better results, you can easily find yourself trapped in the accumulation mindset. Surprisingly, having plenty of resources also increases the likelihood that you will squander them. When test subjects were given high personal responsibility for a project, say improving an underperforming department, they doubled down on the commitment to the project by investing even more resources. It’s all too easy to become blind to bad ideas and fall into the trap that more resources will deliver the results we want.
The Virtues of Stretching
Stretching, on the other hand, encourages us to look for untapped potential in the resources we already possess. When you practice stretching, you’re likely to come up against constraints. Whatever they may be, a chasing mindset sees constraints as hurdles to be overcome by any means necessary. It’s at this moment where most of us begin our quest for more resources. But stretchers see constraints as an opportunity to find new uses for what they have at hand, which often leads to creative breakthroughs that yield surprising results. For example, architects and product designers who work while sticking to a strict budget are more resourceful when responding to challenges and yield more creative results than those working without constraints.
Stretchers also embrace the virtue of frugality to deliver better results. At first, this may sound counterintuitive, how can making do with less improve outcomes? It turns out that frugal people possess three features that we would all be wise to adopt. First, frugal people focus on long-term objectives rather than short-term satisfaction. Second, they turn their backs on wasteful spending and reuse what they have. Third, frugal people do not fall into the comparison trap and resist the temptation to measure their self-worth in relation to those around them. These factors help develop our internal resourcefulness, preventing us from expending valuable energy chasing resources we don’t actually need and squandering those that we have.
Interestingly, stretchers are better at seeing the potential in resources that others are quick to dismiss. Take Jenny Dawson for instance. Troubled by the huge amounts of produce that end up in garbage bins because of minor cosmetic blemishes, she founded the company Rubies in the Rubble, and transforms unwanted fruits and vegetables into gourmet jams and chutneys. Almost anything has the potential to be a resource if you are willing to invest adequate time and effort into its development.
5 Ways to Develop a Stretching Mindset
1 – Spend Time with a Stretcher: Find a stretcher you admire and already know, and commit to spending at least one hour with him or her once a month. You may be surprised by what they can teach you.
2 – Get an Outsider’s Perspective: Outsiders often notice things we’ve become blind to. Ask them to consider what personal resources (skills, knowledge, connections etc.) you are underutilizing.
3 – Practice Appreciation: Researches have discovered that those who listed what they are grateful for every day in a journal prioritize the future, are less impatient and experience higher levels of wellbeing.
4 – Change Your Habits: Often, our propensity to over plan can make us rigid and prevent us from seeing opportunities right in front of us. Instead, practice changing your routines. For example, at work, you could shuffle the people you put on teams or have your meetings in different rooms. In your personal life, take different routes when you’re driving to a destination, or try a new restaurant. Research has also shown that learning a new hobby is a great way to change your brain’s habitual thinking.
5 – Look for Treasure: To train your stretching mindset, create a benefits diary where you list key events, activities or experiences from your day. Then, beside each entry list one unexpected benefit. For positive experiences, this is easy. However, for events linked to negative emotions, it becomes a lot harder. But if you look hard enough, you will find a hidden benefit. Take for example the dreaded experience of visiting your dentist. One benefit could be greater motivation to care for your teeth based on a checkup.