Take the time to do something hard. Take the time to do something new. Your biggest surges of growth will come from stretching yourself. You can stretch yourself in small ways by trying a new type of food, talking with a stranger, or watching a movie that is different than your norm. You can stretch yourself in big ways by quitting your job and going into business for yourself.
Regardless of how you go about it, you will grow more by stretching yourself on a consistent basis than by reading every self-help book you can find. When you are looking for things to stretch your capabilities, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- What are the risks? You need to understand the impact of failure. If you plan to quit your job and start an antique furniture store, you need to make sure you understand your financial position and
what will happen if you are unable to make the store a success. Sometimes understanding the risk will make it easier to try something difficult. For example, say you are looking at signing up
for a particularly challenging college class–not toward a degree, but just as a way to stretch yourself. If you recognize that your failure in the class won’t have any impact on your work, your status, or anything else, it is a lot easier to take the risk and learn from the results no matter how it turns out.
- Do Something New. You want to put yourself in situations where you haven’t been before. Doing harder versions of things you’ve already accomplished will help you grow some, but not on the same scale as throwing yourself into something new and unfamiliar.
- Start Small. Concentrate on doing things to grow–not necessarily the biggest thing possible. You can grow from putting yourself in new circumstances that have very little risk and simply offer you
a new perspective or view point. You will be learning about yourself and many small steps can be just as beneficial as a large one.
Here are a few things that you can consider as a way to stretch yourself and grow. Some are so small they seem trivial. Depending on your personality some of them may be things you already do, in which case they may not be good stretch exercises for you.
- Visit a house of worship different than where you regularly attend.
- Get into a conversation with someone you would normally avoid.
- Take a different form of transportation than normal to work.
Ride a bike, walk, take a taxi, take the subway–just something
different than what you’ve done before.
- Take a college class on a subject where you have an interest but no expertise.
- Read a book about something you know nothing about.
- Go to a social event where everyone is twice or half your age.
- Visit a museum on a subject that you know nothing about.
- Participate in an online discussion about a new topic.
- Learn to play a new game.
- Go to a concert of a different style of music than what you normally listen to.
- Use a different operating system than normal.
- Take the ACT, SAT, or GRE just for fun to see how you do.
- Watch a sport you don’t understand.
None of these items are particularly challenging, but if it is something new for you, it will help you grow on many different levels. We grow by doing things that are difficult and unfamiliar. By making an intentional effort to continually experience things that are new and different, we can improve and expand our capabilities well beyond the average person.
Originally published December 7, 2006.