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1. Go explore.

Resourcefulness requires creativity, and creativity is often bolstered by novel and unfamiliar experiences. Dedicate a few hours each week to reading something new to you (a magazine, book, or website); attend a workshop or conference outside of your profession; or have lunch with someone in a similar job but a different industry. 

2. Just say no.

Once we shift our mindset to using resources more effectively, we can see that what we do with what we’ve got matters more than what we have. Whether it’s working with a limited project budget or planning a kid’s birthday party for $25, we can reject the idea that something can’t be done without more resources. By saying no in this way, we’re saying yes to a new outlook on working and living.

3. Take a break (and pay less attention).

Too much focus can sometimes undermine creativity. People with ADHD tend to score higher on creativity assessments than other people. Why? They let their minds wander, often making connections that others overlook. The mind needs a break from total focus. You can give it one in several ways: Do some mindless tasks. Clean your office. Try an adult coloring book. Take a walk, which frees the mind to wander.

4. Pick new neighbors.

Who we choose to spend time with shapes a lot of our behavior — and that’s true when it comes to chasing or stretching, too. If most of the people around you are preoccupied with the chase, identify one stretcher you admire and already know. Commit to spending at least one hour a month with that person. Pay attention to how effortless it can be to do more with less; this may start to influence your own choices whether you know it or not. Strengthening relationships with the stretchers in your life is a powerful way to help yourself break free from the chase.

5. Shop your closet.

When Courtney Carver was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she gave up her chasing lifestyle and started Project 333, which challenges people to whittle down their wardrobes to 33 items for three months. Doing so freed Carver to focus on the more important experiential aspects of her life.

She also stretched herself by coming up with new possibilities for what was already in her closet, finding unique uses and combinations for her 33 items. You can apply this approach to other parts of your life, too.

Take note of stuff that could be put to better use — a newspaper to wrap a present, an old sweater that could be turned into a cat bed. When you start putting your “scraps” to good use, you’ll start seeing them in a very different light.

6. Appreciate.

Psychology research finds that when people are grateful, they expand how they think about resources, often in ways that are helpful to others. What’s more, appreciation can make it easier to say no to tempting things we don’t really want or need.

One study found that participants who did a gratitude writing exercise were more likely to resist the temptation of an immediate cash payout and wait three months for a higher reward. Their gratitude in the present helped them prioritize the future.

To increase your own gratitude, write down five things about your life that you feel thankful for, at least once a week. This habit conditions us to appreciate what we have, big and small.

7. Plan backward.

Jazz music replaces planning with improvisation, teaching us to act and respond more spontaneously. To play jazz metaphorically, reverse the typical relationship between planning and acting. Start a project, work toward a goal, take a trip, or leave the house for the day without a plan.

Keep a journal of what you did, but make notes only after doing it. Repeat as you make progress toward your goal. At its completion, your journal will contain a list of actions you took — what I like to call a backward-looking plan. What new things did you learn? Did you act more quickly? How much did you miss because of your lack of a plan? What did you gain from not planning?

8. Scramble the back row.

If we find ourselves too regularly on autopilot, it might be time to follow the lead of chess champion Bobby Fischer and “scramble the back row.” His technique randomly mixed one row of pieces on the chess board (importantly, not all of them) to create just enough change to require players to rely more on skill and adaptation than planning.

You can apply this idea in your own life by changing up your routines. At work, call someone on the phone rather than sending an email. Drive to work or school following a different route. Start your day a few hours earlier or later. Notice whether these changes spark a little more energy or attention.

9. Make midyear resolutions.

Why wait until the beginning of the year to make a pledge? Health journalist Linda Andrews prefers making Fourth of July resolutions. She reasons that the stress of preparing for the holidays, spending time with extended family, or being hung-over from a nice bottle of champagne might sour our mood to make resolutions on January 1. Midyear resolutions allow us to take stock and set goals from a presumably clearer headspace. (See how our fitness editor embraces this approach at “STRONG BODY, STRONG MIND: Midyear Resolutions“.)

10. Break it down.

Pose two questions about any resource: 1) Can it be broken down further? and 2) Does the description of the isolated part imply a use? The trick is to break down a resource into its smallest components; this will reveal its hidden uses.

Stay Flexible

Don’t get too hung up on how to start your stretching journey. Some of these exercises will immediately sound more enticing than others. That’s OK — we always need a place to start. Treat each exercise as a resource you can build on and adapt to your own circumstances. Just get moving. Like a muscle, our stretch gets stronger each time we use it.

This was excerpted from “Less Chasing, More Living” which was published in the June 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Scott Sonenshein, PhD

Scott Sonenshein, PhD, is a professor of management at Rice University. This piece is adapted from his book STRETCH: Unlock the Power of Less — and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined. Copyright © 2017 by Scott Sonenshein. Reprinted by permission of Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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