Do you stretch? When was the last time you stretched yourself? I’m not talking about just physical – though that is important. Physical stretching, especially before running or walking, is important because it prepares your muscles for a strenuous workout and stretching afterward is important for easing into the cool down to return to lower activity. It helps to prevent injury. And it just feels good as well.

Stretching helps us to expand ourselves, extend our reach. Cats do it when they arise from rest and so should we. A good stretch in the morning can help us breath better by expanding our lungs as we move our ribcage and diaphragm. But don’t limit yourself to physical stretching.

Mental stretching is important also. It keeps our minds healthy and continually developing. It helps ward off aging effects. Make time to read and read more and read things that will challenge you. Investigate not just ideas, people, places that are foreign or new to you. But also investigate and explore views different than your own – that challenge your core beliefs. Don’t just read books, articles,, and websites that validate your own views and values. But read things that are contrary to what you believe. It will challenge you to examine more closely what you believe and why. You might learn something new, see ways to adapt, or at least learn more about what “the other side” believes and be better able to debate someone who does believe those contrary things. So, if you are conservative read a liberal blog – with an open mind – or if you are liberal read a conservative blog with the same approach. It won’t poison your mind or corrupt you. I do it all the time.

I urge you to stretch emotionally as well. Step out of your comfort zone and into someone else’s shoes. Take time to listen to someone who is going through trying experiences that you have not gone through – like grief. Listen and learn – don’t try to fix, just be there and show you care. It will be a stretch – since anger is a large and valid part of grief – but it will be good for your soul and a comfort to the griever.

Don’t just make assumptions about people going through hard times. Take time to get to know them and try to understand the challenges they face. Don’t assume that everyone is like you – they aren’t. See their hurt and try to bring healing. Don’t let “principles” and political stands get in the way of caring for people. Stretch yourself.

Lastly stretch yourself vocationally and avocationally. Not just in work, but in hobbies and other activites. Perhaps try Toastmasters to stretch your speaking and leadership abilities. I am biased, being a long term Toastmaster, but I think you just might like it. And if you are already a member, try volunteering for other roles – you will only grow.