On the Power of Stretching the Mind with a New Idea

"One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." – Oliver Wendell Holmes, U.S. author and physician (1809-1894)

Stretching our mind is probably a concept that many of us believe is not possible. After all, our brain is our mind, right? It has a defined dimension or limitation of space. So how can we stretch it? Actually, stretching our mind is a bit of a metaphor. We’re not actually changing the physical shape or altering the dimensions, but we are changing the usable, functioning parts of our brain when we stretch it.

Does this sound like a contradiction in terms? Let’s explore it to see how we can stretch our mind by a new idea, and what that looks like.

Research shows that we only utilize about 10 percent of our brains. That leaves an incredible 90 percent to work with. What a gift! Yet how often do we confine ourselves to our limited experiences or to those experiences that we only know from our past, whether or not we believe them to be limited. In doing so, however, we are not doing ourselves any favors. For one thing, if we tell ourselves that we can only do what we have done before, or that we are only capable of learning in small doses, then we are putting a roadblock on our recovery progress before we truly begin. That’s certainly not what we want for ourselves in recovery, is it?

If we’ve got all that potential in our minds, why not make use of it? Research also shows that we can fire up new parts of our brain by stimulating it with intellectual pursuits such as working crossword puzzles and doing mental gymnastics. Even tasks as mundane as balancing our checkbook or figuring out the best grocery sales prices can boost our mental aptitude. And this happens to benefit everyone, not just those with Alzheimer’s disease or other diminished mental capacity.

On the practical side, when we awake each day in recovery, we can take a quick check of what we have on our recovery agenda this day and see how we can add something new to the equation. Let’s look at how this might work.

Are we going to a meeting at a certain time and location? One way to add a new dimension to this schedule is to vary the route we take to get to the meeting. This will give us a new perspective on the journey, which is another metaphor to the journey of our recovery. Looking at people, places and things with a different perspective puts, well, a different perspective on the situation. When we see something fresh, this sparks new ideas. We never know where or when they’re coming, but they do come. What we need to do is brush up on our skills so that we can recognize a new idea when we have it, and then take steps to use that new idea to help stretch our mind.

Staying with the going to our meeting schedule, let’s say that we do something else a little different. We arrive a half-hour early. Why would we do this? For one thing, we could help by arranging chairs, setting out literature, working to set up the coffee or anything else that normally accompanies a 12-Step meeting preparation. By doing this, we’ll not only be of service to others, but we’ll also have the opportunity to interact with others who have come early. It changes our routine and adds something important to it: the opportunity to communicate with others in recovery. Who knows, something that this or that person says may jumpstart an idea in our mind, something that will stretch our mind and spur us to action.

And we all know that action is the primary requisite in effective recovery. Thinking doesn’t result in progress if it isn’t followed by action.

So, try to incorporate adding change to our recovery routine. Look for opportunities to meet new people, to try new things, to see how we can stretch not only our minds but our horizons in recovery.

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