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Musings for the Modern Mystic

Facing your fears needn't be terrifying. Here, Dr. Neil Thompson writes about the 'extend, recover, renew' mindfulness process adapted from physical fitness routines...

The Simple 3-Step Process For Muscle Development That Can Be Used In Mindfulness

A widely accepted way to build muscle strength is to exercise just beyond what you are comfortable with (extend), give yourself time to get back to normal after the exertion (recover) and then repeat it all again when you are ready, so that it is a constant process of renewal. It can also work like this for mindfulness.

While exercising, if you don’t extend, you won’t build muscle strength; if you don’t allow time for recovery, you risk muscle strain and potentially serious injury. If you extend and recover just the once, you will not make much headway in terms of muscle development, so renewal needs to be part of the process too.

The same logic can be broadly applied to other aspects of our development in terms of thoughts, feelings and actions. That is, we can follow the same process to feed our development more holistically, and not just physically.

Consider the following:


Extend: This is about not just sticking with familiar, well-trodden paths of thought – it’s about being prepared to explore new ideas and perspectives. A closed mind is no basis for learning.

Recover: Link the new ideas to our existing understanding; make connections. That way, we are not constantly exploring new territory and potentially getting lost and confused – a form of mental strain equivalent of muscle strain.

Renew: But then, when you are ready, you can extend your boundaries of understanding just a little further and thereby begin the process once again. This is all part of the overall task of developing your thinking skills.


Extend: We can play it safe and attempt to stay within our emotional comfort zones – for example, by not trying new experiences in case we get hurt or disappointed. But then we will get no emotional growth; we will be ‘stuck’ and potentially ill-equipped to rise to future emotional challenges. We can, however, extend our emotional range a little, without doing it so much that we get emotional strain.

Recover: Again we need to get back to safe, comfortable emotional territory (and that is where social support can be very useful), giving us time to recover from our emotional exertions.

Renew: We now have the basis of emotional intelligence by learning how to gradually extend our emotional ‘repertoire’ and become more confident in dealing with feelings – our own and other people’s. This can also be a springboard for developing emotional resilience, or, the ability to bounce back from emotionally difficult situations.


Extend: We can try new approaches and explore new perspectives just beyond what we currently feel comfortable with.

Recover: We can connect the new approaches to our existing strengths, so that not everything is new (and that way avoiding the equivalent of a muscle strain where we feel overwhelmed by too much change).

Renew: We then begin the process again, so that we are constantly getting the benefits of learning, without creating problems for ourselves by taking on too many new things at once. This is the basis of lifelong-learning.

So, there is much to be gained from adapting the extend, recover, renew process from physical fitness to other aspects of our personal and professional growth. It is not an easy answer or a mechanistic process to follow unthinkingly, but it is a framework of understanding that can offer useful insights and opportunities for taking our learning further.

Neil Thompson
Neil Thompson


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