I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or… a tensionless state… Man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. Precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite for mental health.
—Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning

Have you ever worked on a huge project and had that “when will it ever be done” feeling? Where you were crystal clear about your vision, but just wanted all the baby steps to be over already?

I sometimes wish that a project could be complete the moment I conceived of it. I’ve never felt this way more than when I was writing the first draft of my book (which, yup, is still a work in progress!) this past fall. I could see the completed copy in my mind’s eye, but my hands took so much time to type out each page.

There’s a name for this “I wish it would just be done already” feeling.

Creative Tension.

On the path toward fulfilling any big vision, you’re likely to experience really high moments of excitement and learning.

But you’re also apt to experience your fair share of tension. And how you respond to the tension will make all the difference.

You have a choice. Lots of people tell themselves a story that says that stress and tension are problems. In fact, the story that stress is a problem is pretty mainstream right now.

But you can also regard stress and tension inevitable and even welcome parts of the journey.

To get a sense of what I mean—

I invite you to imagine that you’re holding a rubber band with your left forefinger and thumb.

(There’s no particular reason why I chose left, but if you’re using the same hand as I am, it’ll help you follow along.)

Your thumb represents where you are right now in your life, and your forefinger represents where you want to go. Imagine that you’re stretching the rubber band with each finger moving away from the other. The tension of the rubber band is similar to the tension you feel when you’re reaching toward a big goal.

You clearly see where you want to be, but you’re not there yet, and that’s uncomfortable.

Now, imagine bringing your fingers together so that the tension releases and the rubber band becomes floppy. This is what many people do in response to creative tension. To relieve the tension they feel, they bring their vision down to current reality, lower and lower, until it’s all but forgotten.

Staying true to your vision requires us to be with our discomfort without running away.

The space between where you are right now and where you want to be has been given many names. Peter Senge calls it creative tension. Parker Palmer calls it the tragic gap. Many facilitators call it the groan zone.

When you’re in this space, you’re likely to feel confused, uncertain, and impatient. It can be scary to realize that you’ll likely need to develop new skills or abilities to bridge the gap and rise to the challenge.

What makes matters even more challenging is the fact that most people have a second rubber band.

Now, imagine picking up a second rubber band. Hook one end onto your left thumb (which represents your current reality) and the opposite end onto your right forefinger.

Your right forefinger represents all your beliefs related to powerlessness and worthlessness. This includes the beliefs that you’re powerless to reach your goals or aren’t worthy enough. It includes the beliefs that stress and tension are problems or that you’re supposed to have what it takes to reach your destination before you embark on the journey.

When you let go of these stories, it becomes much easier to stay present and keep going, even in the face of discomfort.

The next time you feel creative tension, instead of trying to get rid of it or telling yourself there’s something wrong with you, I invite you to stay present with the discomfort.

Now, imagine that you let go of the second rubber band. No more beliefs rooted in powerlessness or worthlessness. And, rather than bringing your vision down to current day reality, you keep holding the tension between the ends of the rubber band, between where you are now and where you are headed.

What happens when you do this?

When you keep your eyes on the prize and don’t flee from what you feel, creative tension propels you forward. Kind of like a slingshot (only maybe not so fast or slingshot-y).

So, how is creative tension showing up in your life?

What vision is calling you now? And, how do you feel about it? You might be super pumped and ready to go. Or you may feel a bit of trepidation or a lot of discomfort.

I invite you to ask yourself— What might help you stay present with the creative tension and keep moving forward? Write down what comes up. Then take your next step.

And, as always, I’d love to hear from you!

What are you taking away from this post? And what’s your next step?

Please share in the comments below, and I’ll make sure to respond to you!


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