How to use creative tension to get more of what you want
Humans are wired to hate tension. This can be useful.
Welcome dear Reader. I’m so glad to have you here.
We’ve begun lockdown stage two here in Michigan, as I know have many states across the country. Laura and I are very fortunate that we can do our work from home, and we have the flexibility to ensure our kids are educated with as little interruption as possible (combination of virtual school for our 4-year old and a home-school pod of four-now-five 2-year olds for our youngest). A few of my friends have gotten sick over the past two weeks (very different from the Spring, in which I only knew of people who had gotten COVID), but thus far we’ve remained healthy.
All this to say we’re among a fortunate few. As we settle into (at least) three weeks of only leaving the house for groceries and parks, it’s important to remember just how lucky we are to have all the above.
I don’t like quarantining, but I am grateful.
Now then, let’s talk about tension.
An exercise in creative tension
Picture a rubber band. A big one, loose, about a foot in width and five feet in length. Picture it wrapped around your waist like a hula hoop.
Now picture something you want, which is not currently a part of your life. Something you want to build, something you want to be, something you want to have. Maybe you want your company to be the dominant company in the market. Maybe you want to be debt-free. Whatever it is, picture yourself having that thing. Like Michael Jordan, visualize yourself having what you want, as if it’s already real.
Got the image? Good.
Now remember that rubber band wrapped around your waist? Wrap the other end, in your mind, around the waist of your visualization, so that you have a taught, stretched rubber band, with one end wrapped around your waist in the here and now, and the other end wrapped around yourself when you have what you want. Feel the tension of the rubber band, the way it pulls the two versions of yourself together. Feel that tension in your body, your mind. Feel it’s texture, the way it yearns for resolution.
This is Creative Tension, which is one of the most powerful tools in a creator’s toolbox.
I’ve found visuals like the above to be helpful in creating this tension, but not always necessary. In essence, the minute you are clear about your vision, when you really feel what it would be like to have it and embrace that you want it, the fact that you don’t already have it creates Creative Tension.
We as humans hate tension. It’s uncomfortable, and everything in us wants to relieve that tension. Mostly, we choose to relieve that tension in the easiest, most straightforward way, which is to sacrifice on what we want. Be “realistic” about it. If our vision was to be the market leader, and that creates a ton of tension, maybe we change our vision to only being 10% bigger. It’s more “attainable,” which is another word for comfortable. You can almost see the slack being created in that rubber band when you lower your goals like that.
But there’s another option, which is to live with the discomfort. To stick to our vision for ourselves, the crazy, audacious one that scares us, even though the creative tension feels yucky. We can even do crazy things like repeat that vision to ourselves every day, burning it into our consciousness and not allowing it to be diluted. We can scare ourselves with our audacity to recreate that tension every day.
If we do this, if we refuse to dilute our vision, there’s only one option to relieve the tension. To take the actions necessary to get what we want. To be that market leader. To eliminate our debt. Doing anything else feels yucky.
People who wake up at five in the morning to exercise (raises hand) don’t do so because they’re disciplined. They wake up at five in the morning to exercise because they’ve cultivated a vision of themselves as one who exercises, and because of the clarity of this vision it feels better to wake up than to sleep in. Waking up and exercising relieves the tension.
Humans hate tension. I do, and you do. As creators, we can use this fact to drive radical change in our lives, if we’re only willing to be a little uncomfortable.
More on this topic from Productive Flourishing here.
Shortcut to conscious leadership: Tell the truth. Radically.
Speaking of discomfort, I read an absolutely amazing post by Jim Dethmer, cofounder of the Conscious Leadership Group, wherein he gives a simple and profound answer to the question he gets asked the most.
Question: What’s the quickest, most practical way I can get started with conscious leadership and start to see results immediately?
Answer: Tell the truth.
This may seem remedial, but in my experience it’s profound. As humans we’ve learned throughout our lives to lie, spin, minimize and exaggerate, and generally manipulate our version of the truth to get more of what we want, and less of what we don’t. I see this type of spin all the time with entrepreneurs, and I myself fall victim to it (though much less so these days).
I remember telling investors “we work with ‘about 15%’ of the nation’s high schools” when we in fact worked with 13%. It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the truth either. It was a varnished version of the truth that I calculated (consciously or unconsciously) would get me what I wanted.
To be clear, I’m not saying this is objectively wrong. In fact, in my experience it’s pretty much common practice in the startup world. Particularly in venture capital, where much of what an entrepreneur is selling is a vision for the future. When there’s no such thing as capital-T true, as is the case with projections, it’s incredibly easy to inflate oneself just a bit in an effort to stand out.
But that’s why Jim’s comment is so profound. In a world in which “everyone” is spinning the truth, it’s actually the person who tells their whole truth, unvarnished, who stands out.
As Jim said in his article:
Telling the truth will change your life in many ways. You’ll have more energy and aliveness, be more potent as a leader, gain new relationships, and probably lose some that weren’t really serving you.
It can be scary to be fully yourself, with no tweaks spins or hedges. But I can say from my own experience that telling the truth, radically, changes everything.
(I focused above on the type of exaggeration that I see so commonly in the startup world, but minimizing your accomplishments — like when I would say I “work at a high school sports startup” when asked what I did, rather than owning that I was the founder and CEO — has the same negative effect. Own your truth. Minimizing is the same as exaggerating.)
Must be doing something right
Here’s a fun little easter egg — my article, “The Verbal Cue That Your Business Is Stuck And How To Get Unstuck,” was translated into Ukranian.
And another one — my article, “For Leaders, Meditation is more valuable than business school,” was syndicated onto one of my favorite local companies, a marketplace for purpose-driven jobs, Purpose.jobs.
So a part of my truth is that I’m now a syndicated writer, published in multiple languages. Pretty cool.
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