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  • Tension The Right Kind Is What You Need

I enjoy reading books that go back decades in time. I am currently re-reading Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline. I am reading the section that speaks to personal mastery. It is a beautiful section that peels away the layers of what it takes to stay on the journey of seeking to become a better version of ourselves. This is personal mastery, and not everyone knows how to stay on this journey.

I relate to the process and structures Senge uses to demonstrate what we each need to face to come closer to being a better version of ourselves.

As we embark upon our journey of personal mastery, many of us fail to achieve our goals because we give in to the wrong kind of tension.

Senge does an excellent job of demonstrating why tension is needed if we are to move up from our current reality toward our vision. He describes the gap between our current reality and our vision as creative tension. This form of pressure is what we need to embrace if we are to move closer to our vision. The tension forces us to seek more learning, mentoring, coaching, resources, and the means necessary to achieve our goals. But it is not easy to embrace because it evokes a cascade of emotional tension.

Emotional tension is, sadly, how too many of us experience creative tension. We interpret the universal law of change as represented by creative tension, which is to outgrow our current state to achieve a new desired state as a barrier to our vision. Therefore, we talk ourselves out of pursuing our dream or lowering our vision to our current reality.

This is emotional tension at play. When we react to how we feel, such as being overwhelmed, burdened, alone, insufficient time and money, having too many other responsibilities, etc., etc., we are reacting to emotional tension. We then walk away from the pull of creative tension.

Creative Tension Experienced as Emotional Tension of Powerlessness:

Senge shared three underlying beliefs though limited in their ability to explain why humans tend to self-sabotage; nonetheless, they give some insights into how we skillfully take ourselves out of the game simply because we react to the wrong type of tension. We say it is just too much for us.

The first is powerlessness. When we react to emotional tension, we may feel powerless. Nothing seems to be moving us in the right direction toward our vision and away from our current reality. We may interpret the normal and healthy creative tension as a sign that we should lower our vision to our present reality rather than pursue outgrowing our current reality to achieve our vision.

I went through a period of my career and life where I, too, surrendered to emotional tension, not knowing it was creative tension. I had the underlying belief that I was powerless; I did not realize this until I discovered it over a period of years through my journaling and personal coaching sessions. I wanted to pursue a master’s degree shortly after graduating from University. The current reality was that being in private practice would be advantageous if I added more tools to my toolbox to position myself to become an expert in my chosen area.

From when I set the vision to acquire a master’s degree to when I graduated with a master’s degree, all of a decade or more went by! I was cleaning out my basement a few years ago when I came upon about ten completed applications for graduate school, each with a different year. They were never mailed! I reflected, and what was creative tension I experienced as emotional tension.

Creative Tension Experienced as Emotional Tension of Powerlessness:

Vision-Master’s degree

Creative Tension-the space between my current reality and my goal that needs to be transcended

Emotional Tension of Powerlessness: not enough money, who would take care of the kids? How would I find time to study? I don’t have enough help.

Current Reality-need to add more tools to my toolbox

I took myself out of the game of self-improvement by reacting to the emotional tension created by my underlying belief that I was powerless to move in the direction of my vision.

Creative Tension Experienced as Emotional Tension of Unworthiness:

The second underlying belief highlighted by Senge is that too many of us believe we are unworthy of moving away from our current reality toward our vision of being a better version of ourselves. Similar to powerlessness, we tell ourselves stories designed to justify why we are unworthy.

Vision-create, a company that meets the leadership needs of new and aspiring leaders 

Creative Tension-the space between my current reality and my goal that needs to be transcended 

Emotional Tension of Unworthiness: Who am I to dream this big? No one would take me seriously. I am a small unknown entity-nobody knows me! 

Current Reality-Desire to support new and aspiring leaders’ growth 

The tension brought about by a desire is what we all need. It is crucial for new and aspiring leaders to no longer give in to emotional tension, whether it is a sense of powerlessness, unworthiness, or a combination.  

Tension… The Right Kind is Just What’s Needed  

There are multiple ways to overcome the battle of emotional tension and set oneself up for tapping into creative tension. One I successfully used more than fifteen years ago, and Senge also recommends, is facing the truth. When I re-read my journal writings, I realized that I had carefully and compassionately written about more than a decade ago. , It was that I must face the truth; I am the one who is in my way of moving toward my goal. That was a simple truth. 

I will share more about the process I used as it entails a few more steps that work as if it is magic when put together. If you are struggling to reach a goal and harbour either of the emotional tensions identified above, know that you are not alone. Also, know that you can move to pass that tension to fully embrace the creative tension, which is what we all need to move to the proverbial next level. 


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