The Art of Holding Creative Tension

Have you ever played with a rubber band when you were bored?  

It can be strangely fun to wrap the band around your fingers and stretch it. There is something vaguely satisfying about feeling the tension that is created in the band, and even more satisfying when you let it go, sending it flying across the room. Tension is nothing but built up and stored energy and when it is released, things happen. It’s a law of nature, and believe it or not, it’s also true in your life. Tension is how you get things done. For example, there is nothing like a deadline to inspire you to work. Creative tension is a concept that has the incredible potential to change your work, your drive, and your life for the better. All you need to learn is how to harness it. 


What Is Creative Tension 

Creative tension, put simply, is the difference between what we want/desire and what we currently have. The further the distance between these two things, the greater the tension. This tension can spur creative thinking and drive, propelling you towards what you want. Not unlike a rubber band, if you build up that tension, it will fly when you let it go! 

How Much Creative Tension is Good and How Much Is Bad? 

The trick, of course, it not to build up too much creative tension. If you put unrealistic expectations on yourself, make unrealistic and undefined goals, and then try to use creative tension to get them, you might end up with stress and anxiety instead. There is a fine line between heavy anxiety and creative tension. A little bit of anxiety can be good, too much and you can find yourself disheartened, losing sight of your goals. What happens when you pull an elastic too tight? It snaps in half. You need to learn how to hold that creative tension in a healthy way that you can use. You don’t want to be like a broken rubber band! 

What Are the Steps to Building a Healthy Level of Creative Tension? 

There is actually a great exercise you can do to help figure out the creative tension in your life that can propel you towards your goals. 

Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half. On the left side of the page, write down your current reality in as much detail as you can think. In order for you to build a healthy amount of creative tension, this needs to be as accurate as possible. In other words, be honest with yourself. On the right side of the page, make note of your desired outcomes. Be just as detailed with these goals as you were on the other side of the page. The most specifics you have, the easier it will be to figure out the steps to get there. 

After you are finished, go through the right side and find the goals that are easy to accomplish, the more practical ones, and definitely those that are most critical and difficult. Based on these criteria, come up with the first three steps that you would have to take to achieve each goal. Again, be specific and honest. No wishful thinking. You want to see exactly how “tight” the tension is between you and your goal. 

My advice is that you should address the realities in your life that make you the most vulnerable first. These could include your health (mental and physical), your relationships (they are more important than you think), and anything else that might be out of alignment. 

You want to make sure that this doesn’t become a negative exercise. The left side of your list shouldn’t just be the things you aren’t happy with in your life. It should reflect your reality, and there are always good things that we can overlook in our pursuit of the future. This is a mistake, as those good things, the things that are currently working, could be critical to releasing that creative tension. You want to ask yourself, how can I leverage what is currently working into achieving my desired goals and outcomes? You might already have the tools you need, you just don’t realize it yet! 

Contact Kathleen Joy, CEO of Lumiere Work to learn more.