Creative Tension or Tension Stress?

Understand the difference between creative tension and tension stress and you’ll have new breakthroughs in personal productivity.

Many executives and futurists are saying that the world is experiencing another paradigm shift. A paradigm is a mental model of how we see the world and view reality. A paradigm shift occurs when our basic view of our world’s perspective changes to a new, wider perspective, much like when the inhabitants of the earth realized that the earth rotates around the sun and is not the center of the universe or when masses of people comprehended that the world is round, not flat. Einstein proved all matter is energy and another paradigm was changed and expanded bringing breakthroughs in technology that otherwise would have been impossible.

New breakthroughs in personal productivity can come if a simple paradigm shift is made, a shift from thinking the workday is full of tension stress to realizing that the workday is also crammed with the stress of creative tension…a good kind of stress.

Tension can be defined as a mental and emotional nervousness or strain and stress.

Try this paradigm shift and observe its effect on your workday: Consciously change your paradigm of stress tension, which is negative, to a positive stretching condition. This positive stretching is creative tension and it pulls you forward and permits tension to be a compelling force to move your work forward.

What would happen to your workday if you changed and used this positive paradigm of tension on even just a few tasks? Workers who have tried this shift say they feel more relaxed and creative. In this frame of mind, they get more done.

By analyzing your work day and noting the times you felt stressed by the stock market, the financial report, the attitude of the director of marketing, a global competitor, or the new intern and then contrast that to the times you felt stressed at writing the brief, describing the new product line, explaining the new benefits package, or defining your vision of the future, you will see the two kinds of stress are very different.

The first stress is the normal stress we have felt for centuries and is often described in caveman terms: Harry Caveman meets Lenny, the Saber-toothed tiger and must fight or flee. This stress has you reaching for the Rolaids and needing a vacation.

The second kind of stress is the pulling, stretching, compelling tension felt at creating…the stress of looking for the right word, finding the right metaphor, using the right motivational language. This is an elating stress. It becomes a defining moment that makes the workday worthwhile and makes you feel self-actualized.

The problem with creative tension from a time management perspective is that it always takes more time then you probably have allotted in your schedule. If you see the extra time it takes to create a thought of excellence as a time waster, something that threw your schedule off, then you will feel tension stress. If however, you allow time in your schedule to let your mind create, you will feel creative tension…the stress of moving forward and reaching a higher level of performance.

The predictable stages in the creative process as summarized by S. Starker are:

  1. Preparation. This involves identification of the problem, project,  or what you want to achieve.
  2. Concentrated effort. This includes attempting all the alternative solutions, using your resources, experiencing trial and error.
  3. Frustration. If no solution is found in the previous phase, this is the inevitable result of an expenditure of time and effort with no resolution.
  4. Withdrawal. This includes putting it aside, removing it from the focus of attention. This often helps the unconscious processing.
  5. Insight. The “aha!” moment that seems spontaneous.
  6. Follow through. The implementation phase or translating the idea into action.

Creative tension craves resolution, just like hunger and it often wins over hunger. That’s why you stay through lunch to “finish up” and feel a sense of calm and satisfaction when you dot the last “i” or put the last line on the engineering drawing.

The essence of increased productivity in your life is to learn how to generate and sustain creative tension in your workday, not tension stress.

As you work through your day, take mental notes of tension stress and creative tension. Work to expand creative tension and decrease tension stress. Be persistent when withdrawal comes. Follow through on the creative ideas. As you do, you’ll experience the quality of your work improving and you’ll find yourself doing your life’s work and not just doing time.

Tips to find time for creative tension:

  1. Set aside a time each day for your hardest project.
  2. Don’t schedule a non-discretionary item after the allotted time, such as a meeting. Why? If that breakthrough idea comes at the exact moment you have to leave for the meeting you are either late to the meeting or you lose the creative thought.
  3. Permit your thoughts to be chaotic and to drift into Never Never land. This is the time for creative discovery.
  4. When ideas are not coming or not working, take a break, then come back and work through the frustration.
  5. Implement the ideas that come. If you don’t, you’ve lost forever the time you spent creating.

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