Positive Tension Supercharges Progress

Jul 24, 2023

I’ve often heard the idea that growth and progress require us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. But I think it’s more like tension than discomfort. For example, you can be uncomfortable at a job you hate for 30 years and never make much progress, but tension MUST be released and WILL create a result.

Progress requires a level of tension in the form of doubt, uncertainty, and mystery.

My mentor Richie Norton says it like this: "...Goals inside experience are tasks. Goals outside experience are growth."

Tension is the goal set outside our experience.

There was a time during my college career when I suddenly realized the path I was on wasn't taking me where I wanted to go. If I had continued on the well-worn path, there was a high chance I could get a decent-paying job and find what some people call “security”.

But I wanted way more than security. I wanted real growth. I wanted significance. I wanted FREEDOM.

Let’s take Walt Disney for example.

In the 1950s, when Walt Disney had the idea of building the first family-friendly amusement park, all the banks turned him down. No investors were willing to take the risk on an unproven model. But Walt believed in the project and was no stranger to failure. So he mortgaged his house and studio to secure funding for the project.

You know the rest of the story, but Disney could just as easily have given up on the project.

Most people aren't willing to live with the tension required to make significant leaps of progress. The type of progress that changes the world as we know it—or at least changes our life as we know it.

Today I want to share an analogy I've been pondering, with tension as it relates to our goals. It will help you better understand how to make significant progress in your life and reach your goals.

Imagine you are learning to shoot a bow and arrow. You have a clear target in front of you. First, you secure the arrow to the bowstring clenched between your thumb and forefinger. Then you pull the bowstring back near your cheek to create tension, preparing to launch the arrow in the direction of your target.

At this moment, you’re probably feeling a bit nervous and uncertain about your own abilities since you've never really shot a bow before. Then again, it's kind of exciting.

You release the arrow and hear the twang of the bowstring. You watch with bated breath as your arrow soars through the air and lands in the dirt a few feet in front of the target.

A little disappointed but now feeling less nervous, you grab another arrow. This time you know you’re going to need more tension. You launch your second arrow and it finds the target. Woohoo! You’re excited by your progress even though you’re nowhere near the bullseye. Feeling more confident, you keep shooting and adjusting to improve your accuracy.

This is just like how our goals work in real life. We create positive tension by setting goals outside of our experience. Then we create progress by taking consistent action towards achieving that goal. The more we act and fall short or miss, the more comfortable we become with that tension. Soon we are learning and progressing faster than we ever thought possible.

This doesn’t mean quit your job and take unnecessary risks.

Seth Godin put the diagram below in his blog post the other day, which is a great example of how this growth tension works in relation to risk. 

A quick recap…

Without a healthy tension in our life our progress slows or even stalls. The more we aim (set goals) for things beyond our current abilities and experience, the more comfortable we get with the tension it creates.

Making massive progress in your life can be that simple. One very important note is that you must be committed to the goal—commitment is required to create tension. Without it your arrow will always fall short.

All the best in creating more positive tension in your life! 


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