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Create the tension for change

When we work in a problem-solving mode, we remain limited.

Our energy stays focused on the problem, instead of what we want.

I’ve reached a point in my book-writing where feedback from first readers is critical.

Constructive, critical feedback shows me what is working and what is not.

It provides a snapshot of current reality that suggests how far I have yet to go.

Yet when I received first feedback on my manuscript from a couple of readers, feedback I had asked for, it was still difficult to hear.

My initial solution: plunge ahead and reactively fix what appeared to be broken in the book.

Instead, I reviewed a classic book about creative change from the 1980s, The Path of Least Resistance, by Robert Fritz.

The Limits of Problem-Solving

Fritz argued the limitations of problem-solving and suggested that creatives choose a different approach. They move forward by maintaining a structural tension between their current reality and their vision for what they want to create.

Focusing only on current reality, without a vision, can be exhausting and constraining. We get stuck in the problem we’re trying to solve, often in a one step forward-one step back oscillation.

Conversely, focusing on vision, without acknowledging current reality, leads to fantastical, hypothetical thinking rather than effective action.

Power lies in maintaining a dynamic tension between the two: what we want and current reality.

Then we can pour our attention and focus into what we want without denying what is.

Think of an archer who pulls back on the bow (current reality) before allowing the arrow to launch into space towards its target (the vision).

We maintain focus on the target given to us by our vision. Current reality gives us the tension that can help us spring into action.

For another example, think of an artist. She begins a project with a vision, however rough, of what she wants to create. Then she works with the current reality she observes – either in the world or on her canvas. The art emerges from the tension between them.

Fritz says:  “Think in terms of what you want to create rather than what you want to change.”

Perfect words before returning to editing.

Steps to renewing a vision

Before jumping ahead with book revisions, I decided to revisit and renew my vision for the book. Rather than become lost in the process, I need to stay focused on the end result I want, whatever the circumstances in front of me.

A true vision comes from the heart, the imagination, a sense of the possible, or from spirit. It is never a “to-do” or a document that gets generated in committee after a long day hammering out words.

To be powerful and worthy of our focus, a vision has to feel alive. It needs to be able to sustain the tension coming from the counterweight of current reality.

Here are my steps:

1) Know the why.

A vision doesn’t come with an ulterior motive. I write my book because I’m called to do it–because I love it. The poet Robert Frost wrote:

“All the great things are done for their own sake.”

2) Don’t look for inspiration to come from a sense of need or making up for lack. 

Of course, I’d like to be published. But need or lack takes energy from the vision. Will my life be OK if am not published? Yup. See above.

Most of us, at some point, try to make up for what we believe we didn’t receive in childhood. We build companies to show Dad how great/worthy we are.

For me, a deep vision comes from a space within where I’m not trying to make up for what happened in the past. I ask the questions, “Is this still what I’m meant to do?” and “Is writing a book still what I want in life.” Then I listen. Fortunately, this week, the answer is still, “Yes.”

3) Don’t be constrained by what seems possible or by “how.”

Fritz argues that a vision needs to exist outside what we think is possible. It can be any size and shape – small or large, practical or fantastical, as long as it is truly ours.

At times, the prospect of publishing looks impossible. I certainly don’t know how to make it happen. Both are irrelevant to my vision.

“How” we do something is not part of the vision. We figure that out while we move ahead.

4) Picture the end result. The more we see our vision in vivid images rather than conceptualizing it, the stronger it becomes. As part of his method, Fritz suggests we envision the end-result, not a process for getting there.

I picture people reading my book and then reframing their relationship with aging as they express themselves more creatively. I see myself gleefully gabbing about it. The book is in bookstores. I even see (gasp) royalties!

5) Listen for the intuitive, knowing, inner voice. Leave room for magic, the unexpected, or for a desire to show up that we didn’t even know we had.

7) Let the vision reflect what you love. 

In focusing on my vision and giving energy to it, I feel stronger about my work and more excited to jump back into revisions.

With the vision in mind, I can better embrace the tension.

The road ahead to publication, given today’s realities, is still fraught with challenges. The publishing industry has now consolidated down to four major companies, which is down from five in 2019, which was down from what was once hundreds of small publishers.

It’s very difficult for a first-time author, with no fame, to gain notice.

Does that dampen my vision? Nope. It’s just a chunk of current reality, a part of the tension I hold without running away from it.

What’s important is to honor my vision and give it focus and energy.

With that focus, I can move forward again, based not on reactiveness, but on love.


4 Responses

  1. Beautiful and inspiring post Sally. I love the creative tension model and have seen it work beautifully for myself and others. May your inspiration and creative tension continue and see you through to whatever the outcome is.

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