What you can learn from paying attention to the tension in your life
One thing I have noticed is how easy it is to ignore tension. It is far simpler to let a strange comment, a complaint or a twinge of odd behavior pass right by you.
It’s not surprising, given Sigmund Freud’s pleasure principle. He argued that people will go to great lengths to avoid even momentary pain.
But, don’t be so quick to avoid the conflict or write it off as normal. Pain, when reframed, is an opportunity for progress.
As someone who grew up conflict avoidant, I’ve had to retrain how I approach and think about conflict. The tension I experience is typically found in a space of personal vulnerability. A space where I lack confidence and must trust someone or something with my true self.
It’s like saying, see this open wound I have on my arm. Please poke me here. Now do it again.
Tension is a feeling in your own life and it is an observation in another's. Not to go all psychological with this, but here comes Sigmund Freud again with his work on defense mechanisms or what is more commonly known as “Projection”. Projection is the process of displacing your own experience on someone else…if you spot it, you got it.
So if you can see it and you can feel it, what should you do with it and how can it help you? Below are three things that I have come to learn to paying attention to tension in my own life and how you can start paying more attention too.
Move from projection to attention
Have you ever found yourself persistently swatting at a fly while and not notice what’s happening until your friend grabs the fly swatter?
What’s happening here?
You are focused on accomplishing a task and not on the present moment. Your mind is somewhere else. It took the pattern interrupt of a friend to get you to recognize the annoying fly.
Friends are great at interrupting our patterns of behavior. That’s why teams are great and two is better than one. When you have a partner along side of you they can help you see tension too. Listen to what the people around you are saying. Give them permission to make observations on your work and your behavior.
Let their projection be your attention.
Likewise, when you find yourself projecting on someone else, ask what is this person showing me that I don’t want to know about myself?
Move from annoyance to clairvoyance
Anytime you start to complain about something, that should be a trigger to sit up straight.
Complaining is a sign of repeated tension without resolution. It’s something you have grown accustomed to do, and for some reason find enjoyment in complaining about it.
We all have chronic complainers in our life and the first thought for us “enlightened” ones is what?…why don’t you do something?!
We should be taking our own advice here and listen to our complaints. The easiest thing to do when you find yourself annoyed is simply do the opposite.
Stop right now. Make a list what’s annoying you or what you are tempted to complain about. Then reverse it.
Desk is a mess → Clean desk
Pat never calls → Call Pat
It seems silly when you see it on paper, but it helps. Get those annoyances down on a piece a paper, you might be surprised how much tension you can relieve just making that list.
Move from incongruity to opportunity
As you come across and others point out the incongruities in your life, take a minute to breathe deep and say to yourself…self….this is an opportunity.
It’s the perfect cue to retrain your brain from negative thought patterns to positive ones.
Think about it. You get the opportunity to make something better. Who doesn’t love a positive change maker? Take advantage of those interrupts and disconnects and go make some positive change.
Regardless of where the tension comes from or how you end up seeing it, holding on to what you see will help you and find ideas to improve your life and the lives of those around you.
It may feel like holding a hot coal at first because tension is inherently stretching you. Let it. Don’t shy away from it.
Hold on to tension with a childlike curiosity. Oh hello tension, I see you are here again. What can I learn from you today? What has you showing up? Write down what you notice and come back to it if happens again.
Be on the look out for:
Give yourself the space to hold on to them and reframe them into an opportunity.