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What is Structural Tension?

If you’ve arrived here, chances are you’ve read an article I’ve written on the importance of structural tension to creating what you want.  And you’re wanting to understand what structural tension is.

Good for you. You’re obviously committed to creating a great life.

What is Structural Tension?

To understand what structural tension is, it is helpful to first understand the two patterns people use to create. One of them uses structural tension. The other (ineffective method) uses a different structural pattern entirely.

When you understand the differences between the two patterns and can see them at work in your life, something changes. And learning how to create using the pattern that does work, dramatically changes how you approach what you create – and the effectiveness and sustainability of your efforts!

So bear with me for a minute while I explain….

The Basics

People use two different patterns when they create.

They either use an advancing pattern (that works) or an oscillating pattern (that doesn’t).

And even us as individuals, we sometimes find ourselves using an advancing pattern, and other times, an oscillating pattern. We might use advancing patterns say, in our work, but then oscillate with our health/weight patterns.

To an untrained eye, the two patterns can look similar to begin with.

In both patterns there is something we want. And we begin to work towards that thing.

But there are critical differences.

Advancing Patterns: The Pattern we Want

When we are using an advancing pattern, think of our behaviour, actions, and the experience like a car that moves to its desired destination.

We know what we want – and where we want to be.  We have a vision for what we are creating.

Maybe it’s a new business. Or a health goal. Or an event we’re putting together.

We are clear about where we are in relation to that vision – our starting point.

There is a discrepancy between where we want to be and where we are. This discrepancy creates an energy. A pull. The reason for this energy is that the discrepancy creates a structural tension system that naturally seeks equilibrium. In other words, when where we are, is where we want to be.

In an advancing pattern, structural tension is naturally present because where we want to be is not where we are.  We know we are not there yet. We take actions to move us towards that result, until we complete it.

When we use this pattern, learning and skill development happens. We may experience challenges on the way, but motivation is present. And we continue to create what we want. And each successive creation creates a platform for the next creation.

An advancing pattern is the pattern we want to be using, if we want to create what we want to create!

By contrast, oscillating patterns have two tension systems pulling in opposite directions.

Oscillating Patterns: The patterns we don’t want to be using

By contrast, in an oscillating pattern, the experience is much more like a rocking chair.

In this pattern, we also have something we want.

Movement or progress happens in the direction of that which the person wants – only to be followed by a loss of the result.

Think of it like someone who loses a huge amount of weight only to put it back on again.  Or the person who makes lots of money, only to lose it all again. 

They start out motivated and make progress, but over time, their behaviour returns to one of not doing what they know they need to be doing to sustain the result.

The underlying dynamic that drives the oscillating behaviour is that there are two opposing structural tension systems.

These opposing tensions we refer to in structural dynamics as ‘structural conflict’.  It is different than structural tension because these two tensions pull in opposite directions.

How does Structural Conflict work?

How this happens with our weight-loss example is that the person isn’t happy with how they look. This unhappiness creates a tension – and as with all tensions, tension seeks resolution. So they decide to go on a diet and exercise regime.

They begin to lose weight and feel good, which reduces the tension. Their behaviour returns to eating more and/or not exercising.

It’s as though something is pulling them in the other direction. 

They then get unhappy about the situation. Maybe they beat themselves up. See the weight piling on. The tension rises again.

Because they WANT to be smaller and fit, they try a new method (trying to invoke greater commitment, hiring a personal trainer, a new diet, a nutritionist) to try to change the course of their body.

But no matter what they try, they return to fat.

Structural conflict does not result in creating successfully  – and is thus, not the pattern we want to be using.


If you recognise that you have structural conflict (an oscillating pattern) going on in your life or career, and you’d like to break it, send me an email.  I have a process that can, in a short period of time, identify give you insight into a piece of reality that you’ve not been able to see by yourself.

Or, if you want to learn more about structural tension and how to use it to achieve your goals, you can also read this post on what you need to focus on to achieve your goals.

Big love to you – and to creating structural tension in your life!

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