top of page

The Importance of Holding Tension and How to Hold More…

During my senior year in college, studying Social Entrepreneurship, I had a professor who posed a question that continues to irritate and inspire me to this day. 

You know the kind of question where the teacher has an answer in mind and the students keep yelling out their “educated” guesses but never quite hit on it. They sit back with their arms crossed with a smug little smirk on their face, waiting for an answer the students will never be able to give. All their studies, knowledge, and work will never be enough to solve the problem, because they need wisdom and experience to find it.

We were asked, “What is the single most important attribute a successful social entrepreneur has?” We said everything from compassion, to social awareness, to creative problem solving, to innovative critical thinking, to extensive networking, to access to resources, to lucky intuition, and more… None were “right”.

I can still hear my professor's voice when he broke the silence after we had all racked our brains for more answers. He said a simple one syllable word that is so basic, so rudimentary, it’s almost frustrating.


My brain literally couldn’t accept that as the answer. My ears refused to hear it, as I blurted out, “WHAT?”

The following 89 minutes of our class transpired with our professor explaining how none of our degrees, our brilliance, our backing, our budgets could give us this distinguishing factor. We’d only learn it through trying, failing, getting back up, and doing it over and over again; all the while refusing to accept the reality others try to impose on us to achieve a vision that has never before been realized. Through our own experience we’d have to learn to develop grit that enables us to be resilient and work through adversity.

Years later, I’m discovering how important it is to develop grit through routines that intentionally engage tension. This has helped me face harder, more pressing, risky situations, and possess that distinguishing factor for success.

As people with heart, mind, soul, and body, we have four different approaches to help build our ability to hold tension to increase our grit. Holding tension means you work to connect with both sides. You see and validate paradoxes. You choose to live the hard and simple life, over the easy and complicated.

Whether we engage in holding tension with our body, our mind, our heart, or our soul, any intentional work we do to hold tension, affects all areas of our Being.

#BridgingTheGaps is a phrase I’ve been writing about for awhile. It refers to being connected within ourselves and with others—to live a life that is thriving and building bridges in the gaps we live with. We are unable to do so if we can’t hold tension and don’t have enough grit.

The following are four main areas I’ve developed in my own life, that we can all implement to be able to hold more tension:

1. Physically (body), we increase our energy, strength, and determination when we use our bodies in these ways:

Do yoga. Take your shoes and socks off and stand in the grass, even if you feel uncomfortable doing it. Wake up with two minutes of bed stretches. Hold plank position at different times throughout the day. Periodically, bring intention to your breath as you hold the bottom of your exhale and top of your inhale for 2-5 seconds. Finish your showers with cold water and control your breathing to achieve a calm state. When stressed bring awareness to the place in your body that holds it (shoulders, neck, back, hips) and try to engage other muscles (pectorals, glutes, hamstrings) to help carry the load. Drink water at the start of your day, even if you aren’t thirsty. Drink less alcohol, juice, soda, and drink more water – even if you don’t like it.

2. Mentally (mind), we gain clarity, inspiration, and perspective when we actively engage holding tension with our thoughts and what our brain consumes:

Read a book that is enjoyable and entertaining before bed, even if you only want to sleep or watch a show. Wake up and take the first few moments to be mindful, rather than productive. Practice meditating where you connect to something beyond yourself. Reflect on the things you're grateful for, while equally giving attention to hardship and suffering you can connect with that is happening around or within you. Listen to both sides of conflict. Before giving your thoughts to someone, imagine where they are coming from and be curious about their story. Do some mentally stimulating exercises like Lumosity or Elevate (apps), sudoku, strategy games with friends, or puzzles. Be creative and try something new that feels daring.

3. Emotionally (heart), we can be more easily attuned to others and able to navigate social encounters effectively, while being true to ourselves, when we practice holding tension:

Watch and read about the hard circumstances others are experiencing. Spend time each day journaling, to connect with what your heart is sensing. Be curious towards the thoughts you have that you generally don’t share with others, and work at being more vulnerable with those you feel safe with. Read or listen to books on interpersonal development such as: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Vein of Gold, Rising Strong, and Sacred Enneagram. Meet with a life coach who excels at helping clients overcome assumptions and builds resilience towards achieving desired goals. Connect and validate your feelings. Befriend the dark parts of yourself you would rather hide away or lock up - this is what it means to love your enemies.

4. Spiritually (soul), when we are able to expand our understanding, our focus, our efforts to something benevolent and beyond us, our ability grows to hope in hardship, to fight through misfortune, and stay true to our purpose in the midst of being powerless. C.S. Lewis wrote fantasy and non-fiction books aplenty to attempt to instill this truth in our world:

Pray, even when you don’t feel good enough. Communicate like you would with a friend to the deeper thing your soul is connected with. Spend time visualizing a greater good for your life. Reflect over your story and acknowledge the suffering and restoration you’ve experienced. Read: Leadership and Self-Deception, a book that professionally demonstrates how to “honor the sense within us”. Spend time with a compassionate friend, coach, mentor, pastor, counselor, therapist who can safely help you transform your pain into purpose. Spend time outdoors in nature, connecting to the greater world beyond you. Give your energy and time to the poor, sick, orphaned, widowed, and needy. Research your legacy—connect with the silver cord of your inheritance. Seek out the stories of generations that have come before you. Sit with the elderly and hear of their experiences, their perspectives, their beliefs.

Actively engaging in these practices will not only benefit you immediately, but will build an underlying grit within you that will enable you to hold more tension and harness that attribute successful social entrepreneurs have.



bottom of page