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Tension – Embrace it, Love it, Ride it!

June 6, 2012

I have been giving it away, sharing principles, principles that are delivered as lessons in my Be Better Project, principles that have served to shape highly rewarding personal training careers.  I’m about to share the third principle, but first, a quick review of the first two . . . .

  •  Principle #1: “What you want is not what you don’t want.”
  •  Principle #2: “Mindset is both the driving force and the GPS, and without control you wind up somewhere other than you’d love to be.”

Now . . . time for a principle that relies upon a concept, or perhaps upon the initiator of a discipline.  Here’s the principle:

“You are not your business, but your business should be the source of your prosperity, and the success of that business relies upon the degree of tension you bring.”

I’ll explain . . .


#3: Regarding Making Things “Better”

In 1990 I had a well-known consulting client who picked me up at the airport in San Antonio.  As soon as he saw me he came at me with raw enthusiasm, “Phil, I get it.  I really get it now.  I just read a great book called The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, and everything you’ve been saying about not lowering the goal is spelled out incredibly clearly.”

If this successful man, who retained me to help him build profitability into a failing health club, was so affected by this book, I had to read it, and I did, and that’s when I learned about Creative Tension.

I always attached to principles that served me. On my desk beginning back in 1986 sat a placard that said “Growth With Integrity.” That’s been a guidepost for me ever since a I sat on the receiving end of an in-my-face reprimand from Mr. Contrada, my Assistant Principal in 8th grade.

In my first personal training studio, on my office wall a framed work of artistry featuring icons of success.  It was given to me by a personal trainer who once worked for me and went on to become a successful chiropractor.  It included the words he had printed, “treat every client like the most important person in the world,” words I not only lived by, but words I shared with my employees and students endlessly.

I’ve had an interesting career, and although it required a generous calling upon the trait of resilience, for the most part it’s been a consistent evolution toward new heights of achievement, and I realize the principles that have guided me are in great part the underside of what might be deemed my success.

Back in 1990, after a day’s work, I sat in my hotel room reading Peter Senge’s book spellbound.  It hit home.  It explained a discipline as “adherence to a set of principles.”  That resonated with me.  It offered perspective, and when I came to understand the author’s explanation of the vital concept of Creative Tension, I felt changed.  This wasn’t a guiding principle, this was a career-shaping concept.

This was what separated the almosts from the grand slams.

This is the fuel that allows resilience to send successful achievers flying forward after periods of adversity.

Creative tension is the pivotal concept behind the success of every fitness professional who I’ve come to know through my Be Better program.  I don’t share the concept at the onset.  I wait . . . until a few months into the program, when everyone has aligned their thinking with their genuine wants.  I wait until they can see, hear, or feel the wind blowing through the canyon between “where they are now” and “where they want to be.”  They have to be able to identify a gap between their present and their ideal, and once we identify the gap, we run a figurative bungee cord across the canyon and we increase the tension until the canyon narrows and eventually closes.  We close the gap by applying creative tension.

Here’s a direct quote from Senge’s book:

“The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision.”

So what does this have to do with personal training?  Well, if you consider personal training your business, creative tension is the lifeblood of your potential.  It’s the key determinant as to how far a business progresses.

Consider a rubber band that stretches between the things you have now and the things you’d like to have, and as you move farther away from the want, either because you lose ground or your goal becomes grander, the rubber band tightens.  The energy within the rubber band is the explosive power you have to propel yourself from “here” to “there.”

We use this as a conceptual lesson, but more importantly, we create the actual vision of the tension.  A few paragraphs from now you can download the creative tension worksheet I introduce in Be Better.  It’s a part of workshop material I created over the course of 20 years.  Yes, 20 years.

Remember, it was near 1990 that I was introduced to Senge’s book.  I’ve allowed this to evolve and develop and have come to rely upon Creative Tension as a necessary force that prevents my business from ever stagnating.  If the tension is absent, I better find myself a new desire or grander outcome.  In a future lesson I’ll share the Lifecycle of Business and you’ll come to understand that without Creative Tension, a business is doomed to complete the cycle from infancy to death.

Consider that tension is the predecessor of achievement.  It is the “good stress” that leads to betterment.

The directive is simple but important.  Download the Creative Tension sheet.  You’ll find it on Page 4 of the Beyond Better Creative Tension worksheet.

In the circle on that page, write key elements of where you are now, ideally elements you’d like to change.  They don’t have to be negative elements, but simply indications of areas where you’d like to improve.  While you can do this for your personal goals, initially, for the purpose of this exercise, consider your personal training business as an entity other than you, as the source of your prosperity, and in completing the form, focus on the elements of your business you’d like to change.

In the square on the upper right, write some of the “wants” specific to your personal training business.

Take a look at the line that runs between it and sense the positive tension.  This isn’t emotional stress, but rather a positive anticipatory expectation with ever-growing force behind it.

Once you’ve put your pen to paper and filled in the circle and the square, post the completed form somewhere you see it daily, and get in touch with the vital tension between where you are now and where you want to be.  Once we identify the monsters that can limit your growth, the simple concept that allows large companies to go from millions to billions, and the power you can gain from controlled emotion, this simple form becomes the storyboard for your future.

The remaining pages you’ll find in the download offer a template for exercises that help the Be Better graduates zero in on their creative tension, ultimately breaking it down into subcategories, the creative tension that brings them significance, the creative tension that brings them joy, the creative tension that brings a sense of human connection, etc.  Don’t get thrown by the volume of information on the download.  All you need for now is Page 4 filled in with your “now” in the circle and your “outcome that hasn’t happened yet” in the square.

If you want to experience guidance through the entire Be Better course, if you want to really see what you’re capable of, if you want to ride the next wave of success in the personal training field, register for Career Conquest, my interactive Be Better offering running from Summer 2012 – Summer 2013.


Be Better alumni, Diane Bailey, owner of the Conditioning Classroom near Denver, CO says, “”You are not your business. Your business should be the source of your prosperity, but you are not your business. While I understood that concept and accepted the wisdom of it, it certainly was not a reality for me. I was my business and my business was me. If I was not there, nothing was being accomplished. My personality drove the business and so did my time. Vacations meant that no income would be earned while I was gone. Everything depended on me. Don’t get me wrong . . . I love what I do. I could see, however, that the very passion which drove me to help others would eventually destroy me and my business with the dreaded “burn-out.” As I participated in the first Be Better program, I began to focus on the concept of me and my business being separate entities. Other parts of the program had to come into play: understanding and developing the reach, the funnel and the spillover; nudging the needle carefully and consistently for slow and steady growth; and of course, keeping the monsters of distraction and procrastination at bay with the heroes of focus, clarity and discipline. This year, I have been able to go visit my older son in Seattle, visit my sister in Illinois, attend an NSCA conference in Las Vegas and most recently, attend a Be Better Family vacation in Ft. Lauderdale. My business goals have not been derailed by the travel. In fact, we are right on track for the growth in revenue that we set our sights on. My staff consists of 2 group exercise instructors and 4 personal trainers which includes myself and my younger son who has watched me start this business and is excited about continuing its success. Taking the time to learn and apply the Be Better principles will create a platform for you to be successful for as long as you want to be a part of this wonderful business that we call Personal Training. It can truly become the source of your prosperity, however you define and live out that prosperity.”

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