why tension is your friend

Have you been feeling some tension in your life lately? If your answer is yes, then that’s actually a good thing.

Viktor Frankl, celebrated Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, went through the gruesome and tragic experience of slave labor at Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He ended up losing his wife, parents, and other family members in these camps as well.

Frankl mainly survived because of tension. When he first arrived at Auschwitz, he was forced to surrender his unpublished manuscript on logotherapy. Over the course of his time in the four concentration camps in which he was held captive, Frankl realized that he badly wanted to rewrite this manuscript, and further, that he wanted to write another manuscript to discuss human psychology within such camps. Frankl focused his thoughts toward the manuscript when he found himself struggling and used it as a way to keep himself motivated to stay alive. For instance, when one of his camps was infected with typhoid, Frankl wrote keywords from his manuscript on scraps of paper in order to keep his mind active and alert. In other words, his unfinished work is what kept him sane and inclined towards survival.

In the second half of his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl uses the manuscript to symbolize hope for the future and emphasizes the importance of having something outside of oneself to live for. He explains the significance of tension in these words: “Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill. It is only thus that we evoke his will to meaning from its state of latency. I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology “homeostasis”, i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

Tension is your friend. Tension is what keeps you alive and wants you to grow and become better.

Absence of tension leads to an existential vacuum that breeds boredom and complacency. And the need to escape boredom and apathy further manifests as depression, drug and alcohol addiction, aggression, and acts of violence and crime. Frankl clarifies that all these acts are essentially the outcomes of the human quest to fulfill the “desire to find meaning in life.”

Perceive tension as an advantage, not an obstacle. As Darren Hardy remarks, “If there is tension in your life… if there is some deep worry about living a worthy life, then [that’s] good, that tension and worry is a part of a well-lived, high achieving life.”

Instead of despising and dreading tension, start thriving on it. Because it’s crucial for attracting extraordinary success and living an exceptional life enriched with meaning and purpose.