We have this odd contrast in speaking about the changes we can’t quite manage to bring about. “I understand it with my head but I can’t feel it.”

Or “rationally, yes, this is true, but emotionally, I am not there yet.”

Clients bring in this seeming contrast quite often into our sessions. These are mostly Dutch people so I don’t know if this is an international thing.

A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have given it a second thought either, assuming I knew what they meant by the difference between their head and heart.

But we overlook something essential if we divide life up like this. What we overlook is this: Both our thinking as well as our feelings can inform us correctly as well as incorrectly about reality.

Thoughts and feelings can both inform and misinform us about reality

This gets easy to overlook when we are not being clear in our use of language. We use the word feelings for a variety of things.

  • 1. We use it to describe our desires, what we want, what matters most to us, things we say come from our heart.
  • 2. We use it to describe an inner sense of direction, also called intuition or gut feeling.
  • And 3. we use the word feelings to point to emotions, which are a thought combined with a physical sensation.

Living in reality combines all of these things.
Living in reality means being clear about what matters most to us, what we want, the heart thing. Number 1 from the list above.
Living in reality means being clear about what reality is here now, what reality we are working with to pursue what we want.
If you have these two things, clarity about where you are now and where you want to go, you are almost there. Because from razor sharp clarity about these two things, the how, how to move from here to there naturally emerges. Intuition, number 2 from our list, can play are part in this movement as well as common sense: If I want C and am at A, I need to do B.

So that leaves us with number 3, feelings as in emotions.

The question is, what does how you feel emotionally have to do with creating what it is you want to create? Some days we feel good, some days we feel bad. Some days we feel like doing what needs doing, other days we don’t. Inspiration comes and goes. If we would only do stuff to create on the good days, would we get it done? No. Is this acceptable to us? If you really want what you are after your answer is probably ‘no’.

If you wonder if I am disregarding feelings here, please keep reading. I am not and there is a chapter coming up on the beauty and benefit of emotions 🙂

Head or heart? Or reality?
Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

Structural Tension: the best structure to create

When people have this clarity of what matters most to them, where they want to go + what reality they are working with, what is here now they have a powerful organising force. We call this structural tension, a clear difference between two elements. Tension is used here in the scientific meaning: a difference between two things. From physics we know that tension seeks equilibrium, which means the two different elements tend to ‘want’ to become the same. If you open a window the outside and inside temperature strive to become the same. If you design the wing of a plane in a certain way it creates a difference between the air pressure on top and below the wing. This difference strives to become the same and in the process, lifts the huge, heavy flying machine from the ground.

Tension seeks equilibrium

Robert Fritz

People who have the clarity of knowing where they want to go and where they are now, the clear difference between those two elements, have this natural and powerful organising force built into their change efforts. Structural Tension. A tension between the difference of where you are now and where you want to be. A tension which will naturally gravitate towards equilibrium, which means that where we are now will move to become the same as where we want to be. Which means we arrive at the outcome we envisioned.

This is not some magic trick. It just means that you want something enough to do what it takes to make it happen.

Of course, we only know for sure if we will be successful the moment we are successful but when your change effort has this underlying structure you have the very best chances of success.

Being ruled by feelings

Now back to the perceived problem of ‘getting something with you head but not feeling it’. People who lack the clarity of their A (current reality) and their C (desired outcome) from which their B (action) naturally emerges inadvertently have another organising factor in their change efforts: their emotions. They don’t like, resist, insist, fear, worry, doubt, frustrate and so on, without really getting anywhere. Their feelings organise their actions, which can also show up as lack of action. They might not know it but they let emotions rule their life. This is their structure: they have vague aspirations, a vague dot on the horizon that they would want to go to + they have a vague perception of what their working material is; reality. Within this vagueness emotions play out as it does in all human beings and their attention naturally gravitates towards that. Their A and their C are not clear enough to hold their focus and attention. And emotions can be pretty demanding and insistent as we all know. Thus, vagueness makes us let emotions rule the show.

Rosalind Fritz, who is Robert Fritz’ life partner and business partner has this great analogy. She says that the mind is like a dog, if you don’t give it a job to do it will get into trouble.

Meaning that if you don’t give it the clarity of knowing what you want to create and knowing what reality you are working with, it will gravitate towards the nearest problem at hand which is often the thing that feels bad or threatening or uncomfortable.

The beauty and benefit of emotions

Now, I am not disregarding emotions. However, over the years I have learned to ride their waves with care and restraint. Lack of sleep can create the space for certain emotions, the moment of my menstrual cycle, the kind of food I have eaten, my stress levels, the weather. Not a very trustworthy compass to organise my life around. I have also learned to simply ride the emotional waves, both pleasant ones as well as unpleasant ones. I used to take them very seriously, as information from a reliable source, always. That would result in me piling a stack of storytelling on top of an emotion, which would then organise my actions for quite a while and not in an helpful way. The highs would exhaust me and cause me to flaunt self care and caution. The lows would make me hide and procrastinate and not show up.

There are three uses I see for emotions. The first one is that some of them, like fear, can save our life in real life threatening situations. I guess that this is what evolution designed them into us for. Neat trick. Second is that they give juice to life. They create variety and colour and flavour. I love the fact that I have a female body which creates probabilities for different emotional experiences in different stages of the cycle. I am a bit apprehensive but also curious how it will be when my body stops doing this cycle in 5 or 10 years!

The third use of emotions I see has to do with patterning. I seriously pay attention to emotions that keep showing up in certain circumstances AND influence my actions in an undesired way. Often when I look into these emotional patterns I find dark corners in my system where I was not in touch with reality. Hidden places where a subtle fight was taking place with … reality. Shining a light on it often naturally changes my behaviour and thus resolves the recurrence of the emotional pattern. Which is great!

Robert Fritz often says something like this: ‘People sometimes think I am anti-feeling. I am not. I am pro-feeling. I just have a bigger range of things that I find ok to feel.’

What he means by that is if he, for instance, feels bad one day it won’t stop him from doing the necessary work he needs to do to create what it is he wants to create. Feeling bad sometimes is for him simply part of the game.

Glorification of feelings

Maybe the reason for our societies to put so much emphasis on feelings comes from millennia of patriarchy. History often seems to happen in leaps of contrast. Something has been emphasised or done for a long time. At a certain point it gets reversed and we do the opposite thing for a while. After having lived those two extremes we often find a balance between the two. We seem to have decided that males tend to be ‘in their heads’ and disregard feelings. So now we swing to glorifying feelings which we tend to see as feminine. The question though is, were the men who ruled our societies for so long ‘in their heads’ and is that why they fucked up the way they did? Or were they not in touch with reality?

Maybe our masculine side tends to overlook reality in favour of thoughts. And our feminine side tends to overlook reality in favour of feelings.

How about we don’t glorify or disregards any of those two sides but place being in touch with reality in the centre of our focus?

We might globally decide to see climate change, racial injustice, gender inequality, white supremacy and other biggies for what it is. And instead or organising our (lack of) actions from how we feel about those things, we might decide on the world we would like to see and let our actions make the difference disappear between where we are now and where we want to be.

I am not very optimistic of us being able to pull it off in time for some irreversible time bombs to go off but .. it for sure does not hurt to practise creating change in alignment with reality and invent ways to be contagious about it 🙂

Want to become fluent in reality?

Here are some ways I am being contagious and spreading the virus of fluency in reality in service of creating sustainable change, big and small.

I offer sessions both for individuals, who want clarity around a personal ‘issue’ as well as for organisational teams and entrepreneurs who want to design the easiest way to their goal, in alignment with reality.

I envision this work to help create change on the scale of the biggies that I mentioned before. But let’s first get fluent in creating change on a smaller scale ok? Your life, business and team.


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