Obsessive vs harmonious passion

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You may have heard the phrase “obsessed is the word the lazy used to describe the dedicated” thrown around, particularly within the fitness community. Obsession with one’s craft is worn almost like a badge of honour amongst the successful, but what if obsession was in fact what was holding you back. There has been some super interesting research into the idea of what psychologist Robert J. Vallerand describes as obsessive vs harmonious passion and the effect these polarising forms of passion have on performance and results. Philosophers have long associated passion with a lack of control, or an unrelenting desire to partake in an activity or achieve an outcome. Whilst an unrelenting desire to achieve one’s goals may look like the best means of getting there, that’s not what Vallerand and others who have researched obsessive passion have found. Obsessive passion is associated with an uncontrollable need to partake in an activity and not partaking in it may cause incredible psychological distress, alter one’s moods or cause someone to neglect other areas of their mental and physical wellbeing. Obsessive passion usually relies on external forms of validation as a means of assessing one’s success in the chosen activity and new research has found there to be a strong correlation between obsessive passion and neuroticism, making partaking in an activity because of one’s obsession can have a profound effect on those prone to anxiety and low self esteem. Harmonious passion is the opposite, where the activity is fuelled by a love for it regardless of external judgement and focusing on the process instead of the outcome.

So how can we shift our passion from obsessive to harmonious? Here are some of my favourite ways to become more of what I call “process focused, rather than outcome dependant.”

  • Set mini goals that occur during your activity, rather than can only be met once the activity ends. For example, instead of wanting to place first in a 5km race, set the goal to try and do the entire event a pace that is just beyond your comfort level.
  • Focus on what you can control, ignore what you can’t and set goals based on you and your own desires rather than those of the people around you. Using the example of the race above, set a goal to run a time that is achievable for you, rather than wanting to beat someone. I can’t stress how important setting your own goals is rather than competing with others. We cannot control the people around us and are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we focus on them as part of our goals.
  • Find all the things about whatever activity it is you are passionate about that make you happy and focus on doing them as much as possible. By creating a positive experience when you’re engaging in your passions you create a positive neural association with that activity, making it joyous rather than stressful.
  • Create balance in your life. Find multiple things that you are passionate about and you will likely find that partaking in each of these will be a joy rather than a burden.


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