#990 The Passion Paradox

Obsessive vs. Harmonious

Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness have written a couple great books together. First, they gave us Peak Performance. Then The Passion Paradox.

Today we’re going to talk about one of the central themes of The Passion Paradox. (Tomorrow we’ll chat about some goodness from Peak Performance.)




Except when it isn’t.

Enter: The Passion Paradox.

As Brad and Steve put it: “Mindlessly living with a passion can be extremely harmful and destructive. Mindfully living with a passion can be the key to a life well lived.

They tell us that psychologists differentiate two types of passion by calling the unhealthy kind “Obsessive Passion” and the healthy kind “Harmonious Passion.”

Obsessive Passion is toxic. It has two primary facets: 1. Focusing too much on extrinsic results (like fame, wealth, achievement, etc.); 2. Being too worried about failure.

Harmonious Passion, on the other hand, gives us a deep sense of joy. Whereas the toxic passion is focused on the pursuit of extrinsic rewards, the healthy passion is focused on intrinsic drivers. (Six factors, in fact, all focused on what they call a “Mastery Mind-set.” Check out the Notes for more.)

As Brad and Steve put it: “Enter harmonious passion: a feeling that emerges when you are wrapped up in something primarily for the joy of the activity, when your engagement is not merely a means to an end but rather an end in itself. Harmonious passion manifests mainly from activities that are freely chosen without contingencies; when you do something because you enjoy it, not because it offers potential rewards, and not to avoid negative repercussions.

Not every moment of harmonious passion is necessarily pleasing, but overall, it is deeply fulfilling. It aligns closely with the ancient Greek notion of eudaimonia, or a kind of happiness that results not from overwhelming pleasure but from striving to meet one’s full potential by engaging in activities that one considers meaningful.

In the 1970s, the late psychologist and humanist philosopher Erich Fromm wrote of something similar, which he called productive activity, where happiness isn’t related to the attainment of possession or rewards but rather to ‘the process of ever growing aliveness . . . for living as fully as one can is so satisfactory that concern for what one might or might not attain has little chance to develop.’

The great paradox, however, is that although external achievement is never a primary goal of harmonious passion, when you become completely immersed in what you’re doing for the joy of the activity itself, it is often a by-product. Those who focus most on success are least likely to achieve it. Those who focus least on success, and focus on the process of engaging in their craft instead, are most likely to achieve it.

That’s Today’s +1.

First: Shout out for eudaimonia. :)

Second: Pop quiz: How’s YOUR passion?

Here’s to the Harmonious variety in which we seek mastery and experience the joys of mindfully embracing our passion—while letting the outcomes take care of themselves.

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