“Passion” gets a lot of bad press these days. There seems to be much written about why having passion is bad.
The problem for most people is that they believe passion is the moving cause, when in reality, passion is an effect. In the book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, Cal Newport debunks the myth that passion is something we should be looking for. Instead, he argues that developing rare and valuable skills is what leads to a life of passion.
When you’re focused solely on “finding” your passion, you’re only thinking about yourself. If you shifted your focus on developing skills and abilities for the purpose of helping others, you’d begin to have a very passionate and purposeful life.
According to Harvard psychologist, Jerome Bruner, “You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling, than feeling yourself into action.”
And this brings up a very important point about passion that is rarely discussed. There are actually two types of passion — one you should seek and one you should avoid. The type of passion that most people want is actually the type of passion that would ruin their lives.
The two types of passion are obsessive and harmonious.
Obsessive passion is about being completely fueled and driven by emotion. It’s highly impulsive. This is the type of passion where you’re not clear on your “WHY.” Instead, you’re seeking dopamine, self-esteem, social acceptance, or something else. It may look and feel good in the moment, but obsessive passion always leads to a messed-up life. By definition, obsessive passion is an activity that conflicts with other areas of your life and often leads to addiction.
With obsessive passion, the emotions control you — which is another way of saying your body has taken over your mind and is seeking it’s dopamine addiction.
Conversely, harmonious passion is intuitive and intrinsically motivated, and thus controlled by you. It is the byproduct of intentional purpose and goal-directed behavior. Harmonious passion enhances all other areas of your life, making you a better person. According to research, harmonious passion is far more correlated with being in a flow state than obsessive passion.
Obsessive passion is where the subconscious takes over the conscious mind, leading you to feeling powerless and a victim. Suppressed emotions and unresolved internal conflict are the driver.
Harmonious passion is where you consciously redirect and shape your subconscious. Your behaviors and goals are the driver and you continually experience healthier and higher-level emotional outcomes.
Why People Are So Confused About Passion
The world and the media portray obsessive passion as the thing we should want. It’s sexy and extreme and artistic and completely fueled by emotion. It’s reckless and willing to burn all bridges — including the most important ones — to have what it wants. It’s disorganized and rarely has a happy ending. And even more, this type of passion is something you must discover, rather than something you design and create.
Harmonious passion is different. Without question, bridges need to be burned, commitments to excellence need to be made, and risks need to be taken in order to live out this type of passion. But not every bridge. Rather than operating out of impulse, harmonious passion is driven by faith, vision, and confidence.
Confidence is another word for self-trust. And with obsessive passion, you come to trust yourself less and less because your behavior is entirely based upon the emotions of the moment. These emotions, although exciting, are actually the body in an addictive and self-defeating state (more on this in a second).
Both types of passion ride highs and lows. But the lows of obsessive passion come from regret and neglect, whereas the lows from harmonious passion come from questioning if what you’re doing is still the right thing, and in the difficulties of failure and growth.
10 Questions To Determine If You Have Harmonious Passion
- When you have any free time, do you distract yourself or are you focusing on your passion/purpose?
- How do you feel if you haven’t worked on “it” that day?
- What lesser things have you recently given up to more fully embrace this?
- When was the last time you failed?
- In what ways have you positively changed in the past 12 months to more fully live out this purpose?
- To what extent does your external world match your inner thoughts, feelings, and dreams?
- Are you more worried about what your peers think, or what your family and friends think?
- Are your relationships with key people in your life getting better or worse?
- Can you sleep well at night, or do you ruminate over what you should be doing differently?
- Is your life getting better or worse?
When you have any free time, do you distract yourself or are you focusing on your passion/purpose?
“We should be careful not to exhaust our available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best.” — Dallin Oaks
It’s shocking to see how most people spend their time — desperately seeking distraction from reality.
Most people’s lives reflect a physical addiction to certain emotional states. All emotions are chemical reactions that occur in the brain and throughout the body. And the body can quickly become habituated to these chemicals.
For example, if you check your phone regularly throughout the day without conscious thought or choice, then your body is controlling your mind. Your body is seeking a dopamine release, which chemically fuels your body’s addiction. Your hand grabs for your phone and goes through its memorized and ritualized behavior, and your mind needs to catch up.
After a certain period of time, you consciously “wake-up” to what you’re doing and go back to consciously directing your behavior, until the next subconscious self-sabotage occurs.
However, when you have a healthy passion and powerful purpose, you spend your free time thinking about what you want. You don’t distract yourself from reality. You embrace reality. You’re far more mindful of everything around you — especially the people and their emotional states. Thus, you become increasingly emotionally intelligent as your harmonious passion grows, because at the highest level, harmonious passion is about connecting with and helping other people.
When you have 5 spare minutes, what do you do?
You are who you are when no one else is looking.
A clear reflection of your inner compass is reflected in how you spend your time. If your time is spent on low-level distractions and is constantly bombarded by subconscious dopamine-seeking loops, then you aren’t clear on what you want.
The more you embrace a life of true learning and change, the better you’ll get with your time.
The better you are at planning your day based on the future you want to create — and then living in accordance with that plan — the more motivation and passion you’ll experience in your life. And also more confidence.
How do you feel if you haven’t worked on “it” that day?
If you have harmonious passion, you only feel regret if you allowed distractions to take you from what you know you’d rather be doing.
You didn’t plan accordingly and you didn’t put first things first. And as a result, you let life happen and you didn’t work on your craft.
With harmonious passion, you never feel regret spending quality time with family and embracing other hobbies or interests. You know that your “passion” is only enhanced when the other areas of your life are solid. For example, in the book, Creative Quest, Questlove explains the importance of embracing other outlets outside of your core passion.
On the other hand, if you have obsessive passion, you’re willing to waste huge amounts of time on distraction, and then in a frenzied and impulsive state, you dive into your passion. Because your life is a mess, you’re fine dropping important priorities and relationships. The only thing that matters to you now is getting that dopamine boost. Obsessive passion is all about you. It’s completely selfish, and in the long-run it leads to a short creative life due to increasing conflicts both internally and externally.
What lesser things have you recently given up to more fully embrace this?
“What is the ultimate quantification of success? For me, it’s not how much time you spend doing what you love. It’s how little time you spend doing what you hate.” — Casey Neistat
If you’re not increasingly using your time on better activities, then you haven’t truly developed your passion.When you find something that you truly care about, you’ll give up less important things in order to spend more time doing what you love.
In the seminal book, Good To Great, Jim Collins says, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”
As you continually improve the quality of your daily behaviors, you become clearer and clearer on what matters most to you. Quality behavior is what creates clarity. Clarity and harmonious passion go hand-in-hand.
You already know what to do. You know the next step. You know where you’re currently operating at uninspiring levels. You know there are behaviors in your life that are sub-optimal.
Start today by removing something negative and focusing more clearly on the things you already know are your core priorities.
Focus on what excites you. Focus on what resonates with you. It’s alright if you don’t know all the answers right now. Take steps in the general area and your vision will clarify, your motivation and confidence will increase, and your passion will brew. Removing things that are clearly taking you in the wrong direction is how you increase your harmonious passion.
When was the last time you failed?
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” — Sir Ken Robinson
You don’t have passion if you’re not learning. You’re not learning if you’re not failing. Failure is feedback. Feedback brings clarity. Clarity brings confidence. Confidence comes from trusting yourself. Trusting yourself allows you to try things way out of your current reach. Trying things out of your current reach is how you evolve out of suppressed and subconscious patterns.
In what ways have you positively changed in the past 12 months to more fully live out this purpose?
“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” — Alain de Botton
If you’re not changing, then you’re not committed to something important. Commitment requires transformation. If you’re not being required to change for something greater than yourself, then you don’t know what loves means. You’re still too focused on yourself.
People who are obsessed with themselves don’t believe they need to change. They think the world should form itself around them.
People who are committed and passionate are intense learners. They serve those who are most important to them, and they use their gifts to transform a specific group of people. They don’t need willpower to get to work. They are being pulled forward and can’t be stopped. They are self-actualized because they have transcended themselves. Their life is so rich with purpose they are often humbled to speechlessness.
If you’re not growing, you’re not living. Humans were designed to evolve and grow. Being stuck in a suppressed cycle of addiction to unhealthy emotions is not what you were designed for. You were designed to expand beyond your pain, to be healed of it, and then to use what you’ve learned to help others.
To what extent does your external world match your inner thoughts, feelings, and dreams?
“What is impressed in the subconscious is expressed.” — William James
Mind and matter are inextricably connected. When you change one, you change the other. Your environment is a reflection of your self-esteem.
How powerful is your current environment?
To what extent does your environment and outer world inspire you?
Does your situation demand that you rise up to new heights?
Have you put yourself in a situation that humbles and excites you?
Did you know that you can change your environment immediately through powerful behavior and decision?
Did you know you could create an environment that continually triggers you to be at your best?
Did you know that you can change from the inside-out, and from the outside-in?
In order to change, you have two choices. You can either act above your current environment and emotions, or you can create an environment far above your current self that forces you to rise up.
Both are necessary.
Continually, you need to be acting, thinking, and living above your current circumstances. Also continually, you need to be proactively surrounding yourself with people, projects, and responsibilities that humble you — forcing you to find something within you that you didn’t know was there.
Are you more worried about what your peers think, or what your family and friends think?
“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” — Fight Club
Who are you trying to impress?
It does not matter how successful you become, or think you’ve become, you should be relatable to all people. You can and should remain down-to-earth. This is actually how you make yourself attractive to even the most successful people in the world.
Joe Polish, the founder of Genius Network, often judges people based on how they treat people “beneath them.” Joe runs a high-level entrepreneurial mastermind filled with very successful people. Joe watches as the people in his mastermind interact with the members of his team. Often, he sees these “successful” people ignoring and disrespecting the members of his team.
If you only treat people with respect when you think they can get you somewhere, you won’t have many friends for long. Dan Sullivan, the founder of Strategic Coach, says that it takes him less than 10 minutes to know if someone’s core motive is growth or greed. It’s obvious. You can’t fake being genuine. You can’t fake the fact that you’re not really listening, only wanting to speak.
No matter how successful you become, you should always strive to love and serve the people who need you. The people you call family and friends.
Are your relationships with key people in your life getting better or worse?
“Wherever you are, make sure you’re there.” — Dan Sullivan
If the key relationships in your life are becoming increasingly strained and complex, you likely have obsessive passion. You’re not putting first things first. You’ve gotten way out of alignment.
If you have harmonious passion, your relationships with the key people in your life will be getter better, because you as a person are getting better.
As you expand as a person through your passion and through holistic growth, you will care more about your family and friends. You’ll be more giving and considerate. You’ll be more confident and powerful, and inspire and help them. You’ll listen better. You’ll be far more engaged. You’ll be where you are, because you’ll be learning to live in a flow state. The more harmonious and congruent you are in your daily behaviors, the more in the moment you will live.
Can you sleep well at night, or do you ruminate over what you should be doing differently?
“Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” — Thomas Edison
Quality sleep is a reflection of a clear conscious. When you are living your life in a conscious way, you will rest well. Your sleep will be sweet and nourishing. Your dreams will be vivid and memorable. Your subconscious mind will continually be stretching and expanding because you’ll have learned to direct it while you sleep.
Sleep is potentially the most productive time of a person’s day. It’s when the brain does some of it’s best creative work and learning. But if you can’t get into deep sleep, and if you aren’t leveraging your sleep for healing and learning, then your days won’t be what they could be. You won’t be learning and growing at the rate of children — which should never stop.
Is your life getting better or worse?
“Success is not to be pursued; it is to be attracted by the person you become.” — Jim Rohn
Put most simply, is your life getting better or worse? If it’s getting worse with time, then you either have obsessive passion or your behavior is out-of-whack.
When you have a harmonious passion, your life continually gets better. You become better. Your health becomes better. Your relationships become better. Your finances become better. Your environment becomes better.
Your life continually becomes more focused on the things which matter most. You realize that most things don’t matter at all, and you have high enough standards to avoid most of what the world has to offer.
Dr. Barry Schwartz wrote an amazing book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. Based on decades of research on decision-making, Dr. Schwartz concluded that the best decision-makers proactively remove almost all choices from their life.
The best choices you can make are the ones that remove most options. In the important book, The One Thing, Gary Keller encourages us to ask, “What is the ONE thing that needs to happen today and will make everything else easier or irrelevant?”
Most decisions are bad options. Having too many options creates decision-fatigue, or willpower depletion. Willpower doesn’t work. Instead of relying on willpower, be intentional. Make powerful decisions that remove options that are merely distractions. Be confident enough to burn your boats. Make true commitments. Invest in yourself. Be bold.
This is how you make your life better. You act with purpose. You act. Your behavior is what makes you. Are you what you repeatedly do. You must make the choice.
The world is increasingly challenging you to give up your agency to emotional addictions such as dopamine dependence.
Own your emotions.
Own your life.
Make it better every single day.
Live a harmonious and powerful life.