Two Types of Passion

Passion falls on a continuum between harmonious or obsessive.2 Harmonious passion occurs mainly because you choose to engage in the activity of your own accord. When the foundation of your career is based on this positive form of passion, it “occupies a significant but not overpowering space and is in harmony with other aspects of life.”3 As a positive force, passion motivates you to be at your best at work, in your marriage, with your family, and while enjoying leisure activities.

What does harmonious passion in daily activities look like? It’s the ability to fully concentrate on the task at hand and create a positive experience. Think: generating positive emotions, feeling immersed in the activity, and leaving work with a sense of satisfaction. You’re more able to adapt to changing situations and to deal with disruptions and obstacles.

Harmonious passion is developed by building skills that enable you to effectively manage problems by focusing your attention and energy on an outcome you believe has real value. People who maintain this positive form of passion are able to inspire others to help them; they are also able to remain resilient when facing setbacks.4

Obsessive passion, however, occurs when activities are undertaken to receive some external reward or recognition. Over time, a reliance on extrinsic motivators causes them lose effectiveness. People no longer find inner joy when engaged in their job. However, they feel compelled to complete tasks to avoid experiencing guilt, shame, or punishment.5

Obsessed individuals feel enormous pressure to perform well in their position, and failures cause their self-esteem to plummet. Hence, they develop an intense focus on getting all their tasks completed, making it difficult to disengage or shift their attention. Their obsessive pursuit of external goals often interferes with other aspects of life, especially family life.

The experience of obsessive passion is one of rumination about how to achieve the desired results, accompanied by the worry that their (or their team’s) performance will be less than perfect. These thoughts create an uncontrollable urge within the individual to rigidly persist despite the risk of conflicts, negative emotions, or consequences. Their obsession with attaining their goal leads them to overcontrol their own and other people’s behavior. They become extraordinarily defensive if challenged about their controlling methods and experience great frustration when their progress is impeded.6

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