What is a good obsession?

The word obsession sparks a raft of negative connotations in the minds of most people. The Oxford English Dictionary defines obsession as something or someone that occupies a person’s thoughts constantly. This is not, in itself, a bad thing; obsession can be a powerful force for good in the world.

Many creative people are obsessed with their art; they will wake at 6am, compelled to create.  They will not be able to stop until they have perfected it.  In a 2006 interview with Entertainment Weekly, actor Edward Norton summarised: “Sometimes creativity is a compulsion, not an ambition”.

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Their obsession drives them to create beautiful paintings, music and writing; some of which will last for generations. Shakespeare, Kahlo, Mozart and so many others built legacies on the backs’ of their obsessions. They were talented to begin with but it is their persistence and drive that makes them stand out.

This is backed up by Jonathon Plucker, an Indiana University phycologist who said that while parents and teachers are quick to praise children for their talents, nobody focuses on the hard work that is needed to succeed. He claims that this leads to child prodigies being unable to cope when their classmates eventually catch up with them (Psychology Today: Why Prodigies Fail, 2006).

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In Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative obsession (2011), Douglas Eby discusses the idea of reframing the notion of obsession in order to release yourself from guilt. He said that when obsessive characteristics are viewed through the lens of perseverance, it reduces the levels of self-criticism that can hinder creative people.

He cites Eric Maisel, PhD, a creativity coach who said: “For an artist, the absence of positive obsession leads to long periods of blockage, repetitive work that bores the artist himself, and existential ailments of all sorts”.

Positive obsessions are commonplace and can do a great deal of good in this world, if given the chance.

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