My history of OCD and current experience of Generalized Anxiety Disorder have made me very, very familiar with obsessing and worrying. It is, quite possibly, the world's most pointless activity--especially since I don't have any control over the things I'm freaking out about!
So when I saw a PsychCentral post on how obsessions can be productive, I had to read it. Because I was convinced the authors were well and truly full of shit. Obsessions make me so anxious I puke. Obsessions make me wash my hands in Clorox, make me run on the treadmill for hours, make me starve myself for days in preparation for a meal out with friends. How could obsessing be productive?
I'm still not convinced that the obsessions themselves are productive, but it's a matter of channeling that productivity into something worthwhile. My friend Jeff Bell calls it The Greater Good. In the PsychCentral post, which reviewed the book Brainstorm, blogger Susan Perry had this to say:
Writers and other artists are often desperate for fresh inspiration and renewed motivation. By learning concrete ways to tap into the brain’s potential, Maisel’s readers can better move forward in whatever realm they care most passionately about. What the Maisels are talking about here is another way to look at flow, or focus, or deep engagement, or mindfulness. Even if they’re not all defined as precisely the same experience, there’s no particular need to pull apart the threads of difference. They’re all extremely positive states of mind, ones that creative people often crave and benefit from.
PRODUCTIVE OBSESSIONS (paraphrasing Maisel):
- Are not always easy or fun; but ease, fun, and joy may be part of the process.
- Are fueled by good reasons, not only love and passion.
- Need to be strategized. To be continuously effective, you need to plan what you’ll do when you feel anxious or at a dead end.
- Require stretching. “Expect the emotional equivalent of aches and pains,” writes Maisel.
- Necessitate switching gears between your normal life and your obsessive life. Learn to do so with the least time wasted and “no internal drama.”
- Need to be monitored. Learn to pay attention to your state of mind, taking breaks when needed, or devoting a full week to your obsession when that is what’s called for.
- Are risky. “Take the risk that your project may not prove as important as you had hoped,” notes Maisel. “Take the risk that it will prove exactly as important as you had hoped, taxing you with its difficulty and troubling you by its felt significance.”
The other reason I was glad to read this was that it showed me that my propensity to obsess about basically everything could actually be a useful skill. It can allow me to immerse myself in my work, focus on one subject and become and expert. Things like this blog and my writing career let me use my skills for good instead of evil.
How do you turn your obsessions into something productive? Share your thoughts in the comments!