Since this blog used to be called Pursuing Passions, I was keen to learn more about the dualistic nature of passion when I attended the First World Congress on Positive Psychology this past weekend in Philadelphia.
That there is good passion and bad passion is not new. But appreciating the psychological impacts of good and bad passion is of interest. Of even greater interest is how to cultivate more good passion and why does that matter?
Robert J. Vallerand, Professor of Psychology at Universite du Quebec a Montreal defines passion “as a strong inclination toward an activity that people like, find important, and in which they invest time and energy.”
Vallerand’s model posits the existence of two types of passion – harmonious passion and obsessive passion – each associated with different outcomes and experiences.
- “Harmonious passion originates from an autonomous internalisation of the activity in the individual and leads people to choose to engage in the activity that they love. It is expected to lead mainly to more adaptive outcomes”, such as improved psychological well-being, health, relationships and performance. “An autonomous internalisation is driven by one’s own chosing; it’s important to pursue the activity without any contingencies attached to it. Motivation is intrinsic; it satisfies the needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.” These activities come to be so self-defining that they represent “who you are” in the world. The harmoniously passionate person has a natural, authentic congruency. Think of some people you know personally or well-known athletes, artists, professionals and business people, who exhibit harmonious passion.
- “Obsessive passion originates from a controlled internalisation in the individual’s identity and leads people to experience an uncontrollable urge to engage in the activity. It is hypothesised to predict less adaptive outcomes”, which could be conflict with self, others, competing activities, thus leading to possible disatisfaction, stress and burnout. “Obsessive passion may be displayed as a rigid persistence toward the activity”, as with such passion, one cannot NOT engage in the acivity. This happens because “ego-invested rather than integrative self processes are at play with obsessive passion leading the person to eventually becoming dependent on the activity. While such persistence may lead to some benefits (e.g., improved performance at the activity), it may also come at a cost for the individual, potentially leading to less than optimal functioning within the confines of the passionate activity because of the lack of flexibility that it entails.”
What role does competition play in the cultivation of obsessive passion?
There are too many examples of the negative consequences of obsessive passion spanning the history of our human species and in all areas of human endeavor – from politics, to business, to sports. If you think about athletes (and others) who feel the need to take performance enhancing drugs, you’d have to ask which type of passion is internalized in them – autonomous or controlled? And if not them, their managers, coaches or promoters? What role does competition play in the cultivation of obsessive passion? How does such obsessive passion play out in our personal well-being, long term success, health, relationships and performance?
How to cultivate harmonious passion and why does it matter?
- Love what you do, persist and practice. People who love what they do generally use a blend of their talents, gifts, strengths with a big shot of harmonious passion that keeps them doing what they love to do – even against all odds. They get better at it, through persistence and practice and society benefits. Think of the legacies left by painters and musicians, writers and scientists. Van Gogh, Beethoven, Shakespeare and Marie Curie come to mind. By the way there are no age, race, gender, culture barriers to loving what you do. How many septuagenarian rock stars, or seven year old poets are out there?
- Take responsiblity to make it happen. If it’s you, then recognize which activities play to your talents and strengths and matter very deeply to you, not because something or somebody outside you tells you to, but because the activity or actitivies make you feel alive: they are instrinsic to your identity. Take responsibility to cultivate and nurture them. If you are a parent or boss, notice which activities enliven your child or staff member when they are at one with the activity. Encourage their deliberate practice.
- Notice the impact your good (harmonious) passion generates in relation to: your own well-being – your sense of vitality, aliveness and purpose in the world; your relationship with others – what and how you relate to others; your physical health and energy levels; your performance and outputs – the quality and quantity and your satisfaction levels.
When you pursue your passion, is it harmoniously integrated, creating a kind of peace within? And how does that matter? Your comments are welcome.