Sustainability = Harmonious Passion

Sustainable Performance

I've had the privilege of coaching many creatives and entrepreneurs over the years, and something I see a lot of is the delicate balance between drive and burnout. Personally, I know how tricky this can be, it's what lead me to learn to meditate years ago, but when we have a practice and know what we're identifying with, we can approach our work from a place of wholeness and contribution rather than the desire for significance.

Work and love are two driving forces that provide meaning to our lives. And research has shown that individuals thrive when we have three basic psychological needs met:

1) Autonomy: having some control over one's work and destiny.
2) Mastery: ability to observe and measure progress.
3) Relatedness: feeling of belonging to like minded individuals and/or a cause greater than oneself.

When we're engaged in work we are passionate about, the balance will always be in flux, it's never a fixed point. High demand performers must move forward with passion, drive, and the ability to prioritize the things that are important to them at any given moment. But we often think that balance means creating equal parts between what we're passionate about and life's demands. But this is antithetical to passion because it involves relentless pursuit. Setting the expectation for equal parts of both passion and balance can lead to frustration and anxiety. We must have preference for outcomes, but adaptability is key. Adaptation is what also helps to navigate between what researchers categorize as harmonious passion and obsessive passion.

Harmonious passion is when you are enthusiastic about something because you love doing it. This usually correlates with flow states, or the ability to meet high demands with equanimity and creative solutions. Obsessive passion is when you are excited about an endeavor because you love the external validation and recognition it brings. This is comparable to loving writing (harmonious passion) versus loving all the retweets, likes, and buzz your writing brings (obsessive passion).

Recognition is great, but when we begin to identify ourselves by external pursuits and achievements, it's a fast pass to burnout because there is no way to control external conditions toward our preference. Research has shown that harmonious passion is associated with lasting performance and overall life satisfaction, whereas obsessive passion is associated with anxiety, obscured sense of self and the desire to please others.

So how do you tip the scales back to healthy passion when it dips into the obsessive? By alternating between deep rest and dynamic action, we are taking advantage of a very simple equation:

Stress + Rest = Growth

We need a certain amount of stress to grow, or we become complacent or apathetic in our performance. But too much stress leads to decrease in performance and anxiety, which hinders growth. For true sustainability and growth, we must alternate between the two. Dynamic rest (rest that's considerably deeper than sleep) leads to dynamic action (better cognition, problem solving ability, etc.), which is where meditation plays a key role.

We also live in a world where we are conditioned to control our image through the use of social media and connection of technology, but performance coach and well-being expert Brad Stulberg's says it best when he states:

"Too much focus on external validation and addiction to ego and relevance are all common, subtle, and destructive forces that lead to burnout....many people start out with harmonious passion and then subtly, often without even realizing it, shift toward obsessive passion. While no one’s passion is purely harmonious—it’s human nature to feel good when something you do is well-received—it’s important to keep the majority of your passion focused on the work itself. Being focused on external results that you can’t control creates a volatile and fragile sense of self, the consequence of which is often burnout."

So here's to less of the "need to" do something and more autonomy and adaptability in the pursuit of what we're most passionate about!