Harnessing an Obsessive Personality For Good
Updated: Feb 27
An obsessive personality is a blessing and a curse. I know, because I have one.
One of my biggest struggles throughout life has been channeling my obsessive personality into productivity. When I get it focussed on the right pursuit, I'm an unstoppable force of energy with Charlie Sheen's tiger blood coursing through my veins. When my obsessive energy gets misdirected to unproductive activities, I'm my own worst enemy.
I've found that having an obsessive personality is like being born with a hammer. I can use it to for leverage to build something great, or to do some serious damage.
The Curse of Having an Obsessive Personality
Junior year of high school, I suffered a high ankle sprain playing basketball a few days before tryouts. It was devastating. I had trained almost everyday since the previous season and was at the peak of my basketball talent. My entire identity was tied to making an impact on the Varsity team that year.
The day of tryouts I was strongly encouraged to suck it up and play on the bad ankle so I could be on Varsity. I ditched my crutches, taped my ankle up, threw on a brace and gave it my best shot. Turns out, despite making the team, that was terrible advice. Pretty shortly after the tryout, the adrenal wore off and my ankle was much worse than before. As I found out the hard way, high ankle injuries are often worse than just breaking your ankle completely, especially if you don't treat it properly.
I spent the rest of the season "on the team," but really just trying to recover my ankle at PT and in the trainer's office.
Without sports to focus on, I turned towards mastering online poker in its legal heyday.
It started out well. I became obsessed with winning and turned my first $20 into $5000. I thought if I could multiply $20 by 250, maybe I could multiply my $5000 by 250 and become a millionaire. For the next year, I played online poker from 5pm-3am everyday. I woke up at 7am for school and stumbled through the day like a zombie trying to stay awake in class and taking naps on the radiators every chance I could. All day I day dreamed about playing poker that night and how I was going to up my game. It was not healthy.
I started to play 6+ hands simultaneously and kept upping the anti. Anyone that knows anything about gambling knows where that story ends. I had a bad run and lost it all and more. I can truly say this was a rock bottom point in my life. I had nothing to show for all this wasted time and energy, other than an important lesson.
Ever since then, I've had to be very aware of this obsessive energy force. When I've lost awareness of this force, or don't have a clear objective it doesn't end well.
Examples of traps for an obsessive mind
Binge watching TV Series
Chasing crazy girls
Personal Vendettas against someone
Internet Rabbit Holes
The Blessing of Having an Obsessive Personality
The other side of the coin is that if channeled properly an obsessive personality can move mountains.
If I'm obsessed with something productive like building a business or product, it will get done right. If I'm learning something new, I won't stop until I've gotten to the truth and essence of the topic.
In college, I regularly spent 10+ hours in a row in the library forgetting to go to the bathroom because I was so obsessed with learning my craft and pursuing the truth.
I become relentless. One time, my friend walked into my house, went up right behind me and called my name. I didn't acknowledge him so he just walked out. I had no idea he was even there until he told me later.
Examples of productive outlets for an obsessive mind
Helping other people
Pursuing the truth
Learning a craft
Once Obsessive, Always Obsessive
In alcoholics anonymous they apparently say "Once an alcoholic – always an alcoholic." Alcoholics must admit they are always going to be a "recovering alcoholic" in every introduction.
I've found this sentiment to be true with having an obsessive personality.
For example, the other week I couldn't put the design of this website down. I was hunched over the computer for 10 hours at a time hardly moving. At the end of the week my neck and back was seriously jacked up from hunching over a screen without proper breaks to stretch and move. I had isolated myself so much and didn't move around enough to the point that I felt kind of depressed. I messed up. I allowed my obsession to take over that didn't pace myself or create distance.
You never get over it. You just have to use it as a tool that works for you, not against you.
7 Habits I Use to Harness My Obsessive Personality
It's always a work in progress but here are some of the ways I try to use my obsessive energy for good, and not evil.
Getting clear on daily objectives If I don't have clear daily objectives, I will fill that space with unproductive obsessions. What is my longer term goal and what tasks do I need to do today to move that forward? Once I know my longer term goals, I use Trello to list out all the tasks I need to get done.
Journaling Here is a post I did recently on incorporating a daily morning and night journaling practice. to get clear on intentions and reflect on each day.
Setting up safe guards I find that scheduling workouts or meetups that force me to put down the laptop helps. Creating distance from the obsession is healthy and leads to better results.
Ask myself the question "Does what I'm doing right now add value to the world?" When I was playing online poker in high school, I told my Mom that's what I wanted my job to be because I was good at it. She said, "How does that make anyone's life better?" She had a good point that probably went right over my moronic 17 year-old head. Now I try to ask myself "Is what I'm doing going to help someone eventually? Will it at least even help me eventually?"
Follow my curiosity I've found that if I reach a plateau in work I will start to gravitate to the unproductive outlets. The only cure is to follow my curiosity, even if that means quitting something.
Sleep hypnosis This guy's youtube channel has amazing sleep hypnosis I occasionally use if I can't stop thinking about something.
Write about the obsessions Writing about a topic helps me distill and learn it. It helps poke holes in any thinking I may have had. Once I have it down on (digital) paper, I feel like I can move on to something else, instead of staying stuck on it.