Is Your Passion Healthy or Destructive?

November 8, 2017

Passion is the source of our inspiration and motivation. Enhancing passion for doing excellent work empowers us to perform at the highest level. Maintaining passion enables us to invest significant amounts of time and energy engaging in a job that we love to do because we believe it’s important. Passion converts a profession into a calling.

Positive passion drives us to become invested in mastering the skills required to be a high performer; destructive passion leads to conflict and burnout. Sometimes healthcare professionals find their passion eroding. Sustaining a healthy passion for work, studies show, determines whether you end up loving other aspects of your life or languishing in disillusionment.

Two types of passion

Passion falls on a continuum between harmonious or obsessive. Harmonious passion occurs mainly because you choose to engage in the activity of your own accord. When the foundation of your career is based on this positive form of passion it “occupies a significant but not overpowering space and is in harmony with other aspects of life,” according to positive psychologist Robert Vallerand. As a positive force, passion motivates you to be at your best at work, in your marriage, with your family, and while enjoying leisure activities.

What does harmonious passion in daily activities look like? It’s the ability to fully concentrate on the task at hand and create a positive experience. Think: generating positive emotions, feeling immersed in the activity, and leaving work with a sense of satisfaction. You’re more able to adapt to changing situations and to deal with disruptions and obstacles.

Harmonious passion is developed by building skills that enable you to effectively manage problems by focusing your attention and energy on an outcome you believe has real value. People who maintain this positive form of passion are able to inspire others to help them; they are also able to remain resilient when facing setbacks.4

Obsessive passion, on the other hand, occurs when activities are undertaken to receive some external reward or recognition.  Over time, a reliance on extrinsic motivators causes them lose effectiveness.  People no longer finds inner joy when engaged in their job. However, they feel compelled to complete tasks to avoid experiencing guilt, shame or punishment.

Obsessed individuals feel enormous pressure to perform well in their position, and failures cause their self-esteem to plummet. Hence, they develop an intense focus on getting all their tasks completed, making it difficult to disengage or shift their attention.  Their obsessive pursuit of external goals often interferes with other aspects of life, especially family life.

The experience of obsessive passion is one of rumination about how to achieve the desired results, accompanied by the worry that their (or their team’s) performance will be less than perfect.  These thoughts create an uncontrollable urge within the individual to rigidly persist despite the risk of conflicts, negative emotions or consequences. Their obsession with attaining their goal leads them to over-control their own and other people’s behavior. They become extraordinarily defensive if challenged about their controlling methods and experience great frustration when their progress is impeded.

The benefits of harmonious passion

A high level of harmonious passion predicts positive outcomes and high satisfaction in your career. Studies show that harmonious passion leads to higher performance in you daily functioning. For leaders, there is a significant positive correlation between harmonious passion and the expansion of emotional intelligence skills.

There are two important benefits associated with having a high level of harmonious passion:

  • Higher quality emotional experiences increase your level of psychological well being, which is characterized by self-acceptance, positive relationships, autonomy, purpose, a growth mindset, and an ability to manage complex environments.
  • Better quality relationships develop with bosses, coworkers, and subordinates as well as with people outside of work as a result of more frequent smiles, openness to others’ ideas, sharing positive activities, and mindfulness of what’s happening in your environment.

Find out what to do to maintain a healthy form of Passion, or how to overcome obsessive Passion. Read more about how to apply all 6 positive psychology principles in PROPEL to Quality Healthcare: Six Steps to improve Patient Care, Staff Engagement and the Bottom Line.

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Dr. Tom Muha is the Director of the PROPEL Institute. As the science of optimal human functioning has emerged, Dr. Muha has been at the forefront in the study of how people involved in healthcare systems can achieve the highest levels of success and satisfaction. Research at major academic medical centers has shown that applying the PROPEL Principles empowers healthcare professionals to achieve remarkable results.

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