On routines and passion, or how to make the “all or nothing” state of mind work for you instead of against you.

I’ve always been a kind of all or nothing person.

A kind of person that stars reading a (good) book only to finish it in one sitting, even if it means not getting much sleep.

A kind of person that would watch 5 or more seasons of a tv-show in a week, only to finish it, even if it means getting isolated, eating crap and sleeping so very little.

A kind of person that would easily decide to cut off all entertainment when work needs to be done and spend three or four weeks doing nothing else but working.

A kind of person that would decide on something once and for all and never look back. On being in a relationship. On following a diet. On working on a project. On seeing through anything ever started, even if it is not worth it.

A kind of person that would implement a new life routine and stick to it fully only to disrupt it a little while later and put as much effort into ruining it as it has into building it. All or nothing.

You can see where I am going with this. When we live our lives by someone else’s standards, our passion is usually misplaced. We commit fully to something where there is a deadline at stake. Passionate people can have a tendency of seeing the world in black and white colors, drawing a hard line between what needs to be done and what they want to do and loosing themselves in the process. There is no grey area. No middle ground in which desires and obligations can meet so that a passionate behavior can become a productive one. When this happens, the inner struggle can be so violent things can go either way: either our willpower is strong enough to pull us through, but we will feel miserable in the process, or our willpower is not strong enough and we redirect our energy elsewhere, more often than not towards self destruction.

So how to make sure our passion is not misplaced? How to put the passion and the all or nothing behavior to good use? Is it even possible to reach harmony when the only way you seem to function is by either doing all of it or not doing anything? Is there even a point in doing so when every time you try to do everything by the book to be productive life suddenly seems dull without the adrenaline rush procrastination can give you?

Well, for once, you have to come to terms with your own personality and identity. There is nothing wrong with being passionate. On the contrary. Every great thing ever built, written or invented comes from a place of passion. There is no point in taking pride in your passionate personality though, if the only place it brings you is guilt and self destruction. And this is the only place it will bring you to if you try to live your life like you should, that is like someone else lives it, even if by someone else I mean a successful person. Because when we decide to change our lives following someone else’s rules, even good ones, even if the way we try to live brings us joy and happiness, and health, and makes us productive, the minute we slip, we go back to where we started. Because life happens, and there is only so much bending of the universe we can do.

Only changing our behavior isn’t enough. If the change doesn’t stem from our very core, the results will be temporary. Again, even if the new routine we implement is a good one (getting to bed early and rising early, exercising regularly, working efficiently, eating healthy), the moment we think of it as a routine, life becomes dull, and we get bored, and I, for one, become scared of living my whole life the same way. Outside changes can be efficient, of course, in the same way smiling when we’re sad sends signals to our brain and our mood lifts up. But this is only temporary.

Passionate people can’t live by routines. When we are living by a routine that is just another set of rules, we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. But if we are willing to make a change, because self destructing behavior is, well, unpleasant in the end, no matter how much rush it can give us in the process, we have to be prepared.

There will always be obligations. There will always be situations when we have to do things we rather not do. There will always be times we would rather do what we want instead of what needs to be done. Again, we can’t really trick our minds in the long run, that is persuading ourselves that what we do is what we want to do, if we don’t really believe it deep inside.

There are a few things that can be done though:

  • The all or nothing behavior can yield productive results, but the all or nothing perspective on life itself is destructive. I often find myself procrastinating because I fear that if I spend a day in a productive way, it means I will have to “buckle down” for as long as I live, or at least until the project I am working on is done. I try my best to avoid starting something because I fear that committing fully to my project will mean not having any time left for other stuff. And the worse part is, the more I procrastinate, the more urgent getting the job done becomes, and the more scared I am to start. The only way around it, I found, is not to think about what the changes and choices I make today will mean tomorrow. One of the ways to escape the all or nothing mentality is to live in the present. It might seem counter productive, but staying in the moment and not thinking about the future is good way to stop stressing and actually start doing.
  • Instead of thinking about what you have to do, or even about what you want to do, just do. If your boss gives you a task, complete the task. If your rear end hurts because you’ve spent all morning sitting on it, go for a walk or do a few lunges. If you are hungry, eat. Don’t think about what doing all those things means. Don’t think that because this morning you woke up at 5 am and spent all morning working on your project it means you’ll have to do this every day. Tomorrow will be another day and you’ll make the choice that is right for you. One of the best ways to actually get in touch with your inner you and stop obsessing is to meditate. Meditation is a great way to channel your passion.
  • Shift your perspective. Routines are dull and boring. But making choices is taking risks, and taking risks is what get your blood pumping with adrenaline. Again, don’t think about tomorrow, don’t think about what your choice means in the long haul. Today, you fuel your passion with the risks you take: by getting up early or staying up late to work. By going to the gym or outside to work out instead of couch surfing. Because somewhere down the line, the all or nothing behavior has become a routine as of itself. So shake things up.
  • Find your priorities and the things that get your blood pumping for real. Take the risk of making a drastic choice, just for today. Getting your adrenaline rush from not doing things in time is actually an illusion. Because it means your passion depends on something you cannot control. On a deadline, for example. And when this is over, you actually just wait for the next one to get your adrenaline fix. So take control, and find a challenge you can fuel your passion with. For yourself.

It is far from being easy. But acknowledging your passionate behavior also means not lying to yourself about what really matters. Taking control means being the one in charge, being the adult, and be accountable to yourself. That means believing in yourself.

Do you agree? Tell me what you think!

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