I’ve noticed that a lot of introverts are like a light switch when it comes to our interests. Often, we are either completely immersed, fixated, and even OBSESSED with something. Or we don’t care.
This makes sense when you consider how an introvert’s brain works. According to this article by my friend Jenn Granneman from Introvert Dear, introverts use more of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine than extroverts. Granneman writes:
“Like dopamine, acetylcholine is also linked to pleasure; the difference is, acetylcholine makes us feel good when we turn inward. It powers our abilities to think deeply, reflect, and focus intensely on just one thing for a long period of time.”
Why fixation feels so good
It feels good for introverts to focus intensely on one project, or hobby at a time. We’d rather devote our thoughts and energy to one or two blazing obsessions, than several lukewarm pastimes.
I’m reminded of the movie Adaptation, which is loosely based on the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. In the movie, a character named John Laroche is single-mindedly obsessed with finding rare orchids.
We learn that orchids are not Laroche’s first love. He has had other all-encompassing obsessions. In his youth he was infatuated with fish. His whole world revolved around his passion for fish. Then all of a sudden, ‘flick’, the switch went off and he didn’t care about fish anymore. He explains his sudden change of heart in the below lines from the movie:
John Laroche: Then one morning, I woke up and said, “Fuck fish.” I renounce fish, I will never set foot in that ocean again. That’s how much “fuck fish.” That was 17 years ago and I have never stuck so much as a toe in that ocean. And I love the ocean.
Susan Orlean: But why?
John Laroche: Done with fish.
What turned me on most
I’ve had my own fair share of “hobby obsessions”, as I like to call them. I’ve been obsessed with religion, fitness, and travel, to name a few.
For years I was hooked on salsa dancing. SaIsa dominated my spare time. I watched salsa videos with my salsa friends before we went to salsa parties. Then I would go home and fantasize about – you guessed it – salsa.
Though I still dance a couple of times a month, I’m no longer a salsa fanatic. The salsa switch was turned off, and I was turned onto new obsessions, like writing about introversion.
The introvert advantage of single-minded obsession
Like so many of our seemingly strange introvert traits, our tendency toward obsession is actually an advantage.
According to the “10,000-Hour Rule”, the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill is to practice at it for at least 10,000 hours. The 10,000-Hour Rule is based on a study by Anders Ericsson, and is explored in-depth in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
You have to be pretty damn obsessed with something to devote 10,000 hours of your undivided attention toward it. We introverts are wired for this kind of single-minded focus.
How to succeed at obsession
Sometimes, our ‘light switch’ nature causes problems. We let our obsessions overshadow other important areas of our life, like our health and relationships. Here are some tips to stay on the healthy side of obsession:
Know when to come up for air. Diving deep is fun for introverts, but even we need to come to the surface sometimes. Usually your body will give you some sort of signal that it’s time to take a break (hunger pangs, exhaustion, the need to go pee). Listen to mother nature!
Schedule in other activities. Setup coffee dates, or hikes with friends ahead of time, so that you have some balance and human connection in your life.
Have a separate, but complimentary passion. If your main obsession involves sitting in front of a computer all day, developing a more physical passion will help keep you healthy and clear-headed.
For example, writing is my main obsession, but I always have some sort of health related side-obsession, such as juicing, yoga, or dance.
Whatever your innie obsession, know that it’s perfectly normal, and even advantageous, to be intensely focused on your passion. Just remember to come up for air long enough to maintain your health and relationships. 😉
Over to you
Can you relate to what I’ve shared? What kind of “hobby obsessions” have you had over the years? Please do share in the comments below!