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!
Thank you. This is very interesting. I could never understand why I could be so passionate about something one minute and be over it the next. This makes perfect sense.
For a few years, I was heavy into cross stitch and could not get enough of it. Then one day poof, gone. Then it was crafting, especially card making. Yep a few years later, that too was a thing of the past. Some interests don’t go though, photography, writing and reading.
As always, beautiful article Michaela! 🙂 Over the years my obsessions were changing constantly. Starting from basketball, martial arts, Irish culture and customs, and of course writing is my main obsession. 🙂
You really hit the spot with the 10.000 hour famous technique, and with focusing on our obsessions, but to always have some health related side ones as well. In my case it’s meditation, and since I repaired my bike recently, I will definitely start that as well.
Wonderful article as always. 🙂
P.S Oh and to add to healthy side-ones, I no longer eat junk food, reduced the conservation of meat to a minimum, and I make healthy fruit juices each day, so that kinda became my habit. 🙂
Michaela, I can totally relate to this! – Yes and to be “interested” in something doesn’t explain it: I’m OBSESSED! 🙂 – I’m always obsessed to improve my drawings and paintings over the years, I’m OBSESSED to improve my English skills, I’m cycling up and down the hills like a youngster just in order to stay “young & fresh” for my “California-cycling-trips” one day – that’s a kind of crazyness, but without that I couldn’t move forward… I’m hooked by the idea to live a most “independent” life etc. etc. etc. – Sometimes it’s exhausting, sometimes it feels weird, but mostly it helps me to STAY ALIVE! 🙂 – Matthias
Current obsessions: floating in sensory deprivation tanks, growing tillandsias and watching MBTI videos on Youtube.
Do you think this “obsessed one minute, over it the next” principle applies to people/relationships as well?
I so needed to read this post. I have always been either 0 or 100 about an interest.
Holy cow!!!!! That is me to a tee!!!!! Obsessed with scuba diving, then bam I am done! Obsessed with needle work, then bam I am done. Reading, photography, running, weightlifting, then bam I am done! My brain turns off like a switch! Totally makes sense!!!! It is nice to finally learn it is a totally naturally trait for me!
I thought I just got bored easily! I’ve always been a bit annoyed at myself for this “problem” I have, but now it totally makes sense. Insight after insight–I love your blog 🙂
Thank you again for your emails and posts. This current one gives me another perspective on a trait I was trying to let go.
9-12 years: playing soccer
12-14 years: fishing
14-21 years: playing tennis
21-25 years: going out
25-29 years: chatting on the internet
29-34 years: fitness, psychology
36-39 years: nutrition and training, psychology
39-41 years: stocktrading, psychology
41-?? years: psychology, related to how women and men and relationships work.
I have mastered nutrition, training and stocktrading. I still work out and eat very healthy but it is all part of my daily life not an obsession any more.
I love being an introvert. It gives me all the edges I need and it makes me way more versatile than any extravert I have ever met.
This is so perfect, as always you are spot on!!! I am glad to have read this article. I have been a lot better since I started reading your articles, really, started being more patient with myself and I feel like even the relationship with my family has improved. So thank you!
This can be a problem for children when parents, grandparents, teachers and other well-meaning folks conclude that a child “likes” something. In their mind, the “like” is immutable, part of the child’s identity, and the child is pigeonholed as “likes this” (for all eternity).
I deliberately avoid “getting into” many things. I’m either reading three books simultaneously about a subject, done with the subject or not interested. That means that there are entire categories of interesting, deep human experience that I will never even try. The opportunity cost is too high. To taste everything is to taste nothing.
That said, the obsession sequence runs parallel to a few lifelong obsessions. That’s where balance comes in.
That’s a great article! I have certainly had my share of interests over the years. I would stop short of calling them obsessions, but when I learn about something, I tend to jump right into it and let other things fall by the wayside for awhile until I’m comfortable with it. I can also get way late on things sometimes. I have a fair number of hobbies and interests, but this year I’ve been learning all I could about MBTI and what it means to me. This forum and website is a part of that process. I really like this forum, lots of good people here!
MBTI and how I relate to it is my current obsession as well.
Really helpful article. My obsession is get scholarship master in UK. So, my head is full about learn IELTS xixi.
I’m from Indonesia. Last week I ordered your book Irresistible Introvert, but I don’t know why that book is no product now (periplus.com). I hope my order will not be cancelled.
At school, this has helped me in selecting courses because however much a course is imposed on me, no matter how hard I try, nothing will be achieved out of it. I simply wont rise to the occasion. Do I need to mention the time I spend in the library? Lol!
This article revealed so much about me and how I usually do things. I’ve always been told that I am an “all or nothing” kind of girl, and it is so true. When I am really interested in something I devote every spare moment to it, and then it is like a switch gets flipped and I’m just over it. I think I am the only person in my family like that, and everyone has always made me feel weird about it. I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only one, and that it is all part of the introvert nature.
This is spot on Michaela, I so do this too. I actually knew about the acetylcholine from an article on the Psychology Today website a few years ago. I do know that I’m pumping with acetylcholine, and love my quiet time, focused without distraction to explore my inner world and simply create. I’ve spent the last 6 years studying the INFP personality type and am getting back into sculpting and model making something I’ve done since I was a teen. Writing is something else I do as well. Thank you for such a thoughtful and well thought out article, it really made my day. 🙂
I can completely relate to this article. I am in my 40’s and it was only last year I realised that all my interests have been obsessions. It suddenly occurred to me what people meant when they told me I got really passionate about things.
I am either crazy, obsessed with something or I don’t care about it at all.
I’d love to have lots of different interests but my obsessive nature causes me to seek out single interests.
I am the only person I know like this so I took it be a negative trait that needed fixing. Last year I used hypnotherapy to rid myself of this behaviour. It worked, but unfortunately I have found that this has resulted in my not caring about anything, rather than lots of things. Hopefully I can figure out how to reverse this before i die of boredom and frustraton!
Once again I read a post and realize “it’s not just me”. People wonder how I develop skills so quickly but it’s fairly easy to do if you obsess about them. Great article!
I’ve followed your blog for a while, but this my first time really diving in and making the decision to become part of the community. And I have to say, this post is TOTALLY me! When I’m working on something I work so hard that my body has to physically hurt for me to come up for air, and even then I get upset or feel like a failure for allowing my body to let me stop. So that activates the inner worry and I’m lost down the rabbit hole.
It felt good to read this post because I now understand myself a little more. This entire time I honestly thought something was wrong with me because I just couldn’t stop myself. Once I started, I had to keep going until I felt like I accomplished something or like I reached a point where I could stop. And guess what? I rarely reached that point! It left me confused and wondering what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I relax? Why couldn’t I stop after already working on this task for 4 or 5 hours?
Thank you for this post Michaela. It has given me the “You’re now alone, and there is nothing wrong with you” voice I needed. I’m now thinking about ways I can work with this gift instead of allowing it to make me feel worse. Your site has been the gift I needed and I truly thank you. You’re amazing and I wish you the best.
So wonderful to hear from you Sabrina! I love that this post has helped you to see this trait as the gift that it is. <3
Ive been into so many different creative avenues its so great to hear that Im not alone with how quickly I can get over it LOL. I totally immersed myself into sewing for about 8 months,made several quilts and then totally quit it-same with hula hooping(which is on again ,off again) and crocheting, and drawing and painting and learning instruments .I just feel like a jack of all trades which Im fine with now but I always wondered why I could focus on one thing- Im either super obsessed and passionate or totally indifferent ,oh well-ill drink to that ^.^
This is an enlightening article. I obsess over certain subjects, true. But can that also apply to people and relationships? I can go for three or four years obsessed with a person, wanting to know everything about them, wanting to be important in their lives. Eventually, especially if the association hasn’t turned out the way I hoped, I’m no longer interested. It does happen gradually, though. I never revisit those feelings or that obsession again, but I remain mildly interested in them.
Thank you. So much me I could almost cry. And oddly enough, you used the same phrase that I use when trying to explain the on one day, off the next day phenomenon. I always say it’s like someone turns off (or on) a light switch. For me, the big switch is making good decisions about food. For 3 years I followed the Weight Watchers program to a tee and lost 85 pounds. When friends asked how I could be so rigid, all I could say was that it was totally easy — the light switch was turned on. But as expected, the day came when someone turned off the switch. And 3 years later, yep, 85 pounds came right back. So for me, the struggle is trying to find a way to keep the switch turned on (or to turn it BACK on) when it’s on for something positive.
Other switchable interests have been gardening, fish tanks, crocheting, cooking, and making beaded dog collars – to name a few.
I have an obsession with playing cricket. I love it, it makes me feel good and I love practicing too. Even though the season just finished, I’m still getting training in before winter comes and it gets too cold.