As discussed in my last blog, obsession can be a powerful force in our lives, driving us to achieve great things and pursue our passions. It can also be destructive, leading us to self-destruction and limiting our ability to see the bigger picture.

So how do we find balance in our relationship with our obsession? 

How do we know when to embrace it and let it go? 

In this blog, we’ll explore these questions and more, drawing on insights from leading researchers in psychology and neuroscience and exploring what Vincent, Elon and Michael have in common.


  1. Embracing Obsession: When It Fuels Our Passions and Creativity

At its best, obsession can be a powerful tool for achieving our goals and pursuing our passions. Take Elon Musk, for example. The billionaire entrepreneur has famously been described as “obsessive” in pursuing space exploration and sustainable energy solutions. This drive is because Elon has a higher purpose that drives his obsession.

So purpose can be a good vehicle for healthily managing our obsession.

His unwavering purpose of improving the world has enabled him to achieve incredible things, from founding PayPal to launching SpaceX and Tesla. And, of course, more recently, purchasing Twitter!

Similarly, many successful artists and musicians have credited their obsessive tendencies with fueling their creativity and helping them to produce truly original work. Take the legendary painter Vincent van Gogh, known for his intense dedication to his craft. 

Despite struggling with mental illness and poverty throughout his life, he produced some of the most iconic works of art in history, including “The Starry Night” and “Sunflowers.”

Sadly his work wasn’t recognised until after his passing, but no doubt his desire for mastery and autonomy enabled him to produce beautiful work.

As a passionate sportsman, I am inspired by many athletes, and growing up through the 90s watching the Chicago Bulls. I can’t write a blog on obsessive athletes without mentioning one of the greatest athletes of all time, known for his obsession with winning. 

Michael Jordan, widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, was famous for his intense focus and work ethic. He is renowned for saying, 

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

It is one of the most powerful quotes of all time because it teaches us to embrace failure and see it as a way to achieve our goals. I’m sure Elon and Vincent had to undergo many iterations before producing the desired result.

In summary, as Daniel Pink describes in the book Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, we all want autonomy to direct our own lives and mastery to get better and better at something that matters, and a purpose to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. 

Pink sums up nicely what every top performer has in common. 

When Obsession Becomes Destructive.

While obsession can be a powerful tool for achieving our goals and pursuing our passions, it can also become a destructive force that limits our ability to see the bigger picture. 

Consider the case of Howard Hughes, the American business magnate and aviator who became increasingly reclusive and eccentric later. His obsession with cleanliness and hygiene made him germophobic and detached, ultimately dying alone and isolated. 

Similarly, many people struggle with unhealthy obsessions that lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental illness. Whether it’s an obsession with perfectionism, control, or some other aspect of our lives, when it becomes all-consuming, it can lead to a narrow focus that blinds us to other important aspects of our lives.

Michael Jordan is famous for his gambling addiction. He is known for gambling on everything from golf to card games with friends. 

Van Gogh famously cut his ear off, eventually shooting himself in the chest and dying two days later.

Does this suggest genius and a decline in mental health are inseparable?

I worry about the future of Elon Musk. Will Elon find balance in his relationship with his obsessions, or could it lead to bigger mental health problems for him? 

The Role of Mindfulness and Self-Awareness.

I have been studying breathwork since 2007, initially through the work of Patsy Roddenburg and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I eventually shared my work in my first book, Managing The Mist (2013).

According to a study published in the journal Mindfulness, mindfulness meditation can be a powerful tool for developing self-awareness and managing obsessive thoughts and behaviours.

I have learned to recognise the signs of obsession. I can begin to take steps to manage my thoughts and emotions more effectively. 

For example, when I become obsessed with my work to the point of neglecting my relationships and health, mindfulness helps me become more aware of this pattern, prioritise self-care, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

In the end, finding balance in my relationship with obsession is all about my self-awareness and knowing when to embrace it and when to let it go. 

By recognising the power of obsession and learning to manage it healthily, we can achieve great things while maintaining our well-being and connection to the world. 

As the famous Chicago Bulls basketball coach Phil Jackson once said:

“Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the ‘me’ for the ‘we.”

This quote reminds us that sometimes, the most significant achievements come not from individual obsession but from a collective effort and a balanced approach to achieving our goals.  This is where your leadership can have the biggest impact.