I began my journey in personal development at age 18. I became obsessed with Tony Robbins’ seminars and audio programs. He ended each one by saying, “Live with passion.”
Many of us seek passion in our relationships, work, and life itself. Being passionate is a sign of “good living.”
The long-term effects of passion-seeking, however, aren’t impressive. Seeking passion in a relationship leads to divorce. Passion in work leads to burnout. And pursuing passion in life leads to a general sense of meaninglessness.
Why? Passion isn’t sustainable. And, as we’ll see, the root of our drive for passion is a mental imbalance.
Passion is close to excitement. We might, for example, expect to be excited about our work. While we often get excited when we start a new job or a new business venture, these emotions don’t last.
The same goes for relationships: we are passionate and excited about our partner in the early stages, but those emotions are short-lived. Depression often follows.
Programming for Passion
A belief running in our internal operating system tells us we’re supposed to live with passion and be excited about life.
This program isn’t running in everyone. Certain cultures have it more than others. Its most pervasive in our American culture obsessed with self-improvement.
Our parents install this program when we’re infants. They get us excited about eating certain foods or receiving presents on birthdays and holidays. Parents assume that when their children are excited, they’re doing a good job as parents.
If you believe you’re supposed to feel passion and excitement about your work and relationships, you will be unhappy when these emotions dwindle. You’ll think something’s wrong with you and your choices. You may try to rekindle your passion. It might even work temporarily, but then it’s gone again.
The problem, however, isn’t the loss of passion and excitement. The issue is we believe these emotions are desirable.
Peering Behind Passion and Excitement
The core reason we seek passion and excitement is fear. This fear lies beyond our awareness; we are unconscious of it. However, it influences our behavior, actions, and decisions.
Let’s examine this fear. By bringing this fear to our awareness, it no longer rules our behavior. The fear behind passion has three expressions:
Fear of Boredom
Our brains seem to crave stimulation. Thanks to technology we’re accustomed to a constant stream of stimulation. Instead of appeasing our desires, however stimulation increases our appetite for them. Without constant stimulation, we’re bored. And we have an aversion to boredom.
Fear of Laziness
We’re terrified of our lazy part. We know how easy it is to lose our motivation. If we don’t have passion or excitement, we fear our lazy part will dominate us. Then, we will lose our drive to work and be productive members of society.
Fear of Meaninglessness
This existential fear is deeply rooted. Some people can connect to this fear; others cannot. But because we fear that our lives have no meaning, a lack of passion and excitement can trigger a sense of inner angst and despair. We do anything to avoid these feelings.
These three fears drive us to seek passion and excitement — even happiness. Ultimately, if we’re honest, this drive brings us the opposite of what we’re looking for: anxiety and depression.
Overcoming the Drive for Passion
If passion isn’t the answer, what’s the alternative?
First, we need to accept these fears.
Is boredom so horrible? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be bored and dispassionate? If you go through the initial discomfort, you’ll discover a sense of peace and contentment few people experience.
We avoid laziness, too. Do you ever allow yourself to be lazy with no shame or guilt? If you’re committed to self-improvement, it’s not an easy task. Parents, teachers, and the entire self-improvement industry have shamed our lazy part. But it’s just a part of us. If you welcome laziness, it will let go.
Our fear of meaninglessness is rooted in a reality that existential philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche articulated over a century ago. To summarize: there is no grand universal meaning. You create your meaning. We all make it up. Meaninglessness is only a problem if you perceive it to be one. For further guidance, read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
Tapping into Virtue
Modern people aren’t the first ones to wrestle with passion and stimulation. In antiquity, great thinkers including Aristotle and Confucius sought to define the “Good life.” Four fundamental virtues arose in ancient Greece, Rome, India, and China: justice, courage, wisdom, and moderation.
While these four virtues are interconnected, the solution to passion, excitement, and stimulation is moderation.
The virtue of moderation means doing nothing in excess; nothing carried to extremes; nothing pushed so far it becomes harmful to ourselves or others. In Buddhism, this is called the Middle Way.
In the Middle Way, we aren’t pulled by attraction or pushed by aversion. We avoid excessiveness and scarcity. I call it the Center.
Staying in the Middle
Take a current project you’re working on. If this project is new, you may feel passion or excitement. You might stay up late and get up early to work on it.
Eventually, however, you hit a wall. Your momentum comes to a halt. Apathy sets in. You get discouraged, which leads to procrastination and distraction to avoid boredom.
Visualize a continuum with boredom/laziness at the far left and passion/ excitement at the far right. What’s in the middle?
Moderation and steadiness is the anecdote to passion. Moderation allows you to walk your path each day without expecting a “high” to keep you going.
The goal isn’t passion or excitement; it’s neutrality. When you’re neutral, you’re calm, alert, and clear. From this space, slowly and incrementally, you can achieve anything. You can realize your potential. I know, it’s not sexy. But it works. And it’s sustainable throughout the course of your life.
Accomplishing More by Doing Less
Did you ever hear you should give 110% effort? This is a harmful idea. You can’t give 110% without depleting yourself. It’s unsustainable.
In Qigong, an ancient system for cultivating energy in the body, they teach the principle of moderation. You’re instructed to do exercises at 70% of your capacity. Why? Because trying too hard creates internal tension. Exercising at 70% enables you to focus and make deliberate movements without tensing your muscles.
This principle enables Qigong practitioners to maintain their health into old age without the burnout, disease, or pain we associate with old age.
For inspiration, check out this two-minute video of a 118-year-old grandmaster performing an internal martial art.
How can you apply the principle of moderation to your life, work, and relationships right now?