“Do it with passion, or not at all.” We’ve all heard it. If you aren’t going to be passionate on the floor and give it everything you have, then don’t bother. If you want to be better, if you want to be the best, you have to be passionate about your sport. But if you have a passion for coaching, I have some important news for you to consider: your passion may be hurting you.
The Psychology of Passion
In the last 15 years, psychologists started researching the idea of passion. Trying to define it, measure it, and learn what it can tell us about performance. Most of the top athletes in the world are visibly passionate about their sport. You can see how important it is to them. You can feel what it means to them… So what is passion and how does it help those elite athletes achieve their very best? Dr. Vallerand and his colleagues have spent a lot of time trying to understand passion. Lucky for us they’ve actually done some of their research on dancers since we are known to be particularly passionate about what we do.
Passion is defined in psychology as a strong inclination toward an activity that you like, find important, and invest time and energy.
What’s exciting about this line of research is that scientists have found evidence for two different kinds of passion. One that can have a positive impact on your life, and the other which can be downright devastating.
“I’m a Dancer”
In order for something to be a passion, it must be important to you. Which also means it gets incorporated into who you are. It’s a part of your identity. If you’ve ever said, “I’m a dancer” then dance is a part of your identity. It’s hard to consider a life without it. Both kinds of passion involve an activity that has been incorporated into your identity, but the difference is in how you view that part of yourself.
On average, a person will engage in a passionate activity 8.5 hours a week for at least 6 years. This means whatever activity you are passionate about is not just a fleeting interest, but it’s meaningful to you. Now if you’re coaching we can assume you’re spending more than 8.5 hours a week at this task. (Probably more like a full-time job on a salary not even suited for a 12-year-old babysitter). So is coaching something you are passionate about? Is coaching a part of your identity? For many of us, I bet you started loving dance earlier in life. Then that love for dance evolved into a passion for coaching. Now the question is, what kind of passion?
The first kind is called obsessive passion. This results when the activity has a controlling aspect of your identity. For someone who is obsessively passionate about dance, that part of her identity, her sense of self-esteem, and maybe her need for social acceptance are all wrapped up in dancing or coaching. The identity of being a dancer is controlling. It can even be considered obsessive passion if the level of excitement you experiences when engaged in the activity is controlling. You can’t help but participate, sometimes at the expense of other important things in your life. Eventually, an obsessively passionate person becomes dependent on the activity.
An obsessively passionate dancer will have rigid persistence, and that can make him a better dancer because of the sheer number of hours spent practicing. But it also comes at a cost. Often obsessive passion results in conflicts with other activities, frustrations, and negative ruminations or negative thoughts about the activity.
On the other side, harmonious passion results when you integrate an activity into your identity without any contingencies or other pressures. A harmoniously passionate dancer is motivated to dance willingly without an uncontrollable urge but rather an intrinsic desire to participate. Dance is a freely chosen activity because of the pleasure you get from dancing. Dancing or coaching is a significant part of your identity but does not overpower other aspects of your life.
Harmonious passion allows people to be fully focused on the task at hand and experience positive emotions like happiness and joy. It allows for the competitive experience of flow and increased concentration. When restricted from their passionate activity, harmoniously passionate people are able to focus on other tasks that need to be done and adapt to the situation (like supporting your team when you’re sitting out with an injury).
A Passionate Coach
Remember, when you are passionate about an activity, it’s a part of your identity either way. If you are a passionate coach, it’s a part of who you are. Only obsessive passion comes with conflict in other areas of your life. Obsessive passion is also associated with negative emotions like shame and anxiety while harmonious passion is not related to these negative feelings. Actually, the opposite; harmonious passion is positively linked with life satisfaction.
For people who experience harmonious passion, they feel good when they participate in that activity. So for a harmoniously passionate coach, you are experiencing these happy emotions whenever you do the activity. You enjoy coaching over and over again every day. That level of passionate engagement means a better chance for a higher sense of life satisfaction. Think about it. 8.5 hours is roughly 10% of our waking time. Time spent doing something that makes us happy which balances some of the things that make us not so happy (like dealing with nasty parents or piles of paperwork).
Passion Leads to Effort
Passionate people are also persistent. They will work hard towards their goals. However, it looks different depending on what type of passion you are experiencing. An obsessively passionate person is rigid in her persistence and doesn’t experience positive emotions. They continue to persist and put in the effort even at great cost to other aspects of their life. People with harmonious passion, on the other hand, are in control of the activity and decide when to engage in it or not. They can choose to stop at any time. Their persistence is flexible. This plays an important role in recovering from injury…
When a passionate dancer is injured
A dancer with obsessive passion is more likely to get injured. A dancer with obsessive passion is rigidly persistent, so the problem lies in her persistence once she’s already hurt. After an injury, a dancer with obsessive passion will continue to persist and dance through pain even though she shouldn’t and it’s dangerous to continue which leads to chronic injuries.
In a study with college dancers, researchers found that both types of passion make acute injury less likely. Presumably, passionate people practice often and diligently which keeps them fit and less likely to be hurt. However, when it comes to chronic injuries the research shows that the type of passion matters. Dancers with obsessive passion spent more time missing practice due to chronic injury. Those with a harmonious passion, however, didn’t miss as many weeks because they were more likely to choose to stop when necessary, seek help, and completely stop dancing if required to heel leading to faster recovery times.
Dancers with obsessive passion tend to let pride interfere with their ability to heel. They ignore the pain until it’s too late.
Passion Leads to a Better Performance
Passionate people tend to be successful. They tend to be experts in their craft and perform at the top of their game. Both kinds of passion lead to improved performance. Either way, a passionate person spends a lot of time working on his craft. However obsessive passion can lead to suffering for the craft and lower life satisfaction.
Passion for Harmony
Harmonious passion leads to more mastery-oriented goals. A mastery goal is based on the desire to improve or the desire to beat your own previous best. A mastery focus also means a love for performing just for the pure joy of it. With a focus on mastery goals, a passionate dancer will practice longer and harder to achieve her goals leading to better performance. There is a key difference though. The harmoniously passionate dancer knows when to take a break and remains flexible. She has chosen to participate without outside pressure and continues to dance because of the pure bliss she feels when she’s on the floor.
Are You a Passionate Coach?
I strongly believe in the power of self-reflection, so what do you think? Are you a passionate coach? If being a coach is a part of your identity, is it a harmonious passion or an obsessive passion?
Enjoy the power of reflection? Check out my free workbook, 20 Reflection Questions for Coaches. It will help you get the most out of your success and failures each season. Reflection is the key to growth!
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