Whether it is in your career or your personal life, it is important to do something you are passionate about. The enthusiasm you feel when engaged in an activity you are passionate about is powerful. That’s the feeling that makes you want to rise up early in the morning and leaves you feelings satisfied when going to bed at night.
What exactly is passion? What does it mean to be passionate about something? I’m sure almost all of us can describe the feeling, but what exactly does it take to find passion?
I believe that in order to be passionate about anything, be it your work, hobbies or relationships there are three necessary components. By looking to see where these components overlap in your life you can find passion. Out of the infinite choices you have in the world, seeking to invest your very limited time and energy in these small areas of overlap can unleash that experience we call passion.
A State of Flow
The first ingredient for passion is that you need to be able to enter a state of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first coined this term when describing how people enter into a highly focused state. Time and events outside your activity seem to blur out of existence when in a state of flow. As all your energies become fully invested in the now, a state of flow is a prerequisite to passion.
Entering into a state of flow is easier with some tasks than others. Some activities trigger enough of the mind for complete engagement, but not too much that the person gives up. Achieving flow is a fine balance from feeling bored to feeling overwhelmed. Certainly some activities make it easier to enter flow then others. Playing a game is probably more accessible to flow than is doing your taxes.
But entering a state of flow is also a skill of the mind. Removing distractions, increasing your personal energy and being patient can all help create this mental state.
Training yourself to get into a state of flow more easily greatly expands what you can be passionate about. Do you know someone who seems completely disengaged except when playing a video game or watching a television program. These people find it harder to get a true passion because they have a limited range of what activities generate flow for them. As a result the chances of finding this area overlap with the other two prerequisites to passion are slim.
An Opportunity to Learn
Entering into a state of flow isn’t enough to create a feeling of passion. You also need the second component which is an opportunity to learn. All areas of passion provide some chance for growth. If there is no opportunity for growth or learning, there is no real possibility for passionate engagement.
A monk may be able to focus his mind while doing a menial chore such as sweeping, but sweeping rarely offers major opportunities for learning. Sweeping is harder to be passionate about because it is a fairly straightforward task. Although it is possible to learn and grow from every activity, some activities are far more obvious in this regard.
Finding opportunities to learn in an activity comes when you have the ability to improve within it. Improving your career might mean making more money, receiving promotions or even just becoming a master at your discipline. Improving your relationships might mean more open communication, more fun or support. The opportunity to learn is essential to create a feeling of passion.
An Underlying Meaning
The final component to passion is purpose. Without meaning, then you can’t become passionate about something. Even if you can become engaged in the activity and have room to improve, if the task is meaningless it is impossible to create passion.
This final component also explains how some of the activities you were passionate about before you no longer are. At some point you decided that there wasn’t enough greater meaning in the task. Whether it is a profession, hobby or relationship, if you don’t see a greater meaning to participating in it, passion is difficult to muster.
The level of meaning you experience in a task varies. At the lowest level of meaning you have those tasks that fulfill your survival needs. Then you have tasks that fulfill your needs for esteem, love and support. Finally you have the tasks that fulfill your drive to contribute. As your life situation improves, the tasks that create passion for you shift as well.
Creating an Overlap
With this understanding of what passion is, I feel there are two paths to increasing the amount of passion in your life. Each path will create more engagement with life but following both of them at once is the key to creating full engagement.
The first path is to identify what pursuits already overlap strongly with a state of flow, an opportunity to learn and an underlying meaning. Shifting your time to these areas can create a great increase in your level of happiness and fulfillment in life.
The second path is to take the tasks you are already doing and work to create a greater state of flow, opportunities to learn and more purpose. There are many ways you can improve these areas, but the foremost is awareness. Simply by being aware that these attributes are critical to a passionate life you will be able to create more of them.
If any experience relates to the description of feeling truly alive, I would say that feeling extremely passionate comes close. By harnessing a state of flow, structuring opportunities to learn and choosing pursuits with a greater underlying meaning you can experience more passion in life. A life where you are fully engaged.