Obsessions and habits

Do you have a favourite love song? Perhaps the song that was playing the first time you fell in love, or a song that means something special to you and your partner? For me I’d have to say Be My Baby by The Ronettes. Not for any particular reason; I’ve just always liked the song. Whenever I have a crush, that song starts playing in my head.

I’ve asked a few people about their favourites before and the most common answer has been Every Breath You Take by The Police. Apparently that’s a common interpretation of the song, but it always makes me cringe. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song; I love Sting and The Police. But it’s not a love song. It’s a song about obsession and the lyrics are actually quite sinister.

Every breath you take/every move you make
Every bond you break/every step you take
I’ll be watching you

Every single day/every word you say
Every game you play/every night you stay
I’ll be watching you

Sting wrote it during the collapse of his marriage and said he was thinking about Big Brother and control as much as anything else. I’m not sure why so many people think it’s a love song but apparently it’s still very popular at weddings. That just seems creepy; is a song like that really one we’d want to use to mark a union? It’s no wonder the divorce rate is so high.

It’s funny, though, because I’ve been thinking about that song a lot lately. When I was putting together my song list, Every Breath You Take just missed the cut. And recently I’ve been obsessing over things more than usual, so naturally started thinking about the song again. Mostly it’s little things but I can’t get them out of my head; a couple of things I said which were taken the wrong way; memories from years ago that keep popping up; paragraphs I keep rewriting because they’re still not right… it’s annoying and not like me to obsess over them like that.

I’m retraining myself to stop it but in a strange way it’s actually been quite useful. It’s made me look at myself in a different way, ask myself why I’m thinking those things… something I wouldn’t have done before. What it’s made me wonder as well is, is obsession actually such a bad thing? We’re told that an obsession is irrational, an unhealthy preoccupation with something or someone. It can be, but does that mean all obsessions are bad? I tend to think that sometimes focusing on a goal is the only way you can achieve it; like an athlete training for the Olympics, if it didn’t become their focus, would they have the drive to succeed?

Perhaps obsession is a relative thing. Let’s say someone wakes up at the same time, has the same breakfast, follows the same route to work each day. Does that make him obsessive and stubborn because he never changes his routine? Or does it make him sensible, because he knows what he needs to be effective? What if someone always checks the lights before they go outside, even when they know they’re off; if they do that a thousand times but it stops a fire once, does that make them obsessive? Or is it a precautionary habit?

I’ve often thought that there’s a thin line between an obsession and a habit and really they’re much the same. A habit can become just as much of an obsession over time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad either. If checking the lights repeatedly gives you peace of mind, is that so bad? To me a habit or an obsession can serve a purpose – it’s when they begin to interfere in our lives that they become unhealthy. That’s when we need help.

Whether I’m that obsessive myself, I don’t know. I do keep to a routine; I try to eat at certain times, I’m usually online at the same times, and I write at night. But then I’m not afraid to break the cycle either… so maybe I am a little obsessive, but you probably need to be if you’re creative. How else can you stay motivated through the writer’s block?

I wonder what you think. Do you obsess over things? Is obsession necessarily bad? Can it be a good thing? I’d be interested to see what you think. πŸ˜‰

10 thoughts on “Obsessions and habits

  1. I think we probably all obsess over various things at various points in our life. I also think there is a fine line between being passionate about something or, for that matter, about someone and, obsession.

    My nature is to get fired up and passionate about things – but sometimes I have taken passion too far and it became an obsession.

    Trying to isolate passion from obsession to determine the difference between them isn’t easy but I do believe we can look at alcohol and cigarettes. Granted that they are “addictive” substances, but some folks are able to have a drink or a smoke now and then without becoming addicted.

    I recognize that some of us have genetic heritages and personality cgharacteristics that render us more susceptible to becoming addicted or obsessed.

    There are several ”significant personality factors” that can contribute to addiction/obsession:

    *Impulsive behavior, difficulty in delaying gratification, an antisocial personality and a disposition toward sensation seeking.

    * A high value on nonconformity combined with a weak commitment to the goals for achievement valued by the society.

    * A sense of social alienation and a general tolerance for deviance.

    * A sense of heightened stress.

    * Depression.

    I believe having a true passion for life can intimidate others so much that it can lead them to believe their “enthusiastic” friends and family members may be obsessed/addicted. There’s also the phenomena that often occurs when people feel the need to justify their own turning away from what could be their own passion by knocking that passion which others are joyously living.

    Thanks for posting such an interesting topic to respond to. πŸ™‚

    CJ: Glad you enjoyed the post, brightfeather. πŸ˜‰ I know what you mean about being passionate and that becoming an obsession; it’s difficult because we should want to feel strongly, passionately about an issue or a person, but the risk is always that we can go too far… I guess it’s a balance and some of us are better at it than others.

    Interesting that you mention alcohol and cigarettes; both can have such a destructive effect on the body; the addiction actually creates the obsession, fuels it… but then some people don’t have any problems, as you say. I wonder if there might be a genetic link that would explain why some people are more likely to be obsessive, something which ties into OCD and depression? It would explain a lot.

    And I couldn’t agree more about knocking someone’s passion. Do you have tall poppy syndrome in Canada at all? I’ve often thought that plays a part when we lash out at someone’s joy; we don’t understand it, so we try to take it away… in its own way jealousy is just as much an obsession as anything else.

    Love your new avatar, btw. It’s very vivid. πŸ™‚

  2. I find myself checking the locks on the doors at least two or three times most nights. We have three doors; I’ll check them in order, then get halfway down the hallway and just can’t seem to remember whether they were locked or not. Check them again, then get nervous about it again. Eventually I just force myself to bed, whether I’m comfortable with it or not.

    I’ve discovered a couple of things about this particular obsession. The first, is that it comes and goes; some nights are definitely worse than others. The second, is that it has nothing to do with the doors. It’s a manifestation of other insecurities; that’s all. I’m worried I’ll loose my job, or that my wife’s pissed at me, or this or that. I know the doors are locked, but I check them because I can, while I can’t eavesdrop very well on my boss’s thoughts and make sure everything’s kosher there.

    And, FWIW, the Puff Daddy version of that song is one of the very, very few covers I actually like more than the original, and for the reasons you point out. “I’ll be missing you” just seems to go so much better with the feeling I get from the song.

    CJ: That’s interesting about the doors… I often go out and think I’ve left something on like the iron or the TV, so I know what you mean. Everything we do is for some other reason. It comes from anxiety or fear, or a compulsion we can’t help if we’re sick. I suppose it’s as much about feeling we’re regaining some kind of control as anything else.

    I like the Puff Daddy and Faith Evans sample as well. I think it was recorded as a tribute to Notorious B.I.G. after he was murdered, so that might account for the different feeling to the song… it feels quite haunting when I listen to it and very different to Every Breath You Take. Thanks for stopping by. πŸ™‚

  3. when i like something, i really like something. if i fell in love with a pair of shoes or a bag at first sight, i’d buy it the next second and find every opportunity to use it. and if i can’t, i’d even put the shoes or the bag by my bed so i can stare at them before i sleep or when i feel like it.

    as for games, there was once i was so addicted to the sims that i was playing it until four in the morning. it was the holidays, but still…

    and if i am infatuated with someone, it can really distract me sometimes. i’ve had my work compromised because i was too busy daydreaming about guys before.

    do i obsess over things? hell yeah. πŸ™ and how do i get over them? only in time.

    CJ: Wow, you stayed up til 4 playing The Sims? We learn something new about you every day, sulz! πŸ™‚ It’s a fun game, though, so I can see how the time would just slip away. I played Metal Gear Solid for 14 hours straight once… that was a fun day. πŸ˜‰

    I think the thing about obsessing over things is that often they seem worse in our minds. We go over them again and again to try and understand, but often we’re not facing the real problem… it’s like a strange cycle. Many of the feelings have been hardwired into us, like being attracted to someone or wanting nice things. It shouldn’t seem bad that we’d want them when every day there are ads telling us to buy, TV shows telling us we shouldn’t be alone…

    You’re right, though, the only way we get over things is with time… they start to mean less and we begin to move on. We shouldn’t stop dreaming, though… it makes us who we are. And sometimes obsessing a little is just another way of dreaming.

  4. I am totally obsessive. Currently my favorite TV show is about a detective with OCD (Obsessive, Compulsive Disorder) I see so much of myself in him… not totally. I do not wash my light bulbs in the dishwasher. However I do totally β€œget” his motivation. However, I am both a creature of habit and yet just as often, spontaneous. So I don’t know does that make me a Spontaneous Obsessive? I was an on-line chatter for 12, yes, count them twelve years, decided I need a new obsession. A guy, who caught me off guard, and I caught myself gooey and ahhed by him, moved 7 time zones away, it broke my heart. I have not IRC chatted for some 60 days and counting. My goal is one year am excited to uncover what will replace the chatting. I began painting, again—becoming rather hooked on the color red. I did seventeen paintings in shades of red, umber, crimson, persimmon and pomegranate. I did only a handful of watercolors in crimson, ambers and russets, though I experimented with techniques. Perhaps switching mediums to oil painting yet maintaining the red spiral theme. I seem to work better in series it allows room for creativity and I can concentrate by diving into what initially attracted me. IS that an obsession or just an explorer at heart? I once spent 3 years using dominoes as a motif for paintings, designs, icons, greeting cards, silk scarves, wall quilts and even jewelry. It was interesting to see how many times I could change it yet maintain the integrity of the rectangle with circles inside. I could make dominoes fly like a magic carpet, or slice and dice them into pieces. I played with the scale, some gigantic, or itsy bitty, I discovered how far I could take a domino. I even owned the domain name of dominoes.com until I sold it to a dominoes manufacture in Texas.

    Bottom line, obsessions and lead to productive, explorations.

    CJ: Ah, you mean Monk! That’s a good show. It hasn’t been on here for a while, but I like the way they depict Monk’s OCD… like a person with a disorder, not a character being used for a few jokes. Although sometimes they can go a bit too far. πŸ˜‰

    That’s interesting about being a spontaneous obsessive… I’m like that as well; that’s what I meant by breaking the cycle. I do what feels natural and a lot of the time that’s following my routine but not always. Often when I’m reading I’ll finish several books at once, but then won’t read again for a couple of weeks; normally I’ll take the same route home, but sometimes I’ll change it. I can’t explain why, it just feels like the right thing at the time… perhaps it’s being creative. My best ideas and observations come when I’m thinking spontaneously, so I try to keep a balance.

    So you go through a lot of different creative patterns with your art? That sounds interesting, exploring different motifs through subsequent works… almost like you’re showing the different ways one idea can flourish. Perhaps people do need to be a little obsessive to be creative; you need to be totally focused and committed to explore something to its full potential… anything else becomes a distraction.

    I love spontaneous obsessive, btw. That should go in the dictionary. πŸ™‚

  5. At last, somebody else who actually gets that song! I’ve never understood why people are so sure it’s a tender love song (“Every smile you fake”?). I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking it was only one step away from Radiohead’s “Climbing Up The Walls”. You know, “Either way you turn / I’ll be there / Open up your skull / I’ll be there / Climbing up the walls”.

    I think I have a pretty obsessive, or at least addictive, personality. I get addicted to specific TV shows, webcomics, series of books, bands and computer games. Every time I leave the house, I have to double back to check that I really did lock the front door. Invariably I did, but it’s a peace of mind thing.

    I agree that in moderation obsession can be healthy (isn’t that what a hobby is?), although I find that I get even worse writer’s block because I’m obsessed with writing something good. There’s a story I’m working on which I haven’t finished the first chapter of, even though much of the rest of the novel is planned out, because I’m determined to make the first chapter perfect.

    One obsession I don’t think is healthy is obsession over a person, as in “Every Breath You Take”. Sometimes it’s got to be better just to move on, right?

    So yeah. Interesting post; it’s given me a lot to think about!

    CJ: Thanks, Bobby! I’ve always thought of Every Breath You Take being a bit like Alanis Morrisette’s You Oughta Know, great lyrics but dark as hell, but I’d never thought of Climbing Up The Walls… you’re right, it is quite close to that. I still get shivers whenever I hear Climbing Up The Walls.

    Writing’s funny like that. You do need to be a little obsessive to block out everything around you and focus on what you want to write. But if you get lost too much in that world, your writing tends to suffer as well… it’s a strange balance. Some days I find it comes easily; others I’m just rewriting the same paragraph again and again. But who said writing’s easy, eh? πŸ˜‰

    And I agree about obsessing over a person. I think obsessing (or focusing) on something can be useful, particularly as a motivator, but it becomes unhealthy when it interferes in your life and other lives. The difference between it and a hobby is that usually you choose a hobby, but obsessions just creep up on you… a habit that’s gone too far. Sometimes it’s better to just let go. Or blog about it. Both are good. πŸ™‚

  6. Obsession can easily be a good thing. It can be beneficial to a skill, hobby that you have.

    I think that because there are times when I obsess over one song. Listening to it over and over and over then in parts the voice, then each instrument then learning the lyrics then humming the instrumental part then seeing how diffrent harmonies will go with just that one song, I think it helped my ear musically. Because I can pick up certain things when I hear music live or even on the radio. And being that I want a career in music, I think that’s beneficial to me to have that sort of obsession.

    If some of the great minds of this world weren’t at least a little obsessed with science or music or whatever, then alot of the things we have now wouldn’t even be here.

    CJ: Hi Dya, thanks for the comment. πŸ˜‰ That’s exactly what I think, that obsession (or at least focus) can be very beneficial to completing a task. We’ve all heard of novels taking years to write (like The Lord of the Rings) and authors who were rejected but persisted… without their commitment, some of their great works would never have seen the light of day. I’m sure that’s true for many musicians as well.

    I was thinking about Beethoven earlier, actually, and he would be the perfect example; his entire world was music, and he gave us so much beauty. Jackson Pollock would be another example as well. That said, I suppose it’s also possible to become so single-minded that it actually damages a work; if you’re not objective and think everything you’re creating is perfect, then it’ll never fulfil its potential. It’s about balance and perhaps some people find that easier than others.

    Thanks for stopping by; I’ll be popping across to see your blog later. πŸ™‚

  7. I believe there are some differences between passion, habit, OCD, obsession, addiction and all..In my opinion, I don’t see passion to be negative as such, it is more like a strong positive feeling..But let see if you are creating and always try to do better over and over again but actually u don’t do better u do worst ..This is not good feeling being anxious and/or obsess about something..It’s not healthy for the mind and soul and it can obviously block the creative energy…I have quit painting once because of my perfectionist obsessive state of mind..Less I am obsessed, better I feel let me tell u.. But I think there is more into it, often, it is caused by deep emotional wounds and it can degenerate to a mental illness if not taking care of…I see habits more like external usual behaviour, stuff we do even without thinking but not necessary unhealthy like smoking which I consider being more like addictive…

    Interesting post, CJ..

    CJ: That’s interesting, CV. I see passion as being something of a neutral emotion, in that it can be either positive or negative. If I’m passionate about something then I’m more likely to pursue it and that can be a positive; but going too far or being so passionate that I’m blind to the truth can be very destructive. But I like how you see it; it’s much better to be passionate than to feel nothing.

    And I couldn’t agree more about obsessions being caused by emotional wounds… we use them to escape what we’re feeling, and if we don’t face the truth, we’ll never break the cycle. Some people just can’t help their compulsions either; if they have OCD or other disorders, that’s how they are…. I guess I’m thinking more of the small things we obsess about every day, whether that’s healthy. In moderation I think they can be, but perhaps not if someone takes them too far.

    What’s funny is I was thinking of writer’s block earlier and maybe that’s a kind of obsession as well. When we’re trying to write because we feel like we have to, we’re really so focused that we can’t see it’s not working… if we step back and are more objective, then we can see where we’ve gone wrong. But it’s not good to block the creative energy either, because then it won’t be natural… I guess it’s all a balance and you sound like you’ve found that with your paintings too.

    Thanks, CV. You’ve given me a few things to think about. As always. πŸ™‚

  8. cj I don’t understand what this is about. Please explain.

    Do you have tall poppy syndrome in Canada at all?

    CJ: Ah, I guess that means you don’t have it in Canada! Tall poppy syndrome is a pejorative term which is common over here. Basically it means that when someone starts to get too successful, people turn against them; once the poppy grows too tall, we cut it down. We often see it in the media; once one of our actors goes to Hollywood, the media starts to focus on negative traits… it’s seen as “humbling” someone for their successes.

    It started as a social attitude to limit the gap between rich and poor, but in recent years it’s changed. Now it goes beyond criticism as often the targets don’t deserve it; IMO, though people try to justify it, they’re really just hiding behind their own resentment. Recently it’s started to creep into normal life as well; if someone gets a promotion or comes into money, it’s not uncommon to say something to bring them back down to earth. I hate the whole thing… it’s like we can’t let someone have their joy, and I see a lot of that in how people react to someone’s passion.

    There’s an interesting article on TPS here, if you’re interested. It explains the syndrome and the causes behind it, as well as how many of our icons have reacted to it.

  9. Damn! I clicked to soon. Speaking of passions. I meant to ask you to join lastfm. I’m at http://www.last.fm/brighfeather/ and when you find me you will find other folks you know (ella, roads, thescaredpath, kimik0, sunburntkamel, etc.) We are having a great time sharing the music we are obsessive about.

    CJ: Thanks, I’ll definitely check it out and join! I’ve known about Last.FM for a while but for some reason got it into my head that you had to live in North America to join, like Pandora. Now I feel silly.

    I love that quilt widget on your blog, so I’ll have to have a closer look at that as well. I have a test blog on my own server in case I decide to self-host at some stage; it’ll be fun to play round with. πŸ˜‰

  10. I meant to comment on this before. Oh, well, here I am now. (Hah I’m usually obsessive about commenting on the most recent post!)
    First, thanks for the ultra cool video of Police. It really brings back memories. I’m a huge fan of Sting, right up to his most recent “obsession” with early/medieval music. πŸ˜‰ Amazing to see all that hair, and rocking out on that huge bass.
    I’ve always loved this song, but I’ve NEVER seen it as a love song. I mean, “every breath you take”….If someone was observing “every breath” I took, I’d be more likely to call the Police (no, not THOSE police πŸ˜‰ ) than fall in love with that person. eeek.
    Just yesterday, I made a cuppa joe to take to a meeting with me. I was about a third of the way to my destination when I had to turn back to make sure I’d turned off the stove. (Do you say “cooker” in Aus?)
    We all have our little quirks, I guess. I agree with others here that we’re talking primarily of “focus”. And I agree that the TV series “Monk” handles Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder pretty sensitively, whilst still being funny. I suppose the only question, really, is whether a behaviour is interfering with ones ability to find joy and purpose in life. Sometimes, the extreme focus can contribute to an important project. Some of us have an unusual, creative lifestyle, and who’s to say that it’s a “problem” other than ourselves. Wonderful post, thanks!

    CJ: Glad you liked the video, Muse! I like Sting and the Police a lot myself and that song is one of my favourites, so I found a good excuse to post it! Did you manage to see the reunion tour? I wish I’d seen it but I didn’t get a chance to in the end.

    I think you’re right, what we’re really talking about is focus and it’s very easy to become so focused on something, so single-minded, that it becomes an obsession. When do our eccentricities become unhealthy, something that interferes with our lives so much that it hinders our progress? I’m still not sure I know, particularly as that’s part of being creative as well… I’d hope that my family would recognise the signs and tell me; in the end, they might be in a better position to know. It’s an interesting question, though, and a lot to think about.

    And we tend to alternate between stove and oven, but we do say cooker too. That’s something I’m always doing, feeling like I left the oven on after dinner… it’s a strange feeling, but if it stops a fire one day, then I can live with it. Better to be safe than sorry, eh? πŸ™‚

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