Last week, we met the Dabbler. This week, we will meet the 2nd type of persona that we typically take on when we are learning a new skill - the Obsessive.

meet the Obsessive

Let's read the relevant excerpt from Mastery.

The Obsessive is a bottom-line type of person, not one to settle for second best. He or she knows results are what count, and it doesn't matter how you get them, just so you get them fast. In fact, he wants to get the stroke just right during the very first lesson. He stays after class talking to the instructor. He asks what books and tapes [AA: Reminder that this book came in the early '90s] he can buy to help him make progress faster. (He leans toward the listener when he talks. His energy is un front when he walks.)

The Obsessive starts out by making robust progress. His first spurt is just what he expected. But when he inevitably regresses and finds himself on a plateau, he simply wont accept it. He redoubles his effort. He pushes himself mercilessly.
He doesn't understand the necessity for periods of development on the plateau.
Somehow, in whatever he's doing, the Obsessive manages for a while to keep making brief spurts of upward progress, followed by sharp declines - a jagged ride towards a sure fall.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the approach we take is our choice. And sometimes the persona/approach seems to be a permanent one - if you've had many places where you dipped the toe but never levelled up, that's a strong signal. While I think the Dabbler is a useful persona to be for a variety of things, especially recreation and play, the Obsessive is primarily a phase in the fitness and nutrition universe.

my idiot phase

Before I read Mastery, I referred to the phase of my transformation where I was rather obsessive about, well, a bunch of things, as my idiot phase. Why? Well, because during this phase - it is still a period of intense excitement - you tend to go way off-balance. Again, no judgment, no right/wrong stuff here. My obsessive phase was a vital part of my journey and I learned quite a lot from it, including how not to obsess (well, that realisation happened many years later).

Photo by Yoav Aziz / Unsplash

Some of the things I would do, off the top of my head,

  • pore over the menu of the restaurant that I would be having dinner at later in the day, to investigate if there were enough gluten-free, sugar-free and whatever else I was into.
  • research restaurants and rate them as places I could go to, or places I could go to only when I am going off the plan.
  • Never going off the plan. Not planning going off the plan in the plan!
  • Doing CrossFit workouts back-to-back. Saturday 7.30 am with Kelly Starrett and 8.30 am with Carl Paoli (remember it like yesterday). Thankfully, this happened only 2-3 times. The near destruction of my body was enough of an alarm bell.
  • taking my own boiled eggs to lunch. Even though the place I'd eat lunch at was an expensive, organic restaurant in SF. Why? Coz the farm I bought my eggs from was more free-range than the farm they bought their eggs from.
  • not going to post-game beers with my rec league team.
  • going gluten-free (this was back in 2009 when gluten was a thing) for 100 days. Even though I was not allergic.
  • going sugar-free for 100 days.
  • making my own meal replacement bars for a 3-day hike I was going to. For the first day and a half, I refused to eat anything else except my 200 calorie bar, of which I ate 8-10 a day.

I think you get the picture.

my thoughts

Moderation is an expert move. Being in balance is most times an impossible job at the atomic scale - maintaining a balance in imbalance over a week or a month is more feasible. But yeah, sustainability, balance, moderation - these were not words that features at all for an Obsessive.

I found that there were a lot of valuable things to learn - like not giving in to cravings, for example. A craving is just a thought. Most times, it is irrational. I might've had a gargantuan ice-cream just the previous evening but I want one tonight as well. And what's my goal again?! Having a craving is normal, giving in to it every time is silly. So, learning to say no and having that as the standard answer taught me a lot. So, when I slowly veered towards sustainable living (which still involves saying no quite a bit, as I want an ice-cream 2-3 times a day), it was useful.

Photo by Elevate / Unsplash

But there are unfortunately silly things you do as well. Like not having beer with your friends. Like not having cake on their birthday. Sometimes, that's the wrong answer for life. Which is a bigger picture than your dietary goals. And c'mon, you say no today but in 3 weeks when you crash and burn and I find you wiping clean the Nutella jar in the middle of the night - was it worth it, to say no to a beer with a mate?

Useful to have it as a phase, especially if you have been off for about a decade or so. But you need to realise that the only good that comes out of this phase are a few skills that you need to know, and you need to practice these skills in a sustainable fashion over the next few years.

Black or white. Zero or one. Obsessive behaviour and compliance for a few weeks, then crashing and burning for a week. Repeating that over a year and many years is NOT the answer. Whatever the question is.

Next week, we will meet the Hacker.