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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I


January 25th, 2020


We all have an impulse to obsess.  While the word has a fairly negative connotation, it’s appropriately descriptive, but we only use the word obsessive when it’s being leveraged on something that may not be very good for us.


Examine a synonym of obsessive for a moment.  The word fanatic.


This generally implies a person who is obsessed about something that we deem negative.  But cut off the last four letters and you get the word fan.


The two are related in the obvious way.


A fan is a fanatic, but one which is generally harmless or positive.  These two words are Rivalnyms, and hilariously so considering they are in fact pretty much the same word.  Perhaps, none of the words so far examined by Tinkered Thinking exemplifies the underlying nature of rivalnyms more than this pair.


The fan/fanatic dichotomy begins to illustrate how our impulse to obsess can be either good or bad.


When we fall in love, and the intensity is mutual and generally leading to good places, we might identify that as a positive instance of obsessiveness.  Though the mere use of the word makes one squint and wonder if something unhealthy is going on.


When we become addicted to something, that’s certainly an obsession and the word feels entirely appropriate.


When we lose ourselves in our work with great productive results, that might be a kind of obsession.  When we love a company so much we are willing to clean toilets for a few years in order to get a shot at the more exciting roles.  That might be a positive form of obsession.



When we start to learn something and we manage to get past that barrier to entry – that period of slow difficult learning at the beginning when nothing seems to work – and then beyond that when our abilities compound in faster, more agile ways, it’s easy to get obsessed because the feedback is so quick and the sense of agency is so high.



It can be extremely powerful to become mindful of this impulse in one’s self.  People often indulge in obsessions for years and years without realizing how much harm it’s doing.  Akin to an abusive relationship, the full realization doesn’t come until after when a new perspective on the past behavior unfolds.


But knowing we have this obsessive impulse can also be used for good.  Say you want to learn something.  Because of the barriers of entry for most skills, that obsessive impulse isn’t going to kick in for a while.  But this fact can be used as intellectual leverage to keep going in order to stay motivated.



All of this might sound a bit lofty or abstract, but fortunately we have something that pours rocket fuel into this impulse and makes it’s prevalence all the more evident on a smaller time scale.


The internet.



This issue with it is simple.


We are all looking for something to obsess about.


The internet makes this a blessing and a curse depending on how quickly you decide on what to focus on.


Did you know that a whopping 40% of youtube use is for learning?  That’s an astonishing use of the internet to leverage learning.


There are infinite productive rabbit holes of learning that are afforded by the internet.


Then there is also




and empty pleasure.


Best not to be so quick when you decide to interact.  Reserve that impulse and take in more.



Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 650: Obsessive Impulse

Tinkered Thinking

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