Obsessiveness Can Be a Secret Productivity Superpower
A one-track mind is a good thing, once you learn to control what you focus on
Obsessive thinking is something I’m very, very familiar with, which is why I can say that it doesn’t totally deserve its bad rap. While this might sound strange, I’ve come to appreciate the way my mind fixes on one topic at a time and doesn’t let go. A one-track mind, I’ve found, can be a creativity secret weapon.
Don’t get me wrong — of course obsessive thinking can be extremely unproductive. During my entire sophomore year of high school, for example, I expended an inhuman amount of energy brooding over an unrequited crush. “Does he like me?” became my relentless, and totally pointless, internal monologue. I wish my teenage brain had been able to fixate on, I don’t know, nailing trigonometry, or getting my driver’s license, or anything with better returns than making sure to be in the same spot in the same hallway every single morning so that I’d see my crush walk by.
But recently, I’ve learned how to direct my obsessions. After years of putting my writing career on hold to be home with my children, my obsessive thoughts tended toward the unhelpful — worrying about my kids, or fixating on finances — until eventually, I hit a breaking point. I made a conscious decision to funnel my obsessiveness into reviving my writing.
I’d always wanted to write a novel. At first, I just thought about wanting to do it. Then I started obsessing about doing it. Soon it was all I could think about, the place my mind went to during any moment of downtime.
Obsessiveness vs. OCD
Now, I want to be clear about what I mean by obsessive thinking. As someone who has long struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder (something I actively work to address with therapy and medication), I’m well aware of the difference between a clinical diagnosis of OCD and a tendency to fixate. You don’t have OCD because of that one time you thought you left the coffee maker on and went all the way back home to check.
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) defines OCD as “recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or impulses” that are…