When I find something I like – a new sport, person, company or restaurant – I fixate. Culturally we usually discuss fixation only in terms of “addiction.” I’ve discussed before the benefits of enthusiasm for special needs children and non-attachment for overcoming hurdles. There is utility to the boundless (perhaps incessant) enthusiasm that accompanies discovering a new passion.
Children fixate beautifully. When a child discovers her fingers for the first time, her delight in her own experience is all consuming. In adults, this behavior would be called self-centered and selfish, but we’d never challenge a child in her explorations. Enthusiasm can be all consuming, and some of the richest learning experiences are to be had when 100% of the learner’s attention is fixated on the object of study.
Many are the times that I have discovered a new fixation. Sometimes this just looks like somewhat obsessive behavior. For example, I have eaten the same type of burrito for lunch for several years. In other situations, fixation can become a problem. I think of myself in a specific college relationship with exasperation – refusing to admit that it was time to move on. The word “fixate” tends towards negative connotations because of situations like this last: times when we completely shape our behavior around a non-healthy focus or endeavor. Ignore the potential outcomes of fixation at your peril; go in eyes open, knowing that there are downsides to forming new habits.
Perfection is an unachievable state. There is no “there” there because as soon as you have accomplished your goal, the objective has shifted and become even higher. Dancing ballet for me is a constant struggle between seeking perfection, and the impossibility of achieving that state. There is no achievable “perfect” ballet technique. Unlike my burrito habit – which hasn’t changed much in years – dance is always new and challenging. And while I fixate like a child discovering her fingers, dance is an outlet in which I can continue my pursuit without negative side effects. Dance has provided a point of fixation where the focus is not a succeed/fail endeavor. As a result I can relentlessly strive for perfection that can never be fully attained.
Find a fixation, and constantly strive to improve in that domain. Forming habits has a downside, but fixation can also serve you well. Get curious and discover a new depth of learning.