The Power of Monomaniacal Obsession


If you really want to see the kind of success that others can only dream of then there actually is a surefire way to achieve it. The evidence of this methodology abounds but most people don’t recognize its inherent power because it seems unreasonable and way too hard.

The method is to narrow your focus as much as you can so that you are only shooting for one major goal.

And one means one – not three or four or even two.

Why Most Folk Can’t Swallow This Medicine

Why don’t people tend to see or follow this rule? Because it implies an imbalanced life and this is perceived as undesirable in our day and age. Look at advertising and the media, it is full of claims and recommendations to “achieve balance” or for “a balanced, healthy life” – you’d think balance was the magic panacea to all that ails us!

And maybe it is (I wouldn’t know) but as time scoots by I get more and more convinced that my pet theory, known as Curly’s Law, is sound.

Curly’s Law states simply: “Do One Thing” and despite the fact that it was taken from a cheesy Hollywood movie (City Slickers) I believe that this law is an absolute winner for those who want to do something and do it really, really well. (I also believe this law, obviously minus the name, has been around longer than the film!)

Examples of Monomaniacal Obsessive Types Who Have Achieved Greatness

I would be willing to bet that if you were to pick your five favourite famous or really successful people that they would all be monomaniacs with a one-track mind, obsessed with their own singular vision since very early on in their adult life.

Here are some random over-achievers:

1. Bill Gates: not everybody’s fave or mine particularly but you have to give it to the man: he made the big time. And how? By single-mindedly focusing on only one goal – a computer on every desk.

2. Bob Dylan: one of my favourite musicians. It wasn’t like he spent much time debating with himself whether he wanted to be a sea-lion trainer, the greatest used-car salesman ever or a singer/songwriter – that was what he did and that was all there was to it!

3. Mahatma Gandhi: this dude wanted one thing and one thing only – the non-violent cessation of British rule over India. He did it too, and not by flippin’ and floppin’ and changin’ his mind.

4. Eminem: do you have any trouble identifying what this man’s plan for greatness was? Of course not – he only ever had one strategy out of poverty and that was to be the best rapper in the world.

5. Richard Branson: he might have a bunch of different businesses but what do you think his sole focus is? His brand, Virgin. That’s his meal ticket and he created it by focusing only on that since about one hundred years ago when it was cool to have long hair.

Think (About One Thing) and Grow Rich

If you’ve read Napoleon Hill’s classic, then you’ll know that one of the most powerful concepts in the book is that you should choose and focus on a Definite Chief Aim (i.e. a single major goal).

Think about where you are now.

Up above you is a vast macrocosm which spirals out indefinitely, a spray of more and more stuff that just keeps on going.

Now think about the inside of your body. We can’t see it but we now know that we can hone in on any area of our physical selves and keep reducing until things get so small that our instruments or mathematics can’t perceive them any more. The chances are things just keep getting smaller still, right? But even if they don’t get any smaller than what we know about – that’s still a lot of detail inside your single human body.

Well, that’s what goals are like. You can have a “macrocosm’ of goals, even if it’s just five or ten goals, and accordingly the tasks will just keep spraying out and you will have a very hard time getting a grip on what even needs doing let alone actually getting it all done.

But if you choose just one goal, you will still find a very large amount of things that need doing, and the closer you look the more you will find. You will probably find enough to do in one major goal to keep you going for at least a few years if not many more. And if you don’t complete all of the important stuff that needs doing, then that goal will probably never get done at all! Quite logical, Captain!

So that’s why it is better to have just One Thing, not several, because several unfinished goals aren’t worth a damn, but one successfully completed major achievement is worth so very much – and not just in monetary terms either.

So – forget about balance – become a monomaniacal obsessive and do something truly awesome with your life

33 thoughts on “The Power of Monomaniacal Obsession”

  1. I think the only time this would be paradoxical is when your doing one thing aim is to get good at lots of things.

    This seems to be becoming really evident with bloggers and freelancers. You have to become pretty skilled — or at least proficient — in many different things.

    I would say when it comes to projects and changing habits, do one thing is the best route.

    Especially true when I’m trying to learn things like “put the toilet seat down” and “put the paper back back on the roll when it’s empty.” There’s no way I can try to change both of those things at the same time.

    1. John,
      It’s only paradoxical if your only aim is to get good at lots of things. I think the aims of bloggers and freelancers isn’t to become skilled at marketing or great at ad placement – they have only one over arching goal: to become a skilled communicator.

      Of course Bill Gates and all the examples Seamus wrote about in his articles needed lots of micro-goals to reach their one big goal (marketing, sales etc) but the focus was always on the end point.

      The moral is to have lots of small targets or micro-goals, but they should never be the end point. The end point should always be something awesome.


  2. Great article! It reminds me a great deal of advice given by the genius Seth Godin in his book “The Dip”. Find the thing you’re best at – and work hard to really be the best at that one thing. Quit the other activities that are keeping you from being the best at what you’re best at. And then put all your effort in just that thing.

    Fantastic blog by the way. I just discovered it, and it’s a great find!

  3. The power of focusing on one goal at a time is no doubt in my mind the key to success. For many years I never really made any progress in life because I wanted to achieve everything. What I found is that I was spreading myself thin and burning myself out. I couldn’t continue this cycle for more than a few years, and by the end, I had nothing physical to show for all the efforts I made.

    Today I focus on one goal, and I have made more progress in this area than all the other areas combined.

    This is a great article that no doubt helps to put this important element of success into perspective.

    1. Boniface Mba Samuel

      Thanks, you got the point and gave me something to chew “make your goal (focus) tinner and yourself larger”.

      Thanks a great deal.

  4. I agree that the best way to get really good at something or achieve is to devote the most resources to it.

    But then it is a question of is that how you want to spend your life, or would you rather diversify.

    The worst case is differently when you find yourself flitting around every week never making any real progress in any direction.

  5. Putting attention to one thing at a time is certainly useful to accomplish it. However, there still needs to be some balance for the things that are important in your life. You can have multiple goals in separate areas and they are often not really compatible with each other without some balance. Do you really want that career goal at the expense of never spending any time with friends and family, I doubt it. And what about the opposite, if family time is it, then quit your job, spend all YOUR TIME with them and see how that lasts. I find these obsessive goal approaches are attempting to counter something that isn’t possible. There is still a need to have some balance on other things in your life. I mean why waste time eating if you want to focus on something else.

    Of course, there is a good value to focus on accomplish specific things first. Most people take on too much in life while others don’t take on anything it seems. Put your attention in the areas you love and focus on what is important in those areas. This depends highly on each individual and what they are able to accomplish. I would never focus on just one goal, as I know I can achieve several at the same time by splitting effort in different areas of my life. None the less, the post’s argument for focus is a good one. Just don’t take it too without analysis in your life as to what is important!

    1. Hi Mike – thanks for your comments. What you say is true, and there’s no denying that most people would find this method distasteful – especially if you (for example) chose work over family and health etc.

      However it is a way to get what you want, remembering that getting what you want usually comes at a price.

      I personally use this method in this way: when I sit down to work I have one major goal. The fact is, as I said in the article, this one goal breaks down into many sub-goals and tasks, but I always remain focussed on my single major purpose.

      Then when I knock off I just let myself be, I don’t actually have any specific goals in my personal life outside of work beyond fuzzy things like hoping for the best and doing the right thing by my family etc… but that’s just me, and I am lucky in that I have my health, a nice home etc.

    1. Hi Juliet, I have considered sharing my One Thing but in fact I think doing so would give away it’s power, so I don’t give it up sorry!

      This decision is based on part-superstition, part-self-defense, and also partially because I reckon that the words I have chosen to define this major goal would be too easily warped by the filters of other people’s perception (if that makes sense) … by this I mean that one person might think “ok – nice goal” while somebody else might think “what a stupid thing to want” and yet either of these responses and all the other possible responses could in fact be based on a ‘failure to communicate’ i.e. a misinterpretation of the true motivation that lies behind my Thang.

      1. Okay, Seamus, but now we’re just going to guess. But seriously, I like your comment above, which suggests to me that “doing one thing” can mean just devoting your full attention to the project you’re working on, and persevering until the end, rather than jumping between projects and leaving things unfinished. As long as each project gets your undivided attention while you’re working on it, you can have multiple long-term goals — you can have your rock music and your meditation-related blogging, to take a random example. — Best, Chris

  6. Nowadays though, businesses expect new employees to handle several different tasks that require a lot of skills. So, would I like to focus on just one thing that I’m great at? Yes. But, you’re not always afforded that luxury.

    1. If you have one major goal, then doing (seemingly) unrelated things purely to keep the bills paid while you work towards your main goal is just a practical reality. The trick is to get past that stage, which usually takes a fair whack of time and foccused effort (outside of office hours).

  7. Thanks for the article Seamus, and also to everyone for your comments.

    I thought I would wait until a few other people had commented to share my thoughts because I’m still making up my mind about the advice in this article. On the one hand, there is undoubtedly much that can be achieved by a person who is obsessed by one particular goal. On the other hand, there are many examples of how such obsession leads to success in one area of a person’s life, while leaving other areas neglected eg the powerful businessman who doesn’t know his kids because he is always working.

    Funnily enough, I just came across this article written by Scott Young on the same topic:

    Life Balance is Overrated

    He also believes obsession is closely linked to accomplishment, and makes the argument that it’s better to cycle through obsessions than to constantly try to preserve balance. He also talks about chronic obsession and sustaining activities – both very important points that I think are needed to be considered in relation to this topic.

  8. What you write makes sense however how can I do this when I have a personal goal and a work goal. What happened in their lives to their families when they only focused on their one goal?

    I don’t get it!

    1. There’s three ways to approach this (remembering it’s all just mind games anyway to get you motivated):

      1) have ‘one thing’ that the two goals you mentioned above come under as sub-goals (think family-tree organizational model). This is what I do.

      2) if that still doesn’t work for you then you could try just focussing on the work thing at work, and the personal thing in your own time.

      3) ignore my ideas and go find some that work for you! ;-)

  9. Hi

    Quite understand the preference not to share your one goal. I would be the same. I feel that it is better to share such things with people who will be positive and encouraging about it.

    What you say makes sense ;)


  10. Being focus definitely help us to achieve results and the above examples clearly show it. Great article.

    Personal Development Blogger

  11. Hi Seamus, great article. You’re right about it is better to have just One Thing, not several. It also shows up the power of focus.

    Thanks for sharing.

  12. A great post and I’m going to have to go away and think about it for a while. On the surface it kind of goes against the idea of creating multiple income streams but if the one goal is to earn enough money to allow you to focus on what you really want to do (like in my case fiction writing) then the single goal would include multiple tactics.

    Hmm…. food for thought for certain.

  13. There are many great thoughts here, Seamus…

    I will add that “balance” does not necessarily require consistency or a daily practice — balance can be divided and achieved in any way that works for the individual.

    For example, Bill Gates no doubt “burned the midnight oil” for years and even decades earlier in his life. He has recently began taking measured steps away from his intense schedule and shifting to other pursuits, such as his philanthropy work. Perhaps Gates’ version of “balance” could be work hard for the first half of your life and sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor in the second half.

    One more addition to your outstanding thoughts here: Focus need not be quite so narrow or intense either. At times, this focus can make one miss unforeseen opportunities. Another case for balance!

    Thanks to Seamus for provoking thought and thanks to Peter for continuing this wonderful source of information and inspiration…

  14. Periodic obsession has led to some accomplishments in my life…good grades in school, WordPress skills. But I don’t think there’s one goal in my life that would be worth that kind of obsession. I have ambitions, just not earth-shattering ones…and I’m ok with that.

    Still, obsession is kind of fun. I created a civil-war retro ball gown (from an era pattern) in just a couple days by spending every waking minute on it. Or spent an entire weekend building and tweaking a website. On a larger scale, I’ve thought at times that maybe if I weren’t married it might be fun to spend a few years involved in a project which takes over your life, perhaps the peace corps or an intense computer job.

    Obsession followed by success feels really good on the small scale. I’m sure it would on the large as well. Followed by failure? Crushing, I expect.

  15. Balance doesn’t come out of what you are doing but how you do something. What drives people to do different things and justifying it as staying balanced i slooking at the what and not the how.

    Good stuff.

  16. Thanks for all the comments peoples, hope the article helped you in some way.

    @Alex – what you said in your comment above: “the single goal would include multiple tactics” is a key point that I find people tend to miss. It is a subtle point, because a variety of tactics that all serve the one goal is not the same as having too many goals, but it can look that way.

    For example, in my case, I make music, I write, I develop entrepreneurial internet products, and I am working up a fourth project (that may or may not see the light of day), so this hardly seems like One Thing does it? And yet it is because it all serves my Definite Major Purpose.

    Having said that I have recently decided that one of these (music) needs to take precedence over the others due to the pressures of time. Last year I had ample time to work on all fronts, this year, with a changed employment scenario (i.e. I had to get a day job) and a baby that turned into a demanding toddler, I have less time so I have to focus my rare and valuable spare time more keenly. *sigh*

  17. For every one succeessful Bill Gates, there must have been several million wannabe Bill Gates with equal focus, equal determination and equal willpower who didn’t succeed. A recent news report in the BBC says circumstances are the deciding factor that picks one Bill Gate to succeed and leaves the rest in the dust.

    Consider the lucky break that Gates has when he won the IBM contract to develop an operating system for the PC. The rest is history, as they say.

    So, when you see someone successful, remember this famous remark from the Preacher: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” (Eccle 9.11)

  18. I found your thoughts very inspiring. Personally, I have not been able to make anything an obsession, and this is responsible for the gross lack of movement in my life. I believe a great goal would require a great deal of commitment to see it through. Ask Gates, Ghandi, Mother Teresa or Michelangelo. All said, it will always take something special to create a dream life.

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