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S1 Episode 27: Obsession and Handstands


In this episode of the handstandcast Emmet and Mikael discuss the topic of obsession and how this relates not only to handstand training, but to any hobby you may have. They talk about the positive and the negative aspects of becoming obsessed with something, and how to avoid the potential pitfalls of finding your obsession. This podcast is funded by the sale of our Handstand Factory programs, check them out on handstandfactory.com/programs.

We hope you enjoy it!

S1E27 – Obsession and Handstands

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Transcript of Episode 27: Obsession and Handstands

EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Don Fry, and my skeletor – aka Emmet Louis and Mikael Kristiansen.

MK: I’m the Ultimate Warrior.

EL: You need a bit more face paint for that, I think.

MK: Next time.  I missed some of the angles today, but I’ll work on it.

EL: One of our plans was to get Maniac glasses.

MK: It needs to happen for the retreat.

EL: We need the Ultimate Maniac glasses for the retreat.

Do people even know who the Ultimate Maniacs are?

MK: That’s a very good question, and relevant to our episode.  Today’s topic is obsession.  Ultimate Maniacs, if some of you aren’t familiar with wrestling from the late 80s and early 90s, you’re probably more mentally healthy due to that.  Ultimate Maniacs are basically Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, the Macho Man.  They were absolutely batshit on steriods, coked up as shit, wrestlers, with way too larger than life personalities in their wrestling characters, which also bled into their lives.

EL: The question is, with or without the mask, I am the Ultimate Warrior.

MK: I can’t remember what his real name was, but he actually changed his legal name to Warrior.  He died from a heart attack some years ago – not very strange, with the amounts of substances that guy was …probably consuming on a weekly basis.

EL: RIP Ultimate Warrior, you are an inspiration to us still.  I was just talking about 90s wrestling…this is just going to be a 90s wrestling podcast from now on – but I was talking to Mikael about the Rock, Hulk Hogan, Razor Ramone.  I didn’t realize I was scared by the Ultimate Warrior.  Then you realize the genius of them as people.

MK: I would more classify it as madness than genius.  As we know, the line between the two is thin.

So today we’re talking about obsession, I guess.  Very relevant for Ultimate Warrior, but also people who do other things than dress up in face paint and arm tousles and booty shorts and steroids.

EL: I think booty shorts and steroids make a feature in handstands every now and then.  Definitely booty shorts.  They’re a mainstay, almost a mandatory handstand uniform in some sectors.  Steroids?  I’m not going to throw any shit but I know a few.  We’ll leave that there.

MK: It’s not common, that’s for sure.

EL: Maybe it should be.  I’ve been on a 5 year long crusade to make Mikael take Trembolone.  It’s not working.  Yet.

MK: I’ll stay off the garbage; that will be better for both me and the world

*both sigh*

EL: We are talking about obsession.  It’s one of the things that is the good, the bad and the ugly, when it comes to handstand training.  We were talking about this recently: if you look at the strength and flexibility demands to develop a one arm handstand, which is a pretty high level move, physically it’s not out there.  It’s not a physical limit for most people.  What tends to stop people is the ability to stay on one goal, and this is where the obsession comes in.  It’s a reality filter that points you in one funnel and one direction.  You go okay, this is what I’m doing.  It could be a short period of time, a long period of time.  But that is the key thing of success in breaking the abyss in one arm handstands.

It’s also in lower level handstands-

MK: Or anything, really.  I think it comes in to more…the word obsession has higher intensity, but in anything you do you need some level of focus to get anywhere with it.  When it starts coming to that word, obsession, which I used for many years to describe the dedication of myself and many other practitioners, to do what they do, when it’s not only prioritizing what you do, but deprioritizing other things.  I think there is a thin line between a healthy versus unhealthy obsession.

If you are in that field where you could be classified as obsessed, you will likely be fluctuating on both sides of that fence rather often.

EL: I don’t think it’s between healthy and unhealthy.  It’s not binary where you cross the limit.  It’s shades of things.

When you get obsessed with any skill, and I think me and Mikael both have obsessive tendencies in the stuff we get involved in, so we speak from both sides of this.  The obsessions is great in some ways.  I love it when I get obsessed with something, because it puts a filter on things that weren’t important or super important, which get pushed to the back.  I don’t actually need those.  I can say no to learning this no thing, or working on this, or doing that.  Or I can say no, I’m not going to go out and party two nights a week.  No, I have a clear direction focus in my life that takes precedent over things.  You can take this one thing to work on, but then it can bleed into other things.

I’m going to go to bed earlier, great.  I’m going to not socially interact with my friends because they might make me stay up ten minutes past my bedtime – these kinds of things can creep in, the obsession.

MK: I’ve had many periods like that.  I think maturity through a practice or lifestyle that has obsessive tendencies hopefully leads you to reflect a lot about those kinds of tendencies that you do develop.  Of course, the more dedicated you are towards a thing, the further you can slide out with it.

One thing is deciding, for example using myself, I’ve never been a big partier.  I love to go out dancing or just have fun with my friends.  Very often, I’m having this regular practice schedule.  If I feel it’s getting detrimental towards that, I’ll hold back from it.  Then again, my priority to party is rather low, though it’s fun it’s not something I actively seek out all the time.  So it doesn’t really feel like I’m subtracting much from my life.

One interesting thing, and I’ve had this battle many times, and am sure I’ll have it many more times as well: periods where I focus specifically on one certain thing, whether a skill, or training in its entirety, or things separate from training, where the focus becomes so high that I start deprioritizing other things.  I need to shake myself up, and see I’m not getting anything done because I’m over focusing and trying too hard, basically.  You need to shake things up, leave it alone and create some distance, both physically and mentally, and emotionally specifically, to actually get something done.

You get that thing done, and you can have other things to do or other practice, or a social life.

EL: I think there’s a weird thing I get in myself where I get obsessed with something and just have to almost complete it.  There’s an end point I’ve set myself.  I’m not one of those people who will set an endless end goal of 5, 6, 10 seconds.

I need an endpoint: when I can do this.  It can be some letter work thing I’m working on.  If I don’t get it done, finish it, know it’s done, it haunts me in the back of my mind, consuming every waking moment.  I’m doing stuff, but it’s like you’re seeing yourself in third person doing the stuff you’re meant to be doing.  I’m doing stuff and going through my day, talking to someone, but secretly I’m like, if I go and do this, I can work on that, then go and do this.  Oh yeah, how was your day?  A lot of the obsession can force you to become a shell of a person, or placeholder of who you normally are in your daily life.  You’re going through the motions.

I’m much better at this now than I was, but it just had to be certain ways on certain things.

MK: I’ve been in that kind of fluctuating thing.  Ultimately, as with all things, the modalities need to go rather far before it becomes pathological and particularly destructive for a person.  I think destructive tendencies in whatever it is is just part of how they’re contextualized in a person’s life.  It’s bound to happen sooner or later; no one is always doing everything “correct” anyway.  We end up doing loads of weird shit and things we regret, or weren’t so smart when you look back at it.

What you say there about this haunting, I’ve always had this tendency to want to finish things, though often I don’t really have a problem not doing it either.  But within the few fields were I really enjoy what I do or am really focused on it, it becomes this thing that just has to happen.  For example today me and Emmet were sitting around and I found a new origami model.  All the info I have on it is a picture of a guy’s sheet with a bunch of lines on it.  It’s extremely unrealistic that I can piece together the pattern to make that model from the picture, but it’s all I can think about right now.  What if I count from here and there in the picture until there?  Maybe I’ll get a reference point for that flap.  This thing goes in my brain.

The same with Kaizo, this dumb Super Mario World me and Emmet are playing with difficult ROM hacks.

EL: For those who don’t know, a ROM hack is a fan made fan fiction for Super Mario World.  Everyone’s played Super Mario, and people make levels that are infinitely harder than anything you’ve ever played.

We’ll start streaming that on Twitch.

MK: Kaizo is a Japanese word to mean rearrange.  It’s used in the context to describe, specifically here, as a category, ones that are usually very difficult and have one way of solving them.  They require a ridiculous level of dying and high levels of precision to complete.

EL: They’re great if you have an obsessive personality.  You start one level and then it’s all you can think about.  Then four weeks later you’re still stuck on the same level,

MK: You die and you die and you die and you die, but you just have to make this fucking jump right now, because Rage.  That is what happens with it.

For sure, depending on the person, you sometimes have more of these traits than others.  But in general, I think it’s also up to finding whatever it is that a person easily zones into.  I remember my first coach said to me, you have to find what you can’t stop doing and stick to it.  That kind of rang very close to me-

EL: But don’t try heroin!

MK: With hand balancing, that was the thing for me.  It was so cool; I couldn’t not do it.  There’s certainly a lot of positive things around it.  You get a lot of shit done, but as with all things, there are no things or aspects that don’t have a darker side.

I’ve hurt myself pretty badly…several times.

EL: Let’s segue into the positive sides of being obsessed, then we can go back into all the negative things, before we make this whole podcast grim and dark and everyone quits handstands and misses all the amazing things with being obsessed.

What I like about the ability to be obsessed (with something) is it just makes things simpler.  It literally does.  I have my training, I have to do my training.  It’s not like I’m going to do my training: I have to do it.  That means I have to arrange my life to allow that.  You don’t have to let the obsession fill up too much, but if you have two hours a day where you do your training, that means you have to plan how to eat to support the training.  You have to arrange your social schedule in advance, so i know Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, whatever, I do my training.  Either I socialize after, or I don’t socialize.  Then I know Saturday and Sunday is free, and I can do my stuff.  This kind of obsession is nice.

A lot of people say, that’s just planning.  You don’t understand: I can’t plan at it.  I’m obsessed.

MK: That’s a good point.  I am the worst at planning, but this is as if it just happens.  Because it has to happen.

EL: Other people are like, I just use my calendar and plan. No, it doesn’t work that way.  Unless I’m obsessed I’m not going to do it.  That’s very positive for me, because I get it done.

The other thing for me, and most of my students have noticed this, but I’m a bit of a procrastinator.  I like to get caught in thinking loops about things.  But if I have a time limit, the glorious time limit with the impending ‘you have to go do your thing’ that you’re obsessed with at the time, then stuff will get done.  It’s quite useful in that way.

The other thing about being obsessed and having this reality blinker, as I call, as opposed to funnels, it’s just Boom, I have to do this and it’s all I have to do. Obviously I have other stuff to do of course.  But when I know what I need to do and have a structured plan, it’s a step towards my goal.  I know what I need to work on.  I go do that work, and if it’s to a satisfactory quality, then I’m quite happy and relaxed.

I built up this nervous energy, like the energy people equate with stage fright or the nerves of going on stage.  I don’t know if anyone’s been performing, but when I’m about to perform I get CHARGED up before going on stage.  I don’t know what it is, it’s like a ramping up.  People say it’s stage nerves, shaking, but the second I walk onto the stage, all the vibration is gone and the performative stage is entered.  It goes for anything, even the workshops I teach.

I get it the first 30 minutes before I teach, then I start and Bam, nerves are gone, ready to go.  That energy is really cool to spend.  You build it up with all this obsession and mental projection you have that gets turned into kinetic energy, or activity.  Then it’s awesome, spent and out of the system.  I think that’s one of the positive things of obsession; you’re able to focus.

All this energy would be wasted otherwise in your life doing other things.

MK: Basically what you’re doing, and I haven’t thought about this in these words before, so maybe I’m talking right out my ass to the listeners, but I thought about it in the sense that what you’re doing is essentially creating order in the universe.  You have things you put a certain amount of symbolic value to, and that symbolic value is so high that you will do it regardless.  That is where the coin can flip from the light side to the dark side as well.  The fact that you’re making this symbolic value that you put on whatever activity, and make it mean a lot, that’s also what you see in handstands.

It tends to attract people that are quite obsessive.  There are many reasons for that.  One of them is it takes ridiculous amounts of practice and it is very much a game of control.  It is a way, if you are a control freak or need to control, this is a perfect thing to control.  It has that element inherent in it.  I think that makes it very easy to focus on.  Then you put the symbolic value on your balancing and ability to control your body and the moment.  You are dictating what is going on in the moment that you balance, and that makes you feel as if there is order in the universe if you manage.  If you don’t, sad face.  You go home, plan, come back the next door and maybe it goes better, and so on.

For myself, looking back at how I’ve done things, I think there is no more state I’m as obsessed in as with origami.  I would say that my most healthy obsession is origami, much more than hand balancing.

Origami has been in my life for so long that it’s taken for granted, because my fingers just know how to fold paper.  I don’t need to think much about it.  Usually I’m able to make the things I want to, just by trying once.  I’ve folded paper since I was a child, so it’s like drawing, writing, or similar activities.  I don’t have the highest understanding of the science and mathematics of it, but give me the paper and my fingers figure things out easily.

That obsession with origami is such that I sit down with the sheet, find the model, and it’s all I can think about.  I’m 100%.  I can go for ten hours, I don’t eat.  I remember once folding this dragon, over ten years ago.  I was sitting and folding it.  There were 3m to walk and go to the kitchen and I’m really hungry.  I was sitting there folding, I look at the door, “a few more minutes.”  I’m folding and folding, put the model down, stand up and then say, “no maybe this is what I need to do.”  I was really bothered with one fold.  I sat there and suddenly it was evening.  Shit, I haven’t eaten since noon because all I was thinking about was this goddamn paper.

Yes, that is more the ‘unhealthy’ side.  But with origami, when I’m done with a model I can leave it alone for months.  I don’t think about origami at all until I see a new one.  This is what I’m going to do and that is all I focus on.  This kind of need to repeat the obsession for some sort of internal validation, that is not as strong as with physical skills where you need to hone it all the time and keep it fresh.

EL: A funny segue into your origami thing.  Me and Elise have a rule.  If you don’t know, Elise is our producer and all around go-getter and does everything.  We have a rule when Mikael starts a new model, we know we’re not going to get replies at any kind of speed.  Elise is like, Mikael is not replying to me.  It’s okay, he’s starting a new model.  Mikael will get back to you in two days.

It’s kind of funny, because that’s the thing.  We know it’s an obsession with Mikael.  He finds something, is really into it, he’s been doing it for so long.  It’s hard to get enthusiastic about things sometimes.  We can tell he’s really into it and obsessed.  He’ll show me the crease patterns and tell me all about it.  I know nothing, but I’m interested as well because it’s cool.  Once the folding starts, generally two day bursts are what we notice.  We ‘re not getting anything out of him.  We leave him alone; he’ll be fine.

Then it’s like Mikael’s back!  We noticed you do it in stages.  You do the creasing first, then you take a bit of a break.  Then you do the collapse.  Then you move onto shaping.

MK: Shaping can take longer.  Shaping can be a lot of suffering.  I’m sitting there and have to figure out how I want it to look.  I’ll be doubting a lot before I make the move, so I’m looking at all kinds of options.

EL: That’s kind of it.

So yeah, obsession.  It can be a good thing,  There’s always that bad meme you see that goes around in fitness motivation things, generally plastered on someone’s ass.  “Obsession is what the weak use to define the dedicated.”  It’s almost the same thing: I’m really dedicated with my training / I’m obsessed with my training.  They’re different, not the same.  But from the outside view as well, because people always have these views of what they expect of you, then when you start prioritizing other stuff with them because of your obsession, they start to think you’re “obsessed” and it becomes a bad thing.

MK: You brought my attention to something I was thinking about when we started this podcast.  All those fucking fitness quotes.  I promise you, if I see one more time “never give up” kind of shit, I’m going to light my hair on fire.

Yes we understand that if you give up you can’t do the thing.  WOW!!  INSANE!! What a piece of wisdom I just got there.  Just had to get that out of me,

Obsession itself as a concept can also be pushed as this kind of glorified version of it.  It isn’t glorified.  For some people, their levels of obsession can be very damaging to them on many levels.  It’s not just some sort…it is a double edged sword, which is what is important to remember.

A guy contacted me handstand-wise on Instagram.  He wrote me about his training and had problems outside of the training.  He got so disappointed and had such a strict schedule he had to follow.  If he didn’t do this and that he got anxious.  And here’s one thing I think is really important.  Just in relation to the things I said before about how this becomes metrics and parameters where you value your ability or stuff like that – if you start getting kind of unpleasant and weird and anxious feelings regarding it, then you really need to think about what you’re doing.  These things are not to be taken lightly.  For myself, I’ve never had particularly anxiety, but I’ve been impatient.  I need to do this now, to try again, or try again tomorrow.  This annoyed, not necessarily angry, but frustration related to the obsession.  You just keep going and don’t get anything done.  You either end up in a fatigue loop, or training for the wrong reasons.

I remember when I was young and doing breaking.  In the start, me and my friend were a bunch of fucking idiots.  All we would do is kill ourselves and get super angry and sad.  “Oooh I can’t do it.  I suck.”  We became fucking little shits.  We had no methodology and no thinking.

One thing I noticed when I started coaching is this is one of the most significant reasons why a coach can be a good thing for some people.  They don’t need to think about micromanage every little thing in their training, which I’ve done so much.  So many people I know start fiddling with things and thinking and overthinking, rather than have someone from the outside saying, “dude, you trained 7 days in a row.  What do you expect?”  You were told to rest 2x a week; what do you expect?

There’s definitely something around that.  A lot of friction involved when it comes to obsession.

EL: With the people I know who are either more advanced who I train, or the ones who have the obsessive capability structure that will allow them to get obsessed enough to complete the one arm training is 90% of my job is actually making these people stop training.  If you let them they will injure themselves.  This is the obsession.

It happens in flexibility, in handstands.  If they say my knee or elbow is sore, I say take a break.  “I decided to do a little bit.”  These kinds of things.  Or they’ve had tendonitis for 18 months because they can’t stop training; the obsession pushes them this far.  The good thing as coaches is we can go, well, you can’t train X, Y and Z, because you’re just fucking yourself.  But, we will give you something else.  So we keep progressing on it and keep it satisfying.

This is the thing: if obsession gets to that anxiety thing, where I need to do it and moving towards the goal of my obsession, but if it becomes this thing that shifts to a value judgment of themselves, this is what I hate about the fitness industry.  You didn’t do it because you’re weak.  You didn’t do it because you’re not strong enough.  No excuses.  Well actually, you’ve done your obsession so hard that you messed yourself up.  So first off, pat yourself on the back.  You’ve done very well on that front.  Now you need to give yourself an excuse and take a little…exterior focus and look at the bigger picture.

Also the micromanaging that Mikael said, where I must have my 3g of leucine every 3 hours.  Then I must throw in 5g of creatine in every 6 hours, or no gains.  Timing my rest periods with a stop watch.  Your hands must be on the floor to do the push up at exactly 75 seconds for the next set.  Not 74, not 79, but exactly 75.  This kind of micromanaging becomes part of the obsession because you think you can micromanage your way to success.

MK: To refer back to how I look upon my origami stuff as a more healthy way, right now, back at the apartment where I stay here in Ireland, I have a huge sheet and haven’t done anything with it for 4 days.  I know I’m going to complete the model, but I got to a point where I got bored.  And, there isn’t a question.  I put it down and it’s out of my mind until I pick the paper up again and I continue and finish the little boring part I have left, and this is when it is back to being interesting.  There is no guilt involved, whatsoever, in that practice.  And I can be very frustrated when I fold and can’t figure something out, but it doesn’t have the emotional connection to me to the same degree.  Unlike hand balancing, where I can get more frustrated and start building up this sensation of what you can do, what your “level” is, what you should be able to do, and all this garbage.  And then you forget how to enjoy standing on your hands.  That is somewhere I’ve been so many times.  It’s not long ago since I had such a period like this, where I was basically just trying too hard, a couple of months ago.  Now I’m just getting tired.  It doesn’t help, so now I need to put myself in check again and get back onto more of a productive and ultimately much more diverse expenditure of my time.  If I’m not getting anything done, or getting results, the immediate reaction is to do more.  That is where, like you said, the value judgment of yourself and your ability to control and solve this task you set upon yourself becomes your metric for self worth.  That is a slippery slope.

I think anyone who is rather into something will start investing themselves into a practice.  As an artist, you worked on your piece for so long, presented it, and people are like, nice work.  You’re so fucking crushed because you feel they don’t want to tell you it was okay but things didn’t work.  It’s terrifying.

On the other side there’s also the argument that you should not associate too much with a thing.  For some people, maybe not.  If it’s a struggle to handle these emotions, perhaps it can be too much to put so much of themselves into it.  But to me, with the type of person I am, I really don’t glorify it, but I find it to be more productive than not to put fucking everything into the fire and try to handle it, basically.  Really go deep into it, and rather blow up than fizzle out.  This is not to sound like some inspiration quote bullshit, but it’s a way I found I tend to go towards and need to be careful in that direction.  But it’s part of how I think about handling how I’ve gone into this, both the positive and negative consequences of it.  Looking back at the 12ish years I’ve been really into hand balancing, I still see much more positive outcomes than negative.  I do see a bunch of negatives.  Like fucking hell, for 7 years I trained 365 days a year.  Completely idiotic.  It’s luck and a miracle I didn’t get more severely injured than I did.  I got my fair share of smaller injuries, and couldn’t make progress because I could never take a day off, idiot.

EL: The interesting thing about the obsession is, the obsession should be the obsession.  When you start conflating value judgments and negative emotions on yourself, that’s when it strays into a dangerous thing.  My obsession says I should train, but if I don’t train I’m a bad person.  Or I have to cut these people out of my life because they make me eat pizza instead.  This kind of..there’s a lot around this that we can probably delve into.  Our armchair psychology probably isn’t good enough.  But the obsession should be the obsession and that’s it.  Outside of it, it can be dealt with because you know you focused your life in that direction.

I supposed I’d like to start talking about some of the negative things.  We both touched on some of the things for ourselves a little, but then some of the stuff we’ve seen coaching as well, or in the general.  You see this a lot in circus and dance and other things, where people get obsessed.  I’d like to talk about that, how the skill or activity becomes a form of self punishment.

This is a big one.  Unfortunately I can’t name names and give examples, because that’s not cool.  People I know who do…one I can think of in particular in contortion: they weren’t a natural, didn’t have the bendy gene.  By normal people standards they were very flexible.  By contortion standards they will never be the top in contortion; it’s just never going to happen.  They don’t have the genetics or bone structure or whatever it is.  They would come home where we lived in the house, and just be in bits.  The training they would put themselves through because they couldn’t do something, and were so obsessed with getting these skills.  They’d be lying on the floor in a shared house, crying because training was so sore.  We’d have dinner together, I’d have a chat with this person, then they’d go back and do it the next day.  And the next day, and the next day.  That would just be it.

They were so obsessed with this particular skillset of contortion.  I can’t remember what it was, it could have been a triple fold press.  This is when you do a triple fold, sit on your own head, tuck your feet in behind your armpits, and then you push up.  It’s like a bench press up to handstand from the floor in a chest stand.  They were obsessed with that, training every day.  They had to do this because they decided they weren’t a good person if they couldn’t do this, despite their other impressive skills.

Finally they caught on after a few months of this, but it was interesting that the obsession went so far that this one skill alone had to be trained 2 hours a day.

MK: It becomes a metric of your personality, or your value on some abstract but very important level.  Again as you said, armchair psychology, but I do think that it’s really important to have a very reflexive approach, or at least reflect upon how a practice or anything makes you operate.  To continually have a dialogue with yourself: where is it going?  Are you enjoying it, in the end?  That is also a large problem with being very obsessed about things.

I remember me and my friend, back when we were in our early 20s and training breaking, we would have these periods where we would run ourselves into the ground.  Then we’d have these conversations like, man, shit, we’re completely not having fun with this.  We’re just trying too hard.  We’d go into this other period where we loosen up and practice more and enjoy the music and have fun and all that, and things would go better.  Then you start getting somewhere with the skill again, then it’s like hey, shit, okay, now we’re going to focus.  Then you fall right back down the hole again.

What’s funny from those days as well is all the guys I remember becoming the best didn’t have this.  They would train really hard, also have their ups and downs and frustrations.  They’d have this very free attitude to it.  I would compare it a little more to what I have with origami.

They would be really into it when they did, but they didn’t go home and think about everything they could switch around in their lives to make this one particular thing work out better.  As I said, I’ve been guilty of this many times.  I’m sure I’ll be guilty of this in the future as well.  Having this conversation with oneself regarding, what am I doing now or achieving in my life?  How does this make me feel, actually?

Then it’s the big thing: you achieve the thing and nothing changes.  It feels great for a little while, but as with everything it flatlines and becomes your normal.  Then you’re onto a new one.  It can definitely be this chasing the dragon kind of thing.  You never, ever catch it.  I know people who have been onto such binges in various other things that are not training related, who ended up in very dark places, simply because they always were thinking that when they got past X hurdle they could relax and settle down and get the apartment and car and be sorted and be allowed to feel A, B, C.  Fuck off.  That is one of the large issues; I’m not allowed to feel these things or be content until these things are in the bag.

It’s symptomatic of our general society in terms of achievement and Protestant ethics and all that sociological stuff.

EL: Another one that is quite pertinent.  I’ve seen it in other people, you’ve seen it in other people as well.  Using the obsession to avoid sorting out your shit in life.  I can’t say I’ve been too guilty of it myself.  I strayed close to the curve of this one, but not quite.  There are a few people I know who say I train 4-5 hours a day, or do whatever they are doing, but it’s more just like their whole life is utter fucking chaos around them.  It’s collapsing, but they have this one constant thing.  If I’m doing this thing and obsessed with it, doing it and doing it right, and sustaining it, I can just ignore the fire around me.

It’s a sense of control.  I have this ritual to create my own order in the universe.  There’s so much disorder in my personal, work, whatever life going on.  If I just do this one thing, then it happens.

I think it’s very common in circus actually.  Let’s face it: a lot of people in circus just don’t make a lot of money, or even a sustainable living.  It’s really terrible.  They’re some of the most talented people I know who are incredibly good performers.  They train so much and focus so much on their performative stuff.  Maybe if they dropped 5 hours of training and got their promo videos and flyers and calling some agents would get their life going a bit better.  They can’t do that because it’s…facing reality?

MK: Or that changes the control metric.  That’s why I think a lot of this is emotional.  Obviously that particular case there, they are constantly stressed about money.  The way for controlling those feelings are to smash through training.  If someone comes along and says, I have this agency and this and that, and if you just do this you might not be so much in the monetary problem, counter-intuitively enough that might be difficult.  You’ve invested your emotional maintenance in your training.  That’s definitely…of course, many of the things we’re talking about now are out of our experiences and our asses, so it’s not necessarily-

EL: This is not medical advice!

MK: Yes, but at least it’s some thoughts from our experiences.

When I think back, to relate it to handstands, I remember I had some real bad sleeping patterns a few years ago when I was performing with Knitting Piece.  We did so many shows in 2 months, and that’s actually when I got my back injury.  It doesn’t bother me anymore now, but it was severe for a couple of months. At that period we were playing way too many shows, and very late at 9 in the evening.  It was like an hour drive from the place.  You go from there at 10, 10:30.  You’re starving so you eat a large meal.  You go home and are still buzzing with adrenaline, the blood sugar hits you – I couldn’t sleep.  This happened for a long time.

I went to see this doctor who is an expert with athletes.  It was really nice because he asked the completely right questions.  Of course he did the ‘how’s your sleep?’ I said, fucked.  Etc.  He did a couple of tests for things like hernia, which he didn’t think I had.  Then he asked about work and training, basic assessment questions.  I told him this about the performing.  I remember I said to him, with handstand stuff it’s so precise and in the feeling so if you haven’t trained for a few days, you really feel off.  I feel the need to train so I can perform – and it’s true, I should have been way smarter during this period.  But we had 5 shows a week, too, so it was a tough show.

I said to him, you feel like you lose it immediately if you don’t train.  And he said, “Ah! A need for control.”  Exactly.  Those words ring through to a lot of people who do handstands and start investing time and emotion and drive into their handstand training.  You want to demonstrate to yourself, the world, or both, that you can do the thing, whether a kick up, or 60 seconds, or a one arm, or blah blah blah.  You need to sense you can do it.

Because of the large fluctuations in handstands, where you have an enormous variance of being super boss one day and…like for me, I took a day off yesterday and I can’t stand on my left arm because my wrist just decided to “Ow! It hurts a lot” because I took a day off.

I cannot let myself get bothered by that anymore.  I am going to stand on my arms, do my switches, and all that crap again.  It doesn’t need to happen today.  It’s a really important thing to remember.  That proof of you being able to do it – there is a day tomorrow.  And another day, and another day.  It really doesn’t matter as much if you can’t pull off the exact skill you feel is your gold standard at the moment.

EL: I’d like to switch topics slightly.  We are going to switch to: how do you develop an obsession?

We just told you why obsessions are good, and bad, but how do you go from ‘I do this thing’ or ‘I want to do this thing’, towards ‘Fuck, I’m obsessed with this thing?’

I’ve noticed myself.  I’ve swapped things I’ve been into, a lot.  There’s this thread that leads me to the obsessed state with something.

Stage zero is seeing the thing.  Stage one is going, hold on, someone is doing the thing and it’s cool and I want to do that.  I have that with arts and crafts and hobbies and stuff.

MK: Yeah he’s sitting there, showing me this leather work armour pieces that look fucking insane all the time.  We’re going to make armour one day; I can’t wait.

EL: My arts and crafts form is: I see something that I want.  Say with leather craft, my main hobby at the moment, I see a type of bag I really want.  I look at the bag and decide it’s cool.  Then I have a metric going, if someone made that bag, and is human, I can probably learn to make that bag too.  Then it starts the obsession.

The formula is: I look at the thing, and then I ask how much it will cost.  For that bag it was something like two grand.  I’m not going to spend two grand on a bag.  So how much do the tools cost to make this thing?  Oh, much less!  Okay, how do I get started?  Am I willing to make a few prototypes to make it work?  I segue off from there.

It’s the same with some other things I do, like oil painting and things I don’t really share about.  I work out, for me, a cost thing.  I want this, I’m not willing to buy it, but I’m willing to learn how to make it.  Awesome.  You have the stage of wanting to make it.

How does it happen?  Next stage: forums and YouTube.  Learning to navigate the forums and find the gold information, because a lot of old forums have a lot of fucking gold in them.  But they’re very difficult to navigate.  You have to get in without finding the one guy who posts a LOT and thinks his way is the best way to do something.  It’s not.  He just posts so much and no one cares.  He’s been there 15 years and posting on and on about some obscure way of doing something the best way, but doesn’t even do it himself.  So you have to avoid that guy.  Then you have to start your practice.

You have your information, know the equipment you need, find a way to access the equipment.

We used to go climbing a lot.  But I didn’t have access to a climbing wall, or bouldering wall, every single time I wanted it.  So you need direct access to fulfill your fix.  Handstands are easy: you have some floor space, you clear some wall space.  Boom.  You’re set.  You have your information on how to do a handstand.  Obviously you bought one of our courses and have the best information.  If not, you probably got it somewhere else.  So you know how to do your handstand.  Now you have to read the information and find something you can disagree with on the internet, because once you know you can disagree with an internet opinion, you’re partway to being obsessed.  Once you start posting, you’re halfway there.

MK: That’s a good breakdown.  When I think of the latest thing I became more obsessed with, it is actually Kaizo Mario.  It started with seeing videos of someone doing a speed run, which is completing a game as fast as possible.  If you want to dig into a particularly deep rabbit hole, you can look up speed running on YouTube.  Jesus Christ, there’s a lot out there.

However, I started looking at a bit of this.  Then I dropped into Twitch and saw people streaming these Mario games.  I guess that’s also part of what attracts me with obsessive things in general.  When you watch people play, it’s like you watch someone smashing their head into the wall.  Piece by piece, brick by brick, they’re destroying the entire wall with their foreheads.  It’s kind of disturbing, but at the same time it’s beautiful and glorious.  You die and die and die, but you’re going to do it.  Somehow you power through it.

EL: You basically covered my main stage of obsession.  One is finding out about it: you found out about Kaizo Mario.  Two, deciding it’s cool.  Three, deciding, what do I need to be able to do this?

MK: Then it’s learning I can use my controller for this.  If that guy can do it… That is one thing, I saw some God tier players who are way, way above me.  They’re so far ahead there’s no point or chance catching up.  Then I saw a couple of guys who were starting out, not so bad, and I thought I could try that one.  Then zip, I’m sitting there in the middle of the night: “God fucking damnit, I’m going to get across that fucking jump.”  Rage.

EL: You’re getting into the next of my stages of obsession: surviving the first reality check.  You have found out what you want to do, you found the information you need to do it, you got access to the equipment and now have consistent access.  Cool, you’ve seen this thing, and you have your vision of doing the thing.  Your first attempt will be glorious, or you do it for a month and get it.  But then reality kicks in hard.  You see that kicking up to a handstand and sticking to it every time is very difficult.  Or whatever you’re doing; it’s not working as easy as you think.

Maybe you see someone dancing and you think it’s so awesome.  You start learning some dance steps from YouTube then video yourself.  You realize, shit, I’m terrible.  That’s your reality check.  You have where you thought you’d be with your goal or obsession, you get the reality check, then what you thought what you were doing isn’t at all that and is actually terrible.  If you can survive that reality check, you’re good.  If that reality check shows you have more practice or have to get more obsessed to get it, it either fuels the obsession…

I remember the first bag I made with leather.  I had minimal equipment, and it was terrible.  I cut it into pieces and used it again.  I survived the reality check, and now can make pretty good stuff.

MK: That’s interesting.  That entire thing of never giving up, which is still nonsense, is still very basic.  That’s why I hate it, it’s so basic.  Yeah you need to try a couple of times to get something done.  Never is an overstatement.  When it comes to that kind of survival stage, it made me think of a bunch of things.

EL: The reality check happens a lot along the way.  The more you can survive them and the more they help focus you, the more it gets you from “I’m just trying to learn ballroom dancing” to “I’m Fucking Obsessed With Ballroom Dancing.”

MK: The thing is also, when you get quite ahead with these things, when you’re at the stage when you can take that feedback, or are even searching for it- looking back to my days getting into performative arts, going from being shit scared of standing on a stage during the audition, which I’d never done before, where you’re really tired and pretty fucking miserable, but know you have to go on stage and have to make the audience feel alright, so you do it because you’ve done it enough times.  That pathway is soul crushing at the beginning.  You’re trying to present the best you can, but feel nervous.  You feel the audience feeling you’re nervous.  They do.  It’s uncomfortable and dreadful.  That kind of reality check stage, where you leave and are like, I fucking hate this and am so bad and will never do it again.

The worse it feels, but when you’re still able to recover from it – this is my new theorem that I just found out about right now – the worse that reality check feels that you are able to survive, the more likely you can push and break through it.  It felt that bad, but fuck you I’m going to get this.

Then there are certain things that you try and see aren’t for you.  Okay, that’s fine.  That is where the never give up thing annoys me.  Sometimes it’s great to give up because there’s no point spending time on it.  Beast mode?  Fuck off, leave me alone.

Connecting it to what we said at the start, the real takeaways from this is it is no longer a question, just part of how you do things.  It’s ingrained in your life and personality.  That is where both sides of the coin come in.  I think it’s rather beautiful and interesting because you get involved.  You get really involved, really into it, and get to experience a lot of things from it.  I think that is where depth, and allowing yourself to get swept away by something is more interesting, instead of piddling about and trying to do a bit of this and a bit of that.  Some people like that too, but there’s no difference for me there.

If you go balls deep into stamp collecting, it’s more likely you have a lot of interesting things to tell me, who knows nothing about stamps, because you’re engaged in what you’re doing.  If you’ve piddled with some acrobatics and did a bit of this and that, but is there any genuine interest in any, or are you just piddling around because that’s what you’re supposed to be doing?  To me, that is a real thing.

I’ve done many things through my life, but as my coach said, I found the things I couldn’t stop doing and had to keep doing them.  For all the goods and bads that brings, it seems to have done more positive things than negative ones.

EL: It’s that very fine line between passion and obsession.  Or possibly they’re the same thing – so passionate I’m obsessed.

MK: I think passion describes the emotional sense of it.

EL: Passion in the fiery sense where I’m willing to burn up.  But if I can keep enough of my thing and the balance to keep the fire going like an old steam engine, I can get somewhere.  If I let it get too hot, it’s going to explode.  That can be in any shape or form.  You have to learn to temper the passion with wisdom, experience or reflection.  Something slightly stepped back, either by some coaching mechanism or via yourself.  If I looked at myself in third person, have I pushed this passion into the feverish stage?  Is it teenage love versus smashing myself away in an ivory clocktower?  We have to keep that.

MK: One thing I thought about there, in terms of these things as therapy.  That is a valid thing to mention in these contexts.  When I say therapy, I don’t mean psychotherapy.  It’s doing something as a means to, maybe even self consciously, a way to handle yourself.  A lot of people with obsessive tendencies might look for something to help them deal with themselves.  I can relate strongly to that.

I think it’s in some form of psychotherapy, they speak of sublimation.  It’s the ability to, through repeated doing of something or a practice, you’re subliming your traits into an activity.  It’s not necessarily transforming, but teaching yourself to learn to handle those types of emotions.

EL: That’s a thing that comes from alchemy, at least in its original form.  In the alchemical sense, we have something in its base state.  This comes into psychology from Jung.  We have something in its base state.  If we give it the right conditions, the better product comes off.  In chemistry, we put a jar with a lid and have some chemicals, some sort of crystal something.  We heat it up, the good stuff rises up and recrystallizes at the top.  You have this possibly unrefined ego tendencies.  If we put it in the right state, we get the purer, better, focused part of it, and get rid of the undesirable sides of it.

MK: I think unrefined to refined is a good way of thinking of it.  These tendencies people have won’t necessarily disappear.  But when you understand yourself better, you’re more prone to making choices that have a more positive outcome for yourself, regardless of your older tendency.

For myself that’s for sure, being able to use more physical and power energy in a very unidirectional way has helped me loads to handle myself as a person.  I’m not an aggressive person but I can have a lot of frustration and rage.  They’re things that legitimately used to bother me, because I’d get so fired up and angry at myself.  It is more like a self disappointment.

Now I’ve done that for so many years that I can’t continue anymore.  It’s laughable.  I’m swearing like a 12 year old with Tourette Syndrome every time I bail a handstand.  This is kind of ridiculous.  When you get to that stage, it’s not so bad.

EL: Make sure your obsession focuses things in a positive manner.  Temper the fire in a useful way, not just ending up outside someone’s window singing Shakespeare at 4am.

MK: Or throwing bottles at the police like the guy did yesterday outside Emmet’s apartment.

EL: I live in the city centre of Dublin and someone decided to have a street party.  We’re still in March 965th of July at the moment in lockdown, -ish.

They had a street party and it’s a bit more relaxed here, anyway, so you can gather in groups.

Street party, then the cops came to clear them off.  They ran away, but one guy stopped and decided to throw a bottle at the police.  They weren’t going to arrest them, they were just clearing them out.  Obviously he ended up on the ground with 4-5 cops sitting on him.  Someone was screaming police brutality, but you just threw a bottle at the cop’s head.

MK: Questionable.  It wasn’t exactly smart how he handled it.

EL: It wasn’t exactly brutal in how he was handled, either.  Very professional, shout out to the Irish Guard who handles a lot of this street stuff.  They can be assholes in other ways, but I always see them as being okay.  As okay as these things can be.

Let’s just drop it here and wrap up.  So, become obsessed with handstands…by doing handstands to the point you cut off your social circle because they don’t do handstands.  That’s our message of the day.  Other than that, I don’t know how to wrap this up.  There’s nothing positive or negative or anything we can say that we haven’t that can sum up this.  There’s only a path to be wary of, that has a light side, a dark side, and a middle way to it.  Hopefully you can walk the path.  Other than that, I’ve been Emmet Louis and this is Mikael Kristiansen. The Handstand Cast is brought to you by Handstand Factory.  We have courses made by me and Mikael.  Please check them out if you want to support us.  Other than that, have a good week.


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