The Power of Intensity

I recently finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It’s a well-written book and I enjoyed reading it. I learned many interesting things from the book, but here I’d like to focus on just one trait of Steve Jobs that pretty much describes his life: intensity.

Time and again, the book describes how intense Jobs was in whatever he did. When he thought that something was worth doing, he would throw his entire being into it. He would take it further than what other people would. In the words of one person who knew him, he would “carry it to the extreme”.

One example was his approach to food. He decided early on that he would be a vegetarian. And he did become a strict vegetarian. Only when he was ill did he relent a bit and incorporate eggs into his diet. He was so strict that it became an issue when he was ill because he wouldn’t consume the meal that’s necessary for his health.

Another example was his approach to product development. In this case, his intensity took the form of perfectionism. He simply didn’t tolerate any flaw. He would insist that everything must be done perfectly. For instance, when developing the first Mac he asked the button to be redesigned again and again. The designers protested, but Jobs said that it’s important to do things right.

Intensity is good; it can help you achieve things that are impossible otherwise. But you must keep it under control. Here are a few things I learn about intensity.

1. Find something you believe in.

You can’t be intense on something you don’t believe in. The problem is, many people do things they don’t believe in because they are pursuing something else (for instance, money). Jobs focused on building great products above everything else. With a few exceptions, he always worked on something he believed in. That’s why he was able to do it intensely.

So find something you believe in. Don’t be satisfied with doing something just for the money, fame, or other external rewards. Doing what you believe in is the prerequisite to doing something great.

2. Throw your heart and soul into it.

Once you find something you believe in, throw your heart and soul into it. Put your entire being into it. Aim to make it as good as you can. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s something that we all can learn.

3. Avoid distractions.

Your energy is limited. So, if you want to be intense, you can’t do too many things. You should focus your energy on just a few things. Don’t spread yourself too thin.

Jobs repeatedly talked about the importance of focus. When he became the interim CEO of Apple in 1997, he dropped many projects that he thought were distracting. Instead, he focused the company’s energy on just a handful of key products. That turned out to be the right decision.

You should learn to say no even to seemingly good opportunities. Knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.

4. Be realistic.

Though it’s good to be intense and aim for excellence, you should also be realistic. As Jobs once said, real artists ship. So make sure that you actually get things done.

5. Keep it balanced.

Being intense is good, but being too intense is bad. Jobs tended to fall on the extreme side of it and as a result he hurt some people. I don’t think that’s good. While you need to be intense, you should also keep it balanced. Don’t be too intense on something that you sacrifice the other areas of your life (for example, your relationships).


Those are a few things I learn about intensity. What are your thoughts on it? Feel free to share them in the comments.


  1. Of all the great points you make, #3 is the one that I have had the most trouble with in the past. It was difficult for me to want to specialize in anything, always wanting to do things myself. I have realized lately that the focus is vital and often comes with passion.
    Until I started my business, I did (or tried to do) a bunch of different projects. I did not really knowing what I wanted to concentrate on and I wanted to try a little bit of everything. When I found my passion in the business, everything else fades. It is almost like tunnel vision; the goal is in focus (even if a long way away) and all else is fuzzy.
    The issue is then #5; it is easy to become so focused and intense in your passion that all else suffers, but with balance comes the ability to focus. If your life is balanced, you don’t have the guilt of worrying about your personal life when you are working, or worrying about work when you are with friends and family. Balance is the key.
    Thanks for the great post. I haven’t made it to that book yet, but it is on my list

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Alan. I resonate with it because I also experienced many of the points you mentioned. Yes, balance is the key.

      • Federico Alfonso
        Federico Alfonso

        I agree with your comments. Most of the opinions recognize the importance of intensity in regard to job, task, work. I say: dedicate some intensity to: 1. Health care (excercise, vgr;). 2. Love other persons besides your own.
        English is not my mother’s tongue. Sorry.

  2. Love #5. Balance is true power in the world. Anything disrupts it tends to be corrected or eliminated by nature. Though personally I respect and admire a great deal of Steve Jobs, I don’t think his way of life is something that most people should emulate or strive for. It’s simply too extreme, and the man himself actually pretty much died of it to a large extend.

  3. Few days back I have gone through most of his information. I was thinking the same thing,that did he lived better while going through his passion. I am an extreme too but I hate myself when I hurt people for being that. And I am in the process of improving myself. But rarely you find something that you looking for and this post triggered me to write.
    I want to know from you how to balance you passion for work with the emotions of people. Fortunately I am able to balance my extreme behaviour with my personal realtions. But I suffer in the work alot and I fail to understand that why people don’t do their things will full potential. I hope you will guide me this.Thanks a lot!!!!

    • There are many things we could do to keep the balance (depending on one’s situation), but two things come to my mind:
      1. Allocate quality time with family and friends. This way you won’t spend too much time and attention on work.
      2. Understand that not everyone can meet your standard and expectations, just as you can’t meet everyone’s standard and expectations.

  4. Great Points Donald,
    I am yet to read the Book on Steve Jobs.
    No doubt, intensity is the driver behind extraordinary achievements. Intensity sharpens our focus and when you are focused, you don’t see distractions (even though they exist) and get job done effectively.
    Focused efforts create something useful (always).
    People should be passionate in what they are doing. Then only they can be intense in their efforts.
    Thanks for motivating article.

  5. Thank you for the beautiful post; this perfectly applies to Health Behavior changes. Often we see clients fail to meet their own unrealistic expectations (rapid weight loss), become intense over the wrong issues (which yogurt to buy when they are drinking 10 cups of high-fat coffee), fight for balance away from distractions (allot time to focus on their health away from work and play), and in the end forget to incorporate #1 and 2, which is the true starting point. Can’t wait to read the book!

  6. Extremely great points Donald.
    When we do something we believe in and are driven by great desire. Then good things follow, always.
    However, the allure of instant gratification tends to drive one from doing that, which they should be doing.Settling for something that is not really what they want. Which is quite sad…
    Really enjoyed reading this.

  7. I hear all that, agree with it. Something puzzled me though–you said that Jobs said “Real artists ship” not sure what that means. Can you enlighten ol’ dumb me? Thanks.

    • Jobs said that during the development of the first Mac. They saw themselves as artists who worked on a work of art (the Mac). They wanted their work to be as good as possible, but there was a danger that they became so idealistic that they could never finish the product. So Jobs said that real artists ship, which means that they must get the product done.

  8. Thank you very much for the post. This would help those who have not read the book; those who have read also would be benefited by your summation.
    I want to add something to your point #1. It was not merely finding something he believed in. If my understanding is correct, there was much more behind this ‘finding’. A clear-cut prioritization preceded this ‘finding’. He decided what should come first, second and so on very scientifically; and this prioritization reinforced his commitment and enhanced his intensity. He never gave room for mistakes in deciding what should be done now and here. This helped him to continuously keep on doing the right tasks.

  9. Hey Donald,
    Those point about intensity make sense! I don’t know what to add here 🙂 I’ll check out his book!

  10. Great blog post Donald! As a life coach, I recognise that Job’s biggest reason for being intense, was his level of certainty about what he was doing. He had an absolute clarity about what he wanted, which made him totally driven to see his vision for apple achieved. I believe that most of the world are so indecisive about what they want that they never fully commit all their energy to achieving their vision!
    But, I agree balance is so important, no good having all the money and influence in the world if in order to get it people were hurt in the process.

    • I wish I could actually agree with everything you said Luke. You make excellent points that we should hurt another just to help ourselves, but it is done all the time. I know there are people that might not feel good hurting another person, but when they get what they are after, then all is well with them. Money can make some people worry free and only because they forget about God’s judgement. At the end of the day, I would never want to hurt another person, but living in this world it is survival of the fitest and when it comes down to it, no one is going to come before me.
      I am going to attempt a Tupac saying, “We do not have anything and we see another person feasting. We knock on the door and ask for a crumb, but they ignore us and keep feasting. The next day we walk by, again we ask for a crumb, but the people lick the food off their chin and keep feasting. The third day we beg for anything and the people shut the door in our face. On the fourth day, we kick the door in and take what we need to survive because in the end, we are only as animal as the gorilla in the zoo.”
      This is a little off topic, but is what came to mind after reading your comment . . .
      Thanks for the awesome article Donald!
      Keep working hard!
      God bless,
      William Veasley

  11. The entire point about intensity only when you believe in something is spot on. Results cannot matter as much as the act of doing itself. Quality, which arises from attention and presence, is an end in itself and the rewards take care of themselves. The fact that Steve Jobs was so obsessed about the button being right on the Mac shows that he was engrossed in the quality. Only in this way can success that has any real meaning follow.

  12. I simply cannot have any respect for someone who denies the paternity of their child. This, for me, will always be his defining moment. Being skilled with computers; succeeding in business – meh. Being a decent human being is more important.

  13. Spot on Becca, I totally agree! I have coached some high profile achievers, who struggled not with achievement, but connecting with humanity!
    I coach people to understand that success is not being wealthy or famous; success is making every moment count. Making sure that the most important people in your world experience all of your love and the best of your attention, energy and passion that you have to give.

  14. Being intense can be relative depending on the situation at hand. He who is able to differentiate between the important and the trifle should be able to know how, when, and where to apply intensity.

  15. Intensity certainly is a trait of a successful person it seems. A few other great examples other than Steve Jobs that come to my mind: Ayrton Senna – what a driver, he almost defines intensity in my mind! And then there’s The Beatles, they played every night in the beginning.
    Intensity goes hand in hand with being persistent really, which is something the Napoleon Hill emphasises on in his book Think and Grow Rich. The building blocks of any successful person, and therefore business.
    Great Post, I enjoyed reading!

  16. Hi Donald,
    I think intensity is a side product of focus, which comes after purpose. Once you know what you want in life your entire being is attracted to that mythic destination. You start acting, thinking, leading in a concentrated way, to fulfill your true purpose and desires.
    Once you find your true purpose you want to focus, you simply can’t work on other things.
    Just a thought

  17. This was an extremely great post, Donald. Thank you so much for this. I find that sometimes I lean on the side of extreme intensity. I’ve been told by some people that I’m zealous and that I can be too intense to handle. I think it’s a good thing, and this post reinforced that. 🙂

  18. I have this book but I have not read it yet. You have put together a nice list. What did Jobs mean by, “Real artists ship”? Is there some story or something that I am missing or does the word ship mean something completely different now?
    Jobs intensity def paid off. I guess when it come down to finetuning a business of that size and magnitude it is to be expected that a person be focuse, intensed to direct his or her energies and perfection .

  19. “Intensity is good; it can help you achieve things that are impossible otherwise.”
    Loved this! I am still reading Steve Jobs 🙂 Picked up the book on the recommendation of Robert Kiyosaki, but totally fascinated as I learn more about the intensity Steve had for everything that he put his hands on! Absolutely amazing story. Thank you for this post and some great tips. Awesome article!

  20. Hi, I am not a fan of LONG blogs. This may be do to my ADHD:)But you have arrested my attention. Thank you for sharing your reading material with us. I think intensity, when well balanced, is a great characteristic to have and will afford anyone the opportunity for success in whatever the endeavor.
    Thanks Again,

  21. Hi Donald,
    Thanks for this article. In a world where people constantly talk about being ADD and seem unable to focus on anything for more than 5 minutes, I think it’s important to talk about the value of intensity.
    For me, intensity comes from passion and from a clear mind. The passion comes from being in alignment with a path that you really believe in, as you point. And a clear mind, well, in this day and age, I think the best way to achieve that is through meditation and other modalities that clear egoic debris and limiting beliefs out of the subconscious. Because it’s very difficult for people to have the intensity necessary to create the life of their dreams when their mind is not clear and they are scattered in hundreds of directions.
    Thanks again,
    – Erika

  22. Intensity is what divides the winner from the also ran’s at the race track or in the game of business, sports, music etc.
    However, the intensity that you put into your chosen day job has to be fair to the others around you, that is the big challenge for leaders, entrepreneurs,politicians, working parents etc.
    Intensity will get you to the success you want in one area but potentially at a cost to others.
    There is a rare individual that has mastered this, Steve Jobs to my knowledge did not master this either.
    Gregory O’Donnell

  23. I agree, it is very important to be intense in what we do to make it the very best possible. However, sometimes, there are just too many distractions in life we can’t avoid or work for something we have no clear purpose in. Obviously, this is something that makes many people fail.

  24. The Steve Jobs book was a fascinating read for me. While I do not agree with all of his philosphy I found his focus and vision to be inspiring. Your post hit the important points. I found it interesting that Steve’s wife said, “Like many great men whose gifs are extraordinary, he’s not extraordinary in every realm.” She goes on to say that Jobs struggled to put himself in other’s shoes but cared about putting the right tools in the hands of mandkind to empower and advance them. Thanks for sharing your insight!

  25. Focus is the ultimate key to success……..As the sun rays cannot burn a sheet of paper without focus…….so are we…..!!

  26. Regarding distractions….They are those frightful things which we see,…..when we take our eyes …off goal……..
    I am trying to be more focussed in my life….
    I need suggestions..

  27. wonderful article… great points to ponder and implement…
    going behind our passion is the key… but i sometimes wonder that i love to be everything.. and now am seriously searching where my passion is… 🙂
    warm regards,

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