Existential Roundup

Cherry Blossom in Branch Brook Park%2C NJ   2012 - Existential Roundup
Photo by Siddharth Mallya.

Welcome to the Existential Roundup, where we bring you links to some articles currently trending that may be of interest to those in the existential-humanistic psychology community.

Last week, this column discussed the start of Spring and rebirth of life in the yearly cycle. Appropriate to the season, Pamela Gwyn Kripke provides a lovely reflection on the value of a single life—that of a poisonous toad—in a column she wrote for The New York Times entitled “The Value of Life—Though Tiny and Toxic.” We can learn much from her experiences with Skip.

Those of us who do not have a little pet toad to teach us existential life lessons often have to learn them the hard way—on the job. Many of us find ourselves spending a large percentage of our day engaged in our work—often more than we might intend or prefer—but then brag or complain about how busy we are. Not that we would change a thing. Brigid Schulte discusses this phenomenon in her article for The Washington Post on “Why Being Too Busy Makes Us Feel So Good.” She explains that while people most identify being too busy with being important, special, and needed, that the science is showing that brain is more creative and productive when we have some downtime. In addition, history shows that many of the greatest works of art evolved from situations where leisure time was present, not multitasking. Michelangelo didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel while checking in with his next clients on his smartphone and following up on billing his delinquent ones with QuickBooks for iPhone.

This ego at work can also be a problem in not only overestimating the quantity of what you can accomplish but also its quality. The Association for Psychological Science reports “You’re Not Always as Capable as You Think,” explaining that new research shows that perceptions of ability on the job may indeed overestimate actual ability. The researchers looked at four main areas of ability: athletic, academic, nonverbal, and vocational. What they found was that in the areas where participants often received more specific and accurate feedback—in such areas as language competence—there was less difference between perception of ability and actual ability. But in areas where people often do not receive clear, specific feedback, the difference between perception and reality was much greater.

Results like these might lead us in one of two directions: cheating or perfectionism. A recent article in The Economist suggests that “To Be Creative, It Helps to Cheat.” The research this article points to involves giving participants a task of adding up numbers for a cash reward, sandwiched between two creativity tasks—arranging pins to attach a candle to a piece of cardboard and then a word-association test. Built into the tasks were opportunities for the participants to cheat in ways in which they believed they would be undetected. The researchers found that those who cheated scored higher in the creativity tests. The results were confirmed in a second set of experiments in which the question was not whether participants would cheat—only how often.

However, those who choose the road of perfectionism have their own issues. Fast Company asks the question “Do You Have the ‘Good’ Kind of Perfectionism?” The so-called “good” kind of perfectionism—now called “positive perfectionism” —will apparently lead you to the royal road of success while the “bad” kind—“evaluative concern perfectionism”—makes you a prisoner of self-doubt. As Sartre says, we are always making choices, even if we choose not to make a choice. But somehow, this kind of article seems to require a quiz as a sidebar so we can all figure out for ourselves which kind of perfectionism we have.

Maybe our choice right now is to put off the choice until later. Wray Herbert writes in The Huffington Post about trying to figure out whether to choose “Now! Later. No, Right Now! Maybe in a Bit.” He reports about research at the University of Colorado that explored the question of why some people are impulsive and others procrastinators. The researchers hypothesized that impulsivity was evolutionarily necessary while procrastination was a by-product of our modern world, and recruited pairs of identical and fraternal twins for the study. Early results show that both procrastination and impulsivity have genetic links and are moderately heritable. There is also the possibility that the two qualities are linked to one another. So maybe it’s time to be impulsive about our procrastination. Or procrastinate impulsively.

Or maybe just stop worrying about work entirely, put away the laptop, the smartphone, the tablet, and maybe even the old-fashioned analog watch and go off in search of some of early spring blossoms.

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