Go ahead, worry some more

A friend used to write for Z Cars, back when it was done live, and he told me once that they used to place buckets in between the sets. For the actors to throw up in as they ran between scenes. I once had a pitch meeting where I was so scared I arrived early, opened the car door in the carpark and vomited.

I then went into the pitch meeting and did it again, more metaphorically.

So clearly vomit is key. But if you go through this, you also go through the circle of worrying why you worry, you wonder if you’re inadequate. And then if you’re ever a little bit okay about something, you worry why you aren’t worrying. You worry if you’re now less adequate still. And of course you wonder why you went into this stupid career or how you ever thought you could this stupid thing.

But that might be okay.

New research from East Asia provides a solution for this apparent paradox. It finds that, for certain people, worry can actually enhance creativity.

Call it the Woody Allen effect.

“The emotions that benefit creativity may not be the same for all individuals,” concludes a research team led by psychologist Angela Leung of Singapore Management University.

If worry is your default state, intensifying it slightly may actually prompt more flexible thinking.
Its study finds that, when the pressure is on, worry appears to be a motivating force for neurotic people. “Higher levels of intrinsic motivation in turn predict greater flexibility in idea generation,” the researchers add in the journal Emotion.

Leung and her colleagues describe three experiments that provide evidence for their thesis. One of them featured 274 Taiwanese university students, who began by filling out a questionnaire designed to measure intrinsic neuroticism. They were then asked to recall a happy, worrisome, or neutral experience.

Half were then instructed to memorize an eight-digit number, which they would later be asked to recall. This placed them in a stressful, high-cognitive-load state. The others memorized a two-digit number, a far easier task.

At that point, all were instructed to come up with “as many uses for a brick as possible.” After doing so, they recorded whether they found the experience interesting and fun.

The result: Under the heavy cognitive load, neurotic people displayed more flexible thinking after recalling worrisome events. This was in contrast to people low on the neuroticism scale, who displayed the most mental flexibility after recalling neutral events.

For Some, Worry Inspires Creativity – Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard: the Science of Society (26 June 2014)

I don’t like the Woody Allen peg, that feels like an excuse for a stock photo when they’ve got nothing else to use. But at least it gives me an excuse for an apposite quote from him:

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

My Speech to the Graduates – Woody Allen, included in Complete Prose (Amazon UK, Amazon US (originally written 1979)

via 99u

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