A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg moves after which?”
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.
“The Centipede’s Dilemma” is a short poem which has given its name to an effect in psychology: the centipede effect (or centipede syndrome). This is when a normally automatic or unconscious activity is disrupted by consciousness of it or reflection on it. For example a golfer thinking too closely about their swing or someone thinking too much about how they knot their tie may find their performance of the task impaired. The effect is also known as hyper-reflection or Humphrey’s law after the English psychologist George Humphrey (1889-1966) who propounded it in 1923. As he wrote of the poem, “This is a most psychological rhyme. It contains a profound truth which is illustrated daily in the lives of all of us”.
As I was doing my 2007 book, I ended up squarely in the Centipedes Delimma – After I got some recognition by MyPublisher for my 2006 book, I started to out-think myself and try to reproduce a hit. In stead of just rolling with it and making a book to my liking, I started to think about what made the ‘other’ book good.
Well, I had to step back for a bit, put the book down as soon as I recognized what was going on, which happened quickly, and let things settle. I have started working on the book again, but it still doesn’t feel quite natural just yet. I may have to step away again. The interesting thing is that I hadn’t even been back to MyPublisher to see if the book was on the front page … I just did and it isn’t, but that’s just fine, probably better.
Beware of the Centipedes Delimma!