‘The centipede’s dilemma’

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21st March 2024

In 1889, the zoologist, Ray Lankester, submitted a poem to the journal Nature. It goes like this:

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.

Lankester’s poem gave rise to the “Centipede’s Dilemma.” This is the curious notion that, when you become aware of your own ability or competence, you trip up and fumble in what you’re doing.

Imagine a dancer. They move and jump with the grace of many years, and they are beautiful. Now, somewhere in the crowd, a pedant shouts, “Turn your left foot out more on the third beat!”

Suddenly, the dance is ruined. The dancer’s fluidity is reduced to the mechanistic step-counting of the novice. This is the centipede’s dilemma in action.

When you try to explain or rationalize certain actions, it ruins them. It ruins the magic and also disrupts the flow.

Players and sportsmen thinking too closely about their actions find their performance impaired. That’s why thinking must be reserved only for decisive moments.

While walking never think which leg to move how, and which hand to wave which way!

When hurriedly leaving for office, I forget to make the right knot of my necktie the moment I grow conscious of my action, though I have been doing the same on a daily basis!

Just grow conscious of how you put your signatures, and you would see how differently you do it.

Aesop’s fable about the fox and the cat also teaches us about this phenomenon.

The fox boasts of hundreds of ways of escaping while the cat has only one. While the hounds approach, the cat just jumps over a tree. The fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds.

A lot of us are the centipede or the fox, Overthinking is holding us back from building the life we want.

When you think every decision has to be perfect, you become afraid to move.

One powerful realization for life: Decisions are generally reversible, but inaction is not.

Take action, don’t get into the Centipede’s dilemma & stay blessed forever.