Not reaching your potential? Don’t overthink it, study suggests

When thinking about your shortcomings, it pays to be kind.

  • A recent study explored how people feel about the discrepancies they perceive between who they are now, who they aspire to be, and who they think they ought to be.
  • The researchers specifically explored how rumination mediates our negative feelings about these discrepancies.
  • Rumination only seemed to mediate our negative feelings about perceived discrepancies between our actual selves and ideal selves.


When you set a goal and fail, which leads to more psychological distress: the failure itself, or excessively thinking about your shortcomings? A recent study found that it's our excessive negative thinking — or ruminating — about failure that's most strongly associated with problems such as anxiety and depression.

The study, led by researchers at Australia's New Edith Cowan University (ECU), explored how people feel about the discrepancies they perceive between their "actual-self" (who they are now) and their:

  • "ideal-self" (who they'd like to be; hopes and aspirations)
  • "ought-self" (who they think they should be; duties, obligations and responsibilities)

For the study, the researchers asked 138 students (48 men, 90 women) to list four adjectives describing how they would ideally hope to be and four other adjectives describing how they ought to be. The students then rated how closely they think their actual-selves are to those descriptors. Finally, they reported levels of negative rumination, anxious and depressive symptoms.

"Our findings showed that perceiving one's hopes and wishes [ideal-self] as unfulfilled and the loss of desired positive outcomes increases emotional vulnerability and psychological distress," lead study author Joanne Dickson, an associate professor at ECU, told ECU News. "Whereas actual-ought self-discrepancies were associated with anxiety (but not depression)."

What's more, students who tend to ruminate reported feeling more depressed and anxious about not meeting their ideal-self goals.

"It's not failing to make progress toward our 'ideal-self' that is necessarily problematic but rather the tendency to repetitively think about this lack of progress that represents a significant vulnerability that, in turn, leads to increased psychological distress," Dickson said.

Want to Succeed? Don’t Set Goals, Set Systems

The results also showed that students felt anxious about not meeting ought-self goals, but not depressed — and rumination didn't mediate either. Why does rumination seem to mediate only ideal-self discrepancies?

"It may be that fulfilling obligations, duties and responsibilities is more pressing or urgent than the pursuit of hopes and the more immediate negative consequences of not fulfilling these 'ought to' obligations may mean there is less time to engage in reflective contemplation," Dickson said.

Setting goals helps to orient us in the world, give our lives meaning, and provide us with regular positive emotions when we make incremental progress toward our ideals. But focusing too much on our shortcomings could lead to unnecessary stress, potentially making it even harder to achieve goals we're already worried about.

"Reflecting on and at times modifying our self-guides may be helpful, particularly if we are caught in a spiral of negative self-evaluation that is accompanied by a constant sense of failing to meet overly high standards," Dickson said. "We need to be kind to ourselves and keep our self-guides in perspective."

The researchers offered two bits of caution about their findings: because their study used a cross-sectional design, they cannot prove that rumination over ideal-self discrepancies directly causes (or is solely responsible for) anxiety and depression; also, they used a student population as participants, and as such their results might not be generalizable to the rest of the population.

Should you defend the free speech rights of neo-Nazis?

Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen discusses whether our society should always defend free speech rights, even for groups who would oppose such rights.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen understands that protecting free speech rights isn't always a straightforward proposition.
  • In this video, Strossen describes the reasoning behind why the ACLU defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
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9 self-actualized historical figures

When he was developing his famous hierarchy of needs, Abraham Maslow cited 9 historical figures that achieved self-actualization.

George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • In order to develop his model of self-actualization, Abraham Maslow interviewed friends, colleagues, students, and historical figures.
  • These 9 historical figures demonstrate different aspects of self-actualization that Maslow believed all self-actualized individuals possessed to one degree or another.
  • By studying these figures, we can come to a better understanding of what self-actualization really is.
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Can you guess the legend to this map?

It shows Europe divided into two bafflingly unfamiliar blocs - what do red and blue stand for?

Image: Vivid Maps
Strange Maps
  • Europe divided into two blocs? That's not unheard of in history.
  • However, this map of Red vs. Blue countries is indecipherable without its legend.
  • That key is both trivial and unexpected. Can you guess what it is?

Red vs. Blue

Image: Vivid Maps

What do Iceland and Greece share that distinguishes them from what France and Poland have in common?

What does this map show? Don't skip ahead. See if you can guess what it's about. We'd be pretty amazed if you could.

It shows Europe divided into two blocs. That's not unheard of in history. It's just that these two are bafflingly unfamiliar. It's not the EU versus the rest, nor NATO versus the Warsaw Pact. Not Triple Alliance vs. Triple Entente. Neither Napoleonic France and its satellites versus Britain and its allies. Rome vs. barbarians? Nope.

Let's have a look at who's actually in these two blocs.

  • In red: a contiguous slice of Europe, from up in Norway all the way down to Greece, anchored on Germany – the only one of Europe's Big Five (1) in the club. However, the red zone also includes outliers such as Iceland and Ireland.
  • In blue: everybody else, in two zones separated by the red one. In the south and west, we find the other four members of the Big Five, and some smaller countries. In the east and north, there's Russia, Turkey and places in between and nearby, including Poland and Ukraine.

These colours denote a difference that is intriguing because you probably never even realised it existed. After this, you won't be able to ever un-see it.

Distance sequencing

Image: Vivid Maps

You may have never noticed, but you can't un-know it now: red means 'furthest first', blue means 'longest last'.

  • In Red Europe, road signs show city distances from furthest on top to nearest at the bottom. As the example provided shows, if you're driving north on the E4 in southern Sweden, distant Stockholm (557 km away) is listed first, nearby Åstorp, just 13 km down the road, last.
  • In Blue Europe, it's the other way around: nearest cities on top, furthest ones at the bottom of the sign. On the E40 in Poland, nearby Kraków (58 km) comes before Jędrzychowice, far away on the German border, 465 km to the west.
It's quite likely you never gave a moment's thought to the sequencing of distances on road signs. But plenty of traffic experts must have – and as this map shows, they're divided in two diametrically opposed blocs. In the red one, 'Furthest is First'; in the blue one, 'Longest is Last'.Which option is better? That's an esoteric riddle on par with the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. To any but the most rabid exegetes of road signage, the answer is unimportant and trivial. And that's precisely why this map is so fascinating. It scratches the surface of the world to reveal a layer of reality slightly outside the realm of the expected – at least to the vast majority of us. The result is a map that is arrestingly unfamiliar. A few other examples come to mind.

Latin vs. Greek

Image: Strange Maps

Some involve mysterious lines on the map that divide the world into two wholly unexpected halves. Take for instance the Jireček Line, which divides the Balkan peninsula into areas of Roman and Greek influence, based on archeological finds (see #128).

Football vs. rugby

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Or the Barassi Line, which cuts across the east of Australia from the Northern Territories to New South Wales, demarcating the part of the country, west and south of the line, where Australian-rules football is more popular, from the part to the line's east and north, where rugby (league or union) sets more hearts racing.

The Hajnal Line

Image: Demography Resources

And then there's the Hajnal Line, roughly from St Petersburg to Trieste, that divides Europe into two distinct zones of 'nuptuality': west of the line, marriage rates and fertility are comparatively low, even before the 20th century; to the east, both are (or were) comparatively high. Prior to relatively modern times, the late marriage pattern in Western Europe was fairly unique in the world.

The Siktir League

Image: Reddit.com/r/MapPorn

Here's a map that fortuitously flashed up the screen a few days ago, showing a weird coalition of countries, from the western Balkans all the way to the borders of China.

Alexander the Great's empire? Not quite. It's a map of countries where the swear word 'siktir' ('get lost' or 'f*ck off') appears in the native language. Considering that these languages include members of the Romance, Slavic, Turkic families, that's quite a feat (2).


Do you have any other examples of lines, colours and coalitions on maps that show the world in a different light? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

Strange Maps #981

(1) The EU may consist of 28 (soon 27) members, but just five countries constitute around 80% of the bloc's population and GDP: Germany, France, the UK, Spain and Italy.

(2) Croatia may be one country too many included on this map: speakers of that language report never using or hearing the word.

This smart tech gives plants feelings

Designers from Luxembourg created a smart planter that can make anyone have a green thumb.

Images credit: mu-design
Technology & Innovation
  • A design team came up with a smart planter that can indicate 15 emotions.
  • The emotions are derived from the sensors placed in the planter.
  • The device is not in production yet but you can order it through a crowdfunding campaign.
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