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Branch out

The more aspects or sides one has of themselves, the greater their self-complexity   | Photo Credit: Pixabay

Is it more prudent to work on a project with a pinpointed, penetrative focus or to spread your wings by investing your energies in diverse domains? While the former may help you meet an upcoming deadline and may be used sporadically, the latter strategy is not only healthier and more sustainable but also leads to greater well-being. The old adage about placing your eggs or resources in multiple containers is now backed by psychological research on goal diversification.

In an article in Scientific American Mind, medical student and positive psychology researcher Ashten Duncan writes that cultivating varied and meaningful goals actually promotes productivity at work. While a razor-like focus can be valuable in the short-term, cultivating diverse objectives, both professional and personal, is more viable and efficacious in the long haul.

Just as financial advisors exhort you to diversify your financial portfolio, both to expand your stock and to buffer against risk, you should strive to have a mix of goals in your life. Rather than just focusing on your career or your kids, try to cultivate an array of goals that you can pursue in parallel.

Complex self

In an article on the website on, writer Kate Tattersfield describes the self-complexity model put forth by psychologist, Patricia Linville. According to this, everyone’s conception of themselves has different facets. The more aspects or sides one has of oneself, the greater his/her self-complexity. So, one person may see himself as an accountant, husband, friend, animal-rights activist and a chess aficionado while another may perceive herself primarily as a doctor and single mother. In these examples, the accountant has a more complex self than the doctor.

In addition to complexity, individuals differ in terms of how blended or compartmentalised their various self-aspects are. Suppose the accountant experiences a setback at work that vexes him. Does his negative mood spill over to other domains of his life or is he able to function reasonably well in his personal and leisure realms?

According to Linville’s theory, the extent to which a person keeps up a differentiated model of the self, the more resilient he/she is likely to be. Your tenacity is, thus, a function of the number of selves you have and the degree to which they are differentiated. Your robustness depends on your having a number of distinct dimensions. But just as financial consultants urge you to diversify your stocks, they also warn against spreading yourself too thin.

Having too many goals or aspects is as pernicious as having too few. If you push yourself to strive for the next promotion while raising two kids below the age of five, and concomitantly train for the half-marathon while keeping up your active social life and other sundry activities, you are likely to injure yourself, either physically or psychologically, or both.

Like most things in life, you need to strike a balance between having it all and giving your all to any single pursuit.

The writer blogs at and her book, Zero Limits: Things Every 20 Something Should Know, will be released by Rupa Publications.

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 7:00:09 AM |

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