(Telegraph) The reasons why none of us can resist a good list
By Joe Shute 1:56PM GMT 18 Feb 2015
The discovery of a sheet of Andy Murray’s secret motivational tips is the latest proof that our brains crave a list
Clearly, Mr Murray has already had such mantras – “focus on your legs” is another – drilled into him by his training team, but the desire to put pen to paper is something shared by us all. From shopping to revising to dismantling a tennis rival, nobody, it seems, is above the need to write a list. Even journalists are giving it a go.
So why do our brains love to categorise things so?
– Michael Lamb, professor of psychology at Cambridge University and editor of the Journal of Psychology, Public Policy and Law, says there is a clear science behind our love of lists. Many of us, he says, begin a list in order to motivate ourselves. “It provides one with a very clear statement – in this case a motivational statement – that helps one to focus.”
– It is also, he says, a way of organising thoughts and ranking them in order of importance. “The succinctness is really crucial, particularly if you are writing it for yourself. You don’t need the extra vocabulary that you would normally put there.”
– Renowned intellectual Umberto Eco has a different philosophy. After opening an exhibition on the essential nature of lists at the Louvre, he proffered the theory that “we like lists because we don’t want to die”. “The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it,” he told a German newspaper. “Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th century.”