Are you good at this!

Are you good at this!

When you are trying to work out if you are good at something – how do you do it?

In research Schwarz and his colleagues observed that the judgments of personal traits were determined by two different routes:


The number of instances retrieved and the ease with which they come to mind

We use two measures


The ease with which you can retrieve instances when you were good or bad at something – this is driven by emotion, how vivid and extreme was the emotion at the time [ if you were VERY embarrassed or VERY pleased – it is easier to recall the instance from memory]


How many of these good or bad instances can you retrieve – the first few will be easy, then we anticipate a slow down in recalling – This slow down in availability should be gradual, if it doesn’t slow down then we deem instances to have high availability – if the recall is slower than we expect then we deem availability to be low or VERY low.

So, by way of an example

Are you Assertive?

Imagine that you had been asked for twelve instances of assertive behaviour (a number most people find difficult to envisage).

How would your list impact on your own view of your assertiveness?

The request to list twelve instances pits the two determinants against each other.

Most people are delighted to have just retrieved an impressive number of cases in which they were assertive. Whilst, on the other hand, they are generally dismaid that, while the first three or four instances came quite easily, they almost certainly struggled to come up with the last few to complete a set of twelve;

Fluency was low.

The big question is – Which will count more— the amount retrieved or the ease and fluency of the retrieval?

Fluent retrieval of instances ALWAYS trumps the number retrieved.

12 is too many – because we can’t retrieve them easily we conclude that we ARE NOT assertive

Better to have a small number of easily retrieved examples – these might need to be thought about, written down and then retrieved regularly, a method called ‘reinforced retrieval’.

The ease with which instances of assertiveness come to the subject’s mind changes during the task. The first few instances are easy, but retrieval soon becomes much harder. Naturally, you expect fluency to drop gradually, but the drop of fluency between six and twelve examples, in this case, appears to be steeper than you might have expected.

The results will lead you sub-consciously to think “If I am having more trouble than expected coming up with examples of my assertiveness, then I can’t be very assertive!”

Note that this inference rests on a surprise— fluency being worse than expected. The ‘availability heuristic’ that the subjects apply is better described as an “unexplained unavailability” heuristic.

So, bringing it all together:

Your Self-Image is sometimes tricked into undermining itself by – the availability of information AND the number of separate instances that can be recalled.

You can change your self perception – by spending a little time recalling when you have done something well. Make a list – add to your list regularly or record instances every time you do it well. Keep building the list. Keep revisiting the list – if you can get between 8 and 12 examples of great performance then your self perception will change. If it goes wrong – simply think about how you would do it differently NEXT time to make it the correct outcome, supprisingly this ‘what I would do differently next time’ also can be added to the list as an example and your brain will treat it as an existing example!

Now you have a list of many examples, which is swiftly and easily retrieved… so the next time someone asks you or you think… “Am I assertive” – you will answer “YES I AM!”

Give this a try and let me know how you get on

And remember…

There is always More Than One Answer