On Second Thought…

January 14, 2010

Some interesting research shows that on first impulse we usually tend to overrate but occasionally underrate our abilities, and it’s only after a moment’s reflection, in which our brain gets a chance to bring its full cognitive capabilities to the evaluation, that we estimate our skills accurately.

You’ve probably heard of the study where almost all drivers rated their driving as better than most other drivers, a clearly unrealistic self-evaluation. Although I’m pretty sure my skills do put me in the top tier of drivers.

Clearly, we sometimes don’t do a good job of evaluating ourselves.

When studies ask self-evaluation questions a second time, after a moment’s pause, the answers are a more realistic assessment. How good are you at estimating time? “Excellent?” How excellent? “Oh, the “pretty ok when I’m paying attention” kind of excellent.”

This information may be particularly important for those with ADHD who have a tendency toward impulsiveness and over-optimistic projections. Think of quickly answering a question about when you will be home with “Half an hour!” After a minute of slowing down and working it out, you might agree that the most likely correct answer would be an hour or more.

By waiting you’ve allowed yourself time to tap into your ability to compute details and mathematically figure out answer to questions, and you’ve allowed your intuitive side time to process unconscious information and experiences you have stored.

“Can you take on this new project?” If you answer “Sure!” without a pause to allow realistic concerns to bubble up, you’re trying to function at your best by using only part of your ability. It is clearly in our long-term interest to pause long enough to give our brains time to bring their full potential to bear on our response.

I’d suggest you pause, breathe, say, “Let me check my schedule and task list.” Do anything to allow your full intelligence and experience time to evaluate your answer.

Jay Livingston

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