QUIZ: Are You an Approacher, an Avoider — or Both? And Why Does it Matter?

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Yesterday I posted about approach-avoidance conflicts, especially in the context of public speaking. If you feel anxious about speaking (or anything else), there’s a good chance that some of your discomfort can be traced to your ambivalent feelings about it. For example, public speaking feels inherently dangerous to me (avoidance), and yet I want to be the best and bravest speaker I can be (approach).

I also talked yesterday about the physical roots of these feelings — how our bodies have separate “Stop” and “Go” systems that influence how revved up – and how cautious and vigilant – we tend to feel.  Everyone’s Stop and Go systems work differently — some are higher-octane than others. These systems also appear to operate independently of each other, so you could be strong in one but not the other. Or you could be strong (or weak) in both.

Either way, it’s good to know which way you lean, so that you can understand and fine-tune your emotional reactions to important events, instead of just letting your emotions happen to you.

Here’s a quick way to tell the relative strength of your Stop and Go systems, adapted from a questionnaire that research psychologists use:

If you have a strong “Go” system, these statements will tend to ring true for you:

1. When I get something I want, I feel excited and energized.

2. When I want something, I usually go all-out to get it.

3. When I see an opportunity for something I like, I get excited right away.

4. When good things happen to me, it affects me strongly.

5.  I have very few fears compared to my friends.

If you have a strong “Stop” system, these kinds of statements will resonate:

1.      Criticism or scolding hurts me quite a bit.

2.      I feel pretty worried or upset when I think or know somebody is angry at me.

3.      If I think something unpleasant is going to happen, I usually get pretty “worked up.”

4.      I feel worried when I think I have done poorly at something important.

5.      I worry about making mistakes.*

According to this test, I have strong Stop AND Go systems. I answered four out of five for both systems. Hence my approach-avoidance conflict — I get ridiculously excited about new ideas and the chance to share them, but have a tendency to worry too much about critical audiences. (If you are like this too, or in general if your Stop system is stronger than you’d like, please see yesterday’s post for tips on how to activate the Go system when need be.)

On the other hand, if your Go system is very strong relative to your Stop system, then you’re probably pretty impulsive. People with this profile tend to rush through tasks, especially those requiring diligence, and even to abandon ship before they finish them. They also make a lot of errors along the way. And they tend to ignore warning signs of danger ahead.

People with weak Stop systems also tend not to slow down long enough to learn from their mistakes. (In fact, research shows that they actually speed up after making a mistake!) If this describes you or someone you know, the key to balancing your personality is to train yourself to stop and think about what’s gone wrong, rather than racing ahead with your next effort. Or, more realistically, you may need to partner with someone who will do that for you.

(An entire chapter in my book is devoted to explaining how this style of thinking was prevalent on Wall Street and contributed to the financial crisis, and how we all would have been better off had it been balanced by a more reflective, risk-averse style. You will see me coming back to this theme again and again — balance. No one way of being is better than the other; we need each style to serve as enhancer and corrective to the other.)

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Which style do you/your friends/family/colleagues have? Did you find this test helpful?



*Copyright 1994 by the American Psychological Association. Adapted with permission. The official citation that should be used in referencing this material is “Behavioral inhibition, behavioral activation, and affective responses to impending reward and punishment: the BIS/BAS Scales,” by Charles S. Carver and Teri L. White. The use of APA information does not imply endorsement by APA.


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6 Comments

  1. LeAnne on 10.02.2011 at 12:16 (Reply)

    I think both systems are strong in me as well. When I saw the title of this quiz, I immediately thought I would take the test and be indentified as an avoider. I avoid a lot. After reading the quiz I realized that in certain respects, I have a very strong go drive as well. Interesting.

  2. Kate on 10.02.2011 at 13:53 (Reply)

    As I suspected, my avoidance is stronger. The test was helpful because I now see that I do speed up and become somewhat out-of-control after making mistakes. I also don’t take the time for healthy self-talk and discernment about what my part in the mistake was or whether it was more of a non-personal outside thing.

  3. Tricia Rose on 10.02.2011 at 14:44 (Reply)

    Oh dear - I’m a bull in a china shop. Explains a lot.

  4. Christy on 10.02.2011 at 19:04 (Reply)

    I am most certainly an avoider. I do get enthusiastic for things I like, but without a doubt my avoid/flight response is far stronger.

  5. Kellya on 13.02.2011 at 04:28 (Reply)

    I have the two sides really strong… I expected that, my boyfriend ever complain about my up and downs! I love your tests because they give good tips to understand myself better. I definitly love your blog!

  6. Danielle Gauthier on 10.05.2011 at 11:04 (Reply)

    I used to be very strong and could tackle problems head on, but ever since menopause kicked in, my hormone level just plumeted and took the wind right out of my sails. So now I avoid, avoid, avoid. I love to spend my time cooped up in my apartment because I need time to calm down, destress, think things through and rebuild my morale and my strength to get through the next week. I love my aloneness, I thrive on being alone because I don’t have people playing tug of war with me and using me to vent their frustrations or to talk behind someone’s back. I don’t feel the need to get an update on everyone’s life 24/7, nor hear about their daily battles with this one and that one nor who was sick and for how long. I can tolerate it from family members in a limited fashion or from very close friends, but not from work colleagues or perfect strangers on the street or those who are presented to me. It’s very nice to be friendly and have empathy for others, but there is a limit to everything. Some really go overboard and don’t know the meaning of the word limit. Hearing about a perfect stranger’s fight with the mother in law, the doctor, the school and how many times the little one threw up in the crib between the first and the 39th floor of the office building one works in should perhaps be kept for the company kitchen area instead of the public elevator.

    For me, hearing bad news first thing in the morning is like hearing the very first catchy pop song of the day on the radio. It spins in my head all day long and won’t turn off. I feel bad for the sick child, but I keep seeing her throw up in her crib all day long while I’m trying to work and that turns my stomach.

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