"Wait a sec. Hold my beer. I can do that."
Usually some famous last words for an adult who is rehashing high school dance moves or (even worse) gymnastics. Typically, with minimal warm up and no practice an adult will attempt their signature move, or what defined them in years past to disastrous results. This, my friends, is falling victim to the Theory of Assumption of Ability (TOAA).
What is that? Well, it is an observation that I have slowly shaped into a theory after watching many folks in my life (myself included) as well as those I serve (I'm a physical therapist).
The basic premise is as such: We, as humans, assume that we have the ability to do (insert activity or task) as our previous highest level until proven otherwise.
Often, this is a physical task. Cartwheels are a fine example where I have seen folks injure and re-injure themselves in an effort to keep up, prove wrong, or impress their children and friend. Honest to god, I have seen no less that 5 patients whose injury came from cart-wheeling alone. No joke - think twice before you launch into that move!
I have found that the TOAA has two main branches:
1. Assumption of Ability in Planning
2. Assumption of Ability in Execution
Let's talk 1 the TOAA In Planning:
Planning. In this branch, folks will often assume that they know the intricacies of a procedure or task so well (after all, they did it in high school, how hard can it be?) that they fail to plan for it. This often results in poor outcome including failures to even complete said task. Some items that can fall into that category are: car repair, putting together a childs toy, driving directions (especially coming to the hometown), tent building, musical instrument playing, and more. The TOAA in Planning can wreak havoc on any well laid plans, so beware.
On to #2, The TOAA in Execution:
This is the TOAA classic scenario. Much like the cartwheelers in the above paragraph, this portion describes the ability to perform a task well beyond physical capabilities. However, because the subject used to do it in years past, the human assumption is that time, changes in flexibility, gravity and the loss of youth has no effect whatsoever on the task's completion. This results in hilarity for the observers, pain and humility for the participant and potentially a viral video on the interweb. There are successful Youtube and Instagram Channels built around the TOAA entirely.
I see this also come to life in my clinic on a daily basis; whether it is the sheepish patient coming in who flared themselves up after trying something over the weekend with their kids or when questioned about how an injury limits them. For example, we have our patients fill out questionnaires on their injury and their ability to do tasks. Nearly every time, the first survey filled out has markedly higher scores than the second, despite the patient reporting they are getting better. Why?! The TOAA. That's why. These patients have the assumption of ability until, once in the clinic and tasked to perform an activity, they find out they cannot. The resulting 3rd or 4th scores are likely much more in line with #2 and progression. I have often considered simply throwing that first score out citing human behavior error.
Want to see this in action? Ask around for folks who have good balance. And then challenge them to stand on one leg for one minute. The TOAA in Action!