The ‘Availability Heuristic’ that says maybe it’s not so bad


Whisper it very softly, but the above term was, I think, coined by psychologists, but haste ye not away at that revelation – bear with me!

First a cod description of this tongue twister: it occurs when people make judgements about the probability of events based on what examples easily spring to mind. To plagiarise Descartes and ‘I think therefore I am’,   think rather if something comes easily to mind, ergo it must be important. It’s how most of us work.

A classic one most of us might have heard is the smoker,who to justify his habit and the health issues, points to his Grandfather who smoked Cuban cigars all his life and lived to 102. With that vivid example he can persuade himself that fact matters more than 50 years of scientific research that suggests otherwise. You’ve done something similar at some point I am sure. We can all rationalise like that.

How many times have you heard someone say ‘I’ve never known weather like it in my lifetime, the worst March ever!’ I’m guessing that’s been trotted out a lot in the UK right now. Of course they believe it as they cannot remember the time it was worse – like 1963. I was there in 1963 but as an 11 year old it’s not embedded in my mind.

So it occurs to me that this ‘mind tricking’ could be helpful in managing the worst excesses of Bipolar.  Maybe we should write notes in prominent places about the house, or in the car, which says ‘oh yes you have’ to that cry inside that says ‘I’ve never felt as bad as this before’ .

In the aftermath of huge dysthymic depression, I will often say ‘I can’t go on much longer – that was the worst ever’. But statistically it probably wasn’t and the worst one was in 1998, but you can’t remember it’  And if you can’t remember that one then it’s likely you won’t remembers today’s in 2022.

And for those of you who say ‘I don’t need to write it down’ you may wish to recall this pair.


An 80 year old couple were having problems remembering things, so they decided to go to their doctor to get checked out to make sure nothing was wrong with them.

When they arrived at the doctors, they explained to the doctor about the problems they were having with their memory. After checking them over out, the doctor told them that they were physically okay but might want to start writing things down and make notes to help them remember things. The couple thanked the doctor and left.

Later that night while watching TV, the man got up from his chair and his wife asked, "Where are you going?"

He replied, "To the kitchen."

She asked, "Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?"

He replied, "Sure."

She then asked him, "Don’t you think you should write it down so you can remember it?"

He said, "No, I can remember that."

She then said, "Well I would also like some strawberries on top. You had better write that down because I know you’ll forget that."

He said, "I can remember that, you want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries."

She replied, "Well I also would like whipped cream on top. I know you will forget that so you better write it down."

With irritation in his voice, he said, "I don’t need to write that down! I can remember that." He then fumes into the kitchen.

After about 20 minutes he returned from the kitchen and handed her a plate of bacon and eggs. She stared at the plate for a moment and said angrily:

"I TOLD you to write it down! You forgot my toast!"


You didn’t really think you’d get away without me adding a daft joke did you??

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3 Responses to “The ‘Availability Heuristic’ that says maybe it’s not so bad”

  1. On April 26, 2013 at 7:17 pm carol smith responded with... #

    Hello Kit. I love your idea about leaving notes around reminding me of just how bad it got and that this isn’t the very worst depression/manic episode I’ve had but I remember most of my psychotic break at age 21 and I remember it vividly and the one I had at age 54 was so very frightening I will never forget it. I think keeping a “mood diary” would be a good idea for most of us. Great idea, Kit!

  2. On December 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm Diane Horton responded with... #

    Classic!!! Never heard the story of the elderly couple! Very good article though!! Right on the money!!! Keep em comming!! Hope you’re doing well Kit!!

    • On December 4, 2013 at 5:59 pm admin responded with... #

      Hi Diane

      Glad you liked it. I’m wondering how long it will be before I have to write things down!! Getting closer by the day

      Best Kit

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