I’ve been reading Any Ordinary Day and thinking about what makes a bright future. In the book, Leigh Sales interviews people who’ve been through rare and shocking events and compares their first-hand experiences with what academic literature predicts.
But one thing caught in my mind – that we all tend to fixate on the rare and unusual events (like massacres, mine collapses and theme park malfunctions), not on things like the drinks and snacks we eat while we’re glued to the television watching events unfold.
Even though it’s more likely to be the drinks and snacks that kill us.
It seems that by our nature, we seek certainty about the future. We want to bargain with the Fates and control our destiny.
- We’ll consult various forms of divination and make decisions according to what they say.
- We give (karmic) meanings to random events to make them seem less random.
- We review the media with fine-toothed combs, looking for the latest nutritional and health information so we know what we’re up against.
Apparently, that’s because we get a hit of dopamine when we feel certain. And uncertainty causes actual pain. That we try to avoid by being certain about stuff.
The Law of Large Numbers
The Law of Large numbers is a probability principle. Essentially, if you have a large sample size, the chances of a rare event occurring are greater.
For example, “disasters” are often classified as once in a decade, or century, or lifetime. So in a century, you’ll likely go through 10 once in a decade events. As well as one in a century, and depending on how long you live, one or more once in a lifetime events.
Or as Sales puts it, if there are 24 million people in Australia, 24 of them will experience a one-in-a-million event.
And according to evolutionary biology, we are more likely to be concerned about large numbers of concurrent deaths than the things that pick us off one by one because they’re more likely to be a local extinction event.
Which means these unpredictable and uncontrollable events are more frightening. So we spent more time trying to understand and control them. So the media spend more time covering them. So we come to think we’re more at risk than we really are.
Weirdly, there is an economic theory that deals with the human experience of regret. That is, you make decisions on the basis of avoiding regret. Minimax regret, in particular, deals with minimising the worst-case regret. Not to be confused with Maximin for minimising the actual losses.
For example, not going to theme parks in case
Or buying house insurance in case your house is washed away in a flood (don’t forget to check the fine print).
Which comes back to hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Contingency Planning and Risk Management
There are two kinds of ways of dealing with this: contingency planning and risk management.
Both start by thinking about what could go wrong and planning what to do about it. In a contingency plan, you wait until the risk event occurs to take action. With risk management, you take action to prevent the event from happening or minimising the outcome.
So think of all the things that could go wrong, and then work out how likely they are to occur. Next, calculate the severity of the outcome, and prioritise the worst ones. (You can read more about this in my book Holistic Personal Finance).
Don’t just think about the big events. Think about things like reaching your 100th birthday too.
A Bright Future
It seems that in part, your ability to deal with what seems like a tragic future is to have a bright past. To stockpile memories of beautiful times to pull out and look at when it gets hard.
To rest assured that you have prepared those around you to continue on without you. You have written a will and preserved beautiful memories for them. Perhaps you’ve written them letters, collated family recipes or saved champagne corks from special occasions.
Life is made up of a series of events; some good, some not so much. Every day, you are faced with choices about those events. And every choice you make rules others in and out.
And if the worse happens to someone you know, conquer your fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and spend time with them. From my experience, being there and saying something dumb is so much better than staying away.
Your choice to prioritise sleep over Netflix boosts your mood and energy the next day. This helps you make better decisions about food and exercise. Which increases your self-confidence and self-esteem so you start on an upward path to a life worth living.
Plus, you can make more realistic choices about visiting theme parks and all the other events and decisions you face each day. Like the drinks and