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Luck, Accidents, and the (Mistaken) Sense of Control

Luck, Accidents, and the (Mistaken) Sense of Control

Luck, Accidents, and the (Mistaken) Sense of Control

    What in your life can you control?

    Not much, as it happens. In fact, most of the areas we feel most in control of are riddled with uncertainty and unpredictability: business, health, parenting, finances. In a lot of cases – like picking which stocks to invest in – the average person actually underperforms random selection. That is, when it comes to picking stocks, a monkey with a dart board and a copy of the stock page can do a better job picking winning stocks than most ostensibly informed humans.

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    Why is that? In the case of selecting stocks, it’s because while a random selection has a 50/50 chance of going up or down, we humans tend to invest our choices with emotional weight that keeps us in markets too long or too short – unlike randomness, we act on hunches, fears, and hopes. More generally, we tend to be poor judges of risk and uncertainty, yet we have brains that are more than willing to impose patterns and meaning that cover up rather than address such unknowns. So we act as if we knew what we were doing, and as if we had some level of control over the situation, when really we’re at the mercy of luck – and the more uncertain the situation, the more likely we are to act as if we were in control.

    The (Mistaken) Sense of Control

    Consider this situation: Let’s pretend you have an infant girl, and one night you get a call at 1 am from a friend across town who desperately needs your help. As you prepare to drive across town to meet your friend, you have a choice – leave the child sleeping in her crib, or bundle her into a car seat and take her with you.

    For most parents, this is a no-brainer – of course you’re going to take her with you. What if something happens in the house while you weren’t there, like an electrical fire? What if someone broke into the house and kidnapped her? What if she stopped breathing?

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    The reality, though, is that the single riskiest thing you could do to an infant at 1:00 am is to take her driving in a car. Far more people die every year in car accidents than in all the potential risks to your child alone at home combined. In your car, she’ll be exposed to danger from poor road conditions, mechanical failure, and worst of all, other drivers – who at 1:00 am are likely to either have been drinking or be exhausted, neither of which makes them safe to be sharing the road with.

    But with our child with us, we feel in greater control than if she was left at home, unattended. There’s no rational basis to this feeling – it’s entirely grounded in emotion, a poor comprehension of risk, and an over-assessment of the degree to which our own presence has any significance.

    Our failure to understand risk and the role chance plays in our lives is profound and cuts across a wide swath of our lives. Consider the efforts we make to assure our children grow up with decent values – and how often parents raise kids that completely reject their values. Or consider how many businesses go under every year, and how many of them were headed up by people with strong qualifications, solid training, and a clear sense that they knew what they were doing. Or, in the financial sector, consider how many stock brokers, financial analysts, and others are caught entirely by surprise by massive shifts in the financial sector, like the recent collapse of the credit system – if there were really a pattern, and people really understood it, they all should have seen it coming.

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    Dealing with uncertainty

    If we’re really bad at understanding risk, and if we’re led astray by a mistaken sense of control, then what should we do? Should we just throw up our hands and accept whatever Fate throws at us? Should we lock ourselves in our homes, wrap ourselves in padding, and huddle in a corner until our lives mercifully end?

    Fatalism and despair are, thankfully, over-reactions to the uncertainty of life. As it happens, there are quite a few things we do control, even in the midst of uncertainty. For instance, while even the best poker players are largely at the mercy of luck as to what cards they hold, good players can control enough of the situation – their facial gestures, how much they bet, when to fold, etc. – to come out of even several lousy hands in a row ahead (at least sometimes).

    While we can’t eliminate uncertainty, there are ways we can act to minimize its effects – at least in some instances. If the Moon spins out of its orbit and collides with the Earth tomorrow, all bets are off. But for more everyday sorts of uncertainly, it pays to:

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    • Be prepared. Good planning leaves enough “slack” to adapt readily to unforeseen circumstances. For example, many people keep a “rainy day fund” to make sure they’re prepared for an illness, loss of a job, accident, or other emergency.
    • Diversify. Balancing high-risk options with low-risk ones can help make sure that a sudden freak occurrence wreck everything. It’s the classic “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” theory – balance your investment portfolio, hedge your bets, pursue multiple medical treatments (where possible), and so on.
    • Get a second opinion. Or a 100th. James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds shows how the cumulative voice of the many can be more accurate than any one individual, even an expert. Whenever undertaking a risky endeavor, make sure to consult as many people as possible – and find a way to split the difference. Get another doctor’s opinion before embarking on a course of treatment, Discuss investment options with more than one financial advisor. Get feedback from a range of employees before instituting a radical new policy or process. By sampling a variety of people, you’ll have an opportunity to “cancel out” conflicting worldviews that, in most cases, have little to do with the reality at hand.
    • Create habits. Uncertainty often leads us astray most when we respond directly to fluctuating and random events. For instance, maybe you go to Vegas with a $300 budget to spend on slot machines, but when you see a particular jackpot is up to $12 million you throw caution to the winds and drop $800 into the machine. Creating habits that you stick to religiously can help minimize the desire to act based on emotional factors that have little to do with the actual level of certainty or uncertainty involved.
    • Recognize risk. There is a far higher injury rate for softball players than for base jumpers. Why? Because softball is seen as a safe sport and so players take few precautions, while base jumpers train heavily, invest in solid equipment, and approach the risk inherent in their sport seriously. When you recognize risk and respect it, you act smarter – which helps you to stay more in control when that’s possible, and to minimize harm when control isn’t possible.

    Life itself is inherently uncertain – and that’s a good part of its beauty. That uncertainty shouldn’t paralyze us, it should energize us – it should make us doubly aware of our surroundings and doubly appreciative of our successes. By ignoring risk – or pretending it doesn’t exist – we make ourselves stupider, which ironically leads us to act in riskier ways. By respecting and even embracing uncertainty, we can often come out even further ahead than if we tried – usually in vain – to control inherently uncontrollable situations.

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    Last Updated on October 14, 2020

    How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic

    How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic

    When you become an early riser, you’ll experience a lot of benefits, including feeling more energized and having more time to do what you want.

    If you’d like to join the ranks of those waking up with the sun, there are some things you should know before you run off to set your alarm.

    What exactly do you need to do to learn how to become an early riser?

    Here are 5 tips I’ve discovered to be most helpful in making the transition from erratic sleeper or night owl to early morning wizard.

    1. Choose to Get up Before You Go to Sleep

    You’re not very good at making decisions when you’ve just woken up. You were in the middle of a dream in which [insert celebrity crush of choice here] is serving you breakfast in bed, only to be rudely awakened by the harsh tones of your alarm clock.

    You’re frustrated, confused, and surprised. This is not the time to be making decisions about whether or not you should stay in bed! And yet, most of us leave the first decision of our day to be made in a blur of partial wakefulness.

    No more!

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    If you want to learn how to be an early riser, try making your decision to rise at a specific time before you go to sleep the night before. This frees you from making the decision in the morning when you’ve just woken up. Instead of making a decision, you only have to follow through on your decision from the night before.

    Easier said than done? Of course. But only for the first few times. Eventually, your need for raw willpower to get out of bed will diminish, and you’ll be the proud parent of a new habit!

    Steve Pavlina suggests you practice getting out of bed during the day[1] to get a few of the “practice sessions” out of the way without the early morning fog in your head.

    2. Have a Plan for Your Extra Time

    Let’s say you’ve actually made it out of bed 2 hours before you normally would. Now what? What are you going to do with all this time you’ve discovered in your day?

    If you don’t have something planned to do with your extra time, you risk falling for the temptation of a “morning nap” that wipes out all the work you put into getting up.

    To become an early riser, plan a great morning routine.

      Before you fall asleep, make a quick note of what you’d like to get done during your extra hours the following day. You could read a book, clean the garage, or write up that work report you’ve been putting off. Make a plan for when you wake up earlier, and you’ll do more than protect yourself from backsliding into bed.

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      You’ll get things done, and those results will fuel your desire to build rising early into a habit!

      3. Make Rising Early a Social Activity

      Your internet or social media buddies just don’t have enough pull to make your new habit stick in the long term. The same cannot be said for the people you spend time with as part of your early morning routine.

      Sure, you could choose to read blogs for two hours every morning, but wouldn’t it be great to join an early breakfast club, running group, or play chess in the park at 5am?

      The more people you get involved in making your new habit a daily part of your life, the easier it’ll be to succeed.

      Consider finding an accountability partner who is also interested in becoming an early riser. Perhaps it’s a neighbor who you plan to go for a run with at 6 am. Or it could be your husband or wife, and you decide to get up earlier to spend more time together before the kids wake up.

      Learn more about finding the perfect accountability partner in this article.

      4. Don’t Use an Alarm That Makes You Angry

      If we’re all wired differently, why do we all insist on torturing ourselves with the same sort of alarm each morning?

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      I spent years trying to wake up before my alarm went off so I wouldn’t have to hear it. I got pretty good, too. Then, I started using a cellphone as my alarm clock and quickly realized that different ring tones irritated me less but worked just as well to wake me up. I now use the ringtone alarm as a back-up for my bedside lamp, which I’ve plugged in to a timer.

      When the bright light doesn’t work, the cellphone picks up the slack, and I wake up on time. The lesson learned? Experiment a bit and see what works best for you as you try to become an early riser.

      Light, sound, smells, temperature, or even some contraption that dumps water on you might be more pleasant than your old alarm clock. Give something new a try!

      One final thing you can do is put your alarm at least several feet from your bed. If it’s within arm’s reach, you’ll be tempted to hit the snooze button. However, if you have to get out of bed to turn it off, you’ll be more likely to resist going back to sleep.

      5. Get Your Blood Flowing Right After Waking

      If you don’t have a neighbor you can pick fights with at 5 am, you’ll have to settle with a more mundane exercise. It doesn’t take much to get your blood flowing and chase the sleep from your head.

      Just pick something you don’t mind doing and go through the motions until your heart rate is up. Jumping rope, push-ups, crunches, or a few minutes of yoga are typically enough to do the trick. Here are 10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day. (Just don’t do anything your doctor hasn’t approved.)

      If you’re going to go for a full-on morning workout, remember to give your body at least 15 minutes to get moving before you start[2]. Have a glass of water, stretch a bit, and then get into your workout.

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      If you live in a beautiful part of the world like me, you might want to use a bit of your early morning to go for a walk and enjoy the beauty of the world around you.

      If you have a coffee shop open within walking distance, dragging yourself out of bed for a cup of coffee to savor on your walk home as the world wakes around you is a wonderful experience. Try it, and you’ll enjoy becoming an early riser!

      Final Thoughts

      Creating a new habit is always a challenge, especially if that habit is forcing you out of the comfort of your bed before the sun is even up. However, early risers enjoy increased productivity, higher levels of concentration, and even healthier eating habits[3]!

      Those are all great reasons to give it a try and get up a few minutes earlier. Try getting to bed a bit earlier and learn how to become an early riser with the above tips and conquer your days.

      More on How to Become an Early Riser

      Featured photo credit: Nomadic Julien via unsplash.com

      Reference

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