I’ve been trained in psychology by some of the best.
But one of the most helpful things I ever learned
came from an undergraduate statistics course.
It was about estimating probabilities.
But please don’t run away screaming,
“I hate math!”
I’m going to talk about something you do a hundred times a day.
And it’s something you are already good at too.
When you flip the light switch you expect the light to come on.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
After you change the bulb,
you again start to believe that it will come on every time.
You’ve learned that the odds (the “probabilities”)
are so much in your favor
that it’s smart to keep expecting it to work
even though you know that sometimes you will be wrong.
I want you to be comfortable doing this throughout your life
even when it comes to major life decisions.
Here are some examples regarding serious decisions.
Notice how the decision almost makes itself
if you consider the probabilities:
1) “I’m getting married in October. I wonder if it will rain.”
Look up the usual rainfall in October.
See the odds.
Make your decision accordingly.
2) “My mother is drunk about half of the time when I visit
and she’s always nasty then.
What should I do?”
Expect her to be drunk half of the time
and call ahead to check it out before you visit.
3) “My boyfriend hit me twice in the last two years.
He always apologizes and he really means it.
Should I stay with him?”
Expect him to hit you at least once a year,
and apologize like he means it every time.
Always ask yourself:
“What are the odds?”
WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
Some things are certain:
If you gamble often enough, you will pay the casino their precise cut.
That light bulb will work thousands of times before it burns out.
THE ODDS ABOUT PEOPLE
Things are less certain when it comes to human behavior.
Will your child come home late today?
Will your partner want sex tonight?
Will you have meatloaf for dinner?
You can’t answer such questions with certainty.
But you can bank on the fact that you know
your child, your partner, and the cook
You have to make your best guess.
If you know the person well and you aren’t lying to yourself about it,
you are going to be right about four times out of five
and wrong about it the other time.
How do I know?
There’s a principle in statistics about it.
I’ve tested it quite regularly over the years.
I won’t bore you with the details,
but I will encourage you to test it for yourself.
If you know the person well,
your best guesses should be close to the 4 out of 5 level.
If I’m wrong, let me know.
(One disclaimer: If you are dealing with chaos,
such as in addicted families,
all bets are off.)
PAST AND FUTURE
If you want to know how your relationship will go in the next six months,
expect that it will go about like it did the last six months.
If you want to know how a senator will perform during their next term,
expect that he or she will do about the same as they did during their first term.
The best predictor of the future is the past.
It’s not certain but it’s your best bet.
If you know the facts well, you will be right about 80% of the time.
If you are wondering whether someone will make a good partner
or whether to put all your money into one investment,
it would be awful to be wrong.
But you will be wrong on your biggest decisions,
even when you have plenty of information,
at least 20% of the time.
You can hate that you were wrong
but don’t hate you!
You can’t do any better than to take your best shot.