The illusion of control
We tend to believe we can control what happens in our life.
But life cannot be predicted.
All we can do is arrange so the odds are in our favor.
We say life is unpredictable when we experience failure and we think we controlled our destiny when success strikes.
Both failure and success are feedback from life. Most of the time, they depend more on how we interpret them more than on their actual outcome.
I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
— Thomas Edison
There is also the cases when we obeyed all the rules and then are rewarded with what seems a success when it is a natural outcome.
Give your banker all the guarantees he asked for and you will get your loan.
This is just following the rules.
- You can control whether or not you take the loan.
- What rate you end up having is uncertain.
We tend to rearrange reality
Even trapped in the most repetitive boring life, one cannot predict what will happen in the short or long term.
A few things happen when something is not matching our predictions.
- We forget about prediction
- We dismiss the event
- We distort reality
We rarely admit that we were wrong or that prediction was a pure exercise in futility.
Say I am a corporate employee and I claim that I will be eating lunch at my desk tomorrow at 1 pm.
As corporate employees know, that is not a risky bet.
- If I happen to start lunch at 1:05 pm, I will not call it a failed prediction.
- If some useless occupation prompted me to delay lunch, I will blame someone else.
I may even blame the vicissitude of life for it, forgetting that I tried to bet against it.
knowing that I made that prediction, I could try to make sure to start lunch on time regardless of what came across my desk.
That is admitting that life is unpredictable and arranging the odds in my favor.
I would then certainly succeed at having lunch on time but that became a project and no longer a prediction.
Had I left the natural course of things to unfold, I may or may not have lunch at 1 pm the next day.
Life is full of incertitude and we adjust to it by making approximations.
Most of the time all is fine because we have a lot of leeways.
Daily variations of life
The commute has its vagaries, but we eventually get home. All that happened during that trip is reduced to one word: commute.
Mini events usually cancel each other and we basically get home at about the same time.
Notice how words like “usually”, “basically” and “about” feel so natural here.
They just round the edges, blur the differences, truncate the out of ordinary.
Would any the mini events of the commute grow bigger and things get out of hands.
- A traffic accident and you have to take a detour.
- Some bad weather and you are delayed.
- A flat tire and you are stuck.
Because they are events independent of each other, these mini things rarely happen together.
But once in a while, they all align to create a perfect storm in your life:
You are stuck, away from the main road, with a flat tire under the rain, and sure enough, your phone just died.
Such an occurrence would be called a rare event.
The Rare Events are what give life its direction.
Some Rare Events could be
- Meeting your soul mate during the commute
- Being offered a major opportunity
- Being mugged
- Being fired
Rare Events seem random, extremely unlikely, totally unexpected and even impossible, yet they are just another combination of the same deck being dealt one more time.
Other Rare Events are:
- Stock market crashes
- Floods of the century
- Life-extinction meteors
- Mastery of fire by mankind
- Appearance of language among humans
- Royal flushes in poker
The best way to be ready for a rare event is to acknowledge the random nature of life and surrender to what life as to offer instead of fighting it.
That does not mean to submit and capitulate. On the contrary, it means that the new situation is what is to be dealt with. The fact that this new situation was not part of the plan is not relevant.
Unfortunately, humans tend to wish it away and will do everything in their power to gain control over uncertainty.
Often, using mental shortcuts to make reality fit their expectations.
Humankind is on a quest to harness randomness
Seeking certainty in randomness, men created all kind of things, from cults and religions to sciences and technologies to laws and rules.
People who understood the laws of randomness invented insurances, mortgages, jackpots and lottery winnings to profit from the existence of rare events.
Nothing has been left behind in the quest for certainty.