Thursday, April 10, 2008

Playing the Percentages of Self Sabotage

Had the good fortune to be treated to dinner today, not by a pharmaceutical rep, not on a date, not even by a family member. I was treated to dinner today by a truly great physician, who gave me some insight into his career. We talked about the patients who influence us in choosing a practice environment. For example, in an ICU environment, one can invest a lot of emotional energy in caring for someone who is deathly ill, and still they may only have a 50% chance of living. And even in doing so, one may learn that despite one's best efforts, 50% of truly ill patients may die despite your best efforts, and 50% may live regardless of your care. Thus, you cannot have as your principle of motivation the percentage who live or die. Likewise, if you look at any emergency room, only a few patients look truly ill, surely it is no challenge to determine that they need care. Yet you cannot use "the patient appears well" as your criterion to determine whether they are hiding some grave disease, for in 24 hours they may look different.

As I was walking home, I began to think about life and the focus I place in my life on different things. I reflected on the fact that for example, when I am taking a test and I think it is hard, I could only remember the hardest questions, the 20 percent which I perhaps did not know the answers to. These 20% define how hard the test is, not the 80% which I correctly and perhaps easily answered.

Likewise, I was watching Memphis get beat by Kansas the other night in the final four, they appeared to be on the verge of winning the game, then lost on the basis of some missed free throws.

I was working a shift with a guy who I respect a great deal, and I heard him get off the phone, and I remarked, gosh you were nice on the phone. And he said, yes, it helps keep my calm, it keeps me thinking, and it prevents me from getting stressed out.

In life, relationships, work, it all comes down to percentages. And the outlook that you have can be determined by the percentages, or you can make your outlook change based on how you play the percentages.

For example, you can look at the 10% of your day that is marked by negativity, the computer crashes, you are having a fight with your girlfriend, the answering service puts you on hold, someone yells at you, you don't have enough money to go on that vacation. Those things that you don't like, those little pesky dark clouds, they sometimes turn into big black thunderheads. Something that is negative can have higher emotional tone, it draws attention to itself. And it magnifies itself into something bigger than it should be.

You mull over it. Gee, wouldn't it be ideal if such and such weren't this way? This is something I thought about while watching John Adams, the simpering man was complaining even after he was elected President of the US. After you mull over it, something which is a very very small thing takes up too much of your time. That little thing that strikes you as negative, which probably isn't even a big deal anyways, becomes a bigger thing because you are paying it heed.

This is a big problem for competitive people who for most of their lives have been driven to excel. They know the difference between 90 percent and 99%. It's not just 9%, it's everything, it's life, or death. It's the margin of success or failure.

So, that 9% negative in your day/life/relationship builds and builds until it becomes 20%, 40%, 60%, then finally it screams at you, this day just has to end. This relationship just has to end. This computer has to be rebooted.

It is at times like that, when the negatives pile up that you have to think of something positive. To remember that great time you had when you were sitting on the grass in the summer with your girl, to remember the time when you never wanted to leave her arms, to remember all the great things, because if you let the negatives take over you will be left with nothing, and that is not something you want to be left with.

1 comment:

S. said...

Do you know that positive attitude is one of the common denominators to longevity? You probably do. I just like to remember that. You can live--what--3% longer? And spend that time being 300% happier. Good odds those. I'd take that bet.