You might not consider yourself a gambler, but worry and gambling have something in common that brings people back to the table. It’s the belief that maybe, just maybe, the thing you’re on the lookout for could happen again, could very well happen again, probably will happen again.
I went to Las Vegas in 2002 to observe the technology and the psychology of gambling. Everywhere was the sound of victory. The idle slot machines were programmed to drop their metal tokens into a little pile often enough to remind everyone that they, too, could beat the odds.
A security guard stood at the entrance. I asked her, “Does anybody ever win at these games?” She said, “Just look around at all the construction going on in this town, and that should tell you.” She said virtually nobody wins in Las Vegas.
But don’t think the customers believe her. I watched a 30-year-old man playing the slots. He was happy about his two days in the casino. He said he was winning, all right. He won $250 today.
I asked what happened yesterday. Yesterday? Oh, he lost $500. But that didn’t matter. Today was sweet revenge. If you lost a baseball game 8-1 yesterday and then won 4-1 today, the only thing that matters is that you’ve won.
He had evened the score. He proved those machines could be outfoxed. Sooner or later it had to happen.
Living a life of fear and suspicion is that way. You believe the thing you worry about is going to materialize. Keep fearing and expecting the worst, and you’ll show you had every reason to expect it.
But gamblers and worriers are not nearly as accurate as they want to think.
I returned to Las Vegas in 2011 to do some marketing work at a lawyers conference. The city was facing some financial desperation this time. Three casinos had closed their doors, and others were offering unusually low prices on everything.
The many low-level gamblers who keep Las Vegas ticking had run out of assurance that they could beat the odds in a way that would justify spending their shrunken savings. They were staying home and spending less time taking chances.
Instead of beating the odds, they ignored them.
Active gamblers want to prove they can beat the odds once in a while and earn the right to take more chances. Habitual worriers want to prove they have reason to continue worrying. They will look you in the face and talk for hours on end to convince you they have every reason in the world to fear the worst. If they can win even once in a while, it’s all the proof they need to justify their worry habit.
If you are worrying, try ignoring the odds as you imagine them and see what happens. Committed worriers don’t want to admit that they intentionally ignore a lot of good things.
The gamblers I described found they could not predict the future well enough to justify more spending. You will find you cannot predict the future well enough to justify worrying if you dare to see what it costs you.
Someone has said, “Worry pulls the storm clouds of tomorrow over the sunshine of today.” As soon as possible, run out of reasons to justify your worries. Make a habit of predicting wholesome outcomes.
When we behave as though we expect them, we make them much, much more likely to occur.
Max T. Russell of New Palestine writes for the international business intelligence and nonprofit communities. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.