What Are My Disasters?

One of the difficult choices you have to make in life is putting a relative value on all the different possible outcomes that might come your way in the future.

In a very simple case, let's say there are three possible events that might happen in the future:

  • Your car breaks down, requiring you to pay for the repairs or go without a car.
  • You go on a vacation to Europe.
  • You buy lots of beer, candy, and premium latte drinks every week.

It's difficult because you need lots of information about your future choices and time for your brain to process all the options. Even in the simple example above, you need to assess the probability of your car breaking down, the cost if it does, how you'll respond if it does, where you'd go in Europe, how much that would cost, and what your habits look like on a daily basis with respect to beer, candy, and premium latte drinks. You have to compare them. Perhaps most importantly, you have to connect your spending on beer, candy, and premium latte drinks to the inability to pay for car repairs or a trip to Europe. "It's just a couple bucks. No big deal."

And this is much simpler than anything we face in real life. It's quite difficult to even think about all your options, much less which is the best choice. We often just go with our defaults, whatever that might be. If you regularly drink premium latte on the way to work, that's what you'll continue to do, because you can do it without thinking and you know that it will make you feel better.

In my case, I have a strong desire to avoid disasters. If I didn't have a car, it would be a disaster. If I wouldn't be able to help my mother in a time of need, it would be a disaster. If I were arrested, it would be a disaster. If I lost my job and didn't have a house, it would be a disaster.

A disaster is something that we fear and that we should be preparing for. For some, a disaster would be not going to Europe. They can't imagine anyone not experiencing Paris or Munich. For others, a disaster would be living in a house that looks average. These are not things that would register with me (I can live without either) but some people spend all of their scarce thinking time figuring out how to avoid that disaster.

As humans, we don't really get too excited about the minor stuff. We go crazy when it comes to disasters. I have to decide what are my disasters, how to deal with them if they hit, and what I'm willing to give up in order to avoid the consequences/offset the consequences. I have to decide what I'm going to think about, and actually spend time thinking about it.

Retirement without enough money is something that worries me greatly. A disaster that destroys my house worries me greatly. Disappointing others does, at times, worry me greatly. One of the characteristics of being a human is that we do what we can to prepare for the worst. I have to spend more time thinking about the bad stuff. I will be relaxed and enjoy my life if I am comfortable that I can deal with it. I don't want to think about the bad stuff, but I really have no choice. Knowing I can drop everything and immediately put into action a plan to deal with a serious illness in the family, for instance, allows me to concentrate on what's in front of me. Knowing that I haven't forgotten about a critical project requiring me to make a presentation in front of 100 people tomorrow allows me to focus on anything I want.

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