Lottery thinking

Ironically enough, lottery thinking is a chronic problem.

Lotteries of all sorts grab our attention and change our agenda.

A lottery is an almost random event, a longshot, one that promises to change your life (for the better if it’s a money thing, for the worse if it’s medical, etc.).

The simple and immediate nature of the outcome is an essential part of the lottery’s power.

Getting hit by lightning, finding the perfect job, having a djinni grant three wishes–these are all lotteries.

We spent billions of dollars keeping liquids out of carry-on luggage for no rational reason. It was simply a negative lottery, one that momentarily got the public’s attention and then became part of a narrative about control.

There’s a mismatch between how vivid an outcome is and the odds that make that outcome likely or important to our daily plans. High media attention plus sudden change plus low odds tend to focus our minds more than the opposite.

The problem with lottery thinking is that it takes us away from thinking about the chronic stuff instead. The pervasive, consistent challenge that will respond to committed effort.


PS relevant aside: The other day I was passed by someone who was headed toward me, at high speed, in the middle of the street. He was on an electric skateboard. He had on a face mask, of course, but it was askew. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and he was vaping, all at the same time. Go figure.