Thursday, October 20, 2011

Predicting Consequences 101

"I never thought that this would happen..."

We would almost always utter this sentence after disasters and mishaps. Common people are not clairvoyance; and we are not God. The fact is that in the twists and turns of life, it's just hard to predict consequences. Schools and training institutions never seemed to think about including this topic in lesson plans. And even if they have, there's just too much viable combinations and permutations of causes and effects that we won't be able to track them all down.

Although predicting consequences is partly of science, mathematics and visualization, we may still encounter the "after-effects" differently according to the decisions and involvements of others. However, at the least, we can essentially practice the skill of creating a mental model imagining the sequence of events that would follow. We can ask ourselves "what would likely happen if...?" in every defining situation.

The danger in such cases is focusing on what you want to happen rather than what might happen instead. For example, when preparing for a bungee jump, you may think to yourself that you can make it alive. Yes, this is good. Talk about positivity. But you also need to visualize not landing successfully. What would happen then? Have you even contemplated the likely outcome of being crippled for the rest of your life or being injured severely after?

This is where the math and science come into the picture. You need to calculate the probabilities of different outcomes and compare present, past and future. If, for instance, you are looking at the height of the free fall, you should be asking, "How many times have I successfully jumped maybe a tenth of this height? How many times have I failed?" If you don't know, you should know enough to attempt a test jump over level ground.

People don't think ahead. So you should build the habit of asking yourself, "what will happen next?" Watch out for situations and interactions unfold in the environment around you and try to predict the outcome. Write down or blog your predictions. With practice, you will become expert at predicting consequences. Nevertheless, pray.

Over time, you will begin to observe patterns and generalities--things that make consequences even easier to predict. Things fall, for example. Glass breaks. People get mad when you insult them. Hot things will be dropped. Dogs sometimes bite. Public transportation comes late. These sorts of generalizations or "common sense" will help you avoid unexpected, and sometimes damaging, consequences.