How to Stop Being Disappointed

July 6th, 2012 by Steve Pavlina

If someone is late about 70% of the time, and you expect them to be on time, that’s a rather foolish prediction, isn’t it? They may be on time, but they probably won’t be.

What many people will do is get angry with the friend who’s frequently late. Does this usually change that person’s behavior? Perhaps sometimes, but it usually has little or no effect. The person will most likely continue being late at roughly the same frequency.

Wanting a person to change doesn’t change their behavior. It’s more likely to cement the behavior in place since people tend to resist others’ demands of them.

Instead of resisting your predictions, a more sensible approach is to accept them. Accept that your friend will probably continue to be late most of the time.

Note that this doesn’t mean predicting that your friend will always be late, so you can be pleasantly surprised when they’re on time. That would be inaccurate as well. It means accepting that you don’t really know when they’ll show up and that most likely they’ll be later than they say they will. Predict based on reality, not on overly positive or negative expectations. In many cases your prediction will be a spectrum of possible outcomes with some being more probable than others.

Now your friend may change their behavior over time, but when such changes are going to occur, you’ll typically see advance evidence of them. Is your friend committed to becoming more punctual? If so, is there any physical evidence other than empty promises? For instance, when you visit your friend’s home, do you see books like How to Be Punctual lying around? Does your friend share details of their efforts to change? In other words, do you have some solid evidence that this habit will in fact be corrected?

Let me put this another way. If someone said they’d bet you $100 that your friend would be late most of the time for all get-togethers for the next six months, would you take that bet (meaning that you’re betting that your friend will usually be on time)? If you wouldn’t take the bet, it’s fair to say you expect the old behavior to continue.

If there’s no evidence of change, then your best prediction of future behavior is past behavior. In this case, the past does equal the future.

If your current prediction is that the old behavior is likely to continue, then go ahead and project this expectation forward in time for at least a decade. In the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, it’s reasonable to expect that this pattern will continue year after year for at least the next 10 years.

Now do your best to accept this prediction without resistance. Don’t try to alter it for emotional reasons.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so if you’re clear about the past behavior, you can reasonably expect that it will continue as-is for the most part, absent any serious commitment to alter course. Change is always possible, but entertain the possibility that it may not happen.

Now with this newfound acceptance in mind, how does that affect your relationship with your friend? Does it mandate that you kick this person out of your life? Not necessarily. What it means is that you can now account for the likelihood that this person will be late most of the time. This means your decisions will be more intelligent since they’ll be based on more accurate predictions, not on false hopes.

Yesterday Rachelle and I went to a scheduled appointment. Before we went there, I checked the online reviews for this particular establishment. Out of six reviews, it had five 0-star ratings and one 1-star rating, out of 3 stars possible. Reviewers complained that the employees were slow and lazy and obviously hated their jobs. They all got served eventually, but everyone complained about the slow speed, and it was clear that they were frustrated. A common frustration was that an appointment that should have taken 5 minutes ended up taking 30-40 minutes.

Where does that should come from? It comes from people’s subconscious predictions. These reviewers’ predictions were inaccurate, by a factor of 6-8 or so, and the attachment to these predictions induced frustration.

We could have taken our business elsewhere of course, but that didn’t seem necessary. We simply updated our predictions based on the reviews. Maybe they’ll be faster with us, we thought, but most likely the appointment would take 30-40 minutes or longer. Since the day before our visit was a holiday (4th of July), I was able to add that to the prediction, figuring it could be more crowded than usual, meaning we could be in for a longer wait.

Because of these expectations, I went in prepared, bringing my iPhone with audio programs to listen to and my Macbook so I could do some work if I wanted to. As it turned out, we ended up waiting for more than an hour. However, I enjoyed my time there and wasn’t angry or frustrated since I didn’t bring an inaccurate prediction like “this should take 5 minutes” with me. Instead I used the time to listen to an audio program and to do some online research.

Now if it was a problem to have this appointment take so much time, we could have gone elsewhere, but going in with reasonable expectations made that adjustment unnecessary.

Back to the friend who’s usually late…

If a non-punctual friend is a problem for you, you can always drop this person from your life. But you can also adapt flexibly to their expected lateness if you’d still like to maintain a relationship with them. Which approach you use depends on the nature of your relationship.

For instance, if this is a working relationship, and the other person’s lateness is costing you money or lost opportunities, you may find it best to drop them from your team and give more attention to people who are more punctual.

But if this is a casual relationship with someone you otherwise enjoy spending time with, you may not need to drop them. You can simply update your expectations accordingly. Don’t invite this friend to anything that requires their timely presence. Instead, invite them to hang out when you have a flexible schedule and when their lateness wouldn’t be a problem. You can arrive on time and bring something to occupy you if your friend shows up late. You could catch up on emails, organize your laptop hard drive, or enjoy some reading or audio listening.

I use this approach when meeting people for the first time. If I don’t know them yet, I can’t predict whether they’ll be punctual or not. Most people show up pretty much on time. Some arrive late. And a very small percentage flake completely. This spectrum of outcomes isn’t a problem, however. If people show up early or on time, great. If not, I can pull out my iPad and do some reading till they show up. And if they don’t show up at all, I’ll simply enjoy the time on my own and occupy myself in other tasks.

Predicting behavior happens subconsciously and is unavoidable. We can’t stop making predictions because this is hard-wired into our brains. Your brain can’t help but predict what word will come at the end of this _____. You’re going to predict what number comes after 2 4 6 _. You’ll even predict the missing lette_.

So don’t try to avoid making predictions. That would be futile. Instead, give yourself permission to accept your predictions as they come. Do your best to release attachment and resistance that gets in the way of making more accurate, flexible, and intelligent predictions. Pay attention to what’s happening and with what frequencies, both with respect to general behavioral patterns and with specific individuals.

Now suppose I meet a few times with someone, and I can see that they’re usually late. Am I going to invite them someplace where their late arrival would cause negative consequences? No. Would I hire them to work in a position where punctuality was important? Of course not. Could I still engage with them casually when their lack of punctuality wouldn’t cause any difficulties? Sure.

How does prediction play out in business?

Just as people can succumb to unreasonable expectations in their personal lives, they make similar mistakes in business. People enter bad business deals and make bad investments often. Then for emotional reasons, they try to convince their brains to alter these predictions. “This investment is likely to lose money if I stay with it” gets wrangled into, “I’m sure this stock will start trending upwards soon.”

Good predictions are emotionless. You may take emotional input into consideration, especially when predicting human behavior, but it’s unwise to allow your predictions to become tainted by emotion. Good prediction is based on recognizable patterns, not on hope, divine intervention, or unrealistic odds.

Good prediction, therefore, requires good data. If you’re new to business, you won’t necessarily be able to predict your long-term performance. You’ll need to try out some deals first, develop some new income streams, and put your behaviors to the test. Then you’ll have some data to see how your performance is shaping up. With this data and some good, emotionless predictions, you can identify and target areas for growth.

A common mistake people make is looking to other people’s business results to predict their own. This is like looking at someone else’s punctuality to predict your own. You might pick someone who’s just like you and come up with a fairly accurate prediction, but you could just as easily choose poorly. Just because other people are late doesn’t predict that you’ll be late.

What you can learn from others, however, is which patterns are more likely to lead to success than others. Many people try to do this at the level of behavior, but other people’s behaviors can be very difficult to model if you don’t understand the thoughts, beliefs, and motivations that generate those behaviors.

Modeling other peoples’ thoughts and beliefs is also fairly difficult. Quite often successful people don’t even know which thoughts contributed to their success and which didn’t. Many books that attempt to share these success patterns are contradictory. Some people claim to have succeeded with a strong work ethic and tremendous persistence, while others preach that success is about grace, ease, and flow.

I suggest that if you want to model others’ success patterns, then what you really need to model is their predictive abilities. You don’t need to copy their thoughts, beliefs, or behaviors. You just need to understand their predictions. If you understand how and why they make the predictions they do, then you can learn to make similar predictions, and this will give you the right insights to make intelligent choices in a similar domain.

For instance, if you want to model Warren Buffet at stock investing, don’t try to copy his behavior. And don’t worry about modeling his thoughts, beliefs, and self-image. Instead, seek to understand how and why he makes the predictions he does. Why does he expect certain companies to increase in value? What factors does he use in making these predictions? Note that if you understand his predictions, then you could make similar profitable investment decisions.

You may also notice that people who have excellent relationship skills are also very skilled at making predictions in their social interactions. They have a good grasp of how other people will react to various stimuli. They can predict with good accuracy when a certain behavior would be perceived as creepy while a similar but slightly different action would be seen as sexy.

If you’ve been following my passive income series, you can use this idea to your advantage to improve your income-generating skills. Don’t worry so much about making money right out of the gate. Instead, begin to think about which opportunities are more likely to produce hits than others.

Consider new products that are just being released. How well do you think they’ll sell? What do you think about the new Microsoft Surface tablets? Will those be hits or flops? What about the new Google Nexus? What about the iPhone 5? Which products do you expect to become hits, and why? On what factors are you basing your predictions?

If you’re going to create an ebook for your next passive income stream, go to Amazon.com, search on some topics that interest you, and see what the top sellers are. See if you can determine why they became top sellers and why other books in the same genre didn’t. One key factor is surely the author. Popular authors are more likely to release hits than unknown authors. But what about unknown authors that release runaway hits? What are the contributing factors there? Is it their choice of genre, writing style, marketing methods, pricing, etc? See if you can predict which factors matter and which don’t.

Luck and randomness play a role of course, but there are plenty of elements that can be controlled, even for first-time authors. Why not give yourself every advantage by reproducing the factors that are more likely to predict success and avoiding the factors that are more likely to result in failure? Why bother writing a book in a genre that’s known for dismal sales, for instance?

As you develop the ability to make more accurate predictions about what will sell well and what won’t, this will give you the ability to make better decisions when creating and launching your own products.

One strategy I used for growing my website traffic was to pay attention to traffic spikes and to note which articles caused those spikes. I did my best to understand why some articles generated huge traffic spikes while most articles had very little effect on traffic. With this knowledge I was able to deliberately write more articles that I expected would boost my traffic. I used the data to improve my predictions, and then I used what I learned from these predictions to make better decisions. I wasn’t always right of course, but my results still improved markedly.

Being a little more accurate in your predictions can lead to being more intelligent in your decisions, and over a period of years, this can lead to enjoying significantly improved results, both personally and professionally.

Overall your brain is brilliant at making predictions. Let it do its job, and do your best to accept its predictions with calmness and detachment. Base your decisions on these flexible and intelligent predictions, not on expectations that have been corrupted with excess emotional residue.



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