I’ve never been a big fan of math. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate its value; I just don’t like doing it. I struggled with it in school, I struggle with it today.
I’m not alone. Some level of “math anxiety” affects a lot of people. But while I avoid doing math whenever possible, I don’t consider myself to be blind to its realities. Unlike, apparently, many others.
For example, I heard Dr. Robert Conn, a Canadian MD who specializes in reducing accidental injuries and death, speak on the subject of risk assessment. He posed this thought experiment to his audience: “If I told you that in 15 minutes, 6 of you would be dead, most would think ‘Not me’ and start looking around for likely victims.” His point: we routinely underestimate our chances of something bad happening to us.
Take seatbelts for example: in 2008 there were 208 million licensed drivers in the US. 83% of them used seatbelts. That means 35 million drivers don’t.
When you ask people why they don’t use seatbelts, there are a number of common reasons. Underlying most of them is the belief that “it can’t happen to me.”
But let’s do the math, shall we?
- 8 of 10 drivers will be in a car accident within the next 10 years.
- 73% of passenger car occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed.
- Seatbelts reduce a person’s chance of dying in a crash by 45%.
And still, 35 million people think not wearing a seatbelt is a good choice for them.
At the same time, we also overestimate the chances that something good will happen to us. For example, winning the lottery.
The odds of winning the Powerball—according to their own website— are 195,249,054 to 1. “Sure,” you may say, “but it’s only a buck. And I could be the one in 200 million!”
Perhaps. But while you’re waiting for that big jackpot, here’s some other things that have a better chance of happening to you:
- Dying from pneumonic plague: 54,059,705 to 1
- Contracting the human version of mad cow disease: 40,000,000 to 1
- Attacked by a bear: 36,000,000 to 1
- Dying from a pajama fire: 30,589,556 to 1
- Being canonized as a saint: 20,000,000 to 1
- Executed on Death Row: 3,622,270 to 1
- Killed by lightning: 2,650,000 to 1
- Killed by flesh-eating bacteria: 1,000,000 to 1
So, even if you do get the winning ticket, you could be attacked by a bear during a storm, then struck by lightning that causes your jammies to burst into flame…all before you could cash in your ticket.
Rather than waste that dollar bill on lottery, why not put it to better use? Send me $1.00 and I’ll tell you how.
Trust me…I’ve done the math.