I was listening to Alanis Morrissette’s song “Ironic” this morning. Singing along, I found myself thinking; some of these situations really aren’t ironic but examples of Murphy’s law in action.
“Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face” – Alanis Morissette
Welcome to the aggravating world of Murphy's Law. Where it feels that the world is plotting against you. In truth, the law itself doesn’t possess any real power, we are the ones who give Murphy’s law relevance. When things don’t go in our favor, we tend to focus on the negative and look for reasons and places to cast blame. But truthfully? Murphy’s Law all boils down to the law of probability – the mathematical likeliness that something will occur.
Who is “Murphy” anyway? Edward Aloysius Murphy Jr. (January 11, 1918 – July 17, 1990) was an American aerospace engineer who worked on safety-critical systems. He is best known for his namesake Murphy's law, which is said to state, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”.
And when it does goes wrong, it will do so in the worst possible way, at the worst possible time.
“It is true that, on average, all the queues will move at more or less the same rate—each being equally likely to suffer from the kind of random delays that occur when, for example, the cashier has to change the cash-register tape or a customer wants to use a personal check drawn on an obscure bank to pay for a pack of chewing gum. But during any one trip to the supermarket, we don’t care about averages: we just want our line to finish first on that particular visit. And in that case, the chances that we’ve picked the queue that will turn out to be the one least plagued by random delays is just 1/N, where N is the total number of queues in the supermarket. Even if we are concerned only about beating the queues on either side of ours, the chances we’ll do so are only one in three. In other words, two thirds of the time, either the line to the left or the one on the right will beat ours.”
Our stress levels rise when we feel that things are out of control. But there is a way to regain some of that control by using the power of Murphy’s Law to our advantage.
- Expect things to go wrong. Sometimes it’s a simple as a case of mind over matter. The next time you step in line at the grocery store, expect that your line will be slower that the lines on either side of you. Stress avoided.
- Prepare for the worst-case scenario. Backing up your files frequently during work, keeping an umbrella in the car, having a spare hair dryer at home. All act as a form of insurance. You may never need them, but they are there if you do!
- Have a back up plan and systems in place. Program your plumber's telephone number into your phone and post it on the side of the refrigerator. Preparing for a big presentation at the office? Have a back-up outfit picked out and ready in case you discover a stain or tear on your first choice.
By taking a pragmatic approach to life, and expecting that things aren’t always going to go right, we can be better prepared mentally when faced with negative events. And sometimes, believe it or not, we’ll be able to shake our heads, smile and say, “I knew that would happen!”
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
Preparing for what can go wrong is not a pessimistic approach to life – it’s a realistic approach, and one that can fill us with hope and optimism as we feel prepared. We've got Plan A, Plan B and maybe even Plan C - in other words, "we’ve got this”. And isn't that a pretty powerful feeling?
Getting back to my morning song; in Alanis Morissette’s defense, “Isn’t it ironic?” sure sounds a whole lot better than “Isn’t it Murphy’s Law?”.
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Interested in learning more about Murphy’s Law? Check out these two articles: