Good Day Bad Day Bias

On Tuesday, I was sitting at a stoplight when an SUV blew through the light, took out a sedan, and then rolled…into me.

It was surreal – like watching a car wreck on a movie with exaggerated special effects. I will never forget seeing the car rolling, knowing it was going to hit me, and that brief moment when I had time to think:

This might be it. …and: The ice cream is going to melt.

Well, neither of those profound doomsday thoughts came true. The ice cream and I are intact! (As are the other two drivers.)

My morale took the biggest hit.

The concept of confirmation bias is simple, and yet powerful enough to fuel $65M in movie revenue and 20M book copies sold of The Secret, one of many movies and books claiming to help you use attraction theory to make your dreams come true.

What we focus on expands.

Confirmation bias is the psychological phenomena of doing a dang good job finding evidence to support our beliefs, and unwittingly ignoring clues that might undermine said beliefs in the process.

It’s really, really okay to be human and very irate and demoralized about yet another awful thing happening to you out of nowhere. It was not a great afternoon, and there was a lot to be upset about.

Like the fact that there is no insurance coverage for pain and suffering, or for missing work when you’re self-employed, or for your lost sales tax should the car you bought less than five months ago be determined a total loss, or for your lost resell value if it is repaired instead.

You are absolutely NOT made whole.

There it is. 

That juicy downward spiral.

I found all the evidence I need to prove my belief that it was a crap day, and lately a crap life, with crap insurance and crap Utah drivers running red lights.

And how do you feel when you have this toilet swirl thought process, Em? 

Pretty terrible.

Here’s the beautiful, awful flip side: We can choose different beliefs – hypotheses even, and then the evidence magically appears.

It’s awful because it’s really hard to make that hairpin attitude adjustment. It’s beautiful because it works, when you’re ready.

“Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.”

– Viktor Frankl

I needed nearly two days of wallowing this time before the positivity spark lit.

The big secret: Once I made the shift in mindset, I saw how great my friends and family are, and how many of them wanted to help. I curled up in my comfy bed, inside my new home, and relished my extreme good fortune. I recognized deep down that this really could have been the end for me, and the ice cream really could have melted, and that those tragedies could happen any day.

Against quite a few odds, I’m still here, armed with my low-carb pseudo-ice cream.

In fact, the net sum of this week is off the charts. 

On Sunday, I spent one of the happiest days of my adulthood in sunny San Diego, with yoga on the piazza, a long walk around an art festival with a very dry cappuccino, and a boat trip around the bay.

On Monday, I took a girls’ trip overnighter to Mount Pleasant with my best friend of 22 years, complete with small town takeout, a box of wine, Sartori raspberry Bellavitano cheese, Lilly’s sugar-free chocolate bars, and clay face masks in a little white mansion from the 1800’s.

On Tuesday, we detoured on the way home for a gorgeous 5-mile hike to Diamond Fork Hot Springs, where we soaked in our sports bras and undies, giggled about the brazen skinny dipper, and literally stood under a waterfall.

On Wednesday, I played in my Toyota Tundra rental car (last car available – pretty lucky!) and promptly used it to pick up four sweet bar stools for $20 apiece without any Tetris loading skills required.

And today, I turned the confirmation bias arrow firmly toward the positive I had been missing out on while I felt the frustration and pain of a typically unfair life curveball (it doesn’t hurt that I also had a 90-minute massage and spent a total of 3 hours at the spa).

And the week isn’t over! Tomorrow I get to hang out with my kids and sibs for a Star Wars marathon (May the 4th be with you!), and Saturday I get to peruse the leftover belongings of folks who have passed on…and passed along their midcentury finds to this lucky scavenger in the process.

In fact, my week has been almost too good to really make my point. 

The bottom line: When you decide that you’re grateful for having more than enough, you really do start to find the evidence to support your theory.

And if you’re struggling, loads of studies demonstrate that we can reverse engineer confirmation bias by simply writing down what we are grateful for, wiring our brains to see more of the good.

To sum this brag-a-thon up: It’s okay to really feel the heavy, awful, bad days. Trying to Pollyanna your way out of the pain is a surefire recipe for indigestion, anxiety, depression, and a whole lot of other correlates much worse than simply being angry when you’re angry and sad when you’re sad.

But, when you’re ready to feel better, you too have a powerful brain that can shift attention from the flooded basement that you can’t do a damn thing about to the stunning rainbow in the midst of the ongoing downpour.

Disclaimer: That rainbow is so not going to solve your problems.

I still have to deal with the actual and emotional fallout of the wreck, but since life is yet to be problem-free, and apparently rarely car wreck-free for me, finding the beauty, humor and love in the midst of the inevitable chaos is a hard-won, worth-it’s-weight-in-ice cream skill to work on in the meantime.


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