Probability

 The picture I ended up drawing at the café, just as I pictured doing.

The picture I ended up drawing at the café, just as I pictured doing.

On my way to the café this morning, I worried. I’d gotten a late start, and now I feared I’d have to face the 9am crush. I wanted a seat, to complete the picture of a morning I’d fantasized about: silver laptop in front of me, mug to one side, drawing materials to the other. But it’s a popular café, a busy café—and seldom busier than on weekend mornings, when many people’s fantasies look the same.

The question preoccupied me as I walked: would I get a seat? Something like adrenaline surged. I realized I was being silly. Either there would be a seat for me, or there wouldn’t. And if there were no seats when I first arrived, probably one would open up pretty soon. Probably…

Probability is a worrier’s best friend. It’s easy to imagine worst-case scenarios: the café full of Sunday morning zombies, each hogging a whole small table solo, with their laptops and coffee cups and assorted devices. (Just as I would.) The fantasy dashed! But how likely is it, really? I soothe myself by trying to sort it out. Fifty percent—that’s my starting point. Fifty percent probability that the café will be one hundred percent full. But is that true? (This is the beauty: when I’m able to start questioning myself.) Every single seat in the café? Surely there will be some seats at the shared table in the back; people guard those much less jealously. So, ten percent. Ten percent chance that every single seat in the café is full. But, geez, at that point there’ll for sure be more turnover. I start to calm down. Okay. I’m almost definitely probably going to get a seat. And, sure enough, I do.

I do this all the time, without even realizing it’s happening. I’ll be plunging into a hole of picturing something horrible, then a small voice will ask: but how likely is it, really? And then the guessing becomes a game, and the game takes me out of the picture in my head.

My other favorite trick of this type is asking myself if I’m really the first person who’s ever made a mistake. Am I the first person who’s failed to open my mail in time to pay a leftover co-pay by the designated date? Surely not. In fact, that’s why the language is so stern! They have a whole system for it! Stern language works, but I don’t have to take it personally. I just have to let the system work, and do my best to do it differently next time.

Diana Berlin