Monday, January 29, 2007

Optimism Bias, Overruled

Optimism bias, or the tendency for people to be overly optimistic about their own endeavors against all statistical realities gleaned from the experiences of others, ruins a lot of things in life.

It's why everyone thinks they're going to be a star, why they'll sing their way to first place on American Idol, why they will be famous. And it's ridiculous. I mean, it's nice to dream big -- and plenty people in New York do so with good results -- but in general I think we've got to rein in optimism bias in day-to-day life.

It's why New Year's Eve, if you're expecting the RAWK HARD PARTY OF THE YEAR, sucks almost without fail. It's NEVER the best party of the year, there's NEVER enough champagne, and prince charming NEVER appears at 11:37, giving you 20 minutes to warm up before he smooches you under a disco ball. You'll have a lot better time if you settle for more meager goals -- you know, having someone else to sit on a couch with, and not barfing in the cab on the way home. Success! Your New Years is not likely to be, on average, more or less fun than anyone else's over the course of the decades. Keep that in mind and you'll have a fine old time, and avoid disappointment to boot.

This is why I try to keep my expectations for day-to-day life in check. It's why I don't cause a fuss when a blind date calls his coke dealer from the table while we're drinking sangria. I mean, on AVERAGE, factoring in the worst and best blind dates of all times, that's probably about average, yeah? It's not like he hit me in the face with an anvil, raped me with a crowbar, and threw me into a drainage ditch in New Jersey. Nor did we fall madly in love, spend the night eating unlimited oysters platters, and then run off to make little crackhead babies. We had a few chucks, then he called his coke dealer. Average.

Lately, though, I've been getting a bit down. Average wasn't cutting it. My life had somehow become an interminable gerbil wheel of gym, work, sleep, repeat, perhaps with some TiVo thrown in just to "spice things up." For all that, I might as well be living in the suburbs. I'd probably be required to be fatter, and wear uglier pants, but really, what was the difference?

Last weekend I resigned myself to another crap couple of days doing nothing spectacular. After all, I had to be up very early on Saturday to climb, and I had to be up early on Sunday for church. That left little time for nighttime shenanigans, and besides, no one seemed up for them anyway. I grumbled and moaned to my friends on Friday over IM, but no one had a hot hidden boy in their pocket to fix me up with, or was throwing a "rager" in a loft in Williamsburg. It was to be another night eating Lonely Soup for One.

As I was leaving work, my friend Eric called me and said three words I love to hear, "Let's make trouble." (I also love to hear, "You look hot," in case you're ever at a loss for words...)

I met up with Eric at his place on the LES, and we had "dinner," consisting of three garlic knots and a bottle of a very nice Bordeaux. The night was looking up. We left to go meet our friends (and one of my future roommates) at a bar down the way, and had another bottle of wine. Just as the tannins threatened to seep into my eyeballs, we took our leave and returned to Eric's for a lengthy three-person shredding challenge of Guitar Hero. I don't really like video games, but I'm sure if I did, I would say this is the funnest video game ever invented. As it is, I have nothing to compare it to save for long-ago Pong and Ms. Pac Man, but nevertheless, it was fun fun fun.


Eventually the Brooklyn-bound friend and I returned to the better borough, where we had MORE wine (unwise) and before I knew it, it was incredibly, unbelievably late, and I was floating on a boozy cloud of fermented grape fumes, even though I had sworn to myself that I'd be tucked in by 11 so as not to suck at climbing on Saturday. I missed the deadline by many hours.

I awoke on Saturday late and drunk, and was forced to take a cab to Chelsea to meet my climbing partner. Shaky and dehyrdrated, I knew it would be a miserable day, and gave myself a pass -- I'd phone in the routes but at least not let down my partner, because he needed me there to belay.

But, once I started climbing, something magical happened -- I had the best climbing day I've had in probably six months. I was ticking off routes with ease that a week earlier I'd been unable to do. I was up on the roof feeling light as a feather (though, given, I'm nearly 20 pounds lighter than the last time I was in shape enough to get up there -- it's INCREDIBLE what a difference that makes). I was gleeful and thankful. My low expectations had been exceeded several-fold.

I rewarded myself with some sushi and then headed out to take on a task I had long dreaded: LINGERIE SHOPPING.

I really, really hate lingerie shopping. Bras cost upwards of fifty bucks apiece, and it's not like I'm buying La Perla or anything. Every time I go in, I'm a different size, so I always have to wait on line at the dressing room (where this time, I kid you not, I had to wait for security to drag out a shoplifter before I could get in there). Underwear costs about 20 bucks a pop and you can't even try it on (I mean, gross), so half the time you get it home and it gives you a wedgie, makes your love handles spill over, or rides up your crotch. And the Victoria's Secret in Soho is always a mob scene.

Because my body has changed so much in the past few months, none of my clothes really fit anymore. Replacing them is going to take awhile, but bras are a priority because it was getting embarassing traipsing around the locker room with what looked like two flapping, empty coconuts loosely strapped to my chest. At my peak weight, I busted (very sexily, I might add) out of a 36B, but my tatas have deflated so much I assumed I'd have to downgrade to a 34B, or, god forbid, a 32A, which I haven't worn since junior high. I held my breath and puffed out my chest.

Somehow even THIS grim task was redeemed. Miraculously, my latest bra size is a 34C. It's probably due to a new vanity-sizing policy at VS, but I'll take it.

For one weekend, improbable fun, improbable strength, and improbable cup size overrode the concept of optimism bias. And I thank my lucky stars.

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