Don’t be a loser. Be a winner.

At first glance, the two statements might be thought to be the same. If you’re a winner, you’re not a loser. However the two statements actually ask something different. ‘Not being a loser’ are actions that aim to mitigate all negative aspects in your life. ‘Being a winner’ are actions that add value to your life.


Don’t Be A Loser

How many times have you gotten into an argument with someone, only for both parties to only ultimately be angry, feel resentment, yet have achieved no further value from the argument? Imagine an angry couple asking for a divorce, each side spending all of their money on lawyers in hopes of “being victorious” over the other side. These wars are only destructive. At the end of them, you’ll only ever have less than you started with.

Perhaps something more relatable – how about those times we’ve mindlessly flicked through Facebook or Instagram for a few hours. What have we gained? Nothing. What have we lost? Time – arguably our most valuable asset. These mindless time-stealers are destructive in the most insidious way: we downplay our time’s value. “There will be more time tomorrow”. Yet – unlike money, which we can always acquire more of – we will only have a finite amount of time, no matter how hard we try to reverse it.

These different ways of destruction and loss are paths we choose (or fail to see that we choose) that go towards ‘being a loser’. In learning how to avoid these negative actions in our lives – in learning how not to be a loser – by cultivating good habits and being mindful of our actions, we can mitigate these negative actions. However, after mitigation of the negative, we have only stopped ourselves from being in a deficit. We are only still neutral. We may have kept our time and our money, but we need to know how to use it in a way that adds value.


Be A Winner

‘Being a winner’ contains all the obvious actions that we associate with doing well in life. It’s getting the girl. It’s scoring the winning goal in the last minute. It’s becoming a genius millionaire. It’s putting thousands of hours into a discipline to become an expert in that field (or hours into learning social skills to get the girl, or hours of honing our sporting ability every tiring evening to score the goal). These are the things that people focus on, a lot of the time. These are the things that take us from neutral to ‘winning’.


The Monty Hall Problem

The idea of “being a winner” and “not being a loser” can even be applied to Mathematics and Probability. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that, rather, it can be applied to our perceptions of probability so that we don’t fall into any logical traps; so that we can see the problem from one more perspective: allowing us to see outcomes more clearly.

“Let’s Make A Deal” was a game-show that was popular in the 1960’s in America. Contestants can go on this game-show and go home with the car of their dreams. It was hosted by a famous guy called Monty Hall. Contestants would come onto the show and be presented, by Monty, three doors. Behind one of the doors lay your dream car. Behind the other two doors lay ‘zonks’: objects you didn’t really want.

So, Monty gave you a choice of the three doors. Let’s say you chose door number 1. You have a 1/3 chance of having picked the correct door. Monty knows which doors contains the ‘zonks’. Now, Monty goes up to one of the other two doors and opens one of them, to reveal a zonk. He turns to you and says:

“Do you like door number one? Or do you want to switch? There’s only one other door to choose from now.”

What would you do? You had a 1/3 chance to pick the correct door. You picked. A door was effectively removed. Now you have a 1/2 chance between the two remaining doors, right?

Do you like that door you picked? Is that door a winner?

For years, contestants agonized over this question. There was speculation about what was the correct strategy to use, but there was never a definitive, well known answer during the running of the show.

Well, how about we see the door from the other perspective. Do you dislike that door?

To answer the question from this new perspective, let’s start over. You’ve got a 2/3 chance of picking the incorrect door. That means that you have a 2/3 chance of picking a door with a zonk. Monty knows which doors contain the zonks. So if you pick a zonk, he is forced to open the other door which contains the remaining zonk. The remaining door that hasn’t been picked by you nor opened by Monty, therefore, has a 2/3 chance of containing the car. How much do you dislike your door now?

Clearly, the best option can now be seen to switch. This statistics problem was popularised during the 90’s when a reader’s letter quoted in Marilyn vos Savant’s “Ask Marilyn” column in Parade magazine. Amazingly, many readers of vos Savant’s column refused to believe switching is beneficial despite her explanation. After the problem appeared in Parade, approximately 10,000 readers, including nearly 1,000 with PhDs, wrote to the magazine, most of them claiming vos Savant was wrong. Even when given explanations, simulations, and formal mathematical proofs, many people still do not accept that switching is the best strategy. Paul Erdős, one of the most prolific mathematicians in history – and the Mathemetician who holds the record for the largest amount of published mathematical papers (counting in at 1500) – remained unconvinced until he was shown a computer simulation demonstrating the predicted result.

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