Last week I wrote about mentally preparing for Hurricane Sandy. This week it is appropriate to write about mentally preparing for election day. This is no joke. Eight years ago, I arrived home thinking I had fired the President only to discover I had been badly mistaken. The bottom dropped out of me, and I had to fight my way out of a depression.
Four years ago, my brain responded a lot differently to the result, and in a very good way.
By now you have probably guessed where my political tendencies lie, but that is not the issue. If you’re like me, your brain is like an echo chamber that amplifies everything from the outside world, especially the things we care about. This helps explain why we are capable of finding deep meaning and beauty in the supposedly ordinary and a sense of the sacred in the supposedly mundane.
But the downside is our brains have a way of exaggerating events, of imputing catastrophe to mere setback and deep significance to the relatively ho-hum. For me during a Presidential election, this translates to the type of Apocalyptic anxiety of a Mayan calendar countdown.
Every few minutes (okay, I’m exaggerating, but only slightly) I turn to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog at the NY TImes for reassurance. Mr Silver is a stats guru who knows how to explain things. Thus, even though the political punditocracy is essentially saying the election is a toss-up based on a superficial eye-balling of the national polls, Mr Silverman has calculated that Obama has an eight in ten chance of being re-elected based on a sophisticated analysis of the state polls.
To vastly oversimplify Mr Silver, when we are talking about the election being decided in eight or nine swing states, national polls are of little significance. In his most recent piece, Mr Silver pointed out that of 22 swing state polls that were released on Friday, only one showed Romney running ahead. The margins may be in the low single digits, but the sheer wealth of polling data from numerous sources over the season, weighed against the track records of the pollsters, indicates that these margins will hold.
In a previous post, Mr Silver compared Obama’s chances of winning to a football team ahead by one field goal with three minutes left. Yes, the team may lose, but it turns out that NFL teams in this position win 79 percent of the time.
To me, this is very reassuring.
But what if the polls are inaccurate? What if Romney is surging? What if a comet falls from the sky? Next thing I find myself turning to Nate Silver once more for reassurance, for an update, for a nugget from an older post, a butter pecan cookie recipe, anything.
If the polls - and Mr Silver - were telling a different story, you would probably see my brain going into a defensive crouch. Again, this is very common in our population. We numb ourselves in anticipation of hurt, often at the expense of engaging in the world. In fact, this is what my brain was preparing to do when things started looking good for Romney in early October.
Seriously, I did not want to revisit where my brain was on election night eight years ago, and this is the point - neither do you. So, a few pointers:
- Have some kind of disappointment plan. Should your guy lose, how do you anticipate you will react? Can you think of a better way of reacting?
- Protect yourself. If the results don’t go your way, you probably should not be glued to the TV. Likewise, be mindful of who may in the room with you.
- Carefully monitor any thoughts of resentment or victimhood. These tend to get out of control when things don't go our way. We're the ones who can least afford for that to happen.
- Have some kind of success plan. You may wind up feeling very good Tuesday night. Or you may simply be glad the election is over. All of us have experienced far too much misery in our lives to squander our good moments. How do you propose to savor yours?
- If you find yourself sinking into a depression: First remind yourself that this is an ordinary reaction to a bad situation. You may need to acknowledge that you will not be yourself for a few days, or even a few weeks. The trick is to contain your depression, to keep it “situational” and not allow it to escalate into a full-blown episode.
Finally, vote. Sitting out an election is no way to protect yourself. In fact, the best way to induce a state of learned helplessness is to not make an effort. As well as your civic duty, you have a duty of care to yourself. Let’s put it this way. The act of voting is a vote of confidence in you. Vote early and vote often.