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Murphy’s Law: Expecting the unexpected

16 Jun 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 16 Jun 2022 00:38:20
Murphy’s Law: Expecting the unexpected

Does the phone always ring when you're just dashing out of the door? Does your PC crash when you're in the middle of writing that really important piece of work and you haven't saved for 20 minutes?

And if you're planning to get the decorative lights out for your seasonal celebration at the last minute, just what do you think is going to happen when you test them?

Now, here at Mind Tools, we often emphasize that feeling out of control is a major factor in feeling stressed. So if you feel out of control when events like those described above occur, and this raises your stress levels – here's the good news that can help you get back in control: A theory exists that predicts these kinds of event, and when they occur. It's called Murphy's Law.

In its simplest form, Murphy's Law states: If anything can go wrong, it will. However, as with many successful business theories, the original law has been extended over time to cover specialist areas, several of which are given below: Project Planning: If anything can go wrong, it will. Usually at the most inopportune time. Performance Management: If someone can get it wrong, they will. Risk Assessment: If several things can go wrong, the one you would LEAST like to happen will occur. Practical creativity: If you can think of four ways that something can go wrong, it will go wrong in a fifth way.

Believe it or not, Edward J Murphy was a real person. No, really. In fact, he was a Major in the US Air Force in the 1940s, specializing in development engineering. As much of his work involved testing experimental designs, he was frequently faced with things that didn't exactly go to plan. Scholars differ on precisely what words were originally used when the phrase "Murphy's Law" was first coined, but the meaning is clear.

Furthermore, as Murphy and his team were breaking new ground, they were unable to rely on the kind of tried-and-tested procedures used effectively elsewhere in the military to ensure zero defects. As a result, they had to depend on their own initiative to get things right, and one team member in particular could virtually be relied upon to step on the proverbial banana skin. This almost certainly led to the Performance Management application of Murphy's Law given above. (Some people believe that Murphy's Law was first proposed by a guy named Sod and the law should be called after him accordingly.)

You feel stressed when events that you did not expect to happen occur. And your stress is increased when this happens at the least ideal time. To reduce the stress you feel, you need to take back control!

The following steps will allow you to predict the outcome, and because you are initiating the event, you also know when it will occur. As you go through the steps, your confidence will increase thanks to your application of Murphy's Law.

Step 1: Butter a piece of toast. Step 2: Think of two or more things that could happen if you dropped it. Are any of these more likely to happen if you are wearing suede shoes or are about to set off for a job interview or meet your prospective parents-in-law? Step 3: Drop the toast. Step 4: Say "Hmm, I thought that would happen", and allow a smile to spread across your face. You are in control!