Statistics and Numbers

Statistics was one of the hardest college classes I ever took. I passed it the first time. I passed mostly because I met one-on-one with the professor before every class. She had the patience of a saint.

Are statistics even helpful? It’s always been true, but especially now we have to ask if the statistics are even accurate or truthful.

One of the mantras I’ve adopted is, “It’s possible, but not probable.” In other words, just about anything – especially your worst fears – are possible. However, that doesn’t mean it is probable.

When folks struggle with anxiety, we talk about this over and over again as needed. The example I usually give is the possibility of a home invasion occurring while I am in my office (which is off my garage) seeing my clients. Yes, it is actually possible it is happening. It is also not probable. If I focus on the possible, I will go insane and have to quit work.


Believe it or not, this seems to help a lot of people. Statistics can help relieve our fears.

When you face a medical illness or diagnosis, the statistics can give us the hope we need to keep our spirits up. Such and such percentage of people recover with this treatment. Such and such percentage of people never progress to this level. If the numbers are good, we have more energy to cooperate and comply.

And statistics can be meaningless if your experiences go the opposite way. Statistics can destroy you.

Let’s say someone you love is given a terminal diagnosis. That’s bad news. But then the next round of tests come around and you find out they have the most common form of the disease. In fact, 99% of people that get treatment will respond and survive. Ninety-nine percent! Odds don’t get much better than that. Phew!

And then the next round of tests come back.

Their body is in the 1% of people who don’t respond. Their body isn’t getting better.

My God. No one gets in the 1%. Except that 1%. You can’t even believe it. You can’t even wrap around it.

And then you find out the patient is a beautiful, eight-year-old child.

Try and wrap around that.

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