Correlation does not imply causation

I’m browsing the web like a regular dude, and I’m coming across these articles that say, “Do these 5 things everyday to become successful”, “Find out the secret habit that Bill Gates does in the morning”, “If you don’t wake up at 3:50am and put ketchup on your cereal, then you can never be successful”. As soon as I read these titles, I notice a sinking feeling in my stomach caused by a feeling of guilt, knowing that I could learn a lot from these publications.

Article on the alternative daily

Here are the usual suspects:

  1. Waking up at 5:30am
  2. Make your bed
  3. Meditate
  4. Don’t look at your phone for the first hour that you are awake
  5. List 5 things you are grateful for besides memes on instagram
  6. Read a lot
  7. Exercise
  8. Plan the day out

On any given day, I do maybe 4 or 5 of these, but never all 8, and for the love of baby Jesus, no one could pay me a reasonable amount of money to wake up at 5:30 (which is probably why I’m in this predicament). I’ve always wondered, “Look, Ben, big guy, bromingo, massive individual, (I’m talking to myself) we know all successful people have these habits in common so why don’t you do them? Why don’t you have any interest in waking up early, even though, you know it will make you a more successful and productive person?”

Even now I realize that if I wake up at 5am everyday, I would absolutely feel more accomplished. No question about it. Absolutely. I would have to go to bed at like 8pm to get enough sleep, but I could do it.

But I’m not willing to do it. How do I know this, you ask? Well, I haven’t woken up before 6 unless I need to cram some information into my head before an exam or I need to post an instagram during “peak hours” in Asia. Does this make me a bad person? No, definitely not. Does this make me lazy and undetermined? Probably by the standards of these authors, but who knows.

I think the solution to this problem goes back to my last article of making small changes for big accomplishments. Instead of waking up at 7:15 in the morning for my 8am tennis session, I can wake up at 6:30 to make for a more relaxed morning. I could take my time when preparing my morning sushi instead of shoving it into my half-awake face, make my bed consistently, meditate consistently, read more often, and I could come to tennis practice prepared.

But, here is my real reason for writing this article:

According to the principles of my economics background, it does not really make sense for people to adopt the habits of successful people. It’s okay for journalists to document the habits of successful people, in fact that’s actually quite interesting. However, it is not factual for authors to imply that success (whatever the f*** that means) is guaranteed and can only be attained through the following steps, and not for the reasons you think. I’m not talking about moral reasons. I’m talking about mathematical laws. This really bothers me for some reason.

The very first thing I learned in econometrics: correlation does not imply causation. Meaning: Just because two variables are related, does not mean that one causes the other to happen. There just happens to be a trend in which A moves in some direction when B moves in some direction, on average, all else equal, ceteris paribus (Ignore that last part. That was for all my fellow economics nerds who were about to call me out on some fake news until I imported some Latin on you haters). It can not be proven that A causes B, or vice versa.

Thus, here’s the results we have so far. We have two variables: success and productivity of daily habits. These articles are saying that as the productivity of the daily habits increases (aka. as people tend to perform the habits of successful people, labeled above as usual suspects), the person tends to be more successful. Fine. Fair. Too good. That’s a totally valid argument. One that is most likely true.

However, it is not factual to say that success causes productive habits, or furthermore, these productive habits cause success. These articles are implying the latter: if you engage in these habits, you will be successful, which statistically, is an absolute error. There is absolutely no evidence that following the habits of successful people will lead to success. It is merely what successful people tend to do in their daily lives. It is quite possible that these people were born a certain way, or maybe raised a certain way, for their brains to program these habits which lead to their eventual success.

But, and this is an important but, not as important as mine though, when I think of habits that I can adopt to make me more productive, the list is remarkably similar to lists from these articles.

Things I’d like to do in the a.m. that will lead to success: Read, write about my thoughts, gradually wake up earlier, meditate, check ze memes, shower.

Surprise, surprise. Operation get Ben an excuse to not put in ze work: FAILED. Looks like I’m waking up at 5:30 because maybe the authors are right. Why would I call bullshit on these articles when, in fact, I basically have the same list as mentioned in these articles?

But,

There may be some omitted variable bias. What if there’s some third variable that only some people experience that causes the urge to perform the productive habits instinctively, like some innate characteristic. Something in the jeans, or genes.

We have another dilemma, but this solution is easy. So, we have determined that there is a right path: the list I’ve created. Only successful people have this third, separate variable within themselves. It’s pretty darn clear I was not born with this innate trait to wake up at the crack of dawn, but maybe it’s something I can obtain along this path we call life (I can’t believe I just wrote that hahaha). I have a feeling that this third influential variable that leads to a path of success can be something innate, but also can be a feature inside me that I can activate.

After all, Buddhism teaches the principle that enlightenment is already within oneself. There’s nothing to attain because it’s already inside me. I know that’s deep, but it’s a statement I’ve always been drawn to.

After conducting this logical analysis, I have concluded to follow my own belief of what I can do to be successful and just by doing that I’ll be just fine. After all, that’s what Bill Gates did. He didn’t read an article on medium.com and get a pit in his stomach. He just did what it took to be successful in his own eyes.

After writing this post, I still hold my thesis on my opinion of these types of articles (them being naive and misleading), however, I realize that they are not completely bad after all, and they actually are pretty informative and interesting to read.

I have to trust that I have this third and separate characteristic within me, which very well may be more than one variable. I’m going to trust that following my heart, while being easy on myself, will lead to a successful path. I have a feeling that taking a step out of my comfort zone and changing my lifestyle is a step in the right direction.

 

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