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Season 1: 15 Science Articles Weekly

The Statistics of Success

I absolutely love how YouTube sets the stage for any discussion related to success. There are videos of successful people enumerating what they did to succeed. There are videos of successful YouTubers pointing out what successful people did to succeed. And then there are videos, rather advertisements, of courses that you can take to succeed as it teaches you the successful traits of successful people.

Clearly, there isn’t a dearth of analysis of success. Entire channels have spun up to fill in the niche of this need to succeed. And now that this niche is overflowing, such content is in fact exponentiating, rather than slowing down, as they need to succeed to quench the need to succeed has left the viewers even thirstier.

The last two paragraphs I wrote, are everything that’s wrong about what I was trying to voice my opinions against! I used no statistics, no visualizations rather simply generalised observations to arrive at a conclusion. And that conclusion too wasn’t a very helpful one. So, let’s ditch this attempt to rant about YouTube and instead focus on some concrete statistical ideas.

The Objective

Every once in awhile magic happens and the meaning of mathematical terminology almost coincides with its literary counterpart. This is one such situation. The objective, in normal conversation, refers loosely to your goal and in mathematics is an algebraic expression (often a polynomial), of which, you wish to have the maximum or the minimum value.

Coming up with a workable objective is the first step towards success. Waking up every morning and reminding yourself of the objective is the best way to get disciplined and make sure that all your metaphorical engines thrust constructively and propulse you in the desired direction.

The Quantization

As evident from the last section, to define your objective, you must quantize some parameters. Before diving deep into the endeavour of quantizing qualitative aspects of your life, you might wanna spend some time appreciating the role of semi-quantitative scales. You may not require a continuous spectrum with an abstract physical quantity, but you may divvy up the domain into discrete parts if you succeed in finding a criterion to sort with.

The Constraints

Immortality is a superpower. And superpowers are mostly fictional. Therefore, everyone is mortal. The syllogism employed here is purely for entertainment purposes. In reality, we have limited time. So, whatever be our goal, we don’t have the eternity. Life would have been good had that been the only problem. But, had that been the only problem, time wouldn’t have been a problem in the first place!

Without the thermodynamic arrow forever cruising towards chaos, irreversibility of time would have been less of an issue. But yes we know, entropy always increases. This may be less of a problem when you are trying to plan a trip to Antarctica next summer as funding and health are clearly bigger issues now.

The Optimization

The parameters are quantized and have been put into an objective. The constraints have been defined. It’s time to optimize! Linearly or non-linearly, that’s your choice, for your goal, in either case, shall remain the same. Maximize the constructive objectives, Minimize the destructive ones.

This might indicate the feasibility of your objective and whether it can be achieved. To answer how, however, you shall have to do some data collection and devise action plans.

The Conditionals

Leaders are readers! I heard that in some YouTube ad explaining why it is imperative to read books (because leaders do that). Quick question, which one happened first, reading books or success? Simple, books right? Yep, but how did we decide reading books lead to success? Because successful people read! So, we first selected the successful ones and then we enquired whether they read books.

Probabilistically, the order seems to be unimportant from this argument and that happens when reading books and succeeding are both independent variables. Thing again, wasn’t the whole point just to prove that the former leads to the latter? Therefore, to ask whether leaders read is futile. Instead, we would have to ask whether readers become leaders! If we have this data, we can proceed to conclude that reading books voraciously is the ultimate path to success.

The Data

Hmmm…where’s the data? Following the logic of time and thermodynamic constraints, humans have evolved to maximize the economic potential of analysed data. That’s why you have millions of analyses of billionaires net worths. The data about the set complement is not as abundant. Analyse this data and we’re bound to introduce biases in our analyses.

So, the solution? We can use ourselves as data points! Rather than calibrating ourselves to other members of the species, we might compare ourselves with ourselves from the past. Apple does that! You never hear how iPhone is 2x faster than Samsung flagship from their events, only that how iPhone N is 69% faster than iPhone (N-1). This habit of comparing to the self from the past might yield more statistically significant results as in either case you are expected to be in similar conditions except for the timeframe.

The Matrix

You have gathered whatever data you could manage and now you must devise a plan to act upon. All you need are two dimensions of data and now you can semi-quantise them to form Punnet squares. You may name each box formed and identify whether it is a positive or a negative place to be in. For example, you might analyse the last 6 months and find out your productivity in terms of blog posts written and mental health in terms of mosquitoes smashed (when I get angry, I kill mosquitoes but somehow there always remains more yet to be killed).

You can weekly log your results and define limits to separate the data into two parts. Fewer than 50 weekly mosquitoes and 5+ weekly blog posts would mean that I was happy and productive. This is a good place to be in. 50+ mosquitoes and 0-5 posts would refer to anger and procrastination, a red zone! 0-50 mosquitoes and 0-5 posts would be happy and procrastinating. Finally, 50+ mosquitoes and 5+ posts would mean angry but productive. The last two situations would be classified as orange.

This way, you end up creating a discrete cartesian coordinate for your actions! If you manage to highlight the red zones and plan to improve upon them, global improvement in your life becomes inevitable.

The Checklist

All I can say is, if you make checklists, you have Atul Gawande’s blessings. Creating a checklist converts the abstract concept of undone work into a manageable list of achievable goals! And then, you might have subtasks under each task. The more modular the list, the greater the generalizability of the experience earned from completing each task.

The Graph

These last four steps can constitute a golden recursion. You search for data from your own experiences. You classify the data into chunks and draw an n-dimensional matrix to highlight different situations. You come up with a checklist to address the red zones. Then you summarize your findings into a graph. This provides data, in turn, for your next cycle of data collection and the wheel of time keeps revolving.

The Gamification

The final destination in our attempt to appreciate the statistics of success before succeeding itself is gamification. Apps like Habitica will help you achieve the same. In fact, in the attempt to gamify life, chances are you might dive in so deeply into gamification, you might start up a YouTube channel and document your journey. Then when you finally succeed, your experience shall remain as an anecdote of a human who strived for success and finally achieved it with each step being recorded for the posterity to be inspired by.

Arkadeep Mukhopadhyay

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By Arkadeep Mukhopadhyay

Undergraduate Medical Student at Medical College Kolkata. Neuroscience, Data Science and Astrophysics enthusiast. Blogs weekly at 3am.Page. Previously worked with Times of India and Antarctica Daily.

4 replies on “The Statistics of Success”

Actually, I kept anonymous comments on so that “anonymous constructive criticism” never gets discouraged. Often times, the best suggestions come from these anonymous ones! BTW, you can create a wp account (takes a min) if you wish to comment without filling up your name over and over (as you mentioned in the threaded comments).

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