Statistics, Evidence, and Willpower

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In this post, we’ll have a quick discussion on how to improve will-power in a way most people have never thought about before.

Willpower is one of the most important things for anyone who has goals and dreams, especially if these goals and dreams are ambitions. Because the bigger and more ambitious the goal, the harder it tends to be. As the saying goes, if it was easy everyone would do it. To get ourselves to do the things that we need to do in order to achieve our goals there are two main strategies:

  1. Habits
  2. Will-power

Lots have been written about habit formation both out there and on this website alike. The same goes for will-power, but this post, as mentioned above is here to bring new light to the second strategy.

Statistics evidence and will-power

The times we live in today is one of science. With the passage of time, we get a greater and more comprehensive understanding of the world around us. With this increased understanding we gain greater control of our environment, and things that once we’re out of our reach are not only possible now, but also second nature to us. We watch TV, use GPS with the same ease of breathing or eating. When we get sick we no longer resort to prayers and the hope of healing, but we also look more and more into what medicine has to say in the topic. How did we get here? One might say science, but the answer is much deeper than that. When we think of science we think of theories coming from the brains of geniuses in incredible feats of intelligence and creativity. We think Einstein and Newton, people whose intellects leave us and generations breathless. Yes, a part of the reason why we’ve gotten here is these moments of genius insight. But the big picture is simpler than that.

Evidence

One of the bases of what makes science is evidence. Empiric evidence as they say. It’s not enough to think the framework of thought and convince the world of its truth. The final say comes not from the number of followers you have, but from the ability to make predictions from your hypothesis. When you get it right it’s as if through experiments, you’ve gained the power to simulate the universe. Like a computer programmer, you can think and make something happen because you know how that particular part of the fabric of the universe works.

This is why getting evidence against a hypothesis is enough to kill the hypothesis. Through your framework of thought you’ve predicted black, but what you’ve got is white. You thought you understood, but now you realize you didn’t.

Statistics

The thing about evidence is that it by itself is not to prove a hypothesis. In case you’re not familiar with the term, to put it simply a hypothesis is what you’d call a theory. Technically speaking, a theory is a hypothesis that has been proven unlikely to be untrue. Be that through an enormous amount of confirming evidence or through the use of rules of logic. Having one case in which your hypothesis holds is not enough to prove it right. Not even two, three or a hundred. What makes you think that on the 1 millionth experiment your hypothesis will have its first disconfirming evidence? In science to prove something to be true is a hard goal, sometimes so difficult that we settle for the next best thing: the fact that we haven’t found disconfirming evidence for what we believe to be true. This is where we begin to enter the field of confidence intervals, the law of large numbers the field of statistics is known for, simply because we surrender to a weaker version of what we consider to be true namely: that which has been tested countless times and so far it hasn’t gotten any disconfirming evidence.

Will Power

That’s all interesting and good but how does it relate to willpower? Well. The ability to get ourselves to continue doing that which is unpleasant is a function of many things. The amount of sleep you’ve had the previous night, health physical and mental as well as the reason behind it. One of the factors we rarely address is the fact that sometimes we give up because we falsely believe we have no chance to win.

The overweight man/woman quits on weightloss plan not because the plan hasn’t worked yet, but because he/she falsely concluded that it will never work. This is, in my opinion, the most detrimental belief one can have. We quit on our dreams because the first few failures lead us to believe we’re not cut for it. But how can you know that? Because you’ve failed 10 or 20 times? Does that mean you can’t make it?

In science, a drug can work for 15 people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the drug is the reason why people have gotten better. In science, there is a need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that what we think of as the truth really is the truth, and I think we should do the same when it comes to our goals and dreams. Failing a few times is no proof that you can’t make it special when there have been countless stories of people who’ve literally failed their way to success.

The point is to take a scientific approach to your self-improvement journey. To not quit too early to see the benefits, nor to hang on for too long to miss the change to try any other alternatives. This will allow you to know when to persevere, and for how long, as well as to be guilt-free when the time comes that you amount enough evidence to decide to quit on a given approach.

My proposal is to set a given number of experiments/trials for any given self-improvement approach. To set a number so high that you’re either guaranteed to succeed due to the law of averages effect or to quit with confidence like the gold seeker would after digging every inch of the expected to be profitable area.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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