A man in the ready position, on a running track. What is Correlation and Causation when it comes to our Life?

What is Correlation and Causation when it comes to our Life?


Does our background and our environment have anything to do with the life we have? Is there a correlation between the past and the present? Is there a causation between the events of the past and the events of our present?

A lot of people have the belief that we have to deal with the cards that have been drawn for us from birth. For some that is a welcome point of view, but for most it’s a dread. That’s because few of us are born into an environment that is conducive to good growth, learning about joy and happiness, learning and financial stability.

So it becomes a theory of common ideals that we will become what our environment has for us.

Take a mining community for example. In the early 1900’s, being born into a mining family, as a male, you would be expected to follow your fathers footsteps and enter the mine yourself. If you were a girl, to get married, have children and look after the family at home. That’s the perception of the man brings the money and the woman looks after the home.

On the other scale, a child born into a family that owns and runs a business would be expected to do the same thing, male and female. Although the quality of life is the massively different, the expectations are the same.

In other words, the variable is the environment but the expectancy is the same. Some societies still have these perceptions, but for the last few decades individuals have shown that what you get isn’t always the path you’ll follow; That how we live our life is not based on those ideas1.

Causation and Correlation

The following are definitions from the Australian Bureau of Statistics:

Correlation is a statistical measure (expressed as a number) that describes the size and direction of a relationship between two or more variables. A correlation between variables, however, does not automatically mean that the change in one variable is the cause of the change in the values of the other variable.

Causation indicates that one event is the result of the occurrence of the other event; i.e. there is a causal relationship between the two events. This is also referred to as cause and effect.

Simply put, a correlation means that there’s a relation between things, but it doesn’t mean that one can affect the other. Causation, on the other hand, means that they can affect each other.

We take life to be a causation of our own history, never considering that they are merely a correlation.

What do I mean – you look at where you are and figure that it is so because of your past history, that one is related to the other, that the environment you grew up in is the reason why you are living the life you are living in now.

Well, that is most likely to be true. The ideals, beliefs, theories, fears and your actions, will all be based on and what you were exposed to as a child.

The cause that your life is the way it is, can be attributed to the way you have been brought up. Cause and effect. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction – Newton’s Third Law of Motion.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Those are the ideals you have held up to this point. By changing the way you think, what you expect out of life, how you think your life will be in six months, next year, in five years, you will be altering the cause and consequently the effect. You will be changing the causation for your life.

What about correlation?

If I want to turn the light on in a room, I go to the light switch and flick it to the on position. The light comes on. Cause and effect, and there’s a correlation between the switch and the light.

But if I switch off the light to the kitchen and at the same time the fridge stops making that whirring noise (the coolant circulating), that’s a coincidence2. There is no relation between the two. Stop thinking about it. There isn’t. Otherwise the electrician did a really bad job and connected the two together, which he didn’t. It hasn’t happened before and hasn’t happened since.

We tend to think that events are always linked. In our life, our thinking is the only real correlation between our past and our present, because it remains the same.

BUT… we do this in our life consistently. We blame past events for the outcome of our life. And it’s true, because it’s those events that have created the life we now live.

That is where it ends though. It’s all down to the way WE think.

Our past environment doesn’t have to be our present environment. We can choose to change it. That is where the correlation ends – at the choices we make. The past only has a hold on us as long as we allow that hold to exist. The moment we decide to break that connection, by changing our habits, our thoughts, we begin to etch out a new path for our life.

The correlation has only existed because we allowed it to. We chose to accept the theories of our past as the only available option for us, even when we thought we had no other choice. The correlation was only as real as we made it.

Breaking the habit

The question is, are you doing the same things and expecting a different outcome, because it isn’t going to happen.

All the different things that you are doing or not doing, the variables of your life, are what are going to create your future. All the little habits you are doing day-to-day, whether you brush your teeth or not, watch too much TV or not, read or not, spend five minutes doing the revision for your final exams or not, are going to accumulate to the end outcome.

You are creating the cause at this present moment. You are maintaining that false correlation between the past and the present.

To clarify – your past has installed some theories in your mind, for better or for worse. But you have chosen to maintain that correlation between your past ideals and the consequent outcome. The cause has been your thoughts. The effect is your outcome.

The correlation between your past and you, is false. You don’t have to live that life that you thought has been sketched for you. Those ideals may not be ones you agree with or want. And the fact is, that they don’t have to be. It’s your choice.

Your life or the life of a business is run on ideals and beliefs. Neither has to be the way it is. By changing habits you change the outcome.

By changing the cause you change the effect. You are the cause. Your life is the effect. Who you were or where you came from doesn’t have to be a correlation of your current life.

Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is no correlation between a childhood success and a professional athlete.
Carl Lewis

Photograph by: Braden Collum on Unsplash

1Do not confuse that with a lack of being a gentleman. A gentleman’s rules always apply.
2 I don’t believe in coincidences and this was no exception. Had it not been for the combination of the light going off and the fridge going quiet, the idea of correlation and causation for this post would not have come to mind. As soon as it happened I knew that it was a theme for a post.

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