If you want to achieve big things, do this.

In the 1960’s and then in the 1970’s, an experiment was conducted at Stanford University, which is now famously called the Marshmallow Experiment. Quoting Wikipedia:

They presented four-year-olds with a marshmallow and told the children that they had two options: (1) ring a bell at any point to summon the experimenter and eat the marshmallow, or (2) wait until the experimenter returned about 15 minutes later, and earn two marshmallows instead. The message was: “small reward now, bigger reward later.”

Many kids gave in to the temptation and ate the marshmallow and others waited for 15 minutes and earned two. The kids that participated in the experiment were monitored for the rest of their lives (and in fact are being monitored even now) and it was found that the kids that did manage to wait for 15 minutes have been consistently doing better than the ones that didn’t in almost all aspects of life. Quoting Wikipedia again:

The children who waited longer, when re-evaluated as teenagers and adults, demonstrated a striking array of advantages over their peers. As teenagers, they had higher SAT scores, social competence, self-assuredness and self-worth, and were rated by their parents as more mature, better able to cope with stress, more likely to plan ahead, and more likely to use reason. They were less likely to have conduct disorders or high levels of impulsivity, aggressiveness and hyperactivity. As adults, the high delayers were less likely to have drug problems or other addictive behaviors, get divorced, or be overweight. Each minute that a preschooler was able to delay gratification translated to a.2% reduction in Body Mass Index 30 years later.

It is amazing how one skill has been found to be associated with so many good things in life. On the other hand, it also makes sense if one thinks about it for a while.

It happens way too often in life that we want to get something but we do not want to go through the procedure required for getting it. For example, people like cleanliness, but do not like cleaning; they like to be healthy but do not like exercising or controlling their diet or regularly visiting the doctor; they like to get good grades in exams but not the studying required to get them; and the list goes on.

Most people end up acting upon their immediate whims instead of what’s good for them in the long run. This is exactly the case of preferring a small reward now over a bigger reward in the future.

It makes sense to do that if you live in 10,000 B.C. where any long term plan could be unexpectedly foiled by being killed by a lion. However, in today’s world, where at least statistically speaking, life is much more certain than it used to be, it is clear that people who act based on long term plans will do better than those who don’t.

You should thus prefer bigger rewards in future over small ones now, because most likely, very soon you will be in the future facing the consequences of the decisions you took in the past.

Exactly how to do that is a different issue and I will discuss that in a future article. Right now I feel like watching the T.V. for a while.

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013. Written by admin. No comments.

Number-crunching for IIT-JEE preparation

The recent US presidential elections were a big ego-boost for proponents of applying math to real life. First of all, there was Nate Silver, who almost got christened a “witch” because of the uncanny accuracy with which he predicted the outcome of the elections. A statistician by profession, he used the laws of probability to build complex statistical models that predicted the winning candidate in each of the 50 states with 100% accuracy. This was a marvelous achievement, definitely not achievable by more conventional witches that use only intuition and magical spells.

Then, there was an entire team of “number-crunchers” that managed Obama’s election campaign. Barack Obama himself assigned a lot of credit for his victory to this team. Here’s Obama tearing up while thanking them:

Why would an election campaign use numbers? This article explains. Quoting:

When Jim Messina arrived in Chicago as Obama’s newly minted campaign manager in January of 2011, he imposed a mandate on his recruits: they were to make decisions based on measurable data.

Measurable data. As opposed to mere intuition.

For each battleground state every week, the campaign’s call centers conducted 5,000 to 10,000 so-called short-form interviews that quickly gauged a voter’s preferences, and 1,000 interviews in a long-form version that was more like a traditional poll. To derive individual-level predictions, algorithms trawled for patterns between these opinions and the data points the campaign had assembled for every voter—as many as one thousand variables each, drawn from voter registration records, consumer data warehouses, and past campaign contacts.

This innovation was most valued in the field. There, an almost perfect cycle of microtargeting models directed volunteers to scripted conversations with specific voters at the door or over the phone. Each of those interactions produced data that streamed back into Obama’s servers to refine the models pointing volunteers toward the next door worth a knock.

This is amazing. A central server that runs a statistical model and guides each campaigner’s every single step based on data collected from past records and experiments! Aside from giving goosebumps to every statistician on earth, it also led to Obama’s emphatic victory in the presidential elections!

Using real data to make decisions is perhaps one of the most important things humanity has been realizing in the past few years. Why not do the same for the decisions about your career?

Each person is a complex entity. Should you do engineering or should you dabble into arts? What exams should you take? What subjects should you concentrate on? How much time should you spend solving exercise problems and how much time should you spend reading new text books?

Every thing you have ever done in life, every exam you have taken, every question you have answered and the way you have answered them already contains a lot of data to help you take the right career decisions in your life. Every day you leave new clues about what kind of person you are and about what kind of future is best for you. Why not tap into the data and have your own number-crunching team for your preparation for IIT entrance? This is precisely what you get if you sign up for the personal preparation plan.

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013. Written by Vinayak Pathak. No comments.

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