Working the Bell Curve for Success

You have probably heard of the Bell curve.  In statistics it is a visual representation on a graph of normal data.  If you take any population and from that population take a random sampling and then examine for a variable, it is likely that the spread of the results looks like this:

File:Standard deviation diagram.svg

In this graph we can see that for any variable (take height for example), approximately 68% of the population will be centred around the average height of 5’8″ tall.  As one examines the data above 5’10” tall and below 5’4″ tall, you can see that there are smaller percentages of people who are likely to be found at these heights.  

This normal distribution is consistent for just about any variable where genetics dominates the outcome.  In other words, nature has a greater effect on height than does nurture.  If your parents were tall, then your chances of being to the right of the 5’8″ curve increase (excluding discussion about Regression to the Mean).  In the debate about nature vs. nurture, or genes vs. environment, it is generally concluded that both nature and nurture play a roll in the expression of the trait.  If we go to the example of height again, even if the parents have genes for having long femurs, factors such as: the stress the mother was under during gestation,  nutrition, whether or not the mother smoked will play a role in whether the genes for long femurs become fully expressed or whether the internal environment in the womb affects the outcome.

Even after birth, environment can still play a role in the final outcome of gene expression.  If the child with potential for long femurs was malnourished or sustained some injuries to the growth plates of the bones, the final height of the femurs after puberty will be affected.  You will hopefully appreciate that for any given trait from IQ to height to resting heart rate, the interplay of genetics and environment dictate the final outcome.  So far we have only examined one variable – height, for which you can do nothing about.  Fortunately, there are many variables that affect your quality of life where you can influence the environment (nurture) and move yourself to which ever side of the curve you desire!  

A good example of how you can work the Bell curve in your favour is in the example of your personal finances.  Average annual income also falls on a Bell curve and in the United States is looks like this:

In the above graph we can see that the half the population in the United States makes between $43,115 and $62,178.  If you decided you wanted to make more than half the population, you would have to put some effort into breaking out beyond the 75th percentile.  There are many factors which have been studied which correlate salary to inherited variables (nature) such as height and IQ.  The term heritability refers to the strength of the relationship between genetics vs. environment.  A heritability coefficient of 1.0 means that genetics 100% explained the trait.  It is said that height is 0.8 heritable and IQ is approximately 0.5.  This means that only half of a person’s IQ is related to genes where as approximately 80% of height is related to genes.  Studies examining IQ and income provide mixed results.  It seems that IQ may account for 25% of the variability seen in income.  

What does all this mean?  If you were to read just about any article on the subject of success (often income being a part of success) or ask any successful person what he our she thought was the reasons for their success, it would almost never be about their genetics.  Most people who make the move out of the middle of the pack: worked harder, got a higher education, took risks, made every minute of their time count for something, and found something to be passionate about.  They used their average genetics and put some effort into making it over the hump of the curve.  If one chooses to not put much effort into being more successful, chances are they will find themselves in the middle of the pack.  For many people a definition of success could be to remain comfortable in the middle of the curve.  Everyone will have their own definition of success but if you find you are not achieving it, know that there is something that can be done about it.  

While you cannot change your eye colour, your height, or the colour of your skin, you can affect many of the other variables that are related to success.  Here is a compiled top 10 list of the things that successful people do everyday:

1) Find something to be passionate about: it is easier to move forward with an idea if you are passionate about it

2) Educate yourself: learn everything you can about that which you are passionate about

3) Don’t waste time: successful people don’t waste time surfing the net, surfing channels on TV or idling

4) Set goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time focused): goal setting makes sure you have a road map

5) Manage relationships effectively: make sure every relationship increases your energy and brings you towards your goals

6) Focus on physical health: you can’t attain anything if you are not well

7) Don’t neglect dedication to mindfulness: sitting in silence is not idling – it is creating

8) Wake up earlier: it is a fact that almost all successful people wake up earlier than the rest of us

9) Be effective and efficient – not busy

10) Take action: it is great to plan and contemplate but eventually you have to actually take a step

If you want to change your position on the curve – even just slightly, it will take significant effort and sacrifice but know this is more than other 68% will do.  


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