3 min read

Predicting Your Future by Believing in Statistics + The Hallway Test

I want to share two mental models that have been helpful to me. One is to believe in statistics. The second is to do the hallway test. Together, they help me predict likely futures for me and choose actions that tend to produce those outcomes.

First, believe in statistics.

Chances are, you are not special. Both your inputs (actions) and the outcomes they produce (results, i.e. your life) start out average. That’s the definition of average, statistically. Unless you change your inputs and do different things, you will tend to live the average person’s life. This is not a judgment on “being average.” I say this as a matter of statistics.

For example, if you eat the food the average person eats (i.e. what popular media and doctors prescribe), that tends to result in the average person’s health, body aesthetics, and energy. If you also do the same things the average person does to change (e.g. fits and starts on exercise regimens, random dieting, etc.), you will also tend to get the same results they get (i.e. perpetual disappointment with how they look and feel, forever.)

Another way of saying you believe in statistics: You are not special. This has two connotations.

On the negative side: If I’m not special and I want to learn something difficult such as programming, I am not going to learn it in three months. Not when the average person does it in one year or two years or whatever. Even if I take some online course purporting to be a shortcut… If that’s what everybody does? Likely, it puts me on the same path as everyone else. Take a bunch of shortcuts for a few months and eventually realize that taking the long way the first time is the shortest way.

On the positive side, this idea of not being special produces confidence. It means I can learn anything. I knew I could learn to drive because some significant percentage of the population knows how to drive. I believe I will have, on average, average ability to learn driving. Same with learning German — there are 82 million Germans. Statistically, 100% of Germans learn to speak German. Probably, I am not more stupid than the average German. This makes me believe that I will eventually learn German as well.

Second, do the “Hallway Test.”

The easiest way to predict your future career is to do the “Hallway Test.” I can’t pinpoint it, but I remember hearing this from the Tropical MBA podcast. Essentially, it says to look out at the hallway and at your boss’s corner office. If you continue the path you are on, in all likelihood (on average), you’ll end up your boss. Career-wise, yes, but also the health and the family, social, and personal life that go with that career. Again, this is not a judgment on whether that is good or bad. It is a matter of statistics.

Here’s a real scenario to make it concrete.

I was talking to a friend. He’s dating a girl he feels is good for him. The problem is, his father doesn’t seem to like her. Being the good son that he is, this bothers him a lot. He feels guilty and thinks it shouldn’t. Believing in statistics, I don’t agree. What does this mean? It means that on average, our parents not being happy with our choice of romantic partner bothers us. It’s normal that my friend feels bothered. It takes a long time to change how you feel as a result of certain things. So the question for the present is, what do we do with this feeling? If he does the average thing, he’ll likely do what feels most comfortable. Therefore, he will get the average outcome, whatever that is.

How do you know what that “whatever” will be? Well, do the hallway test. In my friend’s case, he can look at someone who made romantic decisions based on pleasing his elders. His father, perhaps? What outcome did he get? Unless my friend changes his input and does the non-average action, he’ll likely get the same result.