Learning from Correlations

Learning from Correlations. Psychology Fanatic article header image
Learning from Correlations. Psychology Fanatic
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Human behavior is best understood through correlations; not exact equations. However, learning from correlations may be complicated. Life consequences from behaviors are muddied by complex and unknown factors. Very seldom does the simplicity of algebraic rules apply to real life situations. Equations such as behavior (A) equals consequence (B) fail to calculate the complexity of our lives. The equation more often resembles something like, behavior (A) tends to lead to (B) as long as (C), (D), or (E) are not present; even this is a gross simplification.  Simplified truths can’t express in a few lines, chapters or even volumes the dynamic functions of living. Yet, with careful examination, we can learn from correlations.

We must ponder the the many implications of complexity. “Will this behavior lead to that consequence?” For those of us that like to ruminate about the past, “I wonder what I could have done different to achieve a better outcome.” With almost every discovered correlation between an action and consequence come countless exceptions that deviate from the rule; but exceptions don’t invalidate a rule—exceptions simply remind of complexity, encouraging skeptical evaluations, warning of the dangers of inflexible dogma.


I believe in self-empowerment. There’s a tangible correlation between people believing they have power to direct their lives and their enjoyment of life. However, the correlation doesn’t suggest complete control. We are responsible within notable limitations. Many happenings are the consequence of wise or foolish behaviors; but many other events occur because of unknown and outside factors—we may be innocent victims. Often life-changing moments that are not of our choosing; they just happen.

Self-empowerment isn’t an omnificent power to direct the universe. The universe follows its own rules—not ours. We have limited control. We must direct action in response to unpredictable and often annoying circumstances. The opinion, whether consciously chosen or not, that we control our environments is egotistical and demeaning, dismissing the importance of others; but many of us believe it. We judge others solely on how their action impacts our minuscule existence.

Behavior and consequence graph. Psychology Fanatic
Behavior and consequence graph. Psychology Fanatic
(Adobe Stock Images)

Self-empowerment, while it doesn’t control the universe, does constructively and purposefully respond to events. In the unpredictableness, we find strength to adjust and adapt, utilizing what is given as the material to build our personalized kingdom. We can find correlations between our behaviors and outcome. And from those correlations, we can make smart choices that impact our lives in beneficial ways.

Self Awareness and Cultivation

When I original wrote this article back in 2016, I was a bit idealistic. Certainly, analyzing consequences of behaviors is beneficial. And I even, briefly mentioned interfering cognitions and complexities. Unfortunately, most defensive operations operate beneath consciousness. So, we may believe we are fairly evaluating consequences in relation to our behaviors, however, often we are not.

Even Nietzsche believed in self cultivation by way of self analysis. Steve A. Stoltz warns “this is not enough by itself because it requires an understanding of the unconscious self that we have suppressed and repressed from ourselves as well as the psychopathologies they give rise to” (2020). Perhaps a program like SWOT self-analysis may help break through some of our common defenses that muck up the observations of helpful correlations.

Robert Elias Najemy suggests part of the solution to clear self analysis is self compassion. he wrote, “the process of self-analysis is more painful without some degree of self-acceptance and self-love. Otherwise, as we discover the many weaknesses, attachments and fears from which we have been operating, we may begin to feel even more negative about ourselves, and our situation may worsen rather than improve” (1985). I concur. Until we can deal kindly with the information, our ego will block and sterilize the facts. We succumb to the fundamental attribution error, deceiving ourselves and living on in blindness to information that if used correctly could lift us to another level.

A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic

If we believe we have a choice or believe we have no choice, our subjective experience supports that belief. Those that believe they have no choice thoughtlessly suffer to the vicissitudes of life, blown to and from with the direction the wind. However, when we courageously believe we have choice, we engage experiences with flexibility, adjusting plans with creative thought, utilizing experience to catapult us towards desired destinations. We become the captain of our ship and the authors of our destiny. We may not choose the direction or force of the wind, but we skillfully and smoothly adjust the sails, capture life’s energy, and move in the direction of our dreams.

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Najemy, Robert Elias (1985). The Psychology of Happiness: Understanding Our Selves and Others. Holistic Harmony Network; 4th edition.

Stolz, S. (2020). Nietzsche’s Psychology of the Self: the Art of Overcoming the Divided Self. Human Arenas, 3(2), 264-278.

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