Little Experiments

Earlier in the week, I posted about my personal experiment with using a calendar chain to establish a meditation habit. I didn’t like the idea of the calendar chain tool, and I didn’t think it would work. But it didn’t cost me much to try it out, so I went for it. And it paid off. Big time.

This was an example of the sort of “little experiments” I like to try on myself. I’ve been working on self-improvement for many years, and, this may shock you, I still don’t have it all figured out – not for myself and not for anyone else either. In fact, I don’t think it’s even possible to have it all figured out. I think that self-improvement proceeds like scientific progress: The best we can achieve is an incrementally improved understanding of what works.

I often learn from the examples of others, but I cannot be sure that their methods will work for me. The advice successful people have to offer simply tells me what might work, not what will work.

I also draw upon the findings of modern psychology, but psychological research can, at best, only tell us what works for most people most of the time. It doesn’t offer definitive prescriptions because everyone is different.

True, human nature can provide a great deal of guidance. There are some ways in which we are all fundamentally the same, and effective self-improvement strategies usually take this into account. But there are also enough differences between individuals that finding a self-improvement method that works for everyone is exceedingly rare.

The only way to truly know if something will work for you is to try it out.

My little experiment with the meditation calendar chain was an obvious success because the tool worked for me. But if the tool had failed to work for me, it still would have been a successful experiment because I would have learned what doesn’t work, and that would take me one step closer to figuring out what does. Such is the nature of experimentation.

Here are the little experiments I’m currently running:
  • Will collagen help my joint problems?
  • Will cutting dairy out of my diet make any difference?
  • Will using a guided meditation when I get home help me detach from work and relax?

Admittedly, doing the first two in combination violates the principle controlled experimentation because they are both dietary changes, but I’m not trying to publish my findings. I’m just working on becoming better, and I don’t have the patience for genuine science.

And here are some examples of little experiments you might run on yourself:
  • Will you feel less stressed if you spend more time in airplane mode?
  • Will you sleep better if you put your electronics away earlier in the evening?
  • Will your mood improve if you take a walk in the park?
  • Will you read more if you schedule it as a recurring appointment in your calendar?
  • Will listening to an audiobook related to your field give you ideas to use at work?
  • Will writing about your ideas lead to greater clarity and creativity?
  • Will you get more work done in a study room at the library than at a coffee shop?

I can’t say whether or not those ideas will work for you. They certainly work for some people. So they might work for you.

And remember, you can’t trust your feelings about these ideas. The results of my little experiments are often the opposite of what I expect, as was the case with the calendar chain. The only way to truly know if something is right for you is to try it out.

So consider taking a somewhat scientific approach to your own life. If you think something might help, test it. If something works for other people, consider testing that too. And whatever happens, there are only two real outcomes that can come from little experiments: Either you win, or you learn.

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