The Experiment and The Practice

We could all be more skillful at conducting effective change in our lives, and I’ll raise my own hand high if we’re going to count failures in change. Recently I’ve been learning from some fine examples of people working to change their lives and I’ll to pass along some of what has been valuable.

Self-experimentation is a very effective way to discover ways in which we can alter our lifestyles. Experimentation gives us objective data about how we are living and how well we are changing our lives. Without evidence, we can fool ourselves with wishful thinking or doubts about our progress, but we have the tools we need to confirm our practices are working and to shape them into more effective vehicles for change.

Seth Roberts is an expert in self-experimentation and has spent years using his personal experiments as the foundations of academically rigorous conclusions about “new and useful ways to improve sleep, mood, health, and weight.” In his article “The unreasonable effectiveness of my self-experimentation“, Roberts shared his experiences in using himself as a test subject for many areas of experimentation, and his insight into the advantage that having “the subject-matter knowledge of an insider, the freedom of an outsider, and the motivation of a person with the problem” can give us in solving our problems has a lot of potential. If we take the time to educate ourselves about the work that has been done in the area we wish to improve, we can test solutions in our specific circumstances.

In the blog entry “Optimal Daily Experience“, Roberts also commented on essential experiences to have each day, giving a valuable template for building a rewarding life. In brief and slightly clarified, here is his set of optimal experiences.

  1. Social Interaction
  2. Physical Exercise
  3. Travel
  4. Hunger
  5. Face-to-face Contact
  6. Morning Sunlight
  7. Being Listened To
  8. Being Helpful
  9. Being Valued
  10. Acting with Purpose
  11. Learning

Some of his ideas for optimal experiences aren’t easy to fit into all of our lives, but there are countless experiments waiting to grow from these seeds.

Earlier this month, Sarah Wilson shared her experience with the Pomodoro Technique, a simple way of tricking our minds into entering a flow state. A flow state occurs when we are so completely focused on a task that we lose track of time, distractions no longer occur and we are able to accomplish more. Wilson describes the process of the Pomodoro Technique simply.

You pick a task and take one of those kitschly 90s red tomato kitchen timers and set it to 25 minutes. Next, churn through your task, ignoring distractions, not stopping to make tea or stare at the ceiling. Rest for 5 minutes and repeat the cycle three more times, after which you rest for a good half hour and grab lunch or read emails. The aim is to work to these 30-minute cycles daily, building up the self-discipline muscle.

You can read more about this method in Wilson’s blog entry “I try this cool self-discipline technique“. So far I am seeing impressive results by using this technique.

A lot of the great ideas about lifestyle changes and monitoring come to my attention through The Quantified Self project. The Quantified Self mostly focused on lifelogging and monitoring our lives, but in “How to Design for Behavior Change” the focus is on the actual practice of changing patterns. The entry showcases the behaviour change work of BJ Fogg. Fogg proposes that we can alter our behaviour by paying attention to three key features of our behaviour, Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. Assuming we have an adequate level of motivation and ability, the key becomes creating triggers that will prompt us to act on new behaviours we wish to include in our lives. Fogg has produced a number of great resources for understanding behaviour change, and you can learn more through his Behavior Grid, Behavior Model and Behavior Wizard.

I have a lot left to change in my life, but with these tools in hand, I suspect I’ll have more success than I have without these insights.

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