Experimentation

Every day we hear about scientists experimenting with a new research topic, or entrepreneurs experimenting with a new idea in the form of a business. Yet we don’t hear a lot about people conducting experiments with their own lives. People are not so crazy about continuous self-optimization.

We have the ability to experiment with every aspect of our lives, and it is through that experimentation that we can optimize our routines and develop better mental models. By constantly experimenting with elements in our lives, we can explore new ideas and evaluate how we can use them to improve our lives, without having to make a full commitment.

There is something really powerful about the notion of doing something unique every day — although quickly we get stuck in a routine and fail to experiment. There is no way to know if what we are doing is the best and most efficient way until we have explored other alternatives. If we stick to our routines and fail to experiment, then we may end up developing inefficient mental models based on incomplete information.

I like the phrase “Atomic Habits”, which was coined by James Clear in his book of the same title. Clear states that it is the small changes — the atomic changes — that make all of the difference in your life. If you want to start reading more, start by reading a few pages a day and see if that works. If you can’t find the time, you could try going to bed 10 minutes earlier and see if that helps you. Perhaps you end up reading an essay instead because you find them more interesting. Either way, you arrived at a final conclusion by making a small change, and rapidly experimenting.

The reason why we develop habits in the first place is so that we can leave more room for the brain to make important decisions in the day. Habits are essentially shortcuts that improve our lives. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the habits we do cultivate are both optimized, and consider our unique preferences. Starting small means it is very difficult to break out of a habit. If you say that you are going to write one sentence in your journal per day, you can start to realize the benefits of writing down your thoughts, without having to commit a long period of time to journaling. Perhaps you start to write more, or perhaps you realize that journaling isn’t for you. Experimentation helped you reach that conclusion.

Making small changes to our routines and mental models quickly compounds. If a person starts to read five pages of a book each day, they will have read 150 pages in a month — most likely half of the book. Making these small changes in your life can be difficult, because we let so many things become part of our identity. Our identities are harder to change because changing them involves altering the mental models we have been applying and have previously believed in for a long time. This is why experimentation is a great way to get started. You don’t need to think about fully changing your identity, you just need to think about small changes that will help you be happier and more productive. Your identity will naturally change over time, if you spend enough time experimenting with a new habit, routine, or idea.

I like to take some time every so often to evaluate my routines, and consider whether or not they could be optimized. When I started journaling, I recorded my notes in Day One until I tried writing in a paper journal. I preferred the paper journal, and have since started to spend more time journaling because I can feel the amount I have written. It was a small change, but had a massive impact.

Try to eat something different for dinner — or even try making it yourself. Think about your morning routine and think of the best time to start meditating for a minute. Read a book about a topic with which you have limited prior knowledge. It is only through rapid personal experimentation that we can truly believe what we are doing is optimal.

Do something different. Experiment with your life. Be considerate when adding new things to your life.