The Power of Personal Experiments

Imagine two aspiring writers, both with the idea of establishing an online writing presence.

The first writer, Alex, sets a fixed goal: they aim to grow their newsletter to 1000 subscribers by the end of the month. Alex has heard that consistency is key, so they choose a topic, decide on a format, block time in his calendar, and get started. To maintain the necessary self-discipline, they use a time tracker and a rigid but reassuring productivity framework.

The second writer, Jordan, also recognizes the value of consistency but approaches the challenge in an experimental way. They commit to publishing one article every week, but they explore different formats (listicles versus long-form essays), different times to write (morning versus evening), even different places to work from (at home versus a coffee shop). Along the way, Jordan takes notes about how they feel and how the audience responds.

Alex is laser-focused on sticking to their plan. In contrast, Jordan focuses on discovering the best approach—the ‘creative ikigai’ that fulfills them while benefiting their audience.

Before you keep on reading, take a second to ask yourself: Who do you think will succeed? Who will stick to their project for the longer? And, crucially, who will have the most fun?

Our two aspiring writers demonstrate how a simple shift in mindset can radically transform the way you approach your most ambitious aspirations.

Leveraging your Curiosity

In some rare cases, we know exactly what we ought to do next, and it’s just a matter of doing it. But, most times in life, the path forward is unclear—even when we have the illusion of clarity.

For instance, let’s say you want to lose weight. You may think that how to do it is clear enough: reduce your calorie intake and increase your physical activity.

But you’re actually missing lots of information that you won’t find packaged in a neat framework. When do you tend to crave sugar the most? What are the emotional triggers that make you turn to food as a coping mechanism? What are the best healthy recipes that you find tasty?

The only way to find the answers to these questions is through personal experimentation. And yet, most diet programs advocate rigid meal plans and strict exercise routines.

You can find this pattern in all areas of our lives. At school, we choose a field of study and follow a strict curriculum. At work, we set KPIs at the beginning of the year and follow a strategic plan. Even in romantic relationships, we often adhere to traditional dating norms and expectations.

We optimize our life for certainty. What if instead, we approached everything and everyone from a place of curiosity?

Curiosity is humanity’s superpower. It’s the driving force behind our greatest discoveries. It fuels our imagination and enables us to challenge the status quo. In fact, I’m convinced the secret to happiness is curiosity. You can’t stay anxious or lonely for long when you approach everything and everyone from a place of curiosity.

And one of the best ways to inject more curiosity into your life is to turn rigid goals into personal experiments.

How to run a personal experiment

Just like a scientist who observes the world, formulates hypotheses and tests them, you can run personal experiments to gain profound insights into your own life.

By systematically exploring different approaches, challenging your assumptions and biases, and embracing failure as a valuable data point, you can make deliberate decisions and unlock your potential without sticking to a predefined path.

It’s like building a laboratory for your personal growth, and it only requires four simple steps inspired by the scientific method.

The Personal Experiments Cycle

1. Assess the current situation

First, you need to understand where you currently stand. A quick way to do this is to capture field notes for a day or two. Just like an anthropologist, you want to keep a log of your experiences. Whenever you take a break or switch between tasks, write down the time and anything you noticed. This could be your reaction after a conversation, moments of procrastination, or ideas that gave you energy.

2. Formulate a research question

Go through your notes and look for patterns. What’s working? What are your stressors and sources of joy? What could be better? Then, just like a scientist, turn these observations into a research question.

I tend to get more done when I wake up early.Would I be more productive if I woke up earlier?
I often procrastinate on logistical tasks.Would I find it helpful to work with a virtual assistant?
I always get pumped after an interesting conversation.Would I enjoy hosting a podcast?

3. Test your hypothesis

Experiments follow a simple format: one action repeated enough times to collect sufficient data. In contrast with a habit where you’d ideally repeat the action forever, an experiment has a predefined number of trials. For instance, “write four articles in two weeks” or “wake up at 6am everyday for one month” or “review progress with an accountability buddy every Monday morning until the end of March.” A simple experiment will help turn your research question into a testable hypothesis. Then, make a pact with yourself to commit to this experiment.

4. Analyze the results

After two weeks, one month, one quarter, or whatever the duration of your experiment, review the outcome. How did it feel? Did you manage to stick to your pact? If not, what got in the way? Reflect on the results without any judgment. Remember that the aim of the experiment is not a fixed notion of success, but instead intentional progress.

Running personal experiments will allow you to transform linear goals into growth loops. By breaking free from rigid targets, you will unlock many benefits:

  • Increased adaptability: Personal experiments allow for flexibility, enabling you to adjust your approach depending on changing circumstances and preferences.
  • Systematic innovation: Personal experiments often lead to novel insights that can inspire unexpected solutions.
  • Reduced pressure: Personal experiments reduce the pressure of achieving a predefined outcome, fostering a sense of relaxed adventure.
  • Enhanced decision-making: By trying out different approaches, you can make more informed decisions and avoid pitfalls that rigid goals might overlook.

The great thing about personal experiments is that you cannot fail. Any outcome is a source of data. Any result is fuel for self-discovery. Your only ambition is to learn more.

So, what is your next experiment?

Join 80,000 mindful makers!

Maker Mind is a weekly newsletter with science-based insights on creativity, mindful productivity, better thinking and lifelong learning.

One email a week, no spam, ever. See our Privacy policy.