When you hear the word experiment, you probably think of a crazy scientist sitting in his laboratory and mixing some kind of chemical compounds. There also must be an explosion, I guess.
While experiments are most often linked to science, they are very useful in many other disciplines, from arts to business and sports. By following the AgileLeanLife Productivity Framework, experiments should also become a very important tool in your personal life.
The purpose of performing an experiment in science is very simple. You want to either see if something (an idea) works as planned and desired in a very controlled environment or you want to better understand how the world works, you want to get one step closer to the objective truth.
With experiments you want to gain new knowledge, innovate and better understand the truth.
Here’s the question: aren’t all these things also extremely useful in personal life? They absolutely are. That’s why a scientific approach to life pays big dividends. By conducting a series of experiments in personal life in the search mode, you can enjoy benefits like:
- Better understanding yourself and what you want
- Better understanding other people and how you can forge better relationships with them
- Finding something that is really your fit and you can build massive success on
- Discovering your talents and things you are good at
- Exploring crazy ideas that can accelerate your massive success
- Identifying trends and patterns in your environment
- Setting a realistic execution strategy based on superior insights about your environment
- Designing the perfect lifestyle you want and deserve
- Having fun, trying as many things as possible and living a diverse life experience
Isn’t that cool? And you don’t need a lot. A hypothesis, an idea how to perform an experiment, metrics, and some guts. No, you don’t have to be a crazy scientist. Well, maybe a little bit. By reading this article, you will learn everything you need to know about conducting experiments in your personal life in order to build yourself a superior life strategy.
From the easiest to the toughest experiments in personal life
You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is portrayed as a pyramid with six different types of needs, from the most basic and primitive ones to the cosmopolitan and higher ones. The most basic ones are physiological needs like air, water, food and sex.
Then we have safety needs like personal and financial security. The next ones are needs of love and belonging to family, friends and a spouse. Then self-esteem comes into play, giving a sense of contribution and value. The final ones, on top of the pyramid, are self-actualization needs.
Why is that important? Well, because on the lower level of the pyramid, you already conducted several experiments in your past, even if you didn’t call them experiments. Here’s what I have in mind:
- You probably tried holding your breath for as long as possible underwater.
- I assume you haven’t eaten only one type of food in your whole life. You probably tried many different foods and dishes until you found your favorite ones.
- I know it depends on where you live and on your religion and family values, but there is a great chance you experimented a little bit in your sex life. At least with a few different positions or partners.
These were all very basic life experiments. You tried something new and then decided whether it works for you or not. Your taste, your emotions and your body were the feedback mechanism. Now, the question is why does experimenting after food and sex becomes less frequent.
Ego investments prevent experimenting
Performing experiments in personal life becomes less frequent because of the risk-reward ratio and because you’re heavily invested in specific behavioral patterns with your beliefs, emotions, money and other resources. I will give you an example of being invested in religious values, because it’s just the most obvious example and since we already talked about food and sex.
If you’re an atheist in the developed world, you can experiment with many different dishes and cuisines, with all the healthy foods known to humankind. If your religious beliefs forbid you from eating certain types of meat, you are emotionally invested in your beliefs and that limits the number of experiments you allow yourself to do. With sex and religion, everything becomes an even more delicate thing.
Now, I’m not encouraging you to start breaking your moral, religious or any other kind of view, I just want to show how you’re invested in something with your ego, beliefs, and values. What’s more important is that everybody inherited thousands of different beliefs from their primary and secondary socialization.
Some of these beliefs work and some of them don’t. Some of them make sense and some of them don’t. Some of them fit your character well, others only bring you frustration and prevent you from finding your perfect fit.
There are many different types of inherited beliefs and learned behavioral patterns that may do you good or on the other hand that may be preventing you from finding a better way to live life. Here are examples of the bad ones:
- Beliefs about yourself or the so-called self-labels: I am lazy; I am hardworking; I am not that smart …
- Beliefs about money: I will never be rich, money is bad, investing is not for me …
- Political beliefs: Everybody is entitled to own a gun, we don’t need a social system …
- Beliefs about the opposite gender and other people: All men cheat, people are bad …
- All different kinds of beliefs and values, especially the things for which you are 100 % certain you’re right about
There are absolutely good beliefs, values and social norms that must be respected. Not breaking the law, respecting other people, taking care of the community etc. But all of us also have many toxic beliefs in which we are invested, and they prevent you from designing the perfect life you want and deserve and limit all the things you can try and experiment with.
With false investments, we can become our own worst enemies.
Here are a few more examples how limiting and toxic beliefs usually prevent you to experiment:
If you’ve always seen yourself as a lazy person, it may be hard for you to work hard as hell for a month as an experiment. But what if you’d enjoy it? On the other hand, if you always strongly believed that you must work hard and earn money for yourself, you may have a problem enjoying social benefits from the government when you lose a job or asking for help when needed. But what if people are willing to help and you are not on your own?
If you were taught to always go for a safe job, you might not even think about starting your own business, even if you’re a talented entrepreneur. If at home, vegetarians were always seen as weird people, you probably won’t ever experiment with a vegetarian diet. If you believe people are bad in general, how can you experiment with different levels of trust?
Believe in yourself, but doubt your beliefs. Instead try and see.
The risk-reward ratio and experimenting
The higher you move on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the worse the risk-reward factor is. At least instinctively and at the first glance. Much like you are invested in your values and beliefs, so you are also emotionally, financially and in many other different ways invested in your current life settings.
If you want to change your life settings, you have to take some risks, you have to move out of the comfort zone. You have to either change and improve yourself, or invest your energy into new things. But rewards aren’t even that certain. You may find a better position or you may not, who knows. What am I talking about?
- If you stay in a relationship, you know the short-term risk-reward ratio pretty well, but what if you break the relationship and go find a person who’s a better fit for you? It’s a big risk, and rewards aren’t that certain.
- If you stay at your current job, again you know the short-term risk-reward ratio. You have a contract that determines it. But what if you quit the job and start your own business or try to find work that you enjoy more? It’s quite risky and rewards aren’t that certain.
- At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization. What does that even mean, at the end of the day, you have bills to pay.
Disinvesting yourself from one thing and investing into a new one is risky. Because there are many unknowns. You need to be bold and brave, having an explorer’s soul to experiment on the higher levels.
You must be really determined to make the most out of your life and find who you are together with what fits you perfectly. Only extremely flexible people have no problem disinvesting their resources from one thing and investing them into another.
But luckily, today the risk-reward factor is greatly improving to your advantage.
You are lucky, today experimenting is easy for the first time in history
Not everything is so dark. There’s some big good news. We live in the best times ever to experiment. At least in most parts of the world. Today you have so many options, so many ways to try new things without any huge risks and without serious investments of your resources.
You only have to be smart about it. In experiments, you can always more or less properly mitigate the risk-reward ratio. It’s not like you are risking your life, like you used to. Today you can always conduct experiments in a very controlled way. You can always take a step back if things don’t go into the right direction.
You just have to learn to manage your ego properly and you have to nurture your curious soul that desires to explore and find itself.
You can easily try dozens of sports to find the one that works best for you. You can easily try several different diets in a very controlled way to find the one that fits you best. You can try many different occupations and jobs in your free time to discover your true talents and what you’re good at.
You can easily try many different investments. You can even practice many different religions to see what gives you the best results (without getting killed). You can experience many different relationships, try many different hobbies, experiment with different cuisines and dishes, you can try several types of arts, you can easily acquire all sorts of knowledge online, there are so many ways to make the world a better place.
You can try dozens of things to find your fits that work best for you. Your fits in different areas of life should become like small mosaics in the canvas on which you design your perfect life. I follow this philosophy all the time. I tried all kinds of different things to find my fits.
I discovered my favorite sports, diet, dishes, people, industries, talents, personality characteristics, intimate preferences, thinking techniques, technology, home settings, how I work, creative endeavors, everything. And it’s awesome, you really live the life that’s meant for you, and you get to live the richest life possible.
Because in the end, you only have two options. Your life can be either a daring adventure or nothing. Your life will definitely be nothing if you don’t have the courage to get off your sofa and explore a little bit. You have to try different things and see what works best for you. Don’t assume, try.
Today, the times are too great to settle for the first job you get, for the first partner you date, for the default behavioral patterns that you inherited, for the foods you always ate at home and for everything else that comes to your life by default. There are exceptions, but in most cases it does pay off to go out and explore. It does pay off to go out and see how varied the world is. It does pay off to experiment. Now the only question left is how to do it.
How to do experiments in your personal life
It’s very easy to perform experiments in your personal life. The most important thing is that you write down all the things and insights, and that you do it in a very systematic way. You especially can’t rely only on your memory because you quickly tend to forget things, especially important details.
Here’s what you need:
- A notebook: Digital or physical one to write things down.
- A purpose or a goal: A short description of what you’re trying to achieve and targeted improvements.
- A hypothesis: It’s an educated guess based on your prior experience and knowledge.
- Data collection and methodology: A plan for how you will collect data and what kind of experiments you will perform. It’s very frequent that you conduct an experiment several times and that you also have a control group to compare the results with.
- Data analysis and conclusion: You perform the experiments, you analyze the data and come to certain conclusions.
- Insights: Beside the conclusions, it pays off to write down all kinds of different insights you gained while performing an experiment and all the new ideas you got along the way; especially which new experiments to perform.
The purpose or the goal of experiments in life is quite clear. You want to find a job you enjoy and are good at. You want to find a diet that will enable you to have stable weight and enjoy high levels of energy. You might want to lose weight. You might want to find your dream partner or improve your financial situation. You want to improve your life somehow.
There are many different types of goals you can achieve by experimenting in your personal life. If you aren’t sure where to begin, prepare a prioritized vision list (or you can find ideas at the end of this article). Now let’s look at the next steps after you define the goal you want to achieve.
Breaking down a big goal into small experiments
You want to break down your big goal into a series of small experiments. You should try to break down your overall goal into such small experimental pieces that you isolate your variables as much as possible and that you can really measure the things you want to measure.
The best way to show you how to do this is by example.
If you want to improve your financial situation, you might do the following breakdown: there are two general ways of experimenting for improving the money situation – one is saving more money and the other is earning more money. You can break down these two general ways into several experiments:
“For saving money, I will experiment with automatic transfer of 10 % of my money to a savings account, spreadsheet budgeting and waiting for a week before doing any big purchases in order to manage impulse buying. I will try each of these ideas for a month. And for earning more money, I will try to start an online business in my free time or get an additional job.”
When you’re breaking down your big goals, writing ideas for different experiments and setting your hypotheses, there is one more important step to make. You have to get educated. You have to get madly educated. Whatever you want to improve in your life, the first step is always to get educated really well.
You need to do research, read a few books, write down everything you know about yourself and others, and then decide what you expect, what you think will happen. Since you aren’t doing real scientific experiments, your subjective evaluation will play a vital role in the process. Nevertheless, you should try to design your experiment as objectively as possible. But first always get educated.
Writing down hypotheses and defining the experiments
Now you educated yourself. You’ve broken down your big goal into a set of small goals, small experiments that you can perform with variables that are as isolated as possible. While getting educated and breaking down your goals, you also have to write down the hypotheses for every experiment and define the general terms of how you will perform the experiment.
Here’s an actual example from my personal life (simplified in order to not make this article too long):
Hypothesis 1: I prefer individual sports over team sports. To prove the hypothesis, I will try three individual (fitness, hiking, golf) and three team sports (basketball, volleyball, hockey). I will do every sport five times for one hour. I will measure my overall satisfaction, how good I am at a specific sport, and how it helps me with my health goals, like gaining mass for example. Validated – I like individual sports more.
Hypothesis 2: The individual sports that would suit me best are fitness, running, boxing, crossfit, golf, karate, swimming and hiking. I will do every sport five times for one hour. I will measure my overall satisfaction, how good I am at a specific sport and how it helps me with my health goals, like gaining mass for example. The individual sports that I like and that meet my other goals best are fitness, hiking, swimming. These three were validated, other rejected for various reasons.
Hypothesis 3: Since I’m in bad shape, I will be too tired if I start training three times per week. I’ll train three times a week for two weeks and measure my energy levels. Rejected – I can work out three times per week without a problem. My energy levels are even higher. I will try training four times per week after 1 month.
Hypothesis 4: I will make better progress with a personal trainer in the gym. I will buy a package to work with a professional trainer for a month and compare my performance results to one month of training by myself. Validated – Personal trainers show me how to do exercises correctly and boost my motivation. My progress is also 10 % faster. After two months, I will see how well I work alone, following a new program prepared by a personal trainer.
Hypothesis 5: My motivation is better if I have a buddy to work out with. For 5 times, I will try to work out alone in the gym, and for 5 times with a training partner and compare my results. I will measure my motivation levels, the quality of the workout and other factors. Rejected – Scheduling, talking and drinks after the workout aren’t really helping me.
I suggest that after writing down a hypothesis, you go into details of how you will measure results, what kind of data you will collect, what are the terms for a hypothesis to be validated or rejected, how you will perform the experiment, and so on. It’s extremely fun to play with designing experiments and then actually doing them.
Data collection and analysis
There are several ways you can gather and analyze the data and measure results when conducting experiments in your personal life. Here are a few examples of different types of metrics:
- Actionable metrics – metrics that help you make decisions and improve yourself
- Vanity metrics – metrics that only stroke your ego and don’t help you at all
- Qualitative metrics – insights you gather
- Quantitate metrics – information that can be measured with numbers
- Exploratory metrics – speculations about what could happen
- Reporting metrics – comparing actual results to a plan
- Leading metrics – predicting the future
- Lagging metrics – describing the past
I call all qualitative, exploratory and leading metrics soft metrics, because they give you just a general sense of where you were, where you are and where you’re going. On the other hand, quantitative, reporting and lagging metrics are hardcore metrics, because they show you the truth if measured correctly.
As you will find soon, the quantitative metrics are the coldest ones, because they always show the truth. But you have to avoid vanity metrics at all costs.
Here are examples of metrics for different areas of life you can use:
How you should measure your success in life? Compare…
- Your current metrics on different life areas
- Your past metrics on different life areas (past month, year etc.)
- Don't compare yourself to others too much (only healthy competition is okay I guess)
There are many ways how you can gather data. You can make your scores on individually prepared tables like the happiness index. You can use many different apps and devices for biofeedback. You can measure and note data in a spreadsheet and then analyze it. You can perform interviews or even do online surveys and tests.
Here are a few ideas for gathering data and conducting experiments (with examples):
- Try and do rating (rate how much you like a certain sport or a diet or people’s characteristics)
- Conduct an interview or organize a focus group (how it’s like to work at a certain occupation)
- Do an online survey (how to name your book, what kind of a service people would buy from you)
- Role-playing (to understand how somebody else is feeling)
- Diary analysis (analyze your diary to see with whom you feel the best)
- A/B tests (writing down all the pros and cons of two computers you want to buy)
- Cognitive walkthrough (imagine yourself with completely new life settings)
- Competitive testing (analyze how well you are qualified for a certain job compared to the competition and where you need to improve)
- Idea crowding (gather ideas for how you can improve from people you know and trust)
- Historical data (analyze your weight for the past three months to see where you’re going)
There are so many ways how you can experiment in life. You just have to be a little bit creative. The more experiments you do, the more ideas you get for testing new things. As always, the first time is the hardest, but then a whole new world opens to you.
Help yourself with the template and do your first experiments in personal life
To make things much easier for you, I prepared a template for you, as always. I suggest you choose one of the experiments listed below, open the template and design your first experiments. Get educated, break your big goal down into small experiments, write down hypotheses and how you will perform the experiments, and then just start playing.
I promise it will be fun.
Here you can download the template:
- Experiments in personal life – Template (xls)
The best ideas for your first experiment:
- Finding one exercise you dislike the least and that you can perform three times per week
- Finding two extremely healthy foods you can add to your diet and eat every day
- Finding one extremely healthy dish you can cook all by yourself
- Finding one way to earn more money
- Finding five ways to save more money every month
- Finding one topic that interests you to the point where you can read one book per month on the topic
- Finding one way how you can improve the relationship with your spouse
- Gathering and ranking all the ideas for improving yourself
- Gathering and ranking 50 ideas for how you can help the company you work for grow faster
- Finding one way how you can play and relax more in life
- Finding one way how you can improve your productivity
Good luck with experimenting. Just please don’t turn into a crazy scientist.