I call the systematic testing and experimenting with new things in life in order to find better ways to perform and achieve higher quality of life the search mode.
Introducing the search mode into your life is a totally new concept. Rare are the people to whom the search mode (constantly experimenting with new things) comes naturally and for whom it is easy to do it.
The reason for that is because you have to go regularly out of your comfort zone, experiment with new things that bring uncertainty and accept little failure you can learn from along the way.
Trying new things in life is hard for most people.
The “free spirit” explorers who always want something new are probably the closest to the character needed in the search mode. Nevertheless this type of people usually lack the abilities to switch from the search to the execution mode.
Well, the good news is that being in the search mode (trying new things in life) is nothing but a skill and everybody can learn it.
First, a few words about the search mode
One of the best ways to learn about yourself and the world is the so-called “search mode”. The better you know yourself and your environment, the better you can execute, and consequently achieve your true goals much faster.
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The search mode is a phase and a process that helps you to get to know yourself and your environment better, as well as build up an adequate life strategy based on tested facts, instead of only assumptions.
The main idea is that before committing yourself to anything you have to first do enough searching, experimenting and trying, to make sure you are committing to the right thing – your fit.
In the search phase, you just try many different things, experiment, observe, reflect and learn about yourself and the world. In the search mode, you make and test different assumptions (beliefs, convictions, facts etc.) you have.
Search mode is about going out of the comfort zone and experimenting with completely new things with the goal to improve your life.
After you find your fit, you enter the execution mode. In the execution mode, you execute and optimize what you preserve from the search mode.
And now all the traps you must avoid when trying new things in life.
All the fears and traps when trying new things in life
There are five major fears and traps when trying new things in life:
- Analysis paralysis
- No presence of validated learning (learning as an excuse)
- Dealing with uncertainty
- Sticking to NEW things that don't work
- Unrealistic expectations and other irrational fears
1. Analysis paralysis – if you never do anything, all that analyzing time was wasted
The most obvious challenge of the search mode is the analysis paralysis. There are two types of analysis paralysis scenarios.
- The first one is (1) never getting from the research phase (behind the desk) to conducting experiments in real life and
- The second (2) never getting from validated learning to execution mode.
The first scenario is quite well-known everywhere in life. You read about it, you talk about it, you think about it, but you never start doing it.
Well, if you never do anything, all that time was wasted. It shouldn’t take you more than a few days to do research and then set and conduct the first experiments. After that you can continue researching and thus improving your further experiments.
A ton of theory can’t compare to a single gram of solid real-life experience.. You can read all about swimming but until you set foot in water, your knowledge is very limited. The solution is very simple.
After everything you read while doing the research, you should write down the bottom lines and make a few hypotheses out of it. These are the hypotheses that you are going to test and see whether they work for you personally.
The second analysis paralysis trap is not switching from the search mode to the execution mode. There are many reasons for why that can be in case, but whatever it is, make sure you move to the execution phase when you find your fit.
The secret is to move really fast in the search mode in order to find your perfect fit and get to the execution mode as quickly as possible. In today’s turbulent and complex world, extreme speed is the main ingredient of success.
That is why you need focus, that is why you need to learn and progress systematically and quickly, that is why you need a superior strategy. You have to find out what works for you as soon as possible.
The solution is simple. Your goal should be to get to the execution phase as quickly as possible. It usually takes a few months to get there. The goal of the search mode is to find your perfect fit and then do a perfect execution. You don't want to stay a “startup” forever.
Executing perfectly means setting execution intervals, doing sprints, measuring your progress really closely and meeting your goals as quickly as possible.
Even in the execution mode you are still conducting experiments and trying new things to some extent, but what’s more important is that you do regular sprints and measure your progress in a more traditional way (KPIs). After the search mode you know what you want, so in the execution mode you make sure you get it.
- The search mode = Find what you really want, what's really your fit
- The execution mode = Make sure you get what you want
2. No validated learning – don't use learning as an excuse
Besides analysis paralysis there is another big trap you can fall into in the search mode. The goal of the search mode is to learn about yourself and the world around you, to find your perfect fit and then build a superior life strategy, and after that to move into the execution mode as quickly as possible.
The goal of the search mode is to lean the ladder against the right wall, while getting to know which material the ladder is built of, how long it is, what the traps of climbing it are, how the top looks like etc.
To learn about all that, you have to fail a lot. Success is nothing but going from failure to failure until you succeed without losing motivation. But the key point is that you learn something every time you fail – it's called validated learning. And you should take that as progress.
There are two possible outcomes to failing in the search mode.
Learning as an excuse
Well, I tried a new thing, it didn’t work out, but I have learned something. That sounds nice, but it clearly shows that you haven’t learned anything. It clearly shows that learning is just an excuse for you to feel better while failing. But that is the real failure.
An example of validated learning
My hypothesis was that introducing a no-interruptions day once a week to my calendar would dramatically increase my productivity (you can even set the measures for how much). I did my first no-interruptions day and my hypothesis was rejected. After a self-reflection, I had learned the following:
- I don’t have enough concentration to work the whole day
- It’s really hard to get rid of all interruptions, especially on the computer
- I need a task that motivates me enough to work several hours straight
Based on what I’ve learned, I will conduct a new experiment. (1) I will try a half-day (4 hours) no-interruptions day to test and train my focusing abilities. (2) I will try three different big tasks for the next three no-interruption days – one document analysis, writing one article and one brainstorming session. I will see what will engage me the most.
(3) I will test two locations – my balcony and my local cafe, with my laptop that has no games installed and is without an internet connection.
The idea is to find your perfect location and your perfect setting so you can have one no-interruption day per week at some point. Imagine what such a day could do to your productivity once you find the right setting.
That’s 50 completely productive days per year. It may be the difference between you being average or really successful. Of course it’s worth it to test several different settings to find the best one and to train your focus while conducting experiments.
If you have learned something new, you haven’t failed in the search mode. That should be your motivation and perspective for overcoming failure.
If you haven’t learned anything new, you have failed big time and wasted resources on top of that. To learn something new, you have to keep setting and testing hypotheses all the time. That is called “validated learning”. Here are the steps how to do it:
- Do research first if needed
- Write down the first set of hypotheses
- Conduct experiments
- Validate or reject hypotheses
- Write down a new set of hypotheses
- Make your execution plan
3. Dealing with uncertainty – to live an extraordinary life, you must do extraordinary things
It’s quite easy to understand why we love certainty and are scared to death of uncertainty. We like certainty because it makes us feel safe and secure. Even though change is the only real constant in life (besides taxes), we hate it.
This hate towards change has been written into our genes as a mechanism for survival in a dangerous world. Not that long ago, you could very easily have gotten killed and to be frank, you still can in some parts of the world.
An unknown and unstable environment brings threats to us and to our lives. That is why we don’t like uncertainty and why it’s so hard for us to try new things.
The really big problem is that testing is not your natural state, because of the lack of security, because of the unknown. Trying something new can be scary from time to time. But you know, you need guts in order to live an amazing life. Nothing worthwhile in life comes easily.
Here are some tricks for how to deal with uncertainty:
The gain has to be bigger than the pain
Write down all the rewards that experimenting and finding a new lifestyle will bring to you. All the rewards. All of them. The rewards must be so big that they strongly outweigh your pain and the trouble of trying out new things.
If you don’t see the final reward clearly, you won’t be motivated enough to try anything new. You must have a strong why that is more powerful that uncertainty.
Build your safety nets and take calculated risks
A big plus of today’s world is that you can experiment without risking your life or lives of others, at least in most cases, and where such a danger exists, you should avoid it.
You should carefully define the downsides, build some safety nets and not do anything stupid. Testing, experimenting and trying new things should not sound like a risk at all.
If you do too big steps at a time, you go from the learning zone into the panic zone. The panic zone doesn’t bring anything good at all, as it means that you have lost control.
Entering the panic zone means awakening negative feelings and you will consequently develop hate towards trying new things. Therefore you should always take small steps and master one step at a time. But move quickly while doing that.
Just make the first step
Making the first step is the biggest pain in the ass. But you have to do it as soon as possible. The second step is much easier and the third one is even easier, if you do it the right way. But you always need the motivation to kick yourself in the ass and take the first step.
There is a trick to doing it. Timebox your first step. Open your calendar. Schedule an hour or two for the first step and when the time comes, just do it. Don’t think, don’t overanalyze, no matter how you feel, just do it. After the first few minutes you will start feeling proud of yourself.
Make it fun, consider it play
See yourself as an explorer and adventurist. See the whole search mode as a tool to not waste your life and live it to the full. Surround yourself with people who support you and want to try new things in life with you.
Have fun while doing it, even if you fail. Learn from your failures. Then there are no failures at all, just validated learning. Laugh. Smile. Have fun. Never settle into a routine.
4. Don't waste your life by sticking to things that don’t work
Our psychological tendencies dictate that we finish what we begin. For example, it’s quite difficult for the human mind to stop watching a movie in the middle, even if the movie sucks.
I know that it’s kind of ironic. Initially it’s so hard to try and do new things, especially the ones that aren’t the most pleasant, and then we want to stick to something even if it doesn’t work.
That is a big trap that you can fall into in the search mode. For example, when I was searching for my perfect diet I also tried the raw food diet. Well, I even tried different types of raw food diets, from the fruitarian one to the fatty and green one.
It was extremely hard to start and stick to that kind of an extreme diet, but once I started, I regarded it as a magical solution for all my health problems.
It was more than obvious that the raw food diet didn’t work for me, but I had stuck to it for too long - for more than a year to be exact. And before that, I was a vegan for two years and a vegetarian for five.
It was only after a severe burnout, fatigue, dry skin, cavity, sugar intolerance, vitamin deficiency and other health issues that I came to the conclusion that this diet really doesn’t work for me.
It’s very strange, but by going to that kind of an extreme diet, your beliefs about health and diet also become quite extreme. In the raw food community, all negative effects of the diet are connected to the fact that the body is cleansing.
Their standpoint is that you just have to do it a little while longer and all negative effects will go away. It’s the price you pay for not being on the raw food diet straight after breast feeding.
Since I’m very persistent and disciplined, that was quite a big downside in this situation. I waited for the body to cleanse, but that was not really the case. The diet didn’t work for me and I was starting to damage my own health.
Back then I didn’t see changing the diet as an experiment, but rather as an ultimate solution that I had to stick to no matter what. That was pretty stupid, but it can easily happen to everybody.
Thus you have to make sure that you set the boundaries and limitations to your experiments very specifically. Here are some other ideas how to make sure that you don’t become stubborn about the wrong thing and keep your final goal in mind while staying flexible when experimenting:
Do regular reflections and always question everything
Do regular reflections after experiments and after sprints. Every reflection event should be an opportunity to question everything you are doing. Do you see the progress in your life, how is the environment reacting, how does it influence your short-term and long-term goals, is that something for you or not etc.
Define the hypothesis and the experiment very exactly
The more explicitly that you define what you want to test, the limits and the duration of the experiment, and the expected results, the more you will learn and the quality of the experiment will be that much higher.
When defining the hypothesis and the experiment you can also incorporate enough safety nets that stop you when you are going to an extreme that isn’t giving the right results.
Make sure that you aren’t causing any damage to yourself or to your environment
Whatever experiment you are doing, make sure that you’re not doing anything really dangerous. Make sure that you aren’t causing any damage to yourself, to other people or to the environment. Consult with a specialist, do enough research and take small steps. Don’t be stupid.
We have invented standards and averages (diet, working day etc.), because they represent the safest thing for most people. It doesn’t give the best results for every individual but it’s safe and good enough for all people. Deviating from the average means that you are looking for something that is better for you as an individual.
Thus you have to take some risks. But they must be calculated risks (small downside, big upside) done in the right kind of way, not being really dangerous.
At some point it’s more art than science
There is a very thin line between giving up just before you start to see some results and sticking to something that doesn’t work. At this point we are talking more about art than science.
You have to listen to your inner voice, do an enormous amount of self-reflection and know yourself to the point where you recognize when you are being lazy, when you are procrastinating, when you are not investing enough into it and when it really does make sense to stop.
Don’t experiment to compensate for your negative feelings
Make sure that you’re doing all experiments and new things with positive emotions of excitement, love, respect for yourself and others. Your negative emotions like anger could lead you to do extreme things just to prove something to yourself and others.
In that case you can do a lot of damage to yourself and others. It’s extremely important that you are tender to yourself in all kinds of ways. Nothing good comes out of rough accession. Yes, you have to be tough, yes, you have to be fair, but acting out of extreme negative emotions means nothing but hurting yourself.
5. Don't have unrealistic expectations and manage your irrational fears properly
There is one more trap you can fall into in the search mode and it’s by far the most difficult one. People love short-term results.
But all real results are long-term and they come after years and years of hard work. You usually overestimate what you can achieve in a few months and underestimate what you can achieve in a few years.
While being in the search mode, you can find out how hard it really is to achieve big goals. It takes years to get yourself in really good shape. Going to the gym a few times is not even remotely close to getting into extraordinary shape.
People in magazines devote their lives to their bodies. In much the same way, it can also take decades to build up personal wealth. You have to make many hard decisions in order to progress in life. It’s not easy and it never becomes easier, you only get better at it.
Well there’s good news and there’s bad news for all this. The bad news is that I have zero tricks at this point. You either want it badly enough or not. If you want it badly enough, you will always find a way; if not, you will always find an excuse.
The hardest thing to do is to motivate an unmotivated person. And a blessing is giving the direction and tools to a motivated person. You will have to decide for yourself if you want it badly enough.
Here is an ancient story that shows this point really well:
A young man visited Socrates and asked him for the secret to success. Socrates told the young man to meet him near the river the next morning. They met. Socrates asked the young man to walk with him towards the river. When the water got up to their neck, Socrates took the young man by surprise and ducked him into the water.
The boy struggled to get out but Socrates was strong and kept him there until the boy started turning blue. Socrates pulled his head out of the water and the first thing the young man did was to gasp and take a deep breath of air.
Socrates asked, ‘What did you want the most when you were there, under the water?” The boy replied, “Air.” Socrates said, “That is the secret to success. When you want success as badly as you wanted the air, then you will get it.”
And here come the good news. It really takes brutal efforts to get to the top. It really takes brutal efforts to have a perfect athletic body, to become super rich, to win a Nobel Prize etc. But it doesn’t take that much effort to live a life happy and true to yourself.
It doesn’t take that much to live healthy, to have enough financial intelligence to properly manage your money, to find your dream career etc. That’s something that anyone can do. And you can do it too. You just have to kick yourself in the ass a little bit harder.
At the end of the day, you have to decide what you want out of life. Just don’t settle for average and for the society’s expectations for you. You want to live your own life with your own goals. So start experimenting without any irrational fear.