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Inside the Mind of a Mad Scientist: The Incredible Importance of Personal Science

Inside the Mind of a Mad Scientist: The Incredible Importance of Personal Science

For decades the world’s greatest doctors and researchers believed that stomach ulcers and stomach cancers were caused by stress, spicy foods, and too much acid in the stomach.

Barry Marshall, an Australian physician and microbiology researcher, wasn’t buying it. Marshall believed that stomach ulcers were not merely the byproduct of a hectic life or an overly spicy dinner. Instead, he believed ulcers were caused by bacteria. More specifically, Marshall believed ulcers were caused by Helicobacter pylori.

There was, however, a problem with this theory.

Marshall and his lab partner were pretty much the only people who bought into the crazy idea. Despite his belief, Marshall had been unable to prove the link between bacteria and ulcers in his lab experiments on pigs, and his grant money was running out. Meanwhile, thousands of people continued to die from stomach cancer each year.

The Mad Scientist

Fed up with the situation, Marshall decided to take matters into his own hands and conduct a personal science experiment of the boldest kind.

In July of 1984, Marshall held a beaker of cloudy, brown liquid that was swimming with Helicobacter pylori and prepared to take a swallow. He “drank it down in one gulp then fasted for the rest of the day.”

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In the words of physician Siddhartha Mukherjee, Marshall had swallowed a carcinogen to create a precancerous state in his own stomach.

Three days later, Marshall started feeling nauseous. On Day 5, he began to vomit and continued doing so for three days straight. All the while, his colleague took samples of the bacteria in Marshall’s stomach lining and recorded the physiological changes as Marshall began to develop a severe episode of gastritis in his stomach. After two weeks of self-induced hell, Marshall had the proof he needed and began taking antibiotics.

Luckily he made a full recovery. Within a month, Marshall and his colleagues had submitted his experiment and results to the Medical Journal of Australia for publication. Not only had they proven that Helicobacter pylori was the cause of stomach ulcers, they had also revealed an important precursor to stomach cancer. Marshall and his lab partner, Robin Warren, received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their efforts.

helicobacter-pylori
    Helicobacter pylori under the microscope. (Photographer: Yutaka Tsutsumi, M.D. Image Source: Department of Pathology, Fujita Health University School of Medicine.)

    The Power of Personal Science

    Barry Marshall is a real-life mad scientist. He drank a cancerous cocktail in the hopes of discovering a scientific truth. His story is one of many mentioned in the fantastic book, The Emperor of All Maladies (audiobook). (1)

    Marshall is an extreme case of what my friend Josh Kaufman calls “personal science.”

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    Personal science refers to the idea of executing small experiments on your own with the intention of discovering new ways to solve problems and get results in your life. While typical studies are conducted on a large scale and published in academic journals, personal science experiments involve a single patient (you) and are focused on delivering highly practical and useful pieces of information.

    Marshall used personal science to further his career goals, whereas you and I may use personal science to build a new health habit or improve our performance at work. The goal of these mini-experiments is to discover what gets you real-world results. As a writer and researcher who tries to blend science-based ideas with practical insights, I believe this philosophy of self-experimentation is incredibly important.

    Why?

    Because no matter how much science and theory you understand, you can never get results in your own life unless you have the courage to take action.

    Unleashing Your Inner Mad Scientist

    Personal science isn’t an excuse to do something reckless. I don’t, for example, recommend drinking a test tube of precancerous bacteria. I do, however, believe that executing your own experiments and having a willingness to try things will make your life better.

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    Here are a few reasons why:

    Personal science forces you to move past planning. If you want to accelerate your learning, develop new skills, and get useful results, then you must try new things. So often we wait to take action because we believe we need to read or research more. What if, as an alternative, we spent less time trying to find the best strategy and more time testing the strategies we already have? It can be easy to forget that practice is often the most powerful form of learning.

    Personal science is low risk. Unlike Marshall’s crazy cancer slushie, nearly any experiment you or I will conduct is typically low risk. Rarely do we face life-or-death, cancer-in-the-stomach type of risks. Usually, the barriers to our progress are discomfort, uncertainty, inconvenience, and the fear of criticism. Personal science forces us to move past these emotional hurdles and see them for what they really are: limiting beliefs.

    Here are some examples:

    • Wish you would finally write your book? Experiment with cutting out an activity you enjoy to make time for this important goal. What is the potential risk? Are you really worried that you’ll miss this season of your favorite TV show?
    • Trying to eat healthier? Create a bright-line rule and experiment with eating one vegetable per day, no matter what. What is the potential risk? That you’ll have a long day and have to make a batch of asparagus at 10 p.m.?
    • Want to be an early riser? Experiment with waking up at 5 a.m. this week. What is the potential risk? That you’ll feel tired for a week?

    Personal science teaches you the key to true problem solving. We often read books and rely on research studies for the answers to our problems. Knowing where to get information is a useful skill, but the key to good problem solving is not to have someone else do the work for you. The key to good problem solving is a willingness to try things, experiment thoughtfully, and do the work. (2)

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    Step Into the Arena

    We all live our lives in different laboratories. Your corner of the world—filled with your experiences, your biology, your environment, your friends, your beliefs—is a different petri dish than mine. There are plenty of fundamentals that apply to all petri dishes, but no matter where you find yourself you have to be willing to experiment if you want to get a result.

    Let your mad scientist out every now and then. Step into the arena and put yourself through the fire. The only truth is what works for you. (3)

    This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.
    FOOTNOTES
    1. The Emperor of All Maladies really is an incredible read. I highly recommend it, especially if you love science. Or, if you just want to be blown away by the amount of effort one author can put into a book.
    2. This does not, by the way, mean that others do not have a responsibility to teach and to share their knowledge. Just because we should help one another, however, does not mean you are entitled to having others figure your problems out for you.
    3. Thanks to Siddhartha Mukherjee, Josh Kaufman, and Matt Gemmell who each inspired pieces of this article.

    Featured photo credit: Penn State via flickr.com

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    Last Updated on January 24, 2020

    10 Good Habits To Have in Life To Be More Successful

    10 Good Habits To Have in Life To Be More Successful

    Habits are behaviors and patterns that you showcase by default. They enable you to carry out crucial activities like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, getting prepared for work.

    Interestingly, you follow this routine every day without considering them. Your unconscious habits create room for your brain to perform more advanced activities like problem-solving and choosing what book to read.

    Everyone has habits, and several of those habits are activated every day. I would classify them into three groups:

    • The first category includes the habits that you hardly notice as they have become a major part of your life- such as brushing teeth or wearing clothes.
    • The second category comprises good habits to have to be more successful-like eating healthily, exercising your body and reading books.
    • The last group consists of those habits that are harmful-like procrastinating, smoking or overeating.

    Habits are fundamental to becoming successful in life — or probably ending up a failure. Yet, as significant as habits are, some lack the knowledge of their capabilities.

    Habits are default activities that you engage in without giving an afterthought. They are automatic behavioral or mental activities. They help you carry out some actions without exerting too much energy. They simplify your life.

    Several people aspire to break bad habits. For instance, some people diet to stop overeating. They exercise to reduce obesity. Habits can hinder or impact your performance and productivity.

    That’s why I would share 10 good habits to have to be more successful in life.

    1. Begin Your Day with Meditation

    I recommend mindful meditation early in the morning. This practice helps you to be in the present moment. Consequently, it enables you to be mindful of challenging situations during the day.

    Different stressors may trigger as you go through the day; meditation helps you to remain calm before taking on the challenges.

    Personally, it helps me to devise strategies and think about ideas. Meditation is a good habit to have if you want to be connected to what’s significant in your life.

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    2. Be Grateful for What You Have

    Sometimes, you waste time thinking of what’s not enough. You become immersed in those daunting challenges. However, challenges justify the presence of hope. When you have life, you have expectations. You will be free from challenges when you are six feet under. The only strategy you have to stop focusing on your problems is to focus on what you have.

    Gratitude is a time-tested pathway to success, health, and happiness. It redirects your focus to what you have from what you lack. Here’s what James Clear does every day,[1]

    “I say one thing I’m grateful for each day when I sit down to eat dinner.”

    3. Smile

    Can you pause and smile before you continue reading this?

    Now here is what just happened based on research conducted by the Association for Psychological Science; you set a pace for living a happier life when you smile. A genuine smile or what’s called a Duchenne smile is a good habit to have if you want to find spiritual, emotional and mental peace of mind.[2]

    Smiling induces the release of molecules that function towards fighting stress. The physiological state of your body determines the state of your mind. When you slouch or frown, your mind takes cues relating to unhappiness and depression. But, once you adjust yourself by putting up a smile, you begin to feel a new level of excitement and vibrancy.

    Can you smile again?

    4. Start Your Day with a Healthy Breakfast

    Starting your day with a healthy breakfast is a good habit to have and forms a crucial part of your life. Nevertheless, about 31 million Americans skip their breakfast each day.[3]

    If you are fed up hearing that breakfast is a crucial component of your day, you are only fighting the truth. If you want to become more successful, you need to ‘break your fast’ with healthy foods every morning.

    This habit is not difficult to form if you usually rush out the door every single morning. You can wake up earlier to fix yourself a meal so you don’t break down during the day.

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    Get inspired by these 20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time.

    5. Exercise Daily

    One of the good habits to have is to exercise your body and muscles every day. You don’t have to run a marathon or lift a weight. You only need to engage in less strenuous activities that oxygenate your blood and inject endorphins in your body.

    Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, classified exercise as a good habit to maximize his already jam-packed schedule.[4] He said,

    ‘I wake up by 5, meditate for 30 minutes, seven-minute workout times three, make coffee, and check-in.’

    He said on Product Hunt that he follows this routine every day as it gives him a steady-state that empowers him to be more productive.

    6. Manage Your Time as You Manage Your Finance

    Another good habit is the act of managing your time effectively. This goes a long way to impact your achievement.

    Time management is what separates the successful from the rest of the world as we all possess the same amount of time. How you leverage time determines your potential to succeed in life.

    So how do you manage your time effectively?

    Here’s Jack Dorsey’s recommendation in one of the Techonomy events;

    “I accomplish effective time management by theming my days and practicing self-discipline. These themes help me handle distractions and interactions. If a request or task does not align with the theme for that day, I don’t do it. This sets a cadence for everyone in the company to deliver and evaluate their progress”.

    And this is Dorsey’s weekly theme:[5]

    • Monday – Management
    • Tuesdays – Product
    • Wednesday – Marketing and growth
    • Thursdays – Developers and partnerships
    • Fridays – Culture and recruiting
    • Saturdays – Taking off
    • Sundays – Reflection, feedback, strategy, and preparing for Monday

    No wonder he was able to run two companies when others were struggling with one job.

    7. Set Daily Goals with Intentions

    Everyone has goals. It may relate to business or personal life. The truth is, we’re all tending towards a particular direction or another. Nevertheless, while long-term goals can offer you direction, it’s your daily goals that you establish that help you develop short-term goals that are essential for your success.

    Long-term goals may not give you the motivation you need to keep on. But when you implement your short-term milestones daily, you become fired up, and you can overcome the challenges that come with taking on bigger tasks.

    Here’s the main truth:Successful people don’t set goals without establishing their intentions. According to Jennifer Cohen of Forbes,[6]

    “What helps you to achieve your desired expectation is ensuring intentions accompany your daily goals.”

    Be intentional about your daily goals!

    8. Seek Inspiration

    It is usually difficult to be inspired for a considerable length of time. Sometimes, you become discouraged and feel like giving up on your goals when things are not working out as intended.

    A practical approach to stay on top of the situation is to inspire yourself each day. When you wake up in the morning after meditation, watch some motivational videos, and let the story of great leaders inspire you.

    Establish what Anthony Robbins called the ‘hour of power.’ Determine how many minutes you spend but make it count. Inspiration is the fuel for achievement because when you can conceive it in your mind, you can accomplish it.

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    Michal Solowow, an investor and the founder of Mitex, a construction company puts it this way,[7]

    “The problems I encounter in everyday life motivates me to find solutions. This is a self-propelling mechanism. becoming a billionaire was never a motivating factor.”

    9. Save Steadily, Invest with All Prudence

    I can exhaust the good habits to have without talking about saving and investing. Most times, you overlook the significance of saving for the future when you are living in your present moment. According to CNBC, a $1000 emergency will propel several Americans into debt.[8]

    However, it is not enough to save, and you must invest your fund and be wise with it. If you pay attention to this now, you will set yourself for a life of success in the future. Ensure you save at least six months in your emergency account so you can be prepared for any future emergency.

    10. Budget and Track Your Spendings

    Benjamin Franklin warned of taking the precaution of little expenses. He said,

    “A small leak sinks a great ship.”

    It is easy to discard little expenses, but the truth is they always add up. This happens when you fail to budget.

    Budgeting is a good habit to have, which can impact your financial life significantly. The money you spend on extravagant lifestyles can be saved and invested in your future.

    The Bottom Line

    Endeavor to cultivate these good habits to have to become more successful as you journey through life. The quicker you cultivate them, the faster you achieve your goals.

    More About Habits

    Featured photo credit: Andrijana Bozic via unsplash.com

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    Reference

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