Advertising
Advertising

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.”

Advertising

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.”

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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)

    Advertising

    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

    More by this author

    7 Reasons You Haven’t Found Your Passion Yet 7 Ways To Get Over Fear and Make Big Life Changes Fast Growth Is Overrated — Here’s Why Famous Biologist Louis Agassiz On The Usefulness Of Learning Through Observation How to Fall in Love With Boredom and Unlock Your Mental Toughness

    Trending in Leadership

    1 How to Be a Leader That Everyone Respects, Not Fears 2 6 People Management Tactics to Lead a Diverse Team to Success 3 22 Team Building Activity for Work That Are Fun and Encourage Creativity 4 How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders) 5 How Teamwork in the Workplace Boosts Morale and Delivers Results

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on January 2, 2019

    Better Alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions to Reduce Your Stress

    Better Alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions to Reduce Your Stress

    The end of the year is the time when everyone tries to give you advice on how to live healthier, look better, and earn more money.

    It’s understandable if you find yourself lost among all the tips and opinions. Sometimes you no longer know what you truly want to achieve next year – and what’s just imposed by society.

    To help you out, we’ve made this article about the things you should remove from your new year’s resolution list – instead of adding to it – to make your daily life more harmonious and peaceful.

    So just make sure you cross these off your New Year’s to-do list – your body, mind and soul will be thankful.

    1. Stop Buying Meaningless Gifts

    We all know the sense of obligation – when we have to buy a gift for an event or celebration that’s already tomorrow, but we still have no idea of what to give.

    Take these tips close to heart for all upcoming holidays, including birthdays, weddings, graduations, etc.:

    Stop focusing on the material objects

    Instead of focusing on what material object to give, think about the emotion you want to evoke[1] in the gift recipient, and then pick a symbolic gift that can support or represent that emotion. For example, you can gift coziness by presenting a “comfort set” with warm socks, tea, candles, etc. Or give motivation by presenting a beautiful planner or notebook.

    Plan gifts in advance

    We know this is easier said than done. But if you try to plan which gifts you’ll need in the upcoming months (try making a list three or four times a year), ideas will more likely come to mind and you’ll avoid that last-minute shopping. Not to mention, you’ll be able to keep an eye on sales to get the best prices.

    Suggest a better way

    If you’re tired of exchanging gifts for birthdays and holidays, initiate a different approach. For example, draw names among family members and agree that each one only buys a present to that one person they got. Alternatively, you can agree not to share gifts among adults, and only give presents to kids of the family. Or, ask friends to donate to charity instead of buying a gift for you.

    Go for common experiences instead of exchanging gifts

    You can agree (with your partner or the extended family) to go on a common trip, dinner or another activity, instead of spending money on gifts.

    Sometimes you’ll have to be the one who initiates breaking the rules that have been accepted in the family for years. But if you suspect that you’re not the only one in the group who’s tired of gift-hunting, you’ll surely find support for your suggestions.

    Advertising

    2. Don’t Exaggerate with Diets and Fitness Resolutions

    It’s no secret that TV shows, article headlines, and ads (not to mention our healthy diet-obsessed friends) make us feel like we need to look better, slimmer and younger than we actually are. But going on yet another diet or starting a fitness plan with the wrong motivation rarely leads to great results.

    If you are like many people, you have probably signed up for an annual gym membership at least once in your life – only to drop it one month later.

    How do you balance a good resolution for a healthier life without pushing yourself into commitments that won’t last?

    Here’s what you can do:

    Set a healthier pattern

    For example, do meat-free Mondays or reduce meat consumption to three days per week (less saturated fat for you and better for the environment). Or choose to eat only healthy food at least three days a week or only on weekdays (e.g. make sure your meals contain vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and protein). This way you’ll already have a healthier diet while still being able to treat yourself with a snack on weekends or parties.

    Get a fitness watch

    Fitness watches like Fitbit or MiBand are tiny accessories that will count your steps, calories burnt and will serve as an excellent motivator to move – or to take the stairs instead of the elevator.

    Find a physical activity that you enjoy

    Even if you are not that fond of doing sports, you can definitely find an activity that you’d do with pleasure. Think about what you’d like – from taking up Nordic walking to pilates or even exercising at home.

    Try intermittent fasting

    This is an alternating cycles of fasting and eating. For example, stop eating at 8 pm and restart not sooner than 12 hours later. This approach has been proven to have numerous health benefits, in addition to weight loss.

    Skip cabs or driving to work and opt for cycling or walking instead

    You’ll burn calories, breathe some fresh air, and save money – win-win!

    3. Put a Cap on Your Daily To-Do List

    In today’s busy world, planning your day in a stress-free way is actually an art in itself. It’s natural to want to be a loving parent, a diligent employee, an active member of the local community and probably several other individual roles.

    But playing all these roles requires energy and meticulous planning. How not to lose yourself amidst all the appointments and responsibilities? And – most importantly – how to still find time for relaxing and recharging yourself?

    Advertising

    These daily planning tips will help you have more stress-free days:

    Leave bigger intervals between meetings

    If you schedule too many appointments or chores in a day, you’ll probably end up late at some point, and as a result – more stressed. There are many different reasons why people are late, but poor planning is a major factor too.

    Plan time to relax

    As weird as it may sound, you should try and schedule your resting time. For example, if you only have one free evening this week, and a friend tries to squeeze in a meeting, feel free to say no. Don’t feel obliged to specify the reason for your refusal, just say that you are busy.

    Try to be a little pessimistic

    We’re often packed with plans or running late for errands because we tend to be overly optimistic – about the traffic, the time it takes to do things, etc. Instead, try an opposite tactic — assume you’ll hit traffic or the meeting will take longer.

    Try waking up earlier

    Sometimes even waking up 30 minutes earlier can give you the much-needed head start for several errands of the day. But remember to get enough sleep every night, even if it means going to bed earlier.

    Plan your day the day before

    Chances are your day will be much better organized if you pack a lunch and lay out an outfit before going to bed.

    Designate a time for checking emails and social messages

    If you start checking your messages between appointments, you risk getting lost in a sea of messages that need replies. Designate a time for this activity or do it in case you arrived early to a meeting.

    4. Let Go of Unhealthy and Time-Consuming Habits

    If there’s one thing we should get rid of in the new year, it’s the habits that steal our time, provide instant gratification but don’t offer any value in the long term. Or even worse, leave a negative impact on our health.

    Here are some common (and pointless) habits along with tips on how to get rid of them:

    Binge-watching TV series

    Even if most online television platforms offer you lists of “Best TV Shows to Binge Watch”, being addicted to series is a major time-waster.

    You can manage this addiction in several ways, for example, watch one episode per day (or a few per week) as a reward, only after you’ve finished an assignment or done a house chore. Or try replacing this habit with exercise or reading a book – this will be hard at first but should stick after a few weeks. You can also try to track how much time you spend on TV or movies – seeing how much of your life you are wasting might urge you to do something about it.

    Advertising

    Running on coffee

    Being a coffee addict is kind of a stylish addiction nowadays, but it’s not that innocent as it may initially seem. Besides addiction being a problem in itself, drinking too much coffee (more than 500-600 mg of caffeine a day) may lead to nervousness, insomnia, an upset stomach, a fast heartbeat, and even muscle tremors.[2]

    As a solution, try switching to tea or edible coffee – a more sustainable, healthy, and productivity-enhancing alternative. For example, Coffee Pixels are solid coffee bars that generate a more even energy kick throughout the day without the coffee-induced abstinence and dehydration.

    Procrastination

    Fighting procrastination requires some serious willpower. If it is a problem in your daily life or work, try ”eating the frog” in the morning – get over your biggest or hardest tasks first, then tackle everything else.

    Alternatively, use time tracking software to monitor exactly how much time you waste on unproductive actions, websites or apps. Once you know exactly how much time you’re spending unproductively, try to limit your time on social media, for example to just 20 minutes per day.

    If nothing else works, try bribing yourself — promise yourself to do something fun or pleasant when you finish your assignment.

    Whichever habit you want to give up, consider using some habits building tools to make a contract with yourself and reward yourself for milestones achieved.

    5. Stop over-consuming

    We live in the age of consumerism – huge manufacturers with their promise of a comfortable life on the one hand, and growing environmental threats – that are the direct result of our modern lifestyle – on the other hand. There’s only one solution – try to consume less whenever and wherever you can.

    Before making additional purchases, ask yourself these questions:

    • Do I really need it? Did I need it yesterday?
    • Can’t I buy it used or borrow it from friends?
    • Can I rent it?
    • Can I make it myself?
    • Am I buying the most sustainable version of this product?

    For example, check if the brand you chose is conscious about the environment, for example, are the products they manufacture energy efficient? Do they try to use less packaging?

    Also, if you often find yourself buying too many groceries, promise to buy only the amount that fits in one shopping bag (that you bring along). If you often forget to take your shopping bag with you, get yourself a 2-in-1 wallet with a built-in shopping bag for more eco-friendly shopping.

    6. Learn to Unplug from Your Phone

    Today’s world is crammed with information, and many people struggle to keep focus on what’s truly important. There’s just too much going on in the world – too much to read, to watch, to know, too many conversations to participate in.

    Advertising

    But how to refuse the temptation to check the phone and start using social media in a controlled, not a compulsive way?

    Some tips for managing your phone-dependency:

    Spend only a limited amount of battery per day

    For example, start your day with 50% battery life, and manage your phone usage so that you’ll make it till the evening.

    Block distracting apps and notifications on your phone and computer

    Choose one-hour, two-hour or longer blocking sessions and enjoy the positive impact this will have on your mood and productivity.[3]

    Set your phone on flight mode

    When you start doing an important task that requires full focus, set your phone on flight mode so that nobody can disturb you.

    Leave your phone at home or in the office when you go for lunch

    You’ll see that the feeling of being unreachable for a moment is actually very liberating.

    The Bottom Line

    As a new year begins, we’re all excitedly looking forward to what adventures await ahead of us.

    But this year, promise yourself this:

    Instead of having a never-ending list of tasks and commitments, focus on the truly meaningful ones. And cross-out all the rest without feeling guilty.

    Less is more. Make this year count. We’re all rooting for you.

    Featured photo credit: Brooke Lark via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next