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

    James Clear

    James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

    7 Reminders for Overcoming Fear to Make Big Life Changes 7 Reasons You Haven’t Found Your Passion Yet 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 What Is Delegation and How Does It Enhance Team Management? 2 How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership 3 10 Huge Differences Between a Boss And a Leader 4 What Leaders Can Learn from Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles 5 10 Conflict Resolution Skills Every Manager Needs

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Published on August 4, 2020

    How Smart Goal Setting Helps You Make Lasting Changes

    How Smart Goal Setting Helps You Make Lasting Changes

    SMART goal setting is one of the most valuable methods used by high achievers today to actualize their life goals time after time. SMART goal setting is the inverse of random or carefree goal setting without strategy.

    Perhaps, you’ve always wished to get back in shape, get an annuity, or take control of your finances, but you failed to act. When you approach your goals with a care-free and nonchalant attitude, you’re less likely to achieve them.

    You should have a strategic goal setting method in place, and learning how to set smart goals is imperative in this case. The method is time-tested and purposeful, meaning it can help you achieve your goals now.

    To achieve your goals consistently and join the pack of high achievers out there who have consistently achieved many of their goals, you must be prepared to do what these people have been doing, and be ready to do the right thing: SMART goal setting.

    What Is the SMART Model for Setting Goals?

    SMART goal setting is a goal-setting method that considers certain factors about a goal relative to the person setting it. These factors are simply the five different letters in the SMART acronym for goal setting.

    It is relative to the person setting the goal because what is true for A may not be true for B; or what is possible for A or within A’s ability to achieve may not be possible for B or within B’s ability to achieve.

    What does the goal setting acronym SMART stand for?

    • S—Specific
    • M—Measurable
    • A—Achievable
    • R—Realistic/Relevant
    • T—Time-bound

    Is it possible that this acronym can make a long lasting impact in your life?

    Is it possible that a mere goal setting metric like SMART can help you achieve so many of your unfulfilled goals?

    Is it possible that if you practice SMART goal setting, you will be able to have faster results, understand your goals better, overcome the habit of procrastination, and achieve a lot?

    The power to achieve your goals is in your hands.

    Advertising

    It is important to extend the inquiry by asking: How many times have you said you’ll do “X,” but failed to do so?

    We all have goals, and we all have 24 hours each day at our disposal. While some people find it easy to achieve their goals without procrastinating, some find it difficult to do so.

    For some people who have succeeded again and again in achieving their goals, they have simply found an easy way of doing this. Is there something they know that you don’t?

    How Smart Goal Setting Makes a Lasting Impact

    Smart goal setting examples can be found all around you. Through SMART goal setting, Stephen Cooley was able to grow his real estate business to the point of closing at $110 million in sales when the average price point of homes was between $100,000 – $200,000 in South Carolina[1].

    Through SMART goal setting, Steve Jobs was able to improve the fortunes of Apple and prevent the company from going bankrupt, even when it had barely 90 days left before being declared so.

    SMART goal setting can make a lasting impact in your life in several ways.

    Make Your Goal Clearer

    When you use the SMART criteria to set goals, it is easier for you to understand the various phases of your goal.

    By using SMART goal setting, you’re able to ask yourself relevant questions pertaining to your goal.

    Motivate You Into Acting on Your Goals

    When you use SMART goal setting and break down the goal into smaller goals or milestones, the bigger goal no longer looks intimidating or impossible.

    Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, wrote in his book How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be about how they applied the rule of five in marketing their book, Chicken Soup, and were able to make the book a best seller after some months[2]. The rule of five simply means doing five specific things every day that will move you closer to achieving your goal.

    In order not to be overwhelmed, you would have to measure your performance using the right metrics. Here we are considering the Measurable and Achievable aspects of the SMART acronym. It is critical that you measure yourself in terms of lead measures.

    Advertising

    What are lead measures? They are the things you do that leads you closer to your goals. On the other hand, you would have to avoid “lag measures.”

    While lag measures mean a successful outcome that you wished for and got, they can be emotionally draining and deceitful because, whenever they don’t happen, you can become discouraged.

    Therefore, it is better to stick to lead measures.

    Help You Save Time

    You can achieve more when you use SMART model goal setting.

    To be strategic, your goal would have to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. If you can’t identify any of these points in your goal, you probably will be wasting your time on a wild goose chase.

    When your goals are written down, it’s easier for you to go into action mode.

    Improve Your Self-Discipline

    Self-improvement is an important thing for everyone to do periodically. When you set SMART goals, it makes you realize that you have to sit up and work on achieving them.

    How to Set SMART Goals

    See the source image

      To make your SMART goals work, use the following tips:

      Specific

      Every goal ought to be specific. It is important to guard against making vague goals because even when they have been achieved, you may not know. This is because you weren’t specific enough.

      For example, “I will start planning toward retirement” is vague. Rather than write that, you could say, “I will start planning toward retirement by starting an annuity plan.” This is more specific.

      Advertising

      When you are specific on your goal, it’s easier for you to identify all its components and work accordingly toward achieving it.

      Measurable

      Your goals must be measurable. When they are measurable, it’s easier for you to follow through.

      A goal like this is not measurable: “I want to make millions of dollars.” You can make it more measurable by saying, “I want to make one million dollars selling one hundred thousand copies of my book at ten dollars each.”

      Also, using our SMART goal setting examples while explaining the Specific acronym, you can make the goal more measurable by saying, “I will start planning toward retirement by starting an annuity plan and saving $500 every month.”

      Achievable

      How realistic or actionable is your goal? Is it practical enough to fit into a given time frame? Is it something you are able to achieve in your capacity?

      You would only be setting yourself up for failure if you sets goals that are not reasonable.

      A goal like this is highly unrealistic and, therefore, not achievable: “I want to be the Governor of Texas in six months,” especially since the elections will be coming up in three years.

      Goals must be written down relative to the experiences of the one setting them. They must resonate with you. It is important that you have at least some of the resources needed to actualize this goal.

      It is also important that you consider your time frame. When the time frame to achieve a complex goal is too short, it is rare that such goal will be completed.

      Thus, using our previous example, if you write “I want to make one million dollars in ten days selling one hundred thousand copies of my book at ten dollars each,” you would only be setting up yourself for failure.

      This is especially true if you’re not a popular author or if you’ve never sold even up to one thousand copies of any of your previous books, whether e-copy or in print.

      Advertising

      Realistic/Relevant

      Before you proceed to making the commitment toward that goal, you need think about how realistic and relevant it is.

      Being realistic means you should be willing to make all the commitments required for that goal to be achieved. If your goal is relevant, it fits into the life you’ve imagined for yourself.

      Time-Bound

      Every goal must have a commencement date and an end date written down. It is also important that you break down your goals into phases, chunks, bits, or milestones.

      The act of having deadlines set to your goals is ample motivation that drives you into action. Without a deadline, it is not possible for you to know if you’re making headway with your goals.

      “I will start planning toward retirement by starting an annuity plan and saving $500 every month for the next twenty five years” is a time-bound goal.

      Remember that some goals are short-term while some are long-term. It is important to always bear this in mind, because this will help you in making a clear and realistic strategy when SMART goal planning.

      Without SMART goal setting in view, much of our goals may likely end in our minds, on paper, or just midway into implementation. SMART goal setting reveals to us all the action points of our goals and helps us to have an awareness of every aspect of our goals.

      The Bottom Line

      What matters at the end of the day is what you do with the contents of this article because the power to achieve your goals is in your hands.

      It is not enough to have a goal. It is not enough to put it down in writing. It is important to have a strategy in mind while putting it down. This strategy is a guideline or set of rules that point you in the right direction. It is SMART goal setting in the given circumstance.

      After writing down your goals, you will have to be ready to take action. There should be a clear action point. Write down what you need to do on daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

      When your goals are realistic, they make them worth the chase. One of the things to bear in mind is that, in order not to be overwhelmed by the daunting nature of your goals, remember to always break them into milestones, chunks, or bits. In fact, take one day at a time.

      Do not bother yourself with the one-year, three-year, five-year or ten-year plan as this may likely overwhelm you with fear and doubt. Let your focus be on each day. What will I be doing today? Consider this and go for it.

      More on the SMART Model for Setting Goals

      Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

      Reference

      Read Next