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You: The Science Experiment

You: The Science Experiment
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    I don’t expect you’ll be drinking mystery potions or hooking yourself up to a car battery anytime soon. But conducting personal experiments are probably the best way to find answers. By actually testing (instead of assuming) your habits, beliefs, methods and systems you can make real improvements.

    Stop Theorizing, Look at Results

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book The Black Swan, recommends against using complex theories if they can’t predict anything. Humans are theory machines, trying to explain things which might not easily fit into our reduced model of reality. By experimenting, you look at what actually works, not just what you feel should work.

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    If you set up your personal experiment appropriately, the results should speak for themselves. I know many online business owners who use A/B split tests religiously. Instead of assuming they know what will sell, they simply divide web traffic between two different pages and see what drives results.


    Gaps in Knowledge

    Humans have an ability to focus on what we do know, instead of what we don’t. The way we store information neatly conceals our own ignorance. And it is in these gaps that you can often find new opportunities and solutions. But if your own arrogance keeps you from trying, you may miss them entirely.

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    An experiment can fill those gaps. By giving an idea a full test, you get information that wouldn’t be available simply by guessing.

    Reduce Bias

    A personal experiment can never reach the calculated and sterile environment of a double-blind trial. But personal experiments reduce the chances that you’ve been acting on superstition instead of results. How would your life change if you found out:

    • You could do all your e-mail work once a day (or once a week!)
    • Your energy levels doubled after increasing your exercise and improving your diet.
    • Using a different technique you could cut studying time in half while learning more.
    • Using gap time you can read a book per week without cutting time from your schedule.
    • One work activity you regularly engage in has almost no effect.

    You probably already have assumptions about the answers to these questions. Experimentation means you are bold enough to say, “I don’t know.” Being skeptical can let you trust the results of a test, more than superficial theories.

    How to Run a Personal Experiment

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    Achieving objectivity with a sample size of yourself isn’t possible. But simply throwing scientific practice to the whim and “trying things out” is likely to lead to more bias, not less. Maintaining some measure of objectivity when testing ideas will ensure you get accurate results and they aren’t polluted by your own prejudices.

    Here are some steps to running an experiment:

    1. Isolate Measurements. An experiment needs to measure something. Quantitative results (weight, traffic, income) are better than qualitative ones (happiness, service, stress). But more important is to choose measurements that accurately reflect your goal. Picking the wrong measurement will tune your experiment to focus on incorrect results.
    2. Stay Consistent. Testing to see whether a different work routine is better won’t help if you try different routines every day. Outline your experiment on paper and commit to following it for a specified length of time. Shortened trials and inconsistent data make experiments worthless.
    3. Keep Comparison Information. Most scientific experiments have a control group. This ensures that there is a real difference instead of an imagined one. In some areas you can get comparison information through a split test, dividing inputs between your experiment and the control. In other areas you will need to be satisfied with a careful record of pre-experiment results to see if changes have occurred.
    4. Withhold Early Judgement. Ignorance and humility are the keys to running a successful experiment. Pulling the plug too early might not give enough time to show results. I usually spend a month or two testing an experiment before I decide if it is worthwhile.

    Experiments to Try

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    The world isn’t obvious. That statement itself may sound a little obvious, but I believe it is too often missed. We expect the world to behave according to explicit theories inside our head, when in reality, it is far more complex. Experimentation and focusing on actual results, allows you to take advantage of your ignorance.

    Here are some ideas you might want to consider trying:

    • Internet Once a Day – Set an internet time once a day for all e-mail, surfing and contact. I’ve done this before and been amazed at how much my net usage can be compressed.
    • Daily Exercise – A few weeks ago I posted an article on changing habits, where I recommended exercising every day if you plan to start. A few commenters informed me how this would lead to injury. Although I don’t recommend hurting yourself, I haven’t seen this to be the case in myself or many people I know. Poor form from trying to lift too much weight is a more likely culprit.
    • Go Veg – I’m a fan of a vegetarian diet because I believe it works to give more energy. But don’t trust me, trust an experiment for yourself.
    • Morning/Night Work – Try waking up early to get work done. Or try working on projects later in the night. Different rhythms work best for different people and lifestyles. Experiment, don’t judge.
    • Time Usage – Be skeptical of the efficacy of anything you spend time on. Test ruthlessly, because a small test can end up saving thousands of hours in otherwise wasted productivity.

    More by this author

    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    I’m Feeling Bored: 10 Ways to Conquer Boredom (and Busyness)

    I’m Feeling Bored: 10 Ways to Conquer Boredom (and Busyness)

    If you’re saying “I’m feeling bored,” it’s important to realize that boredom and feeling too busy are the same problem. Some people claim I’m being too ambitious trying to strike down chronic boredom and busyness at the same time. I’d argue that the only way to take them out is simultaneously.

    The problem stems from how you manage your attention. Both boredom and busyness stem from feeling there is a lack of quality in how you focus your attention.

    Boredom is feeling that there are too few high-quality ways to spend attention. Busyness is forced boredom. This means that you feel there are high quality ways to spend attention, but your attention is being stolen from you before you can use it.

    I’m Feeling Bored: It’s in Your Mind

    Feelings of boredom and busyness are subjective. You can’t look out in the world and claim it is busy or boring. To say these feelings are subjective is obvious, but that misses a key point. The real problem is quality.

    Being engaged, neither busy or bored, happens when your attention is focused on high-quality activities.

    You can probably remember times when you were completely engaged. This could have been working on a project you were passionate about, spending time with your family, sky diving or vacationing under the sun. Why were you engaged in these moments and not in others?

    A likely reason was because those experiences had a higher quality. They allowed you to enter into an immersive flow state, in which your entire consciousness was devoted to the activity.[1]

    In the best cases your entire reality revolves around what you are doing. You’ll understand what I mean if you’ve read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which, I must admit, inspired most of these ideas).

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    Improving the Quality of Your Activities

    So how do you improve quality in your experiences when you’re saying “I’m feeling bored”? I believe there are two major ways you can do it: externally and internally. If you are chronically busy (and actively disliking the busyness) or bored, then you’ll need to tackle external and internal factors that contribute to these negative feelings.

    Here are some ways to consider improving quality in your experiences:

    Externally

    1. Plan Ahead

    Schedule your life to ensure there aren’t huge gaps or work overflows later. This can mean scheduling high-quality experiences if you find yourself frequently bored. It can also mean dividing large projects if you find yourself chronically busy.

    • Plan weekend activities for next month now. This not only gives you something to look forward to, but it also forces you to stay productive instead of just busy.
    • Map out what is placing demands on your time. Can you consolidate all your “busy work” (such as responding to emails) into one block of time instead of allowing it to cause constant interruptions in your day?

    2. Win-Win

    If you must perform an activity you think has low quality, you’re going to feel bored. Find ways to reorganize your life so that jobs, chores, and duties can become interesting, high-quality experiences.

    Turn mind-numbing chores into opportunities for growth and learning. For example, listen to an audio book or lecture on the commute to work or while you’re cleaning your house.

    3. Prioritize

    If you don’t manage time, you’ll never have enough of it. There are always more things to do than you have time for. Get your values straight so that the highest priorities are handled first and your life doesn’t get overtaken by the unimportant.

    Set a vision for your life, and determine how everything you do either contributes or detracts from that vision. Chances are, the things that don’t align with your vision are some of the same things that bore you. After you identify low-priority activities, you can try to make them more meaningful, or you can find ways to eliminate them.

    4. Put Quality of Experience First

    It is easy to get caught up in external goals that don’t fulfill their promises. Focus on goals that will give you a greater quality, not just a bigger paycheck or more status to brag about.

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    Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals that align with your life’s vision.[2]

    5. Escape the Motions

    Habits are a part of your life, but don’t let them become the only thing. Break out of your patterns if they aren’t giving you what you need. Instead of staying in, go out and meet new people on a Friday night. Just do something to get away from doing the same old thing.

    Schedule times to break from your routines. I thrive on having a routine most days, but I also give myself opportunities to break from sameness.

    Say “yes” to trying something new. Nothing spices up your day like trying something new.

    Internally

    Most of the ways to improve your quality of experience and conquer boredom are internal. Remember, it’s not just what you do, but also how you do it.

    1. Build an Inner World

    I’m not suggesting you create a complete rift between yourself and reality when you find yourself thinking “I’m feeling bored,” but also realize that if you can’t find quality in your immediate surroundings, you can find it within yourself.

    Solving internal problems, reviewing knowledge, coming up with new ideas, creating stories, or even planning for the future are all areas you can explore in the mind without any external stimuli.

    Use “boring” moments as opportunities to brainstorm. It’s a lot easier to cope with a humdrum reality if you’re able to use the time to explore possibilities within your mind.

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    If you’re really at a loss, you can imagine a story about 2-3 of the people and objects in your vicinity. This is a great way to exercise your creativity and sharpen your observation skills.

    2. Seek Quality in the Now

    Try starting small with some simple questions. What are you doing right now? What can you find that has value for you? Seeking quality right now allows you to find it even if your environment is bare or overloaded.

    Activities like waiting in line can be turned into moments of self-reflection or times to remind yourself of your vision.

    3. Don’t Resist

    Busyness and boredom could also be described as symptoms of resisting what is. Fully accepting whatever situation you are in and making the most of it is one way to conquer feeling bored.

    Resistance is something that can’t be done half-way. Either completely push away and seek quality elsewhere, or accept your surroundings and find it here.

    4. Unchain Yourself

    A lot of mental unease is caused because you feel forced to do something. You have to go to work, study for your test, do this or that. Realize that you don’t have to do anything, just accept different results. Freedom is in your mind.

    Weigh whether the activity causing your discomfort is essential or expendable. For example, paying your bills is non-negotiable, but you can opt to live a more modest lifestyle or actively search for a job you enjoy.

    Use a mantra to remind yourself of your freedom. “I am free” and “I have the power to change my circumstances” can reinforce the notion that you have choices.

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    5. Stop

    Boredom and feeling overloaded are both patterns. They are mental spirals you run on yourself that loop back on each other. If you just interrupt yourself for a few minutes and think more deeply about the problem, you can often come up with a good answer independent of these suggestions.

    Meditate your way out of boredom. Sometimes boredom and busyness are caused by feeling disconnected from what you are doing. Use meditation to ground yourself in the present.

    You can learn how to meditate here.

    Take up a gratitude practice. Whenever you’re feeling too bored or too busy, stop to think about all the things that are going well. Being able to simply say, “I got out of bed this morning,” and “I have food to eat,” help you take stock of your blessings.

    The Bottom Line

    As boredom and busyness arise from the same source, the same strategies can be used to tackle them and find a sweet spot of a balanced mindset. Find high-quality activities when you start saying “I’m feeling bored,” and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can turn things around.

    More Tips on Tackling Boredom

    Featured photo credit: Siddharth Bhogra via unsplash.com

    Reference

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