“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Do you regularly push yourself outside of your comfort zone? Or do you take the path of least resistance?
There are people that make the conscious effort to do things that make them uncomfortable, but they are the minority. The fact is, most people choose the easy path, also known as, “The path of least resistance.”
Because the majority of humans seek comfort as their default operating system, they don’t “experiment” much in their lives. Because of this lack of experimentation, they will never ever reach their full potential.
But I don’t want to just talk about that. No, I’d much rather talk about how you can do more experimenting and get better results whether you already do some or none.
No matter where you are on the “comfort” and “experimenting” scales, there is one thing I want you to do more of. This: be more scientific.
Let’s discuss why.
First of all, I’m a big believer in personal development, but more specially, in being methodical with personal development.
My belief in the importance of being methodical, scientific even, with personal develop is why I also believe that self-awareness is so damn important, integral really, to success. From what I’ve seen in others (and myself) over the years is that an awareness of one’s desires, thoughts, motivations, strengths and weaknesses is always the epicenter of a solid personal develop program. After all, how can you “develop” yourself into a better person if you don’t know what parts of you most need developing?
Self-awareness is the key, my friend.
Combining awareness of the self with a step-by-step, goal oriented method of development is the key to success in every avenue of life.
An awesome byproduct of these two factors is you end up taking more risks and making more experiments in life when you utilize them. Thus, my advice boils down to this: Treat the things you do in life like you would treat any project at school or work; make lists, timelines and deadlines, and most important of all, set expectations for the outcome you are trying to reach. Then get out there and do and iterate and test and iterate.
They say what gets measured gets improved. I agree.
The individual that has a clear idea of where she wants to be is far more likely to get there, or at the very least, end up somewhere better than where she is now. On the flip side, those that take a more random approach to life and success tend to end up wherever they end up through happenstance.
I don’t know about you, but happenstance is the last thing I want to direct my life.
To avoid ending up wherever the wind blows you, you must to be scientific and methodical and use visualization and planning.
The first thing you should do is write out what you want to accomplish. Writing down your goals should be applied to anything and everything you want to improve, from your smallest habits in life, such as flossing, to your grandest life goals, like starting that non-profit to change the world.
The next thing to do is to start listing out (that means more writing down) the small steps, milestones and actions you have to do to get you closer to that goal. This is where you should be creative and try to connect things that might not easily connect.
Example: you want to start a non-profit, but you aren’t great at asking people for things and since you know that you will have to regularly ask for money via fundraising, you make it a goal to start doing more asking in your life—ask for a favor, ask to borrow money, ask for advice, and so on.
Connecting seemingly small habits with your future goals and success might seem like a long shot. They aren’t.
How else do you become a brilliant speaker, actor, businessman, dancer, musician, linguist, etc.?
Like this: You start with developing the smallest skills into habits by repeating them over and over and over for years on end.
Spend some time thinking about it and you’ll see that every improvement of the self translates to an improvement in every goal you are pursuing.
Every. Single. One.
This is why personal development is the most important thing in life.
It’s why smart, wealthy people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates regularly talk about the importance of reading and knowledge, and how each have been integral to their respective success. (Because reading makes you better in so many ways, in case you were wondering. In fact, I correlate any success I’ve ever had in my life to my love—and skill—of reading.)
It’s time you started thinking of your development as a person as methodical and scientific.
When you start thinking of uncomfortable situations as an experiment—as a way of improving yourself—you are more likely to take action and make it happen. And the more you do this, the more you’ll see how you can embrace every part of your life as a way of getting better.
Now let’s talk about the importance of experimenting with things that most people don’t think to experiment with, like improving your social skills, asking for things you want from people, being more open, honest and vulnerable, and so on.
These parts of your personality are things you’ve probably picked up through life depending on whatever your life has you doing on a regular basis. Maybe you have been staying inside most days to work on a big project and so your social interactions are lacking. Maybe you work the night shift and you don’t interact with people that much because you are sleeping while everyone else is awake. Maybe you are so used to being around people that staying home alone on a Friday night makes you feel lonely and anxious. And so on.
The life examples are limitless, but the thing that relates to them all is your life is going to be affected by what you do on the regular. There is no escaping this concept; it’s simply the way you, as a human, are hardwired.
And this is why self-awareness of your situation and your comfortability with various aspects of life are so integral to staying on top of your game.
What’s especially hard about combating life’s role in our development, or lack thereof, is how insidious these habits creep up on us. The more our habits, good or bad, become hardened into routine, the more we form beliefs, often called “stories,” that surround the way we are, which end up keeping us from seeing ourselves objectively. This is why it usually takes a drastic life circumstance to change the most ingrained aspects of our personalities.
The stories we create about ourselves trigger cognitive pitfalls like confirmation bias and can infect our professional lives as well as our personal. You find this in the employee that has been doing the same thing for years and is unwilling to try the new way. It’s found in the all too common relationships where one individual feels one way and is unwilling to change, let alone admit they need to, while likely blaming their partner. On and on the examples go.
What I’m trying to showcase is then fact that the concepts I am highlighting in this essay can be the catalyst for improving every single part of your life, which is why, fundamentally, you should want to experiment and make yourself uncomfortable on a regular basis.
Start treating your personal development like a scientist would and conduct conscious experiments with the goal of learning so you can improve. Start doing things that aren’t in your typical routine, which will put you in situations that make you think and improvise, each integral for improvement.
Complacency is slow death. Human beings are made to pursue progress and the accumulation of resources. It’s built into our DNA, and since there’s no escaping it, you might as well embrace it.
Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about that also serves as a fun social experiment. I heard this from Noah Kagen over at OKDORK.com. I think it’s called the “coffee challenge.” What you do is this: The next time you order coffee at your favorite local coffee shop, ask the barista for 10% off. When they ask why, come up with whatever reason you want or just say, “Because.”
I like this kind of thing. It challenges you socially and definitely pushes you outside of your comfort zone. It also has profound implications for other areas of your life, like asking for a promotion, a meeting, anything.
Let’s look at a similar example from my own life. If you are like me, you hate small talk and it can be hard for you to be interested in people you just met. For those of you that struggle in social situations like this, a thing you can do is start making a point to ask people how they are and forcing yourself to be interested. You’ll be amazed by the connections you make with this little technique, not to mention how much better your social skills will get.
We all have our own version of what it means to take experiment and try new things in life. Maybe you need to really push yourself to the extreme to find development. Or maybe just getting out of the house is an exercise in personal development.
Whatever it is for you, the only thing you can do is start where you are at and operate in the arena that will bring you betterment, whichever arena that happens to be. That said, there is one bit of advice that is universal across the board and it is this: Think Bigger.
No matter where you are and where you want to be, think bigger than you are now. There’s always something bigger. By setting your sights higher, you’ll end up reaching higher.
This idea of thinking bigger is one of the reasons I’m a huge fan of biographies. The stories of other people have the knack of opening your mind to other styles of life and thinking, which for me as always resulted in expanding my idea of what was (is) possible for my life. Each time I read a biography, I adapt some of this “style” into my own thinking and life, which usually results in bigger goals. Trust me on this one.
Of course, I want to do more than just tell you to read biographies. What I really want to do is give you techniques, as well as motivation, so you can experiment more in your life just like Emerson suggests above.
To experiment in your life means to take risks by doing things you are not used to doing; pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. But most people are hesitant to take risks, which makes sense considering our DNA has programmed us to seek what’s easy because that used to be what was the safest thing to do in the world we lived in as nomadic hunter gatherers.
But today is a different. We live in a time where physical safety is high, and where our progress comes from taking the kind of risks that will hurt on an emotional level. This is why the better you know yourself, the more likely you’ll be to take calculated risks that will end up making you better instead of succumbing to fear in the form of excuses and biases. Further, the more you know about yourself, the more you learn about yourself when you do put yourself in these situations.
Get experimenting! Try new things and learn from the experience. Read new books, meet new people, visit new places, learn new skills, try new things, and so on. The more you do, the better you’ll become.
As Martin Yan said of travel, “People who don’t travel cannot have a global view, all they see is what’s in front of them. Those people cannot accept new things because all they know is where they live.” Or as Louis Boone said of failure: “Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.”
As you see, not experimenting is not only a way to stifle progress, but also something that will expose you to other risks, specifically the risk of “what if?”
Happiness research has concluded that progress is integral to happiness in human beings. We must constantly be striving, hoping and anticipating to live a full and happy life. You know, the old: It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
Victor Frankl, from his experiences in Nazi death camps, concluded that the prisoners most likely to survive were the ones that possessed some kind of hope or meaning—hope that they would be reunited with loved ones, or meaning in a purpose or job they fulfilled. (Frankl himself treated patients during his time at Aushwitz.)
To say the least, progress is integral to life.
Experiment or die. (See the analogy?)
If you don’t make a point to move forward in life, you wind up like the muscle that doesn’t get used. In case you are hazy on Anatomy 101, a muscle that isn’t used will atrophy–waste away. This analogy applies perfectly to life: If you aren’t moving forward, you are wasting away.
The opposite of growing is dying. Experiment to grow.
Embrace that progress and change are integral to life instead of fighting each the way many do. Then, start taking risks and experimenting. Open your mind to new ideas and experiences. Get out there and cause a ruckus.
Experiment or die.
Get to work.