I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject of experiment and experimental living lately and something that I’ve really started to notice is the number of people who use 30-day experiments as a way to try out new things, create new habits, push boundaries and test assumptions. Wikipedia describes an experiment as ‘a method of testing – with the goal of explaining – the nature of reality.’ I like that. It goes on to say that ‘experiments can vary from personal and informal, to highly controlled.’ This post will focus on the personal and informal type of experiment and in particular the 30-day experiment.
All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
What is the 30-day experiment?
The 30-day experiment is the notion of trying something new for 30 days to achieve an outcome such as form a habit, face a fear or just simply try something different. I’ve used the word experiment but you could just as easily use trial, challenge or habit.
Argument is conclusive, but it does not remove doubt, so that the mind may rest in the sure knowledge of the truth, unless it finds it by the method of experiment. ~ Roger Bacon
An obvious reason for conducting a 30-day experiment is to get into the habit of doing something new that you want to introduce into your life. It could be a daily form of exercise, healthy eating or getting up early or it could be going for 30 days without doing something in order to break a bad habit like smoking or eating too much chocolate. When we try to introduce a new habit into our life or break an old bad habit, the pressure of forever can often lead to failure. If we believe we now have to do something that takes effort and willpower everyday for the rest of our lives then we will most likely feel daunted by the task at hand and inevitably fail.
The same goes for breaking habits, if we tell ourselves we can never again do something that we currently enjoy, we’ll also feel anxious and put off by the prospect. By telling ourselves we only have to do something for 30 days gives us the best chance of success. Not only does 30 days feel like an achievable amount of time, but after 30 days of consistently doing something we are far more likely to see just how achievable it is to carry on with that new habit. Even if we don’t continue with the habit after 30 days, the chances are that we’ll have learnt valuable lessons from the experience that will either help us to be more successful with future attempts or will simply mean we do more or less of an activity than before.
In life people share all sorts of theories and hypotheses with each other and what the 30-day experiment allows you to do is test them out for yourself. It can also allow you to test conventional wisdom and try things that test some of the assumptions we have been brought up to believe. Using shampoo is one such example of this for me. We are taught that to keep our hair clean we should wash it with shampoo on a regular basis and this is one such habit that I am particularly attached to.
A theory I’ve often heard is that your shampoo strips your hair of natural oils, which is why it over produces oil when you leave it for a day or two. Stopping the shampooing process will allow your hair to start cleaning itself. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of not washing my hair with shampoo but I’m also fascinated with the theory. Without trying it for myself I would never know for sure if this is true.
Experiments can also be a way of testing our own assumptions such as I will get more done if I wake up earlier each day. By doing something for 30 days we can really test whether our assumptions about an activity or habit are really true or more importantly, if that new habit really serves our needs. Just because something works for someone else doesn’t guarantee the same results for everyone.
Doubt the conventional wisdom unless you can verify it with reason and experiment. ~ Steve Albini
Pushing the boundaries
For me another great benefit of the 30-day experiment is that it allows you to do something challenging for a limited amount of time. I’m thinking in particular of the type of challenge that takes you out of your comfort zone. An example of this for me is the awkward moments experiment that Matt Ramos set himself during which he created situations that would make him feel awkward but also benefit other people every day for 30 days.
This kind of experiment is about pushing the boundaries of what we are capable of or comfortable doing. When we push the boundaries we inevitably expand our comfort zone, giving ourselves more space to maneuver. Too often we box ourselves in with self-limiting beliefs and fear. For me the 30-day experiment is a sure fire way of removing some of those limits in the short-term and potentially forever.
Meeting your needs
Sometime we make a decision to make a change in our lives and it turns out that it wasn’t the right decision for us after all. For example, we might decide to give up eating meat or drinking alcohol and rather than announce to the world that you’ve become a teetotal vegetarian, simply doing these activities for 30 days allows you to try these things on for size before making a non-refundable purchase.
It could be that cutting meat out of your diet leaves you feeling under par or lacking in energy and that actually it suits your needs better to continue eating meat. By doing a 30-day experiment you can test whether or not a proposed new habit really does work for you before making a more long-term commitment. Armed with knowledge or proof of the benefits or dis-benefits of something, we are far better placed to make choices in our lives that come from a place of knowledge and therefore, better serve our needs.
A couple of examples
Lots of people have written about their experiences of conducting 30-day experiments and to give you a flavour here are just a few that I like.
Benny Hsu’s 30-day gratitude experiment
Steve Pavlina’s 30 days of inspiration
David Cain’s 30 days of being vegan
Scott Kostolni’s 30-day eye contact experiment
My year of experiments
With an imminent abundance of time on my hands I’ve decided that from April 2012, I will live a whole year of 30-day experiments. I haven’t yet decide what all twelve habits will be and I don’t intend to pre-plan them all now but here is a list of some of the activities I’m considering doing for 30 days at a time.
- Be an early riser (tried and failed at this once before)
- Go Shampoo free
- Do yoga
- Write a novel (in November)
- Write a blog post
- Strike up a conversation with a stranger
Most of the above are habits that I would like to form and I would definitely like to introduce some experiments that push me out of my comfort zone more and challenge some of my self-limiting beliefs and I’m open to suggestions on what these could be. When the time comes I’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date on how my experiments are going and what I ultimately learn about myself as a result.
A fool is a man who never tried an experiment in his life. ~ Erasmus Darwin
Have you ever conducted a 30-day experiment? If so, what did you learn? Can you think of any other experiments to add to my list of possible experiments? Or do you know of any other experiments people have done and written about? If so, I’d love to hear from you. If you like this post please do share using the buttons below.
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