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How to Treat Life Like an Experiment
Posted By A Manly Guest Contributor On August 28, 2012 @ 9:50 pm In A Man's Life,Personal Development | 27 Comments
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Erik Kennedy from The Bucket List Society .
I was quite scared when I woke up Monday morning. I hadn’t set my alarm the night before, and I didn’t know if it was 7 AM, 11 AM, or somewhere in-between. How late was I for work? To make it worse, my watches were locked away in a drawer in my desk. All the clocks in my house had tape or paper covering the time. Even the digital clock in the corner of my computer screen had been hidden, and all the settings on my alarm clock had, of course, been cleared.
I walked to the transit stop and took a bus — I still don’t know which one — to work. There seemed to be plenty of other commuters, so maybe I hadn’t slept in until noon. Fifteen minutes before my first meeting, the Outlook meeting alert didn’t go off. I had cancelled all alerts for the next work-week. Fortunately, a coworker walked by. “Hey Erik, I’ll be a bit late to our meeting later on.”
“That’s okay!” I said, relieved for the first time all day. “Just drop by my office whenever. I’m not going anywhere.” I sat back in my chair.
This was only the second morning of my grand experiment.
Last fall, I decided it was a worthwhile idea to go without any time-telling mechanism for an entire week. No clocks, no watches, no alarms. The idea was born of a conversation with a friend about how much our wanting to know the time was useful and how much was just an addiction to some bit of knowledge that didn’t help us — something that made us feel better prepared, but didn’t make us any wiser.
Big questions to be tackling on a Monday morning, I’ll admit. And come the following Saturday night, I still hadn’t had a mind-blowing epiphany on the matter. I had more or less unreservedly arrived at the conclusion that knowing the time can be pretty useful, but isn’t always. Useful, I know. But while I laugh about it now, I don’t regret one second of that week.
See, I’ve got a thing for personal experiments. Self-science. In the past few years, I’ve done a week without clocks, a week with only one meal per day, a week of giving back to my network , and a stretch of a few months during which I recorded everything in my life that made me noticeably more happy or less happy. I’ve also kept track of more standard things at various times — how many push-ups I can do, how many carbs I’m eating, or how much money I’m spending.
In short, I’ve tried to treat my life as an experiment — or, rather, a series of short experiments. But whether it’s measuring if clocks are a needless stressor or figuring out the best weekly push-up routine, all of this self-experimenting stuff boils down to a few simple steps:
It’s not rocket science. In fact, it would be a stretch to call it science at all — but it’s based on the same basic principles: curiosity, a desire for improvement, and a humility towards finding the truth, wherever the search might lead. And it utilizes the same steps of the scientific method as well:
In a way, though, this do-it-yourself experimentation has a leg up on labs and research papers. We live in a time where you can find studies to back up anything . Coffee is great for you. Coffee is awful for you. Fat is bad. Nope, it’s saturated fat. Just kidding, it’s carbs. Actually, meat is bad for you. Nope, you’re bad for meat.
In the noisy commotion of the science-media complex, sometimes the clearest voice is a simple one-man experiment. “I tried two things. I found one was better. I’m going to do that thing until I find something even better.” Those with a background in science and engineering might balk: a sample size of one isn’t valid! How can you base your life off of something as trivial as a week-long, one-person experiment?
My answer is simple: I’m not trying to test cures for cancer here. Treating life like an experiment is about curiosity and attempting to live better, not “proving” beyond any shadow of a doubt the merits or demerits of any way of life. When I found that not driving to work drastically increased the chances of me not having a bad day, I’m wasn’t trying to legislate anything based on the conclusion. I’m just trying to figure out how I can get one step closer to better.
The experimental life is one of boundary-pushing and agency over one’s environment. To those ends, you can test almost anything. Here are a few things that I’ve heard about people testing — or experimented with myself.
Health and Exercise
The Art of Manliness has long preached that true manliness is not about purchasing an image, buying gear, etc.– it’s how you act and the attitude you hold. Similarly, the experimental life is not one that requires fancy equipment or expensive tools.
In fact, depending on the experiment, you probably own everything you need to get started. But in the interest of knowing what’s out there, here are some apps and websites that are useful for running experiments on different aspects of your life. Most are either free or have a free version.
There’s also a few other things I want to mention in the area of data-tracking.
Benjamin Franklin tracked his shortcomings  for years and realized something that somehow evades many of us: we are not perfect, as hard as we try. But there’s a caveat. “I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined,” he said, “but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.” He later added, “But, on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.” We aren’t perfect, but we can be better, even if it’s just through the process of attempting to be so.
None of my forays into the experimental life are as weighty as Ben Franklin’s moral quest, but I feel like I’ve still learned a few worthwhile lessons — and while these may be nothing more than common sense to most people, learning them through my own experience means I’ve learned them better and will remember them longer.
As my Clockless Week drew to a close, I realized I had learned some things from that experiment too. The sun had made a better alarm clock than I thought. I hadn’t missed a single meeting at work (it helped that it was a slower season and my boss was out of town the whole week). Time did feel a bit more free and less stressed. There was a 45-minute wait at the restaurant Friday night, but I couldn’t have cared less. “That’s fine!” I beamed. “We’ve got nowhere to be!”
Sunday morning, I woke up with nothing to do and no hurry to do it in. But I had a twitch. Before I brushed my teeth, before I got dressed, I went from room to room and peeled the tape off all the clocks. I still can’t figure out how it made me better off to know the time that morning, but even so, I had to breathe a sigh of relief.
It just felt good to know.
Erik Kennedy writes about life goals at The Bucket List Society . In addition, he is spreading a network of accountability groups dedicated to bucket lists — a book club for your life goals — called The Finishing School . He can be found mostly in Seattle. The first item on his bucket list is to shave his face with a whaling harpoon.
Article printed from The Art of Manliness: http://www.artofmanliness.com
URL to article: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/08/28/how-to-treat-life-like-an-experiment/
URLs in this post:
 The Bucket List Society: http://thebucketlistsociety.com/
 giving back to my network: http://thebucketlistsociety.com/2012/06/02/personal-experiment-7-days-of-value/
 anything: http://studyfinds.net/
 Action Method: http://thebucketlistsociety.com/2012/03/02/experiments-in-productivity-the-action-method/
 Pomodoro Technique: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique
 Kanbans: http://www.personalkanban.com/pk/primers/what-is-a-kanban/
 Excel: https://skydrive.live.com/
 Google spreadsheets: http://docs.google.com/
 HealthMonth: http://healthmonth.com/
 NudgeMail: http://www.nudgemail.com/
 firstname.lastname@example.org: mailto:email@example.com
 firstname.lastname@example.org: mailto:email@example.com
 RescueTime: http://www.rescuetime.com/
 productivity and internet usage: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2011/10/17/how-to-quit-mindlessly-surfing-the-internet-and-actually-get-stuff-done/
 daytum: http://daytum.com/
 Quantified Self: http://quantifiedself.com/
 monthly meetings: http://quantified-self.meetup.com/
 Fitbit: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005PUONIK/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B005PUONIK&linkCode=as2&tag=stucosuccess-20
 tracked his shortcomings: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2008/02/24/lessons-in-manliness-benjamin-franklins-pursuit-of-the-virtuous-life/
 The Finishing School: http://thebucketlistsociety.com/the-finishing-school/
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