We are constantly shown messages that purport there’s one right way to find success, or ten tips to get there quicker than everyone else.
Even though social media and advertisements would have us think otherwise, practices like productivity, habit formation, slow living, creating, and personal development are not one-size-fits-all. And in order to find what works best for you as an individual, you need to experiment.
During coaching sessions, I emphasize the act of experimenting. I want each of my clients to try out different methods and tools and then, after reflection, to take, leave, adjust, and improve their individual practices as fits their specific real lives.
There are a number of reasons why I encourage clients (and myself!) to resee the act of improving our lives as many small experiments. Many prepackaged tools and methods we read about often don’t account for the vast differences in people’s access, abilities, preferences, and values. When we receive a generalized guarantee that a tool will work for everyone, we can feel like there’s something wrong with us if it doesn’t work at first (or at all). When we resee trying tools and methods as experiments that we can later hone or dismiss, we remove the option of “failing.”
I’ve tried lots of experiments; just look at my almost two years of blog posts to see all of them! Some were immediate hits and have become ingrained in my daily habits, whereas some were flashes in the pan that never stuck, because I was doing them because I thought I “should” do them, because I chose to prioritize other things over them, because my shifting accessibility needs meant they were too difficult, or because I decided they weren’t for me afterall. Here are some of my regular habits that came out of practicing them as experiments: not checking email or social media in the bedroom, limiting my Instagram use with the Screentime app, drinking lemon water in the morning, writing morning pages most mornings, repeating affirmations to myself, and prioritizing my must-do tasks every day.
Below I walk you through my process of experimentation. I use this same process with my clients and on my own.
- Identify a particular problem you’ve been trying to fix or a goal you’d like to achieve.
- Think about why you haven’t accomplished it yet. Some examples are: Is your goal too big/complex? Is the deadline still far away? Do you feel overwhelmed or confused? Do you need clearer instructions?
- What would you love to do? Another way to think of this: What would a finished project look like, and when would you like to finish?
- Identify the steps it would take you to get there. What’s your next best step to take? When will you finish that step?
- Check if what you decided to do is actionable and achievable in the time frame you decided. Adjust as needed.
- EXPERIMENT! For the predetermined amount of time, take action on your next best step.
- Record your experience throughout the set timeframe. What is going well? What isn’t going well? (How are you measuring “well”?) Also, how do you feel about your process?
- At the end of your experiment, reflect on how it went.
What If I Didn’t Accomplish My Goal?
First of all: it’s okay! You are not a failure, and in fact, you DID accomplish your goal of experimenting! It’s now time to reflect and investigate what the experiment can teach you about what process or action will work best for you moving forward. Answer these questions:
- Why didn’t you complete the experiment as you planned? Did you feel scared? Too busy? Did you struggle with a limiting belief? Something else?
- Did your experiment have a clear “why”? Building a new habit will require you to have a clear reward for your routine.
- Would your experiment go differently if you had more (or less?) accountability? This could be people you report your progress to, using timers for your actions, or posting to a blog or social media about your experiment.
- Should you take something off your plate? Should you give yourself permission to retry this experiment at a later time?
Remember, framing self improvement as experimentation takes the fear, shame, or sting out of trying new things, and can allow us some much needed room to grow.
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