Something I started doing a few months ago is 28-day experiments. I’ve found that they’re an excellent way to make gradual changes to my work and lifestyle without too much pressure. I’m the kind of person who rebels against rules and is absolutely horrified at the thought of any sort of restriction placed on me, so saying I’m going to commit to doing something ‘forever’ — the way we often do when we decide to make big life-changing habits — doesn’t sit well with me, even if it’s something I ‘know’ will be good for me.
The thing is, you never really know something for sure until you’ve experienced it first-hand. No matter how many ‘gurus’ declare it to be the best thing ever, you just don’t really know until you give it a bash yourself. You can suspect — but not know. After all, what works for someone else may not work for you.
This is something I discovered after my experiment to work out first thing every morning. I’ve heard SO many successful people bang on and on about how this is the BEST WAY to start your day, no question. After trying it, I knew it wasn’t for me.
But having only committed to it for 28 days, I was now free to try something else. Twenty-eight days is a good amount of time: it’s long enough that you give something a proper shot, but not so long that you freak out about the foreverness of it. Calling it an ‘experiment’, not a ‘challenge’, implies that you’re doing this just to see. To figure out what works for you. There’s no pressure to stick to it after you’ve completed the set timeframe, and you’re not a failure if things don’t exactly go to plan; instead, you’ve simply learned something else about yourself.
I highly recommend trying your own 28-day experiments if there are any areas of your life or business you want to improve. And, as you’re a regular human being, just like me, I suspect there are. Probably many.
How to Conduct a 28-Day Experiment
- Choose a specific timeframe
I like 28 days because it’s a solid four weeks. You can start on any day of the week, rather than waiting until the 1st of the month, as you’re likely to do if you choose a 30-day challenge, which is, as we know, fucking dumb. But for some reason we want to do it anyway.
- Lay out exactly what you’re going to try, and why
Why do you want to experiment with this? What outcome are you hoping to achieve? What do you want to learn? You must write this down so you have something tangible to review. Otherwise, your stupid human brain will alter things or forget them.
- Mark in your calendar your ‘completion date’ so you don’t forget it
The completion date is ridiculously important, otherwise you’re likely to trail off halfway through the experiment and just write it off as ‘not for you’ without giving it much afterthought. But you NEED to give it afterthought. Afterthought is the whole fucking point.
- On, or very soon after, the completion date, sit down and write about how your experiment went
Really analyse it. Did you successfully do what you said you were going to do? Did you manage on some days, but not others? Why do you think that is? Did it help you achieve the outcome you were hoping for? What did you learn? Give this some deep thought and, again, write it all down. Here are some of my own analyses: exercising every morning, free-writing every morning, going to my workplace first thing every morning. (In case it’s not obvious, the problem I was trying to solve was feeling like I was wasting my mornings.)
- The final part of your analysis should be deciding what you’re going to do next
If the experiment was a 100% success, you’ll probably opt to keep doing it — while it feels right (because we don’t like ‘foreverness’). If it didn’t work out how you’d hoped, you should now have written down why. This is a fantastic starting point for figuring out what to try next.
For example, I found exercising first thing did not work for me, because I didn’t want to do anything too energetic in the mornings, and instead wanted to have peaceful, relaxing mornings. So then I tried sitting around in my pyjamas, drinking tea and free-writing first thing in the morning, but I didn’t like that either, because the writing often felt pointless and I felt gross being in my pyjamas for so long after waking.
Finally, I decided to try getting washed and dressed first thing, then heading over to a bench I sometimes work at, which overlooks the sea, and doing some internet-free work (writing or brainstorming or planning). I LOVED it. In fact, that’s what I’m doing as I write this. Having finally solved the problem of how to start my days, I was free to move on to tweaking other parts of my life.
There’s one final key to conducting successful 28-day experiments (which doesn’t mean the outcome of the experiment is 100% success, by the way, only that you actually complete the experiment in the first place, final analysis and all). That key is this: you must only conduct ONE experiment at a time. We humans have a tendency to want to change all the things, immediately. How’s that been working out for you so far? Yeah, not so great.
So just choose one thing. Perhaps the thing that will have the biggest immediate impact on your day-to-day happiness. These experiments are only four weeks long, so that means you have the potential to conduct 13 experiments per year. That’s a whole shitload of learning about yourself and improving your life, and is likely to be far more beneficial to you than trying to change everything at once, failing at everything, and never making any real changes. So just take it slow. Go gradually and make real changes.
Here are some ideas for experiments you could conduct:
- Exercising first thing in the morning
- Writing first thing in the morning
- Doing your most important thing first
- Going for a walk in the middle of your work day to refresh your brain
- Using the Pomodoro techniaue to be more productive
- Going to bed earlier to get more sleep
- Planning your day before diving into it
The experiments can be absolutely anything — whatever that niggling thing is that really bugs you about yourself. Are you sick of immediately waking up every morning and checking your phone? So start sleeping with your phone in the kitchen. Remember, it’s not forever: just 28 days. You can cope with keeping your phone in the kitchen for 28 short days, right? Sure you can. And if you hate it after those 28 days are up, you can bring the phone back into your bedroom. No big deal. And now you know yourself a little better.
If you can’t decide where to start, do some free writing to help you figure out what the most impactful change you could make to your life right now would be. Then try that.