Ralph Waldo Emerson
All of life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
Life is Like a Box of Chocolates…
We all no doubt experience our fair share of setbacks and disappointments over the course of a lifetime. At one point things are going well, then all of a sudden an error of judgment, a fatal mistake, or an unexpected event can completely derail our efforts. And what seemed like a perfect day has turned into an absolute nightmare. 🙁
Life gets this way at times. In fact, life surprises us with unexpected twists and turns around every corner. This experience was put into words so eloquently by Forrest Gump who said that “life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.”
There is another saying that suggests that when bad things happen that we should turn lemons into lemonade, or in other words, we should adapt to the situation and make the most of these circumstances for our own benefit.
These are all of course wonderful ways of looking at life; of looking at failure and setbacks. But how do we get into the necessary frame-of-mind that will help us to think in a more optimal way? How can we begin to cultivate a mindset that will allow us to be open to change and motivated to turn lemons into lemonade?
What if life was an experiment?
Everyone has a certain perspective they bring to life and for that matter to everyday circumstances. By perspective I mean that we all have a certain philosophy that we live by that is built upon very specific beliefs and a certain set of standards and expectations that are either helpful or can potentially hinder our progress.
One such philosophy that I’ve previously discussed comes in the form of seeing life as a game. When we view life as a game we approach everyday events and circumstances in a very specific way. In this instance, we see life as being fun and playful. Moreover, we see it as being very competitive and challenging. And if you’re someone who absolutely loves games and thrives on challenges and a competitive environment, then living in accordance with this philosophy can be of incredible value.
Another philosophy that can be of significant value comes in the form of living life as an experiment. Or to put it another way, it’s all about thinking like a scientist.
Just imagine for a moment facing one of the biggest unexpected setbacks of your life. If you’re like most people you will probably make this situation out to be the end of the world. 🙁 This would typically lead to bouts of stress, anxiety, and worry due to the uncertainty of the situation. Furthermore, this would probably make you feel like a victim of circumstance and would possibly lead to blame, excuses, self-criticism, and a vast array of lousy complaints. In other words, THE END OF THE WORLD as you know it! Now of course within this state-of-mind it’s incredibly difficult to make the most of the situation and supposedly to turn lemons into lemonade. 🙂
But what if whenever you faced a significant life challenge or any form of adversity you didn’t live by the Victim Mentality Philosophy that most people suffer from. What if you lived by the philosophy that life was nothing more but an experiment and you were the head scientist running the show?
What all this means is that setbacks no longer indicate an end of the road (or of the world), but instead signify that something went wrong with your “life” experiment. As a result, you must now make the necessary adjustments to run the experiment again in order to get a more optimal result.
This is, of course, all well and good. It sounds great in theory to approach life this way, but when the world is falling apart and deep level emotions are brought to the surface the last thing you want to think about is that your life is nothing more but an experiment.
Okay, so how do we do this? How do we start living by the philosophy of living life as an experiment? Well, it all starts with imagining yourself as a scientist.
You are a Scientist
From today onward you are a scientist, and the world is your lab. Within this lab are all your experiments that are tied to various aspects of your life. You are for instance running experiments to help improve your relationships, to earn more money, to pass that exam with flying colors, to convince a friend to buy you lunch, to learn a new skill or language, to overcome that pesky problem, and so much more.
It’s also important to note that every aspect of your life is in combination a grand life experiment. In other words, your entire life is an experiment about living; about living in an optimal way where you try to make the most of every situation in order to help you live life to the very best of your ability.
You are of course the scientist running all these experiments. You get up in the morning and you walk into your lab and begin your experimental work. At times your experiments go horribly wrong (as they do in real life), but that’s okay, it’s after all just an experiment. As you move through each experiment you learn and get better with your experimental work over time.
Now, as a scientist, you cultivate a certain kind of mindset and you have a very specific approach when it comes to working through your life experiments.
As a Scientist you…
See your life as a scientific laboratory. Everything is an experiment and you are always working to improve to make things better. In fact, your underlying objective is not only to improve yourself, but also to make the world a better place.
As a Scientist you…
Don’t fear future outcomes because experiments are unpredictable by their very nature and you wholeheartedly accept that. As such, you are emotionally detached from all desired results. In fact, you clearly understand that even when an experiment goes terribly wrong that there is a lot that can be learned, and at times it can even work to your advantage.
As a Scientist you…
Don’t get easily disappointed, discouraged or frustrated because everything is just an experiment. Sometimes your experiments go as expected, while at other times they don’t. And no matter what happens you never really know whether something is good or bad until much later when you are able to connect all the dots. Negative consequences can at times lead to positive outcomes down the track.
As a Scientist you…
As a Scientist you…
Are continuously testing theories, seeking truths, and challenging your limiting beliefs, false assumptions, and the status quo. What appears to be the truth today may not be true tomorrow after your experiment has concluded. Therefore what you believe now will shift tomorrow and subsequently so will the choices and decisions you make.
As a Scientist you…
Have present moment awareness. In other words, you are very mindful and observant of what is going on around you. Your ability to stay focused allows you to use your keen observation skills to help you see things that the average person typically misses. As such, you can make “on-the-fly” adjustments to your experiments in order to help you make the most of every situation.
As a Scientist you…
Are very open-minded and receptive to new ideas, perspectives and theories. All this stems from your curious nature and willingness to question absolutely everything. Moreover, you typically never accept anything at face value.
As a Scientist you…
Desire improvement and better results each time you run an experiment. You want more fulfilling outcomes that get your creative and problem-solving juices flowing. And of course, when you come across a breakthrough you are excited to share your findings with others.
Living Like a Scientist
As a scientist by nature, you partake in certain rituals and habits that help you get the most from your ability while working through your life experiments.
Within the greater scope of things, your main objective is to study and explore life, nature, and people. You conduct these explorations through studying cause-effect relationships between events, circumstances, and people. Moreover, you also study your own patterns of decision-making, behavior and the subsequent results that evolve. You learn from these observations and make adjustments to help optimize how you live your life.
The underlying key to your explorations and experimentations is to essentially find better ways to get things done. More specifically, it’s all about finding better ways to live your life within your present environment and through your interactions with others. Everything you do is designed to help optimize how you think and process the world around you so that you can make the most of life in every instance.
Your experiments, of course, fail many times over. This is where you take the time to learn from these outcomes in order to improve your future results. You, therefore, have rituals in place that help you think, reflect and assess “what was” in order to make adjustments moving forward.
You, of course, run your experiments in a variety of ways. In fact, you are never satisfied with how things are, and instead push the boundaries of your experiments in order to test new theories that break the grounds of what you previously believed was possible.
Everything you do, everything you are, and every event of your life is a mini-experiment. The bigger the challenge and the bigger the blunder the more excited you get about the possibilities that lie ahead. And of course, every time you fail you get a little giddy inside because you clearly understand that every failed attempt is one step closer to a successful outcome. That, in essence, is what it’s like to live life as a scientist.
Did you know?
Did you know that it has been speculated that Thomas Edison had to undertake approximately 10,000 experiments before he developed the light-bulb? Now, this number might actually have been closer to 1,000 experiments. But even if it was just 1,000 experiments, that’s 1,000 times he failed to create a light-bulb. And do you know what he said after having failed so many times?
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. — Thomas Edison
That is essentially what it takes to live life as a scientist.
Then there is the story of how 3M Post-It notes were invented. It’s the story of how a couple of experimental accidents led to the creation of a multi-billion dollar business.
The story begins in 1968 with Spencer Silver who was working to create a super strong adhesive for use in the aerospace industry. However, his experiment didn’t quite go as planned. Instead of developing a super strong adhesive he accidentally created a very weak, pressure sensitive adhesive agent.
This adhesive obviously did not interest 3M because it was too weak to be used for their purposes. However, in time and with a little persistence from Silver it turned into one of the most well known and useful office supply products: The Post-it Note.
Click here to read the full story of how post-it notes were invented.
These are just a couple of examples of the value of experimentation. In the first example, each failure brings you closer to succeeding, and within the second example, an utterly failed botched up experiment led to an incredible breakthrough.
Life, of course, is very much like this. The more you experiment with life the more you’ll learn, and the more you learn the more you know what to avoid doing in order to eventually succeed. Likewise, a horrible failure can lead to an unexpected opportunity that can transform the course of your life in incredible ways.
There is, however, an important factor at play here that makes all this possible. That factor comes in the form of understanding how to ask effective questions that can help you turn lemons into lemonade.
Ask and You Shall Receive…
A scientist’s secret weapon for successful experimentation comes in the form the questions they persistently ask themselves at the beginning, during and after an experiment. These questions help challenge how they think about their experiments, which subsequently allows them to gather relevant data and insights to move their experiments forward.
Now, given that you live your life by the philosophy that life is an experiment, it’s helpful to assume that asking effective questions about yourself, about your life, about other people and circumstances can most certainly help provide you the insights you need to overcome the challenges you face.
As a scientist of your life, you need to challenge yourself daily with new experiments. Some of these experiments will, of course, be forced upon you as a result of circumstance (i.e. setbacks and problems), but at all other times, it’s up to you to figure out what beneficial experiments you can conduct that could potentially help improve your life in a positive way. For instance, you could start by asking yourself:
How could I live a better, happier and more fulfilling life?
What experiments could I conduct that would allow me to live life in this way?
These two questions will set the foundations for your experimental work. However, if you’re still challenged for possible experiments you could run, then there are several additional questions that will get your experimental juices flowing:
What if each one of my actions was an experiment?
What if my thoughts were an experiment?
What if my emotions were an experiment?
What if each moment was some kind of experiment?
What if all my social interactions were an experiment?
What if my life objective was to figure this stuff out?
In order to start living by the philosophy that your life is an experiment, you must put yourself into a receptive state-of-mind that challenges you to think and see everything as a potential experiment. In fact, every part of your life or part of yourself that hasn’t as yet been optimized to its full potential provides an opportunity for experimentation. In other words, anywhere in your life where improvements can be made provides a chance for you to start experimenting in order to improve your results.
The experimental challenges you choose to focus on are of course completely up to you. The key is to focus on making small and incremental improvements that will over time dramatically accelerate your results and help move your life forward in remarkable ways.
Conducting Life Experiments
Have you ever experimented with improving various aspects of your life? You could for instance conduct experiments that help you solve problems more effectively, or create experiments that allow you to resolve conflict, or maybe even prepare experiments that allow you to be more loving, compassionate and caring. Moreover, you could potentially conduct experiments that help boost your productivity, or even experiment with goal achievement to figure out how to best work toward your desired outcomes with the least amount of resistance and effort.
Likewise, you could experiment with how you interact or communicate with different groups of people. You could experiment with changing your schedule to improve your effectiveness and efficiency throughout the day. In fact, you could experiment with various aspects of your lifestyle such as your diet, hobbies, exercise and even with handing addictions.
Every part of your life is open for experimentation as long as the goal is to help you improve yourself or your results in some way.
To set up one of these experiments, all you need to do is:
- First clarify where you’re at, what you have been doing, and the results you have subsequently realized.
- Set a goal for a potential outcome you would like to realize and a date for its accomplishment.
- Lay down a plan of action for achieving that outcome by specifying the daily actions you will take.
- Figure out how you will measure your results and progress. This will help you adjust your course of action when needed.
- Prepare the tools and resources you might need for this experiment.
- Launch your experiment.
Once your experiment is up and running you need to stay very vigilant to measure how things are progressing. Only through rigorous measurement will you understand whether or not you are clearly on track.
Now of course, if this purposeful experimentation makes you feel a little uneasy and somewhat overwhelmed, then that’s perfectly okay. Not all of us are built for this kind of meticulous tracking of our daily behavior and actions.
In order to live by the philosophy of life being an experiment, you don’t necessarily need to run rigorous organized experiments of this nature. What you can do instead is challenge yourself daily in some way. For instance challenge your emotional states, your beliefs, your biases and assumptions, your habits and even your daily thoughts, decisions, and actions.
For example, you could experiment with what it’s like to think more positively when facing adversity. Or how about experimenting with what it’s like to believe that a seemingly impossible problem can be solved? Or potentially experiment with not allowing yourself to get frustrated when things don’t go your way. Choose instead to get curious by the possibilities.
There are a wide variety of small mini-experiments you can conduct throughout the day that will progressively help to optimize how you think, perceive and interact with the world around you. The key is to just keep an open mind and challenge yourself to begin thinking like a scientist; a scientist that sees no failure, only feedback.
Thinking Like a Scientist
In order to start thinking like a scientist, we must revisit the importance of asking effective questions.
The questions you ask will either lead you to a breakthrough or to a roadblock. However, no matter what potential scenario you face, questions will always help you move forward. They will help you move forward because everything is a form of feedback, and that includes roadblocks.
For instance, when facing a roadblock or major problem a scientist will typically pose “what if…” scenarios. For instance:
What if I try… What then?
What if I did this differently?
What if I put these two things together?
How would things improve if I…?
Alternatively when things don’t work out as expected a scientist will try to understand why things turned out this way and not another way. They will typically ask:
Why didn’t this work?
How else could I do this?
How else could I solve this problem?
How could I improve on this result?
At times though scientists need to dig deeper in order to solve a problem. They may for instance question cause-effect relationships. In such instances they may ask:
What is the relationship between these things?
Why did that happen?
What led to this event?
What affected that? How?
What patterns are evident here?
Now of course, no matter how many fantastic insights a scientist gathers from asking these kinds of questions, there always remains the possibility that they are not quite seeing things as clearly as required to help them solve the problem at hand. For instance, they might very well be making assumptions that are preventing them from seeing the truth. In such instances, they will ask themselves:
What assumptions am I making about this?
How could my assumptions be hindering me from seeing what is really going on here?
As a scientist moves through their analysis of the problem they are often forced to question every choice they make. And as they question their choices new possibilities come to the surface. You see, for them, nothing is ever clear-cut. There are always alternate possibilities, but unless they question the choices they make, they will never really know what possibilities truly exist.
In the end, the goal is to learn as much as possible from every experiment in order to help improve the results of future experiments. As such, after an experiment has been completed a scientist will typically ask themselves:
What have I learned from this experiment?
What will I continue doing as a result?
What will I refrain from doing during my next experiment?
What will I do differently next time? How?
Whether you’re a scientist working on an experiment or a person living by the philosophy that life is an experiment, you will find tremendous value in asking these kinds of questions.
Life is all about constant and never-ending improvement. By choosing to live your life as an experiment you are committing yourself to growth and development. With every experiment you conduct you learn a tremendous amount about yourself, about other people, and about the world around you. Moreover, you learn about what works and/or doesn’t work, and can, therefore, make appropriate and necessary adjustments moving forward.
By choosing to live your life as an experiment you are no longer at the mercy of falling into the victim mentality trap. Life just doesn’t happen to you. You are in fact responsible for everything. You are after all part of the experiment; possibly you are the experiment. And as such, you hold the power to change the course and direction of your life.
Yes, life will not always be rosy, in fact, it will bring a lot of hardship and pain. But by taking an experimental approach, you are effectively saying that life will never get the better of you as long as you have the freedom to experiment and improve your circumstances.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 7 Lessons Learned from Spending Years Trying to Improve Every Aspect of My Life @ Business Insider
- Drawing Upon Your Own Life Experiments @ CNN
- How do you treat life as an experiment? @ Matthew Cornell
- How to Treat Life Like an Experiment @ The Art of Manliness
- Live Life as an Experiment @ Harvard Business Review
- Why Treating Life Like an Experiment Helps You Make Faster Decisions @ Fast Company
- Your Life as an Experiment and the Tools to Run it @ Psychology Today