“Your experiments are the most interesting part of the site for me, but you don’t talk about them much and you haven’t done one in a while. Are those old experiments still a part of your life?”
He wasn’t the first one to ask that. I’ve always felt like I should post updates, but I don’t like to make posts that aren’t standalone articles, or to tack on little updates at the ends of other posts.
So I’ve mostly just left the experiments alone after they’re finished. But I’ve invested a lot in them, and the point has always been to create a lasting change.
They have. Next Saturday it will have been 1000 days since I started Raptitude, and I am a pretty different person than the guy who launched the blog. The writing habit is what I credit (or blame) for a lot of that, but my experiments have also left big changes to my personality, lifestyle and values. I’m now past 10,000 total days in my life, and honestly this last thousand have been my favorite ones. Thank you for playing your part in that.
So for those who have asked, and for readers who have never ventured into the little-known back rooms behind the front page of this blog, here is (briefly) the current status of each of my Raptitude experiments. [Note: except the seventh one, which was a second attempt at the first one and was even more disastrous.]
The gist: To make sitting meditation a habit by doing it for 20 minutes every day. I had for a long time meditated intermittently, but never as a daily habit.
The initial result: I struggled. Partly because it was suddenly a duty, I became positively enraged every time I sat down. It was bizarre how reliably I became furious, but that was what mostly happened.
Where I am with it today: The rage doesn’t happen any more, and I find it interesting how prominent a feeling it was in my experiment log. The following year I christened a lengthy backpacking trip with a five-day Buddhist meditation retreat. I learned a lot more about technique, and I had to come to terms with some of my initial hindrances because I was spending up to eight hours a day meditating.
However, I still do not meditate on a regular basis. I have tried repeatedly, and the problem seems to be choosing a regular time to do it. At the end of the day I’m too sleepy and have little intention, and in the morning I’m too cranky. I’ve found meditation to have a consistent, profound effect on my life and I know it is sorely needed. I intend to take it up seriously again soon, but this time without a public experiment.
The gist: To dive into a six-week daily kettlebell program and see what physical changes I see in such a short timeframe.
The initial result: I had a setback — an injury — midway through, and ended up extending the experiment to nine weeks to recover lost ground. But I did get a hell of a lot stronger quickly. The results were not particularly visible though, but I posted a before/after picture anyway.
Where I am with it today: Like meditation, I’ve been on and off. I am currently in the longest “off” period I’ve had since my nine-month trip. My job became incredibly busy between May and October this year, and I haven’t climbed back on the wagon yet. I’ve got time off coming up and I’m looking forward to picking up the bells again.
The gist: Go thirty straight days without using any sort of drugs. In particular I was interested in the effects of cutting out alcohol and caffeine, both of which I was a regular user. The goal was to see how hard it would be, and what effects it would have on my working and social lives.
The initial result: Went every minute of the thirty days, and I felt fantastic almost all the time. My sleep was better, I didn’t have to depend on others to transport me when I had a few beers, and money stuck around longer in my wallet. It was extremely revealing to learn how drugs play a huge social role in even normal people’s lives, and the final report is well worth reading.
Where I am with it today: Both substances are back in my life but I have better relationships with them. I fell under the spell of New Zealand’s espresso culture while I was there and now I drink coffee in homemade latte form. I did develop a fairly steady daily Starbucks habit when I returned though, because they’re the only ones in town who can make a drinkable soy latte (except me.) But I no longer use it as a prod to get me to work.
As for alcohol, I drink to excess far less often now. It is just too costly in terms of time, and when I do it it feels like I’m chasing something from the past. It used to be a lot more fun than it is now. Alcohol is not gone from my life, and I’m glad for that, but I no longer consider it to have negative effects on my life. My body is far more sensitive to both substances now and I am quite careful with them.
The gist: To renegotiate my relationship with food by doing the following for 30 days: 1) Eat whatever you like, but 2) never eat until you are full, 3) Eat only when you’re hungry, and 4) Drink only water — treat every other beverage as food.
The initial result: I found that mealtimes and meal choices are very highly controlled by cultural norms. It was hard to wait until you’re hungry when everyone else is ready to eat. I did become a lot more conscious about eating, but it did not solve my unhealthy relationship with food.
Where I am with it today: Eighteen months later, I went vegan and it pretty much eliminated my bad relationship with food. My diet is now entirely plant-based, I eat far less junk food, far less “target of opportunity” food, and I prepare for myself most of what I eat. Today, my eating habits constantly defy cultural norms in all sorts of ways anyway, so social pressures don’t lead to overeating for me anymore.
The gist: I took up the “No Complaint Challenge” which is to go 21 consecutive days without complaining or criticizing aloud. If you screw up even once, you start back at zero.
The initial result: This was fascinating. It took 55 days altogether, but I learned that there are all kinds of other ways to communicate negativity. Some of those 55 days were during a down-and-out period in a foreign city, and I was pretty damn miserable inside even though I didn’t say so. However, it really did kill the offhand impulse to complain. The experiment log is interesting.
Where I am with it today: My impulse to complain is still just as subdued as it was. It really did retrain the thought process that results in complaining and criticizing for me. But as I discovered in the experiment, what you end up verbalizing doesn’t always reflect what is going on inside you, and I still do have frequent bouts of negativity. I do recommend doing this experiment, but don’t believe creator Will Bowen when he says that the internal talk will clean itself up. It won’t.
The gist: To write down every single thing I do, and how long it takes me, for a week.
The initial result: I did it, and it created an instant productivity boost. Because you know you have to write down “Seventeen minutes sitting on my bed daydreaming” you end up not doing things that clearly aren’t worth the time investment. It’s really quite exhausting to do that and a week was more than enough.
Where I am with it today: This was a prep exercise for a period of super-productivity that never happened. I was in New Zealand at the time, and I was always dealing with the conflict between getting things done and trying to be carefree while I’m overseas. It really was the wrong time to try to put my nose to the grindstone. It was helpful to see where my time goes, though, and I may do it again now that I’m in a stable living situation.
The gist: The idea was to introduce five new daily habits at once, making it feasible by setting an extremely low standard for each. For example: three reps of kettlebells, five minutes of promoting my blog, ten minutes of visualization, et cetera. Ideally, I would make each of these a tiny “foot in the door” habit, making it easy to expand any or all of them later.
The initial result: Disastrous experiment. Totally stupid idea. I ended up having five useless tasks at the end of every day that I really didn’t want to do and didn’t expect to gain anything from. I quit early and it was the right thing to do.
Where I am with it today: There was never a chance of doing this for a month, let alone for a lifetime. Just a bad idea altogether and it felt great to abandon it.
The gist: I wanted to get rid of everything in my home that did not have a proper place to sleep at night. Every possession I wanted to keep had to have a shelf, box, or hook where it lived. That way I could make sure all my possessions were useful and respected, and I could clean everything up in a few minutes each night.
The initial result: Brilliant! I got rid of an enormous amount of stuff and for once knew where everything was. It only took ten minutes to return it all “home” at the end of the day. I had always lived in an untidy space, and suddenly I was an extremely organized person. It blew my mind and had an extraordinary effect on my life, including how I slept, cooked, worked and what it felt like to wake up every morning.
Where I am with it today: I’m still way tidier than I was, but I have slipped from my “Everything in it’s place” dream-come-true. I’ve acquired a number of things that do not have a proper place, which makes the nightly cleaning ritual a much more taxing thing to do, which means it often doesn’t get done. Bad broken window effect here. In the last two months in particular, I’ve let things get a bit ragged. But I do plan to re-audit my possessions before the year’s out, and the tough work has already been done. This was a great experiment and I highly recommend doing it.
The gist: I decided to cut all animal foods out of my diet for 30 days, and during that time learn about the ethical issues surrounding animal use. After that I would decide how I want to live.
The initial result: The new diet clicked rather quickly. It seemed to resolve a lot of contradictions that had been floating around in my life. But the most prominent effect was on how I felt physically. I had no idea how taxing meat (and especially dairy) had been on my system, and I had no interest in going back. It also solved my long-standing ugly relationship with heavy foods.
Where I am with it today: I’m still vegan and have never reconsidered. No other experiment created such a huge change in my life. It changed the way I look at the humanity at large, at morality, at health, at social structures, at animals, at the concept of consciousness, at my culture and at my role in all of it. Best thing I ever did.
The gist: To attack my atrocious procrastination problem with a few simple rules, including checking in at the end of the day, and acting immediately whenever I notice I’m procrastinating.
The initial result: I started off with three incredibly productive days, and that after that my enthusiasm completely tapered off and the experiment never really ended. It just dragged on forever and I stopped enforcing my rules. It made me realize procrastination is far more complex than I initially presumed.
Where I am with it today: Somehow I’ve almost gotten worse as a result. The experiment left me feeling like I have even less power over it than I imagined. It was one of my more discouraging experiments. My inbox is stacked higher than it’s ever been and at the moment I’m really quite disorganized. Part of the reason it has worsened recently is because I’m on the cusp of a leave of absence from my work, which the slippery part of my mind interprets as a license to let certain things slide until my large swath of free time arrives. Not so smart, but I’m optimistic about how I will handle it. History tells me momentum builds quickly once I start knocking things off.
So I figure I’m batting about .500 with my experiments, in terms of immediate success. However, no matter how they went each one has given me insights and experience that make life easier in one way or another.
As you might have guessed, experiment 12 is right around the corner. There are two possiblities for it, and I’ll choose one and announce it soon. Also, if you have any ideas for future experiments, I’d love to hear them. Let me be your guinea pig.
I’ve also received a lot of emails and comments from those of you who have joined in on some of my experiments. I know quite a few people tried out vegan diets, everything-in-its-place households, and non-procrastination regimens alongside me. I’d love to hear how you did in the comment section.
Photo by David Cain