What happened in my last 1000 days

Post image for What happened in my last 1000 days

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“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.]

No. 1 — Sharpening the Mind

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.

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No. 2 — Strength, Soviet Style

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.

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No. 3 — 30 Days Without Drugs

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.

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No. 4 — Defensive Eating

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.

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No. 5 — 21 Days Without Complaining

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.

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No. 6 – Logging Everything I Do, All Day

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.

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No. 8 – Five New Habits With Very Low Standards

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.

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No. 9 — A Place for Everything

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.

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No. 10 — Vegan for 30 days

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.

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No. 11 — An Attack on Procrastination

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

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{ 32 Comments }

yliharma December 5, 2011 at 7:12 am

I wanted to try the non-procrastination experiment…but then I’ve read a lot about procrastination and thought that I’m ok with it because in the end I always manage to do everything that needs to be done: this post is amazing for me http://advancedriskology.com/procrastination/
I also plan on trying the vegan experiment someday, but I can’t until I live at home with my mom…

David December 5, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Advanced Riskology is great. Tyler’s posts are thorough and well researched. If you’re going to take advice about procrastination, you’re better off listening to him than me :)

christine December 5, 2011 at 11:58 am

Hi David,

Thanks for the summary of your experiments. Great timing for me as I need to clean up my house. I know I have too many possessions and a house full of stuff (only me living here so I dont need this much). I am aware that material things make me feel secure to some degree and I have been trying to figure out how to downsize. A place for everyhitng should help with that or be a good way to get started. If no place to put it, no room in the cupboard, out it goes.

Regards, Christine

PS Did the vegan experiment and I dont want to go back either. Learning to read food labels and ingredients has been interesting in itself.

David December 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm

The Everything in its Place strategy made such a landmark difference in my quality of life, but a lot of it has slipped away as things got a bit crusty here. Nice to know it’s never far off if you’ve done it once. But it probably has to start with donating hundreds of pounds of stuff.

So you’re still off animal products? That’s awesome. You sure do learn a lot about ingredients.

marc van der linden December 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Hi David,

I love this kind of experiments. I’m doing one my self at the moment – the 10 day mental challenge. In this challenge I want to stay resourceful all the time and bounce back within 2 minutes when I experience a negative emotion. It is life changing, so if you have not done this one yet, I can recommended it you.

I learnt that there is always a subtle difference between what you think you get out of an experiment and what you actually get out of it.

I love the ‘where I’m now today’ part of your experiments. They make it ‘real’ They show the real impact of such experiments and are truly inspirational.

Thanks for the inspiration!

David December 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Hey Marc, sounds a bit like what I did in the procrastination experiment. I tried to demand immediate decisiveness out of myself whenever I noticed any humming or hawing. I really began to resent my self-imposed rule and eventually abandoned it. But if you’re pulling off something similar so far, then I hope you run with it.

Mike December 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Perhaps it’s only a coincidence you posted this essay during the holiday season when most people typically violate every discipline you listed. It’s a good essay, but I’m retired military and tend to favor a disciplined lifestyle. In your reply to a comment I once made about a previous essay you wrote, you said you need to read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. I hope you get around to that next year and write a few posts about your impressions of the book. Let me recommend the translation by Gregory Hays, published by The Modern Library. It’s just under $10 (US currency) and is written in modern English; way too many other translations read like the King James Bible. Thanks again for the interesting post.

David December 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Hi Mike. I have such a backlog of to-read books, I bought the unabridged audio version of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations so I can listen to it in my car. My audio queue is way shorter. It’s up next, I’m going to get into it tomorrow.

Kim Bean December 6, 2011 at 7:07 am

Good morning,
I have enjoyed your blogs, I particularly enjoyed your social experiment at the mall. I stumbled onto you late in your experiments (not even sure how I found you) so I appreciate the synopsis of your experiments. Your honesty is refreshing, particularly in admitting your less than stellar results. At this moment, I am in the “declutter” phase, and am trying to rid my home of all unnecessary “stuff”. I spent 5 months last summer living in a 25ft trailer while volunteering at a state park, and I realized just how little “stuff” I needed to sustain me. So liberating! I look forward to your future writings.

David December 6, 2011 at 9:39 pm

It’s amazing how big a gap there is between the amount of stuff we feel like we need, and the amount of stuff we actually need when it comes down to it.

Mona Sinha December 6, 2011 at 7:37 am

Hi,
I enjoyed this blog.I have tried the declutter phase..am still in it…and found it very useful.Meditation is something I need to start regularly,but as you wrote..once it becomes like a duty or chore ,it looses part of its joy/peace.I look forward to more such posts from you..till then,take care.

David December 6, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Thanks Mona

LunaJune December 6, 2011 at 8:34 am

Wow… 55 days for you to go 21 days without complaining !! again wow.. I was sure Will said it took him a year… and as for me I’m still at it… it’s been 3 years… but I must say It has totally changed my internal thought patterns. I use to a gold star bitcher but mostly out of boredom… I know for me talking face to face to at least a hundred people a day running the Vet Clinic that it made it harder.. but it also made it more challenging for me to truly not allow anyone else’s angry to affect me.

love the blog :~) always great to see what your light is shining at :~)

David December 6, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Yeah Bowen said it takes most people 6-12 months. I had been practicing it for a while. I restarted maybe four or five times. Glad to hear it had an effect on your internal complaints too. I suppose in the long run it did for me too, but at the time nothing could affect the rough time I was having.

Dzmitry P December 6, 2011 at 9:02 am

Hey David. I enjoy reading your blog and have been doing so for a number of months. I really like the idea of trying something for 30 days and seeing the results. I myself have done certain experiments with food (2 vegetarian days / week for ~6 months), meditation, stretch, running. A good portion stuck and I do enjoy learning the unknown unknown from each.

I enjoy creating & creativity of all kinds and this December I am challenging myself to create a poem every day for these 25 days before Christmas. I have written probably about 10poems in last 5 years (so I’m not really experienced) The poems will be a gift to a significant other, which is a large motivator.
So far, i have 6/6 days with daily poem completed, 21 more to go.

Have you ever challenged yourself to prolonged “creativity” challenges?
Care to try some poetry? :)

David December 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm

No, I haven’t, but that’s an excellent idea. I’ve often thought about setting a 1,000 words/day writing quota. Maybe you’ve given me my next experiment…

Lori Gosselin December 6, 2011 at 9:10 am

Hi David,
man! You are dedicated with a capital “D”! So many experiments, and even more impressive – 1000 days of blogging (I’m soon publishing my 100th post!) I too am one to do experiments like this! I started on a 40-day complaining fast and found it raised my awareness of my thoughts (which i also vetoed) as well as my words. I didn’t need to go the full 40 days to gain a lot from the experiment.
I’m impressed with how you stayed with so many of your experiments and how you documented them and now reported on them! As I said, capital “D”!
Lori

Mel December 6, 2011 at 11:50 am

I have been running some of my own experiments, some of it inspired by you – particularly the clean up one.

I’ve been “meaning to clean up” but nothing so well defines it as finding a home for everything as the key metric to know when I am actually done. Its one of those things that can go on forever if you let it. I stop myself from buying some things by asking whether I could find a place for it at home. On a psychological level, I think it allows you to make peace with any old events that are attached the objects you still store… like Grandma’s old keepsakes you couldn’t bear to throw away, or a relationship with an ex. When I let the object go, I let a lot of the emotions attached to the physical object go as well.

I’ve incorporated a bit of what David Allen has mentioned in his book, “Getting It Done”, such as things that are less than 2 minutes to do – do it now. Write it down on a list which my iPhone has been great for since it has the reminder app. I also set up reminders to alert me at when I figure I might have the space and time to do things so it is not actively on my mind until it needs to be. So when I am bored, before I turned on any distraction or entertainment, I look at my list and see if there is anything I can work on now. If I am feeling tired, then I should be sleeping. If I am actually wanting a break, then it’s OK to watch some TV, movie, browse Facebook, etc.

I’m not comfortable with the idea of being a vegan yet; however I am switching tracks to only having ethically raised animals, and 100% grass-fed beef for the times I decided to have meat. I can work with being a part-time vegetarian for now.

Michael December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I am having the exact same problem with meditation. In the morning and evening I am too tired and not in the mood and during the day I am out. It’s not an issue of time, but perhaps motivation which is a very hard thing to obtain, I think.
It’s great to see an update to your experiments, even though some of them may not seem to have been successful. But as you pointed out, there is often more to learn from a failed attempt than a successful one.

Ingrid December 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Beware when you do meditation that you have a healthy approach. As I have been doing mindful meditation (mantra, specifically Nichiren Daishonins buddhism), I realize that one of the BEST reasons to meditate in the morning is to wake up, get the most of the day and tame my grumpyness and bad mood, and same in the evening to collect my day, create happiness from here and now and appreciate life. Some times I do 10 minutes morning and evening, some times I miss out a morning or a day, but then I catch back in and do an hour because my body and mind feels the need. I think that if you haven’t tried meditation every day for 30 days, you haven’t really tried. I think that because our moods and mindsets as humans are so sensitive to external factors, meditation morning and evening can be very helpful for many people to stay tuned in themselves. I find that I often lose tracks of tasks and goals throughout days, and reminding morning and evening works wonders for me. Also I think it is a big difference between meditation as still mindfulness in silence, and mantra/voice as voice is very central for communication and is very affected by our life condition.

Ingrid December 6, 2011 at 5:39 pm

What I am really trying so say is that if you feel not in the mood to meditate (=confront yourself, your mind and heart), there may be more reason to meditate – I believe that maybe your motivation then is wrong: you should be meditating on your lack of motivation, not other things. It is important to use meditation focused and specific when you need it. It is supposed to be something that brings you something good in life, and it should expand rather than limit you.

Ingrid December 6, 2011 at 5:46 pm

What I am really trying to say is that if you feel like not in the mood, there is perhaps more reason to meditate. In order to develop, expand and be true to ourselves, the world, and our hearts, we humans need reminders. And a good way to do this is meditate morning and evening. Humans are very easily swayed and we need something solid to keep us on the road at times.

If it doesn’t work or if you are distracted, use it. It’s easy to start, but very fucking hard to continue. If you haven’t tried something for 30 days, you haven’t really tried.

Mike December 7, 2011 at 6:13 am

I’ve been meditating for about seven years or so. I’ve tried several different methods and gone through several identical phases with each new method. I’d read a new book advocating a particular method; struggle with the new method; eventually become competent enough to practice it for 30 minutes or so each evening; then get excited because I seemed to be succeeding; get frustrated or bored with the practice and then search for a new method advocated in a different book. I experienced this cycle with every new method until I decided to abandoned all the fashionable methods and just do what felt right. I gave away all my meditation books (de-cluttered). I now simply sit. I begin by reflecting on my day to see how I’m doing living up to my ideals and how to do better in the future. After a few minutes I settle down and then just sit quietly for another 20 minutes or so. The book-selling gurus might not approve, but who cares, it works, and I like it.

gustavo December 7, 2011 at 9:10 am

I followed you in experiments 6 and 10. In both cases I stepped into just for the sake of curiosity and as a learning experience.

Results of logging everything where much more positives than expected. Checking the record at the end of the day bought me 1) savoring the day 2) a kind of awareness of how the day really went. Sometimes it was very different from what my perception told me. As I am writing this, I am thinking about implementing again this 2012 (I was looking for something like this)

Becoming vegan had moderate results and they where what I expected. I normally don’t have bad eating habits, I don’t love meat or chicken but I eat fish regularly. I have to admit, though, that I experienced a clearer mind, especially in mornings.

Looking forward for Nº12.

nrhatch December 7, 2011 at 10:43 am

I love that you are experimenting with your life . . . seeing what works for YOU rather than blindly following those around you.

My favorite experiments . . . which are now part of the “permanent” landscape of my life:

1. Decluttering and Simplifying My Life
2. Vegetarian diet (since 1995, or so)
3. Meditation and Mindful Awareness
4. Going with the flow . . . and allowing the path to unfold before me

I hope you continue to enjoy your journey through life! _/!\_

Golby December 9, 2011 at 10:37 am

How about a experiment where you try out one thing you hate for a week or a month

David December 9, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Hmm.. like what exactly? And what would I hope to gain by doing that?

Saddy December 10, 2011 at 9:47 am

You can make a list of foods you don’t like or activities you thought were boring or books on subjects you thought were uninteresting and give all these a second chance and see if you have changed your mind.

Minimalist Wannabe December 10, 2011 at 8:24 am

Hi David,

Love the recap of your experiments… I was drowning in stuff, been consistently decluttering and I think that it’s now at a level where I can start your experiment #9. I will likely need many months before I can have every room at that level, but coincidence I had started with the kitchen last Monday! It’s already 100% better in just 5 days, but still lots to do… Will travel from room to room as I apply the “a home for everything” rule.

I just read your experiment #5 (complaining) and log for the first time. Hum… I really need that one, will likely take me a year to complete that one! Not sure 21 days would be a enough for a permanent change for me – 30 days for good measure? LOL As a physical reminder, I’m thinking of a simple bracelet with one bead I like on it, and placing a split dish with identical beads (maybe smaller) by my bed. At the end of a day without negativity, I’ll move one bead from the “days to go” to the “completed” side before going to bed. If I slip, all the beads go back to the “days to go” and I start again. Today is Day 0, I have some shopping to do, so will look for nice beads… :o)

Thanks for such a great blog and the push to tackle this bad habit of mine!

et December 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm

last 1000 days or past 1000 days or latest 1000 days?
Last only works if there are no more days after 1000.

Interesting post, I’m considering doing some of this myself. Just need to self-kick in the pants.

Arun Kumar December 21, 2011 at 8:44 am

Dear David,

It was great reading your experiments – only following them is not always easy.

I have learned all of this and much more by following Art of Living ( http://www.artofliving.org) – couple of courses changed my life.

Ups and downs are all part of living, but always smiling is art of living.

Ika December 22, 2011 at 11:53 am

aha. I see – 5 things with low standard (akin loose rules). Didn’t work. (I love your experiments, I do ( I am a scientist), and the afterthought – a proper results and discussion). I see this as a battle between very high standards and personal sustainable progress.

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