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7 Years and 21 Self-Improvement Experiments: Where They All Are Today

tree through roof

Raptitude’s birthday is March 15th 2009, but it was conceived in the last days of 2008. My job was extremely slow and I was aching for both a new hobby and new career, and ultimately I found both.

The central idea at the time was to do self-improvement experiments, and I did, but those later became secondary to my essays about the human experience.

I have a strange relationship to my experiments. They are many readers’ favorite part of this site but they’ve never been mine. I’ve done 21 over the last seven years, and about half the time they founder to one degree or another—I attempt to do some new habit for 30 days, get sick of it and throw up my hands or limp to the end. I do always learn something however—about my habits, my motivations, my values—that helps me find a more sensible place in my life for the activity in question.

People are always asking where I am with a particular experiment, so for the last post of 2015 I’m going to update you on all of them, right from the start, even the disasters. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe consider doing an experiment of your own this coming year.

Experiment 1

Goal: Meditate every day for 30 days.

I had been experimenting with meditation for seven or eight years by then, but had never made a daily practice of it.

What happened: It started out well, but I began to dread my sessions and was happy to take a break from it when the month was done. The lingering mental image I have of this experiment is sitting on the floor in my Archibald Street apartment, fuming at the sounds of my neighbors playing Rock Band on Playstation, because they were ruining my inner peace.

Where I am with it today: Happily practicing daily. I’m light years from where I was then, which is fortunate, considering I’m about to guide DSC_0029several hundred people to do a less-demanding version of this. I had been meditating intermittently for years by then, and had experienced correspondingly intermittent benefits, but there was a reason for that. The problem, I learned later that fall at a meditation retreat, was that I was being a “fairweather meditator”. I believed I had to be in a particular state of mind in order to meditate, which is missing a central principle—the idea is to notice your experience whatever it currently is, and I had a certain experience in mind that I was determined to have.

Experiment 2

Goal: Complete a six-week kettlebell conditioning program.

This was my first ever attempt to stick with an exercise program. A kettlebell is basically a cannonball with a handle, and you press it and swing it to get stronger. I picked a program (from a book called Enter the Kettlebell) that promised noticeable changes in six weeks.

kettlebell11What happened: I hurt myself and had to take more than a week off, so my results were kind of negligible. I did work hard though and I was definitely in better shape. I continued working with kettlebells after the experiment and got much better with them.

Where I am with it today: I’ve since become much more serious about fitness and I no longer struggle to make myself work out. I lift barbells at a gym three or four times a week now. I still have kettlebells but I’m not currently using them.

Experiment 3

Goal: Go thirty days without consuming caffeine or alcohol.

I was beginning to suspect these two legal highs were taking more from my life than they were giving, so I went off them completely for a month.

What happened: The experience was really enlightening and my final report is well worth reading. It really wasn’t that difficult and I felt physicallydrinkingman great. My sleep was better, I was less aimless at work, and I saved a lot of money on the weekends. I remember how shocking it was on day 31 when I broke my abstinence with two beers. They tasted good but really didn’t like the feeling of the alcohol, I just liked the idea of drinking. The bottom line is that much of the reason I consumed either was my conditioning and habit, rather than any actual benefit or pleasure.

Where I am with it today: I drink far less alcohol now, but I haven’t given it up entirely. It does much less for me than it used to, and there’s so much about the experience that I don’t like. Caffeine is a little different. I still drink two or three homemade double espressos a day, although I’ve switched to half-caff. My next experiment will have something to do with sleep and I may go off coffee again.

Experiment 4

Goal: For 30 days, eat according to these four rules: 1) Eat whatever foods you like, but 2) stop when you are about 75% full, 3) eat only in response to the feeling of hunger (not social cues or anything else), and  4) drink nothing but water.

What happened: It wasn’t especially pleasant and it made eating a lot more complicated. I learned that hunger is seldom the trigger for eating. Most of our food consumption revolves around social expectations and habits, and it’s really difficult logistically to eat only in response to your body’s needs. I did learn an important skill though—how to refrain from eating when some part of you wants to— which I would refine in Experiment 20 five godzillatabascoyears later.

Where I am with it today: Today I don’t think much in terms of “defensive eating” but I generally eat more slowly, and I overeat less often. This doesn’t have much to do with the experiment though. I’ve just become more conscious of food intake and I don’t feel such a need to defend myself against my impulses.

Experiment 5

Goal: Go 21 straight days without complaining or uttering non-constructive criticism. (If I catch myself doing it, I must start again at day zero.)

This was inspired by Will Bowen’s book A Complaint Free World, in which he claims that if you stop pronouncing your negative thoughts, you stop having those kinds of thoughts, and that if everyone did this the world would change completely.

complaining-guyWhat happened: It took 55 days to get 21 complaint-free days in a row, but I did it. This experiment really does teach you not to complain, and I think everyone should do it once in their lives. But it didn’t create much of an inner change. My negative thoughts were unaffected, I just got more polite about whether to pass them on to others. Complaining can even be a worthwhile form of bonding, as I learned while I was working a painful manual labor job with new friends, and could never join in on the lighthearted griping. Still, it’s better to never complain than to complain freely.

Where I am with it today: Even though the exercise didn’t eliminate internal negativity like the book promised, the experiment left me much more conscious about expressing needless negativity, and I am pretty good at keeping it to myself most of the time. I’m also more patient with others when they’re complaining. This is one experiment I would recommend to almost anybody.

Experiment 6

Goal: Log every single thing I do for a week.

The idea here was to do something almost every productivity expert recommends: write down how you spend your time, to the minute, for a week. It’s supposed to reveal the major time sinks in our routines.

What happened: This experiment went pretty much perfectly. I simply wrote down how long everything took, including the cooking and eating of meals, sleeping, going to the store, sitting listening to music, and surfing the net. The sheer wastefulness of certain habits became too obvious to ignore, and so it was easy to stop doing them. It really freed up a ton of time and no willpower was necessary.

Where I am with it today: It’s hard to know what I learned that I still make use of because this was a long time ago and I’m in a different career now. I should do it again, to expose and cut loose a few more time-sucking habits.

Experiment 7

Goal: Meditate every day for 30 to 45 minutes, for 40 days.

This was a second swing at the elusive daily meditation practice ideal. For some reason I thought coming back to it with greater force was a good way to overcome the obstacles that derailed me the first time.

What happened: The timing was bad and I wasn’t really committed to it. I was in Australia, at the tail end of a really long backpacking trip. I was burnt out and having trouble writing, and I’m pretty sure I did this experiment just so I’d have something to write about that week. I just was never

Mainland British Columbia, from the shore at Hollyhock

very serious about it, and had trouble finding a regular meditation spot when I was sleeping in a different noisy hostel every night. I quit not too long into it. It was a really half-assed effort with no real intention behind it.

Where I am with it today: See experiment 1.

Experiment 8

Goal: Establish five new habits (exercise, networking, visualization, curating my to-do lists, and preparing for the next day each night) by doing a tiny little bit of them every day.

The idea was that I’d expect a very small amount from myself on all five of these fronts, and then I could ramp up the effort and time investment for each once they were established parts of my day.

What happened: This was a really dumb idea. I was doing too little of any of these things for there to be any benefits, so all I did was make them really annoying. I accomplished nothing and quit halfway through.

Where I am with it today: I didn’t realize it until just now, but I have established solid habits for all of these five things over the intervening six years. Each of them became a habit on their own though, and took a focused effort.

Experiment 9

Goal: Get rid of all “homeless” possessions in my home. If I was going to keep something, I had to give it a sensible place where it was properly away.

This was an attempt to achieve the fabled state of “A place for everything, and everything in its place”.

What happened: I completed this goal in about a month, and it had a revolutionary effect, not only on the state of my home, but on my entire philosophy of ownership and homemaking. I put everything away every night, because everything had a place, and woke up to a zenlike state of order. Library of an Interaction Designer (Juhan Sonin) / 20100423.7D.0I fell in love with the idea of everything in its place.

Where I am with it today: Entropy returned my house about halfway to its previous state, although that took about a year. Many changes were permanent, and I have gone from being an untidy to a tidy person. I did a more focused version of this for Experiment 21.

Experiment 10

Goal: Eat a vegan diet for 30 days.

What happened: I did it without any problems, and it seemed to make me healthier. During this time I explored the philosophical aspects of veganism and adopted the entire lifestyle, attempting to remove animal products of all sorts from my life.

Where I am with it today: I lived as a vegan for a year, then moved away from it. I have explained why to some extent here and here. My relationship to animal use is complex and the single-tenet vegan position doesn’t represent it very well. Today I reduce animal product consumption and source them more consciously but I do not attempt to eliminate them. My diet remains mostly plant-based.

Experiment 11

Goal: Live according to certain anti-procrastination habits for 30 days, including daily planning and weekly reviewing.

What happened: I started off amazingly well, and my life seemed to be changing, but my habits began to reassert themselves after the initial enthusiasm faded. I also kept extending the experiment to try new strategies, and it kind of petered out. But I learned a ton about the habits that were prosc_hell_zonecausing me to procrastinate.

Where I am with it today: I have made serious breakthroughs in my lifelong procrastination problem, particularly in the last six months. In 2015, I strung together 8 or 10 highly productive weeks in a row for the first time, which beat my previous record of one. I finally feel like a reasonably productive person, and this experiment did help.

Experiment 12

Goal: Write 1000 words a day for 30 days.

I had always felt like I could only write on days when I was “feeling it”, so the idea here was to write every day, to prove to myself I could write any time.

What happened: Total trainwreck from day one. All this regimen did was increase my dread of writing, and to make things worse, I was scheduled to be traveling for the last half of the thirty days. I unceremoniously abandoned the experiment shortly after starting.

Where I am with it today: Now that I write for a living I’ve found a fairly stable routine, and I’ve proven to myself that I can indeed write in almost any mood. I can’t say for sure if this experiment contributed in any way to that.

Experiment 13

Goal: Spend 20 minutes a day visualizing having achieved certain goals.

Visualization is a proven technique for self-motivation and is used regularly by many athletes, businesspeople and self-improvement nerds. I have always wanted to make use of it to combat my tendency to default to pessimistic expectations.

showingupWhat happened: Like so many other experiments, mostly I just succeeded in making this important activity into a chore that I dread. In hindsight, I was taking it much too seriously. Picturing my dream home, for example, I would get hung up on details like what kind of curtains I owned or what the room smelled like (cedar or ocean breeze?)

Where I am with it today: I have a much more casual practice now. I don’t use the word “visualization” any longer because it makes it feel too serious. Instead I simply sit in a chair at least once a day, and think about something I want. One thing. It works great.

Experiment 14

Goal: Work an 8-hour workday working on my own goals, the way I do with my employer’s goals 250 days a year.

What happened: The workday was awesome, but it was only a one-day experiment, so it didn’t say much about how I would fare if I did this for forty hours a week. I guess it was more of a symbolic gesture than a dedicated self-improvement exercise.

Where I am with it today: Nine months later I quit my job to work for myself. It took quite a while to establish productive routines as my own boss, but I can safely say I’m there now. You can read about my experience in adjusting to my own bosshood here.

Experiment 15

Goal: Wash dishes by hand for a month (instead of using the dishwasher).

spongeWhat happened: I loved this. I really came to enjoy it and my dishes were a lot cleaner. It kept me more mindful throughout the day and it just felt more upstanding all around. There’s something noble about doing something with your hands rather than letting a machine do it in an inefficient and
noisy manner.

Where I am with it today: At some point I returned to using the dishwasher. I’m sure it was when I was in a rush and decided to throw the dishes in the machine before I went out, and it’s been quite a while since I did them by hand. But maybe it’s time to go back to it.

Experiment 16

Goal: Read a book a week for a year.

This was my first year-long experiment, inspired by a silly claim by George W. Bush that he read “A book a week” when someone questioned his intellectual rigor. But I knew many people did read at that rate, so I figured I could, and should at least try.

What happened: What happened should have been quite predictable: I grew to dread reading. The words and pages became work, and I was always conscious of my pace. I kept up the experiment for almost six months though, reading maybe a dozen books instead of the two dozen I meant to. But some of them were wonderful reads (particularly East of Eden and The Remains of the Day) and I’m glad I found a reason to get to them.

Where I am with it today: I don’t pressure myself to read a certain amount anymore. I just set aside an hour every morning to read whatever I feel like. When I’m into a good book nothing will stop me from spending my evenings reading anyway.

Experiment 17

Goal: Learn to improve my posture by putting sticky note reminders all over my house.

What happened: I don’t really know. It’s hard to tell how your own posture is when you’re not looking. The sticky notes kind of worked, but after a while I almost didn’t see them anymore. I feel like it got a little better. It wasn’t a very exciting experiment.

Where I am with it today: My posture is improved, but that’s mostly from sitting meditation and doing deadlifts and squats at the gym.

Experiment 18

Goal: Get two-thirds of my calories from a liquid food concoction that supposedly provides all the micro- and macronutrients we are known to need.

This was the famous “Soylent” experiment. If you haven’t heard of Soylent, it’s a powdered food meant to supply everything our bodies need, while eliminating most of the cooking, grocery shopping, lengthy mealtimes and food-related decisionmaking that goes with conventional food. It’s not for soylent-diyeveryone but it was definitely appealing to me. There are a lot of DIY recipes you can get online and make yourself. That’s what I did.

What happened: I experienced a whole host of benefits, the greatest of which was probably that it freed up another two hours a day or so. I also felt physically better, although it’s not clear why. Perhaps I eliminated something from my previous diet that didn’t agree with me, or I finally got some vitamin I had been missing. Quite a bit happened to me, and the experiment log is well worth reading.

Where I am with it today: I kept it up for over a year, and in the last few months I finally drifted away from it. The main issue was satiety: it just didn’t keep me full long enough. This could have been due to my own recipe, although I found that the official commercial Soylent wasn’t much better. I also experienced “carb crashes” a lot of the time, and couldn’t seem to predict when this would happen. I’m not necessarily done with Soylent, but for now I’m good without it.

Experiment 19

Goal: Work at a standing desk for part of the day, for two workweeks.

I didn’t do the experiment because I had back problems or any other problems associated with sitting, but because I thought it might help me be less distracted at work. I also just wanted to see what all the standing-desk fuss was about.

What happened: I liked standing, even though I thought it would be horrible. I did find I was less distracted. Standing makes you feel more active and engaged, and sitting seems to signal our bodies that it’s time to relax. I found my standing sessions especially conducive to writing and answering emails.

Where I am with it today: It’s been a while since I’ve worked standing up. Without a regimen to tell me when to do it, I seldom think about it. My relationship with standing work is much like my relationship with doing dishes by hand. I know it was good for me and I should do more of it.

Experiment 20

Goal: Fast from 8pm to 12 noon every day for 30 days.

Intermittent fasting is fairly popular these days. It helps a person consume fewer calories overall, which is linked to increased longevity and lower rates of disease. I did it mainly for two reasons: to lose some weight, and to learn how to refrain from eating when it was inappropriate.

What happened: After a very rough first week, in which I felt weak and tired much of the time, I settled right into it and began to feel energized andcookies2 confident. I did lose weight, and my running endurance improved, but the big achievement was that I gained a level of control over my eating that I never had. Food remained as appealing as ever, but I gained the ability to decide exactly when and how much to eat without having to resort to willpower.

Where I am with it today: I continued to go without food before noon for quite a while afterward, and I’ve retained the ability to refrain from eating whenever I like. Today I just have coffee when I wake up, and midmorning I’ll have some toast. I am not actively fasting, but I still feel like I’m ultimately in control of my food intake now, and before the experiment it always seemed like a struggle.

Experiment 21

Goal: Declutter my entire home using Marie Kondo’s method.

The bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up made its way into my hands and I decided to apply it to my life. I took six weeks to go through every single possession and examine my feelings toward each, tossing whatever didn’t bring me some form of joy.

What happened: It was an extremely liberating process. I hadn’t quite realized that we have an emotional relationship with virtually every possession we own. Many of the items we keep make us feel guilty or disappointed in ourselves. During the process I got rid of hundreds of pounds of 20150829-DSC_0004lukewarm possessions, leaving only items that made me feel good to own. It made a tremendous difference in how I relate to what I own.

Where I am with it today: My place has remained more or less tidy since the experiment, and it’s easy to put things away. I still keep my things in tidy little boxes, but there has been some entropy, and I don’t get too uptight about color-coordinating things anymore. But my relationship to my things has forever changed. I will never hold onto things I don’t use or which make me feel bad. During the summer I’d like to “audit” any areas that have gotten out of hand since the initial purge. But things are still pretty orderly.


Those of you who are fans of my self-experimenting: what kinds of experiments would you like to see in 2016? I know I’m going to experiment with sleep in some way, but other than that it’s wide open. Let me know in the comments.

Anyway, that’s it for Raptitude for 2015. Thank you all so much for reading, and for sharing it with people. I am blessed to be doing this.


Photos by Joe del Tufo, Ben Sutherland, bobster, this guyDavid Boyle, See Ming Lee, zappowbang, mblurch and David Cain
Nicole Zarate December 29, 2015 at 12:54 am

Thank you so much for posting this update, I just pulled up your experiments page for the first time in months and was wondering how you felt about them now. I’ve found them to be very inspiring and love how they are experiments and not goals. I find that goals seem to only have two options, succeed or fail, but experiments let you try something, learn about yourself, and either keep it up or move on.
Best of luck in 2016, I look forward to following along on all your new experiments. :)

David Cain December 29, 2015 at 8:10 am

Thanks Nicole. Yeah even the bad experiments do teach me something. There were a few that completely fizzled, but not many.

Curtis Smale December 29, 2015 at 2:58 am

I have done quite a few experiments in my life as well–15 years with no pain relievers, 4.5 years with no TV (before TV was largely replaced by the
Internet), tried smoking for three months deliberately to get hooked and then dump it immediately when I felt the addiction (to prove that the addiction power was nowhere near the addiction to food).

I think it is good to do experiments to see the isolated effect of things, but I came up with similar insights to yours: 1) you see whether the idea is beneficial, 2) you see how you can integrate it into your life, 3) you organically reintegrate it into your life once it fades, because you recognize and remember its value.

David Cain December 29, 2015 at 8:12 am

You *started* smoking as an experiment? Wow, that’s hardcore.

Usually I don’t end up continuing to do what I did for the experiment, but like you say, it does change how you relate to it afterwards and usually creates some kind of positive change in behavior.

DiscoveredJoys December 29, 2015 at 4:01 am

A very interesting synopsis. Looking on from outside I could see where you gained the benefit of mindfulness about certain activities and this awareness altered your habits. I could also see how you actively disliked being regimented by other schemes that were foreign to your nature. I guess I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already realised.

I’m going to propose that most people fall on a gently humped curve. Down one end are the perpetually disorganised and at the other are the strictly regimented. There are a few people as ‘pure’ as these extremes, although you may know someone… Most mill around the gentle hump in the middle, free enough to feel unconstrained but not so free that they waste much of their efforts in trying to be more organised. The trouble is the ‘hump’ is slippery and it is easier to mindlessly slide toward on of the extremes.

I guess the biggest ‘lesson learned’ is that mindfulness helps you optimise where you want to truly be, even though mindfulness isn’t an answer in itself.

David Cain December 29, 2015 at 8:13 am

Heh… I do hate being told what to do, even when it’s me telling myself what to do.

InDaylight December 29, 2015 at 4:45 am

Thank you for your updates. It really makes me feel better to see that other people struggle to obtain new habits too. I have same experience with meditation, and at the moment I practice intermittently but I really want to get back into the full swing of it without trying to push it on myself. I guess gentle approach and balance is a key here. I am really inspired to declutter although I’m scared I’ll end up with next to nothing and don’t complain for 21 days. Looking forward to read about your sleep experiments.

David Cain December 29, 2015 at 8:14 am

For me a gentle approach seems to work best… the ones where I set really high standards for myself seemed to backfire. When it comes to meditation, gentleness is particularly important, because by definition it requires you to accept where you are with it at any given time.

trillie December 29, 2015 at 4:54 am

“What happened: I hurt myself” => this made me lol :D
Great overview. I see a recurring problem is that you kept turning things into dreaded chores, which is an issue I myself run into on a regular basis. => Playing guitar and writing are cool, I’d like to do more of it => let’s make this into a daily habit => daily habit becomes a chore, leading to no guitar playing or writing at all. I thought it was just because I have a problem with authority (don’t tell me what to do) even if it’s my own authority… but if you encounter the same problem, maybe it’s universal? Not sure how to overcome this.

David Cain December 29, 2015 at 8:16 am

I think it might be universal, or at least very common. From what I’ve learned in these experiments the best approach is:

1) Small steps rather than big ones
2) Find a way to do the new habit that has short term benefits, not just long term ones

Beth Dillman December 29, 2015 at 5:28 am

Thanks so much for the update!

David Cain December 29, 2015 at 8:17 am

Thanks for reading Beth.

Daniel T December 29, 2015 at 6:23 am

I saw a fairly good sleep routine in the xkcd webcomic a while ago. It’s a 28 hour day, with 6 days each week. You stay awake for 20 hours or so, and still get 8 hours of sleep. It works in a way that allows you to be productive during the week, and go out at night during the weekends.

Starting on Sunday evening, you wake at 6pm, and then you can go out on Sunday night, and you stay awake through the night and Monday morning until 2pm on Monday afternoon. Then sleep for 8 hours, before waking at 10pm and then staying awake for another 20 hours, and then another 8 hour sleep at 6pm Tuesday evening. It supposedly makes a person more productive, and also happier since you get a satisfying 8 hour sleep. And if you felt you weren’t sleeping enough, or you were sleeping too much, you could swap an hour of being awake for an hour of sleep, or vice versa.

To me it seemed like the ideal routine improvement, but for obvious reasons it would be difficult to implement this new sleeping schedule around a normal work day. So I have not yet attempted this routine. However, since your work and writing (which is always great and inspirational, by the way) is more fluid, maybe you could try this routine, if you wanted. It’s not as radical as some sleeping plans, which should hopefully mean it is easier to stick to.

Regardless of whether you try the 28 hour day or not, I will still take great interest in your future sleep articles, since this has been an area I have struggled with for most of my life. And I hope you continue with Raptitude for a long time to come, and you keep producing these amazingly thought-provoking articles.

David Cain December 29, 2015 at 8:18 am

I would love to read about somebody trying this, but I’m definitely committed to the 24-hour day. I like my daytime routines, I just want to get better quality sleep. For my sleep experiment I was picturing changing one variable each of four weeks: caffeine intake, no screens after 9pm, etc, and see what makes the biggest difference.

Barb B December 29, 2015 at 7:26 am

I’d like to see an experiment related to smiling at strangers or even making eye contact.
Also something to do with setting an intention for each new activity…Abraham of Ester and Gerry Hicks calls it segment intending.
And finally something to do with the effect of hugs….how often you give or get them and what kind are they?
Happy Experimenting!

David Cain December 29, 2015 at 8:19 am

Maybe an “All eye contact all the time” regimen? :)

Sarah December 29, 2015 at 8:23 am

Thanks for the wrap-up. I like Barb’s experiment ideas! Would also love to see you do something with essential oils- not sure what, maybe something about whether they’re useful as support for health issues, sleep, etc.?

Samuel Mandell December 29, 2015 at 8:27 am

Is there a skill or competency that you’ve always wanted to have? Perhaps an instrument you’ve always been interested in playing, or learning how to build your own website, or cook, etc.?

I’m always interested in how very small behavioral tweaks can have long-term profound effects, like compound interest does with money. Chris Guillebeau says that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a day, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. That really resonates with me because I tend to think so much the other way, trying to start things with a big bang, rather than a slow and steady drip.

For a next experiment, is there something that’s been on your mind to learn that you just have never gotten around to? I’d be curious what dedicating some time every day, something really small like 15 minutes a day to it, for six months, would do to move you towards that.

David Cain December 29, 2015 at 3:47 pm

That is a good question, and I’ll definitely think about it. I do want to finally get serious about learning French, but I don’t think it’s good experiment material. It would be good to do an experiment that leaves me with a new skill, or a higher level of an old one.

Nancy Rose December 29, 2015 at 9:40 am

Some ideas!
Gratitude — giving thanks every day, for meals, for the weather whatever it may be, for family and friends.
Planting trees — among the most effective things we can do to stablilize ourselves, our society, our environment, planting trees is near the top. If every adult planted ten trees every year… Trees are our allies.
Not responding/reacting too quickly — we all need a cup of “slow down and savor” and responding too quickly to anything–to a call, an invitation, an idea, a demand–diminishes our commitment, which diminishes our enjoyment, which diminishes our lifeforce, in a way.
You have already inspired me to put some experiments onto my calendar, Thanks!!

Misty December 29, 2015 at 10:16 am

Thanks for sharing all about your experiments. I have been wondering about how a few of them turned out. I was especially interested in your standing work desk one and the Soylent one. It’s funny how much I can relate to your experiments, but I suppose the truth is, they involve universal truths we can all relate to. As a person who struggles to change habits year after year to make life better, I certainly see similarities here. I have finally learned that though the initial push may fail (maybe due to being too ambitious) over all, these types of attempts seem to help us over time. The fact that we try and fail is at least an outward sign of not being content to just accept our behavior the way it naturally happens. My husband and I have just spent the last 10 months on a strict diet. I couldn’t imagine at the beginning that it would become such an easy part of our life. I have several thoughts about why it has worked so well. One is that we have built up willpower over the years by trying one experiment after another… another is that we are both committed to do this together. But the over all thing I think may be that the diet itself involves cutting out sugar completely. We use Stevia or a stevia blend as a substitute. This causes us to avoid pre-packaged foods, and cook things from scratch. The diet is also extremely low carb and cuts out all wheat products, which I also think is a huge help. I have seen a vast improvement on my focus during this time. I think that in itself has helped us to stick to things better. If you would care to try a no sugar diet and see if it improves focus, I think that might be a worthy experiment. Also have you heard of the bullet journal? There is another one you could try out. (easy to check out online) I have begun keeping a log book (as mentioned by Austin Kleon in his book “Steal Like an Artist). Just a list of events that have happened over the last day or week or so… this helps me record events without needing to discuss my feelings about them. That way I can look back and see things that happened and it jogs memories. (I hate reading my old journals)
Anyway, those are a couple of ideas. Thanks for sharing about all of your experiments. Keep up the great work with the blog and all your endeavors!

David Cain December 30, 2015 at 8:18 am

The no- or low-sugar diet is one I’m thinking about. Diet experiments are always fun.

Jeanne January 15, 2016 at 2:25 pm

If you’re looking at no- or low-sugar diets, I can’t recommend Whole30 enough. Of course it eliminates a lot of other food groups (legumes, grains, dairy, etc…) and it ends up following what is basically a paleo diet. Check out It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig for a science-y explanation of why certain food groups are eliminated. Also, I think you might enjoy some of the topics discussed on the creators’ blog http://whole9life.com/.

Joe December 29, 2015 at 10:34 am

thanks for the review. I soon will be an empty-nester. Youngest going off to college in 2016. Being retired and single I’ll have a significant change in my daily activities. I’m experimenting now with increasing reading; no TV till evening (i’ve cut the cable cord last year and mainly watch NHL games, netflix docs, PBS, etc). Altho I won’t eliminate my one mindless addiction – game shows! Price is Right and Let’s Make a Deal. :)
I walk 2-3 miles every other day and play golf once a week (if weather allows) so exercise is already a part of my life, but I am going to look into meditation and yoga. I’ll research your site for getting advise on starting.

Thanks for your site! Peace.

Anna Akerman December 29, 2015 at 10:50 am

Very inspiring, thanks for this overview!
I would be curious to read about an experiment on polyphasic sleep and 28-hour sleep cycle.
Another interesting one could be about language learning methods.

Kushaan December 29, 2015 at 11:00 am

I am trying a diet now by Tim Ferriss (no white carbs and a rotation of only vegetables, meats, and beans/lentils with one cheat day allowed) and I can definitely feel after one week the mindset changing when it comes towards hunger and excess. Would be really interesting to integrate your intermittent fasting aspect as well. Thanks for sharing :-)

christine December 29, 2015 at 11:29 am


I love the experiments. You asked for other experiment ideas. You have covered most of what I would want to try. I can only think of three other things that I periodically try and would be curious about – perhaps they are too specific, but seem a bit general. The first is learning a language, which is somehow always a project I have on the go, and seems more intrinsic to being human than we perhaps realise – most of the world apart from English speakers speak more than one language (and of course maybe you do), and bilingualism seems to have all sorts of benefits for other learning and for understanding the world in different ways, and increasing who we can communicate with. The second is how to increase friendship and community: is it possible to set goals for having more ‘get togethers’ with people, particularly new people or helping create community? This always seems good and healthy but time factors and often hidden insecurities mean I often put this off. The third thing is trying to change the world in some way (beyond self-development) – for example through some sort of concerted activism – trying to be part of something that is bigger than yourself and contribute to a collective effort to leave the world a better place seems really intrinsic – but again – what sustains activism, and what would it mean to set out to make a contribution? How could it be harmonised with personal goals?

Carsten Otto December 29, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Thanks for the wrap-up, I’ll read some of the links (again, maybe).

Regarding sleep, I’d love to see the rather mild experiment involving power naps. Maybe you could do a power nap each day for a few weeks, or try to combat tiredness with a short nap instead of coffee (or ignoring the feeling).

I’m far from a proper experiment, but both what I read (most notably “Night School – Wake up to the Power of Sleep”) and what I tried in the past few years I think that power naps would be both a topic for an interesting experiment, and a welcome experience/change for your life.

David Cain December 30, 2015 at 8:23 am

Yeah, that’s something I’d like to try out. Power naps. I don’t really get tired during the day though, but my afternoons are definitely less productive than my mornings, and maybe a nap would change that.

Amanda December 29, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Thank you for the follow up on your experiments! Seeing what was useful/sustainable and what felt like drudgery feels like an insider tip into what would be viable to implement in my own life.

Have you ever considered a zero waste challenge? I read Bea Johnson’s ‘Zero Waste Home’ a while back and was inspired to make quite a few changes. But I haven’t been able to get over the fear of embarrassment or discomfort related to some of her other suggestions. Like wrangling a shopping cart full of empty glass jars and presenting them to the deli attendent to fill with quinoa salad or blocks of cheese. Or forgoing my beloved daily q-tips and cleaning my ears with my pinky fingers. I have since been harboring a fantasy of seeing Raptitude tackle Zero Waste, while I observe in comfort and safety behind my computer screen.

David Cain December 30, 2015 at 8:29 am

Heh… I would also like to see someone else tackle Zero Waste while I observe in comfort and safety :)

It would probably be too massive an undertaking for me right now. It would take a ton of research and a total rebuilding of all my habits. I try to keep them smaller scale. But I could do part of it, like trying to limit my waste to a certain weight or something.

Steve December 29, 2015 at 12:43 pm


First let me complement you on the format of this post. Concise and informative summaries of each experiment made me read all 21.

I’ll definitely be reading the full take on the Soylent (#18) and the vegan diet (#10) experiments. Too much junk going in without regard for me.

For you (and me), I’d love to see an experiment about learning a new language.

Spanish has been on the “to do” list for much too long.

I envision daily sessions of reading and writing then watching Spanish soap operas on the weekends to test my conversational understanding.

Yeah, none of that has happened. It just swirls in my head and nothing gets done. I should probably read #13 about visualization too.

Even though your experiments are sometimes taxing, thanks for the efforts.


Sophia Ciocca December 29, 2015 at 12:59 pm

David, these experiments have inspired me so, so much since finding your blog — I even started doing experiments of my own! (http://2015projectawesome.tumblr.com). A few experiments I’m curious to see would be:

–trying to really connect with a stranger a day
–Barb’s comment above — smiling and eye contact all the time
–radical honesty or radical generosity (these are two that I tried and found FASCINATING)
–something about getting rid of ego (or at least diminishing it.) not that i’m an egotist, but i’m starting to realize just how much i pride myself in the way i’m perceived, and i’d like to decrease that motivation somehow. any thoughts?

thanks again!

David Cain December 30, 2015 at 8:31 am

Oh wow this looks awesome. What do you have planned for January?

On the subject of ego, I have a lot of thoughts about that, which I’ll eventually share in an article. It really helped me to learn the maxim “Meet everyone on equal ground,” which means to question any feelings of superiority or inferiority you feel, and assume a basic equality in ever interaction with others.

Niranjan Pandit December 29, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Thank you so much for this! I was really thinking about doing some experiments for the coming year and now I’m reading this.
The exercise of not complaining is definitely worth it. So is meditation. And with my speed, I can at least try a book per month.

For 2012, one thing I had done is writing individual handwritten letters to people who matter to me. That remains my only sincere (and successful) resolution till date.

This year, along with the things I have mentioned, I’m planning to learn cooking.

Another thing I have come up with, is a welfare index. I have enlisted prominent areas such as work, family, friends, hobbies, health etc and key developments therein for the past 15 years. Each of them has received a rating on 10. A combined weighted rating gives me an idea how well my life has been in that year. This gives me a great idea regarding where I can improve! Looking forward to keep increasing my score. :)

Namita December 29, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Being an avid follower of your blog for several years, I’ve seen you at the starting point of these experiments. It’s amazing to see you how far you’ve come. Good stuff David! How about an experiment in social networking in 2016? Like 1 networking event every 2/3 days for 30 days? I’d be keen to read about your results from this experiment. Happy journeys in 2016!

Susy December 29, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Hi David, Just wanted to say thank-you for Raptitude…such a worthy, wonderful website. I found it this year and really enjoy your email newsletters. They’re an inspiring bright spot in my inbox that I look forward to reading, and leave with a smile and a lighter heart : ). I send many on to friends, and sometimes print my favourites as a groovy looking Word doc to file for re-reading. Your writing style is gorgeous, and your views insightful, genuine and delightfully quirky. Best wishes for a fabulous 2016!

Allissa December 29, 2015 at 7:33 pm

You have to be my favorite person that I have never met =) Yours is the only blog I make time to read. Thanks!

David December 30, 2015 at 8:22 am

Hi David, thanks for Raptitude and looking forward to the Calm course.
Two years ago tomorrow I started an experiment of not watching, listening to or reading the news. I’m still alive, well and a lot more relaxed.
Experiments to come in 2016.
Eating a frog a day – a frog being something I want to put off.
Trying to do a daily routine differently, currently brushing my teeth while balancing on one leg, good for health in two ways”!
Holding my beliefs lightly, difficult one.
Daily random acts of kindness, familiar but so worthwhile.
David M

Heather C. December 30, 2015 at 10:38 am

A friend of mine introduced me to your blog a few weeks ago and it’s become a favorite. I’ve enjoyed going through the archives and seeing how your blog has changed over time.

Experiment for 2016:
Learn one new thing every day and keep a log. It could be anything from how something is made, a new recipe, a new word or listening to music from another part of the world.

When my children were still in school that would be the dinner time question “What new thing did you learn today?” It would be on them to find and remember something to relate that evening.

Thank you for all that you do. You have helped me gain a new perspective on so many things, but most particularly the “moments” in our lives. I look forward to seeing what you come up with in the new year.

Denise Greene December 30, 2015 at 8:49 pm

Thanks for this inspiring post, David. I always enjoy your writing, but this inspired me to write my own blog post on my life experiments, especially in health and lifestyle. I gave them a link to your article as well, and gave you credit for the inspiration.

StephInIndy December 31, 2015 at 11:09 am

oh this was such a fun and enlightening post. i loved learning what you’re doing today as far as how each experiment became habit or learned (or not).

i’ve also gotten a chance to catch up on my raptitude and man it’s great! thanks for a great year of posts, David!

Maroc December 31, 2015 at 11:55 pm

Thanks alot for this useful article and happy new year

Elliott January 2, 2016 at 2:51 am

Loved to read this! You should try and remove all phone notifications from your life that bring you out of the present moment. Also I think a socially-based experiment, such as striking up a conversation with 1 stranger per day or “rejection therapy”.


Leke January 2, 2016 at 2:33 pm

I’m a fellow Blogger. Came open your site and luv’d it. Raptitude is my URL of the week!

Scott January 5, 2016 at 9:00 pm

I also liked reading of your experiments. In 2016, I’d like to see an experiment where you try out a melatonin sleep spray every night and see if it actually results in more quickly falling asleep and/or a deeper sleep. I have some and have used it. It SEEMS like it is working, but I have confounded the purity of the experiment by mixing its use with other techniques at the same time. I have not wanted to mess with my system, but if I had to guess, I’d put the better sleep to the sleep spray.

Vanessa January 9, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Well. This is camp calm day 6 and I am already loving my cushion time (well it’s a chair actually!). Thank you; for the guidance, the human level wisdom, the honesty. It’s really refreshing and is helping me build the habit. I thought I’d share a little experiment with you!

I realised quite early into CC that the early evening was not a good time for me to do my cushion time, so started meditating in the morning and then woke up one day with a horrible cold, achy body etc. I missed that day as was late for work and mustered loads of self love and decided i would experiment with NOT doing the usual chastising thing. It worked – mostly – but the bit I was delighted about was that I indulged myself today and gave myself about 2 hours to read and did a 15 min med and about 2/3 of the way through, I was disturbed as someone came into the room. I completely ignored the person and they quickly realised that I was meditating and left the room but I stayed with the session and tried to let go……. it worked mostly – but the interesting bit was the fact that I didn’t feel the need to respond or open my eyes or acknowledge the person and that felt very empowering and freeing. I am not someone that usually feels obliged or submissive in any way (probably the opposite!), but there was a quality to my stillness in that moment that felt new and calm.

I will be doing more experiments!

Bhawna January 27, 2016 at 12:41 am

I am with following experiments for 2016 –

1. Say No to White Sugar. So far, I have stuck to it for almost 20 days out of 27. I am right now blaming winters for the slip and hope to get better.

2. Read 4 books a month – the number/month may come down to 1 book per week, but a goal of 4 in a month would help me mix and match between thick and thin books. So far, I have read ’40 Rules of Love’ by Elif Şafak, ‘My Moon has Blood Clots’ by Rahul Pandita, ’10-Day MBA’ by Steven Silbiger and ‘Making Things Happen’ by Scott Berkun.

3. No haircut for the complete year. Given that I am woman, this should not be difficult to do. So far, going strong.

Ken February 21, 2016 at 8:15 pm

Very interesting read.

Just FYI – I found three independent studies that reproduced “calorie restriction” benefits (such as longevity) for just carb restriction. Unfortunately, I can’t post the links, because I lost them in a disk crash. But I’m sure someone who was dedicated could find them.

The point is that all that fasting (or “eating less food”) accomplishes is to restrict carbohydrate consumption.

Insulin resistance, asides from being the prime cause of obesity and heart disease, is linked to many other “diseases of civilization”.

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