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It's almost seven in the evening as I start to write this, which suggests some interesting time management choices on my part today, but on the other hand I'm bathed in sunlight from the kitchen window, which is not so bad. Spring is coming hard here in the northern hemisphere — crocuses are in bloom, and I saw daffodils today. The world is tilting and nature is doing her thing, regardless of what shenanigans her little viruses are pulling in the world of humans.

Even when there's a pandemic on and you have to stay home all the time, there are lots of choices to make. You can wake up early or sleep late, take cold showers or hot baths, eat no meat or only meat, walk or run... There are lots of ways to make those choices, too. You can do your research, talk to friends, use your imagination — but eventually, you're going to have to do an experiment.

Give It a Try, Why Don'tcha?

I'm usually in the midst of an experiment — often, two or three. I've tried intermittent fasting, waking up early, running, meditating, journalling, bullet journalling... and on and on.

Right now we're all in the middle of a huge staying-home experiment which is raising lots of questions: How do we work from home? How do we both work from home? One pot of coffee a day or two? Running or walking? Yoga or tai chi? Where do I set up my laptop so the people I live with don't constantly wander in and out of the backdrop of Zoom meetings?

Whether you want to try something new or something new has been thrust upon you, there's a knack to running experiments – you want to give it your best shot, make sure you're testing the right thing, and come to the right conclusion.

What's the question

The first thing to work out is the question you're trying to answer. "I want to try intermittent fasting," is not a question. "Everyone wakes up at 4:30 so I should, too," is not a question.

"Does intermittent fasting make me feel better?" is a question. "Am I more productive if I wake up at 4:30?" is a question. ("Can we watch all of Brooklyn Nine-Nine in under a week?" is a question that is being answered in my house right now.)

Having a clear question will make it easier to design your experiment, and easier to figure out if it worked.

While you're coming up with your question, you might ask yourself a couple more questions. What problem are you trying to solve? What values does this experiment serve?

If there's nothing to be fixed, it might be that you're just intrigued by something because it seems cool, or because everyone else is doing it and you feel like you should. That might be reason enough to try, but if you're tackling something difficult and your heart is not in it, failure is likely and you might have wasted your time and possibly taken a blow to your self-confidence.

Plan Your Experiment

Armed with your question and the values that it serves, it's time to determine what, exactly, you're going to try. You might have heard of the SMART goal structure, which says that goals should be Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Relevant and Time-bounded. (There are a few different versions, but that's the idea.) This is the same kind of thing: you want your experiment to be well-defined.

I recently told myself "I'm going to try and eat less wheat, maybe I'll feel better." It didn't go well — it was way too vague. Don't do that. Make a plan with numbers in it: I'll go swimming four days a week. I'll wake up at 5:00 on weekdays. I'll eat between 11:00 and 7:00. I'll write three pages longhand first thing every morning.

Then ask yourself what might get in the way. Anticipate the excuses you will make, and then forestall them. Too hard to get ready to go to the pool? Set out everything the night before. Too many temptations in the office kitchen? Go in the back door. Too hard to wake up? Move your alarm clock (or phone) across the bedroom so you have to get out of bed.

Give it a fair chance

In university I did co-op, which meant I alternated four months of school with four months of work. I can't remember which work term was so terrible that it inspired this knowledge, but at some point I learned that I can put up with anything for four months. When it comes to experiments, I don't usually drag it out that long, but I try to give whatever I'm trying a decent chance by planning to do it for a couple of weeks or a month.

Do The Thing, and Pay Attention

You've got your question, you've got your plan. It's go time.

Implement, and then pay attention. How's it working out? Is it harder than you thought? What is surprising? What are you learning about yourself? What's getting in the way?

There's no such thing as a failed experiment if you do this part carefully. If you discover that 4:30 AM is not a time you ever want to see again, you have learned that about yourself. And if you know what values you were trying to serve by waking up early (perhaps productivity, by writing for an hour, or health, by getting in a workout before the family wakes up), armed with this new understanding of yourself you can figure out a new experiment to serve that value.

Give Up, Try Again

There are two more things about experiments, at least the way I run them. First, I'm never afraid to bail. I know, I said before that I like to give things a decent chance to work out. But sometimes it's clear within a couple of days that it's just not going to happen. I'm not one for bashing my head against a wall — I took exactly one cold shower before deciding that the cold shower life is not for me.

But maybe one day I'll try again, if the benefits seem compelling (or perhaps if my nerves stop functioning or I grow to love extreme discomfort). I won't rule it out, and that's the other thing about experiments – you can always try again. Tweak a few things, or even just try the exact same thing again. Maybe your kids will be older, you'll be more determined, you'll have new skills, or you'll find a friend to support you, and this time it will work out.

What's NewI hope y'all aren't tired of these portraits yet because I won't be getting new ones any time soon.

It's been a week, nothing much is really new. I'm trying not to freak out too much about my nascent coaching career in this global pandemic. I wish I had a more established coaching practice, for lots of reasons, but it is what it is.

In the meantime, my calendar is open for complimentary coaching conversations and  Zoom coffee chats. I would love to connect. (Don't forget you can book longer conversations at weirder times of day on my friends-only page.) I've seen some pushback about offering services for free that you would normally charge for, but my priority at the moment is to keep coaching and to be of service.

Fun and Interesting

  • In ways big and small, no one I spoke to said their lives had been unchanged. Don Pittis writes about all the experiments that are going on right now, and speculates about what changes will stick. Coronavirus lockdown has forced us into an economic trial and error experiment []
  • There have been incredible advancements in the fight against the coronavirus. While we in here just trying shit out, there are real scientists out there doing real experiments to try and keep more of us alive and healthy so we can go to the mall again. (Oh, I miss the mall so much!) 11 more encouraging developments in the coronavirus crisis []
  • Meanwhile, in lockdown, we have YouTube to pass the time. Interviewing celebrities while they eat progressively hotter chicken wings sounds like a dumb gimmick, but Sean Evans at First We Feast and his research team do deep and solid research, and he's not afraid to ask people essay questions while their mouths are on fire. There are 229 episodes. I particularly like the one with Aubrey Plaza because she's so weird and stiff, but about two thirds of the way down the row of wings you actually start to get an idea of what she's like. []

Thank you for reading this far!

If you like what you read, hit reply and let me know, or forward it and let someone else know. If you have questions or comments, hit reply and let me know. If you have seen something interesting out there, hit reply and let me know. Are you seeing a trend here? If so... hit reply and let me know! I look forward to hearing from you. ❤️

Amy Rhoda Brown Coaching
Copyright © 2020 Amy Rhoda Brown Coaching, All rights reserved.

I live and work on land which for thousands of years has been part of the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe and the Huron-Wendat. Today, this meeting place is still home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island, and I am glad to be able to live and work here.

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