How The Experimenter’s Mindset Can Free You From Fear
The magic of cultivating curiosity without attachment
Fear. It’s that other four-letter “F” word. In prehistoric times it prompted us to run from saber tooth tigers. In the modern world, it springs up at inopportune moments.
You feel it every time you pin your hopes, self-worth, and self-esteem on a specific outcome. It’s that sensation of dread the moment before you put yourself in a position where someone might reject, criticize, or dismiss you.
It happens when we submit our work for critique, ask someone out, or request a pay raise. There’s a chance they’ll reject us, and that triggers fear.
So, instead of striking up that conversation, asking for that raise, or sending our work, we hesitate. We engage in self-talk and formulate a justifiable reason for inaction.
“Who am I kidding. I don’t deserve a raise.”
“This isn’t my best work. No sense sending in a certain rejection.”
These convenient excuses are manifestations of fear. It feels like an irrational fear, but it’s not. We derive so much of our self-worth and esteem from outcomes; it’s no wonder we clam up at pivotal moments in our lives.
Overcoming irrational fear is not about summoning hidden courage like it was stashed away in a remote corner of your brain.
Nor can you rely on hacks or tricks. You need a change of perspective — the experimenter’s mindset.
Calling on 2,500 years of wisdom
In my study of eastern philosophies, I came across the concept of detachment or non-attachment — a state of detaching yourself from outcomes and desires.
Giving up attachment to desires and outcomes makes for a good inspirational quote or bumper sticker, but it’s hard to pull off in real life.
Your brain isn’t fooled. It interprets potential rejection, criticism or failure as pain, and seeks to avoid that possibility. Perhaps it requires a lifetime to master the art of detachment. I didn’t have a lifetime.
The answer came from the most unexpected sources. Copywriting. I was working with a mentor at the time. During one of our calls, he had stressed the most important skill I needed to master — generating curiosity.
That was it. Curiosity. I had found the answer.
Be curious but unattached.
What type of people are curious but unattached? Experimenters. We experiment because we’re curious about an outcome but not attached to a specific outcome.
That was the beginning of the experimenter’s mindset — a combination of ancient eastern philosophy and a modern-day understanding of human nature.
Cultivate a mindset of insatiable curiosity to try new things and explore the unknown, but remain unattached to a particular outcome — The experimenter’s mindset
How to live an experimental life
Don’t think of this as an instant transformation. You need to undo a lifetime of conditioning. Think of it as a gradual shift in your perspective.
Start small. Don’t attack your most significant fears right away. You need to condition yourself to think this way.
Approaching life as a series of experiments makes you more open taking risks. It frees you from the anxiety of the feared outcome.
Begin with the most mundane of activities. Let’s suppose you’re sending an email to a colleague. Tell yourself, “I’m curious if he’ll respond.” Follow that with, “I’m curious about how he might respond. What are the possibilities?”
Approaching life as a series of experiments makes you more open to taking risks. It frees you from the anxiety of the feared outcome, and opens you up to experiences with potential for failure, criticism, and rejection.
If you’re curious about whether your boss will approve your pay raise, you’ll feel compelled to ask. Compare that to someone who ties their self-worth to the outcome — a potentially painful outcome. Who is more likely to risk rejection?
What if you’re not curious?
At some point, you’ll try this approach on that one thing you fear most of all. That fear will trigger hesitation. Perhaps you polished up your article and prepared to hit send. You paused and thought about the potential rejection, so you made excuses.
That’s your old habit of pinning your worth on a specific outcome. I owe the final piece of the puzzle to Benjamin and Rosamund Zander, authors of The Art Of Possibility.
In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold — Benjamin Zander
The idea of infinite possibility had a profound impact on my thinking. It was the seed that allowed curiosity to flourish.
Possibility breeds curiosity. When we focus on the universe of what’s possible, we can’t help but get curious.
When you get curious about what’s possible, you crowd out negative thoughts stemming from the uncertainty or fear of the outcome.
If you want to get curious about an outcome, expand the universe of possibility.
- What are the possible outcomes?
- How might you find out the outcome?
- Why might they respond that way?
- What possible personal experiences might influence or cloud their judgment?
- What external factors might influence them?
- What if he has a personal issue on the day he reads my work?
Open up the outcome to such an absurd number of possibilities that you’re brimming with curiosity to discover how it will turn out. I find it’s helpful to jot it down in a quick narrative. “I’m going to experiment with… I’m curious. What are the possible outcomes?”
Live the experimenter’s mindset in everyday life
Approaching life as a series of experiments makes you more open to trying new experiences
To see real results, infuse the experimenter’s mindset into everything you do. Be curious and drill down into a multitude of possibilities. Practicing this technique will ingrain it into your soul. You will find it easier to deploy in vital situations if it’s already a formed habit.
Approaching life as series of experiments makes you more amenable to new experiences. Don’t think of it as adventure-seeking. It’s about experiencing the wonder of the unknown and giving up the attachment to a particular outcome.
The hidden value of the experimental mindset
If your experiment yields an undesirable result, you will have discovered valuable information — something didn’t work. Next time, try something different.
When you try something new and tell yourself it must work, you feel obligated to persevere. Without attachment to an outcome, you’re less incentivized to stick with a path that fails to serve your best interest. The sooner you give up on a nonviable path, the sooner you learn from your mistakes.
An experimental mindset enables you to seek out new experiences, take risks, and attack bold goals without the fear of rejection, failure, or criticism.
- Cultivate a feeling of curiosity about potential outcomes, but remain unattached to a particular result.
- The key to cultivating this mindset lies in strengthening your curiosity muscle.
- Practice this mindset in everyday life so you can easily deploy it when it matters most.
- Each experiment that yields an undesirable outcome provides information about what doesn’t work. Use that information to propel you forward.