A scientific and practical approach to getting the most out of your life
Of course, we all want to live an awesome life. But most of us are so comfortable in our everyday routine that we often don’t fulfil our potential. The reason why we don’t push ourselves to be better than average could be because of lack of perseverance, avoiding failure or a lost sense of urgency.
Our time is valuable. Life is too short to be mediocre. And everyone knows that stagnation is decline. In order live a better life you must become the best version of yourself. But how?
Here is a funny thought: what if you would live life like a startup? It may sound silly at first, but think about it for a moment. Startups constantly try out new products or features, measure performance and learn from this analysis to make the next version better. These principles are key to growth.
In the bestseller The Lean Startup, Eric Ries introduces the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop. Let’s see how you can apply this model to yourself to enhance personal productivity & happiness.
Learn to grow like a startup
Having worked at different startups I’ve come to realise that it takes a certain mindset to succeed in going from zero to profit. You need to embrace challenges, face obstacles and be perseverant. You must learn how to transform negative feelings such as disapointment or frustration into motivation. And although it might sound counter-intuitive, failure is actually a good thing. It allows you to learn from your mistakes the first time around so you can use this knowledge to try better next time.
“Fail often so you can succeed sooner.” — Tom Kelley
In the pursuit of growth, continuous experimentation is key. Continuous experimentation is rapid iterative value creation gained through high-frequency testing (Fagerholm, F., 2017). That may sound pretty intimidating, but fortunately the concept is not that hard. It basically means running experiments fast with the goal of creating a better output.
Let’s see how we can incorporate continuous experimentation for the purposes of personal growth. It’s time to apply the Build — Measure — Learn Feedback loop model that we talked about earlier to ourselves.
Treat everything as an experiment
1.1 Define what you want to do, accomplish or learn in life.
First, you need to define the things that you want to experience, improve upon or accomplish. This can be in terms of happiness, health, family, career, personal development… It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you assume it will enrich your life. Try to translate the gap between your current life and your perfect life into actionable things.
This is just a short example. We all have an infinite list of things we would like to do, so chances are that your list is pretty long. You can try to work your way through it, but if you don’t have a systematic approach it will cost a lot of time. Moreover, the list of things you created earlier are just hypotheses of things you think will improve your life. You can’t assume they are true. Do you really want to study politics?To find out, you must test. And since your time is limited, you must test fast and efficiently.
1.2 Formulate & prioritize experiments
To prepare for testing in an effective way, let’s take a look at the complete list you created earlier. What we’re going to do is segmentation. Try to look for similarities or patterns in your list entries. You can segment your list items in long-term versus short term goals. Then, group similar things together. For example, make seperate categories for health, skills, productivity, and so on.
Once you’ve segmented your list, it’s time to formulate your experiment. To do rapid experimentation you could use A/B testing. In startups this method is being used to compare two versions of a webpage or app against each other to determine which one performs better. In our case, we apply the general principle on an empirical level to see which list item has the potential to bring most happiness to your life.
Do I like graphic design or programming?
Would I rather play rugby or do yoga?
Do I enjoy diving or hiking?
If you choose to experiment in A/B format, you can go through the list of categories you created earlier and formulate experiments like in the example above. Make sure to only conduct comparable A/B tests. There is no point in testing for example quitting smoking against volunteering abroad.
Once you’ve set up your experiments in A/B format, you already cut your initial list in half, but obviously you cannot run too many experiments at the same time. It’s hard to know the outcome of an experiment if five other simultaneous tests are influencing your life. You need to prioritize your experiments.
1.3 Set up goals for your experiment
Now that you’ve formulated your experiments and know with which one to start, it’s time to define a goal. Having a clear goal will not only give you motivation, but it will also help you focus your time and energy on achieving your goal.
“Be a goal digger.”
Let’s start with your highest priority experiment first. In order to make your life more awesome, define the following 3 things:
⦁ What exactly am I going to do?
⦁ How much time will I spend on it?
⦁ What does success look like?
Especially for non-quantifiable life improvements it’s really important to define your goals clearly. It’s easy to get caught up in perfecting a certain skill. If you don’t set a clear time frame or define what success looks like, you could easily spend years running your first experiment.
Spending years is not what you’re aiming for, but you should also not be too quick to judge. Allow yourself a certain amount of exploration time on a technique or skill, then decide whether or not it’s worth exploring further. If you’re doing A/B testing, make sure to spend an equal amount of time on both options.
Great! You nailed the definition stage, formulated experiments and set up experiment goals. Now you can get started with the exciting stuff: experimenting your way to an awesome life! Pick your highest priority experiment to start with.
Track your progress
The key to experimentation is not just to do it, but also to perform continued review on a daily basis to make sure you’re staying on track. You can use one of these goal tracking tools but a journal or a simple spreadsheet will suffice just fine.
The easiest way to measure non-quantifiable goals is to keep track of two things: time spent and emotion experienced.
⦁ Time spent. This is an easy measurement unit. Write down how much time you spent on your experiment each day. Once a week, you can compare your current measurement with your starting point. Are you on track? If yes, great! Keep up the momentum. If your answer is ‘no’, you should identify why not.
⦁ Emotion experienced. Are you feeling happier now that you picked up hiking as a hobby? Are you excited to do more of it? Of course, your measuring criteria will differ per experiment since they are closely related to your goal. Make a list of the emotions that are related to your goal and measure them on a scale of 1 to 5.
Review your goal
Of course, the aim is not to achieve mastery over a certain skill in a short period of time. The goal is to find things you enjoy working on to improve your life. If the activity you are testing brings positivity to your life in any way, keep it. Study it. Practice it. Get better at it. Enjoy the proccess. If not, move on to the next experiment.
It will only work for you if you commit to the process and follow it properly. Make sure to take the time to review your life experiments and the outcome. After a while you might discover patterns in things you tend to like or dislike. Use this knowledge to adjust your future experiments. But always keep an open mind to trying out new stuff.
If you were struggeling along the way, know that that is completely normal. Because after all, there is no progress without struggle. However, it is good to take some time to reflect the things that were blocking you so that you might be able to anticipate on those things next time.
“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”
Experimenting your way through life allows you to be productive. Rather than waiting for good things to happen, you get out there, find what makes you happy and focus on that. If you apply the Build-Measure-Learn model to yourself, you will have a clear direction, improved focus and better personal skills. Sweet!
Experiment your way through life. Try new stuff all the time. Challenge yourself. Discover new talents and passions. Practice every day. You will grow and improve fast. You have the power to transform your life. Take the opportunity to make it awesome.
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