The 10 Principles Project: A Year-long Experiment

A self-imposed (but open call!) challenge to live out the Burning Man ethos, all year long

Two years ago, an idea popped into my head: “Wouldn’t it be kind of fun to live out the 10 Burning Man Principles all year long?”

I initially dropped it for its perceived impracticality. I mean, how could “Decommodification” — no transactions, no advertising, no commercialization — work in Brooklyn? Does that mean I can’t buy anything for a month? Or earn any money?

But, as with a lot of good ideas, it kind of stuck around.

And, as I mulled it over, I realized I had a deeper question: How do the beliefs we live our life by affect our interpretation of reality?

Specifically, is it possible to reverse engineer positive experiences in our lives, by adapting their associated mindsets into our day-to-day? What if we could recreate the mental shifts we find on vacations, retreats or during other major life events through small daily actions and a little extra attention?

With these bigger questions in mind, I committed to taking on an experiment in belief modification. I settled on a year-long experiment because I’ve found that slow, steady change is the only thing that predictably leads to meaningful results (besides a major change in environment, but those are harder to orchestrate).

While there are lots of positive life experiences I could have chosen from, Burning Man had a few stand-out characteristics:

  • A convenient set of 10 Principles to use as a framework
  • Multiple data points for interpreting the 10 Principles (I’ve been 4 consecutive years and have a lot of Burner friends)
  • Life experiences I’d like to cultivate more of: being present, open-hearted, challenged, and introspective. I’ve had a lot of great, relaxing vacations, but they’ve rarely made me a better person. Burning Man has.

Here’s the experiment. I’d love it if you joined me.

1. Each principle gets a month

I chose to start in January. But, because there are 10 Principles and 12 months, you get 2 freebie ones and could start later. And, who says a calendar year is constraining you?

Here are my months:

I’m taking August and September off because I’ll be at Burning Man 2017 for portions of those months.

2. For each month, pick 1 small daily action and 1–2 bigger actions

The small daily action is critical. First, by having a daily action, it helps to keep the principle top of mind. Second, it makes it a whole lot less daunting. For more, read my previous post on “This Year, Make Painfully Small Resolutions.” (And, I get the irony of a year-long experiment not being that small of a resolution!)

For example, in January my Radical Inclusion small daily action was to say “Good Morning!” or “Hi!” to at least 2 people on my block and to smile at everyone else. This is surprisingly rare behavior in NYC. It felt uncomfortable, yet was easy to do.

Saying hello can feel awkward. It did get easier!

After you’ve got your small daily action sorted, pick 1–2 bigger actions. These bigger actions give some weight to your month. They also provide an opportunity to rally other people in a shared activity.

My surprise favorite bigger action in January was volunteering at a local church’s soup kitchen. I’m not religious, so this was outside of my usual social circle. The experience was rewarding, surprisingly reminiscent of Burning Man, and connected me with people I normally wouldn’t have met — including Frank, a 77 year old neighbor, who is a badass. (Lots more to say on Frank and the rest of January.)

3. Follow some basic guidelines

The aim of the experiment is to understand the impact beliefs have on reality. To encourage adequate effort, challenge, reflection, and discourse on the experiment, I came up with a short set of guidelines to keep me on track:

“It is better to inspire, than to command.”- said someone wise, probably my mom.

4. Take action!

In an effort to follow my own guidelines, I’ll be going out of my comfort zone and writing freely about my experience.

Here’s how you can get involved:

If you’re into spreading positivity through small actions, please share with others who believe in greater inclusion, self-expression, participation, and communal effort.