To celebrate my son’s 6th birthday party I ran a series of old school games to fill in the time before birthday cake. We gathered up the mob of (mostly) boys and a few girls, took them to the park over the road, put them into teams and started barking the rules at them. Somewhere in the middle of the egg and spoon race, I noticed a boy sitting on the sidelines and asked him why he wasn’t joining in. Was he feeling left out? Had he hurt himself? Did he have an egg allergy? Nope. That wasn’t it.
“I’m not playing because I know I can’t win this one,” the boy explained.
Despite my encouragement and insistence that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose yadda yadda yadda, the boy was adamant that unless he could win the game, there was simply no point playing.
What’s the point of trying if you can’t succeed?
In the months that followed I pulled out that birthday party anecdote whenever I had cause to discuss The Problem With Kids Today. Lamenting the younger generation made me feel better temporarily, until I realised that this kid was simply revealing the values of our success-driven culture. Because aren’t we all a little bit like this boy? When was the last time you avoided something because there was no chance of winning? Aren’t we all encouraged these days to “play to our strengths” so the odds of success are stacked in our favour? This was certainly the motivation behind my decision to work with a strengths coach. I figured, if I focus on playing to my strengths I can increase my likelihood of success and decrease the possibility of failure, right? Oh, yes. Just like the boy who wouldn’t join in at my son’s party, I wanted to live my life minimising the risk of failure at every opportunity.
What if you loosened the grip on success and failure?
Two things happened when I worked with a Strengths Business Coach. (Her name is Nikki Smith BTW and she’s fantastic). Firstly, I learned that my strengths aren’t what I’m good at (a common misconception) but what energises me, and secondly: I was introduced to the power of experiments. Nikki’s whole approach to career and life generally is to create ‘mini experiments.’ These are time-framed and designed to test something without committing to something new FOREVER. Rather than learn how to avoid failure forevermore (not possible!) Nikki introduced me to a refreshing way of living.
Around this time, I was deep in another IRL experiment: a research project studying the impact of ‘Story Celebration Practice’ on wellbeing. Part of this experiment required a set of indicators with which to measure wellbeing. We chose to draw on the field of positive psychology and use Martin Seligman’s PERMA model.
What is Authentic Happiness anyway?
According to Seligman’s PERMA model, authentic happiness is generated by 5 things: (P) positive emotions, (E) engagement, (R) relationships, (M) meaning and (A) accomplishment. Instead of simply listing my favourite positive emotions and striving to generate these, I started planning my daily life through the PERMA lens. And then I fell in love with the idea of living life as one experiment after another. It takes the pressure off achieving success and avoiding failure. But it’s not about giving up on success and failure altogether – it’s about reframing success and getting curious about results.
Everything is learning
Because here’s what we discovered through the course of the research project: the “failures” were just as useful as the “successes.” In fact, by the end of the project I started looking at failure in a totally different way. Everything in life is about learning. But when you’ve been brought up to measure your self-worth by your successes it’s hard to enjoy the learning process.
Overcome a fear of forever-level commitment
The other great thing about living life as a series of experiments is that you don’t have to deal with fear of commitment. Not sure about you, but whenever I’m making a decision I tend to give it the heaviness of marriage or mortgage and worry that I won’t last the distance. When you approach business and life with an experimentation mindset you can let yourself off the hook. Not everything comes with a ’til death do us part’ deal, yeah?
Think about the regrets you’ve had in your life. Usually they are from not giving things ago. I can relate. I didn’t try out for my University’s Improv Club…. because I hadn’t decided if acting was my one, true calling yet. How I’d love to go back to my 19 year old self and say, “Just give it a go. Don’t try to script your entire life, just have fun.”
Life is more fun this way
Ultimately, that’s the power of experimentation. It will make your life more enjoyable. You can stop giving a shit about success vs failure and approach everything you do with curiosity and lightness.
How could you take a more experimental approach in your life?
Got something you want to learn, experience or create? Perfect. Decide what you want to do, create a hypothesis and then put a limited time-frame around it. This will radically reduce your fear of commitment as well as your fear of failure.
Here are three experiments I’m about to leap into. Read along to get a sense of how you might construct some experiments of your own.
Experiment #1: Rent an office space outside my home.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I work from home. In fact, I launched Word Love while juggling the demands of a pre-schooler and jiggling a 10 month old on my hip. What a blessing it is to work from home! And, also – what a curse! Over the next 6 months Word Love HQ will be based at Lambert Avenue, Newtown. It may be the best thing ever. It may not. Either way, it’s an opportunity to test my hypothesis.
Timeframe: 6 months
Hypothesis: That I’ll be more productive and feel less isolated working outside the home in my own consulting room.
Experiment #2: Co-create 10 podcast episodes.
A while back I decided to do a podcast. Not just because all the cool kids are doing it… because I love exploring ideas through conversation. Luckily for me, I won’t be doing this by myself. A dear friend of mine with similar interests has joined forces on this. Both of us have more ideas than we can implement. So doing this together means we keep each other accountable. And rather than commit to something indefinitely we decided to experiment. We set the goal to create 10 episodes within a 6-month timeframe. After that, we can decide if we want to continue the series. Stay tuned.
Timeframe: 10 episodes in 6 months
Hypothesis: That our podcasting partnership will fuel creative thinking as well as our friendship.
Experiment #3: Rise at 4am to write my book.
If you know me personally, you’re probably laughing out loud right now. And I don’t blame you. I’m not a morning person. But then, I’m not a night person either. Since my deepest insights come through in that space between dreaming and waking I want to capitalise on that magical time. Plus, at 4am I’ll have zero distractions; no little voices nagging ‘mum’ while I lay down words; no competing client work to contend with. The only thing lacking is, like, Actual Discipline. So I’ll conduct this experiment in the shortest possible timeframe to see an effect: two weeks. If after two weeks I’m not impressed by the amount of words I’ve gotten down on this first draft – and if I hate the world more not less – then I’ll let myself off the hook and find another time to schedule for this personal creative project. See how experiments are so much kinder than ‘forever’ commitments?!
Timeframe: 2 weeks.
Hypothesis: That I’ll re-set my body clock to enjoy the freshness of early morning ideas and increase my daily word count.
I think these 3 experiments are enough for now. 2 x 6 month-long and 1 x 2 week long experiments will test my theories and help me gain clarity and momentum – I hope.
So how about you?
Has this post sparked any ideas about crafting some experiments of your own? Is there anything you need to test out? Anything you want to ‘try’ without having to ‘prove’ yourself too much?
I’d love you to share some experiment ideas in the comments below. And if you found this interesting, please forward to a friend or colleague.
Cheers to the power of experiments!