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De-Risk Your Life Change with Experiments

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

In my previous post I’ve explained why I want to take experimental approach to changing my life. As I was recovering from burnout after years in a corporate job and searching for meaning, I’ve divided my life in 3 main buckets: what I want to have, what I want to do and who I want to be.

In this post I will share how to take scientific approach to life change - by defining and testing the hypotheses.

Happy woman on top of the mountain in Seoul
I tested how size of the city affects my happiness and learnt that I can be happy in a big city if the microcosm is right

In the business world, the first step of planning an experiment is to define hypotheses

You need to clearly define what will you test and how will measure success. For example, if you are testing an app for call centre workers, your hypotheses might be: ‘Call centre agents want to be rewarded for working late hours’.

You then go away and test it. You can conduct interviews or create a prototype of the app and see how users react. The goal is to discover whether your agents indeed want to be rewarded and you need to pay them extra, or if, for instance, flexibility to work any hours, is enough in itself (which indeed appeared to be the case in the experiment I ran).

I have applied same idea to my life’s 3 bucket and developed a series of hypotheses I am going to test

When it comes to changing life, however, it appeared to be a lot harder to make hypotheses easily measurable. I found that the answer might be the right feeling in my belly about it, which some call intuition, some don’t believe in at all.

The way I think about it is this. Our brain has a very limited processing capacity and consciously processes very little percentage of everything it perceives. Our ‘gut’ however, is a centre that I see as our second (and often primary) brain, that is responsible for giving you a ‘gut feel’ based on a much wider range of stimuli and often way faster than our brain.

I believe the science is yet to find an explanation for that. Same way as it took us a while to discover germs and antibiotics. While science is working on it, I am going to rely on it without a logical explanation.

What am I going to test in each life bucket over the next 12 months? Here we go!

Life bucket 1: Country & physical microcosm

The main goal for this bucket is to figure out which country is right for me based on what I find important to have in my physical microcosm. And to figure out what I find important through experimentation. Here are my hypotheses:

  1. I will feel happier in a place with slower pace. The pace for me is defined by the size of the place and its values. My assumption is that the ideal city for me is 3-4 million inhabitants. This should offer enough variety, stimulation and opportunities but still be liveable. Slower pace for me also means less stimuli – less noises, less people & less information overload. In a smaller city my nervous system & my body will feel better. How will I measure success: better quality of sleep, better ability to concentrate.

  2. I will feel happier in a place that offers good value for money. Now this one is vague – what is ‘good value’ you might ask? In my case it’s anything that is not London, where you pay 1500£ for a tiny studio flat and 2.40£ for a tube ride. I believe that having a better and bigger flat and more affordable things that I love (fitness, hobbies, great food) will make me happier. How will I measure success: I can afford a bigger flat with a guest room for my friends and family. I can work less and afford the things I love.

  3. I will feel happier in a culture that values human connection over material things. This one is harder to place, but as Hofstede suggested, each culture can be defined on a number of dimensions (have a read, it’s really interesting). In my case individualism vs collectivism is a key one. I believe I will feel happier in a collectivistic culture. How will I measure success: I spend more time enjoying time with people than consuming things.

  4. Good delicious high-quality food makes huge difference in my overall life satisfaction. This one is prosaic, but hey – we eat at least 3 times a day (I eat 6, in small portions). I am so tired of overpriced plastic fruit & veg in London’s & Dublin’s supermarkets. The other day I paid 17 euros for a watermelon. There’s gotta be a better way. How will I measure success: I can buy a watermelon that is mind-blowingly delicious for under 5 euros. Or whatever price that doesn’t make me think that it was an extravagant purchase.

Life bucket 2: Career

My bucket career is all about what I want to be doing and a possibility to explore a portfolio career. The notion of a portfolio deserves a separate post, and you can read about it here. In this bucket my hypotheses are:

  1. I like being an artist & it brings income. I have been painting for over 3 years now. The only time when I get into ‘the flow’ is when I paint. I can make myself a cup of tea and remember it’s there only 2 hours later when it’s cold when I paint. Hence, I’d like to see if this is something I can do professionally. How will I measure success: I paint regularly and I enjoy it. My art sells. If I make at least £1k selling art, I will seriously consider investing more time in it.

  2. I like being a writer (journalist) & it brings income. Similarly to painting, I love writing. I love ethnographic research, understanding people and creating narratives. How will I measure success: I write regularly and I enjoy it. My writing sells. If I publish at least 3 articles and get paid, I will seriously consider investing more time in it.

  3. I like being a freelance strategy / innovation consultant. What I do for the big Company I work for at the moment, I can do myself and potentially make more money. I would like to see what it feels like being a freelancer – will I feel lonely? Will I be able to organise my own time and avoid daily agony of procrastination? Will I get fat being in close proximity to the fridge all day? How will I measure success: I can organise my time & work, I enjoy 90% of what I do and it brings income. If I land at least 2 freelance consulting jobs, I will seriously consider investing more time in it.

  4. I like working as part of a start-up ecosystem. I love business and technology and have been coaching start-ups for years and keen to explore a possibility of joining a start-up incubator or accelerator or a hedge fund for some time and see if it’s something for me. How will I measure success: I work as part of a start-up ecosystem & enjoy it 90% of the time and it brings income.

  5. I like being a life coach / holistic therapist. I have been interested in psychology since the age of 9, reading all the books my mom (who is a psychotherapist) had at home. I am also a guru of self-development and staying healthy and balanced. Over years I have learned a huge range of techniques – from cognitive behavioural therapy, yoga, meditation and tai chi to dream interpretation, tarot reading and crystals. I believe in holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to health & wellbeing and would like to work in this space. Whether as a personal coach or maybe even by opening my own Zen centre. How will I measure success: I help people using the methods I know and they are willing to pay for it. If I have made at least £300 through coaching, I will seriously consider investing more time in it.

  6. I can successfully combine all of the above (or whatever proves successful) into a portfolio career. I feel I will be the happiest when I can tap into as many of my talents as I can. How will I measure success: I can combine at least 2 of the above careers, make it work logistically and financially.

Life bucket 3: who do I want to be

In this bucket I want to test my values in practice, I believe freedom and human connection are more important and can make you happier. I also believe if you have more time – you need less money.

  1. My freedom is more valuable to me than certainty and security. I want to see what if feels like not having a 9 to 5 job and the security of a monthly paycheck. I want to let go of that security to develop confidence of knowing I can do it on my own and I am fine. I also think I might enjoy working for myself more, creating my own rules.

  2. How will I measure success: I quit my job at a big Company (handed in my notice today, so that’s done) and find a way of life where I enjoy the flexibility of being a freelancer & the freedom of managing my own time / location by working remotely.

  3. Having less stuff will create more headspace to do really meaningful stuff. I have a hypothesis that I need much less stuff that I currently own (and I don’t own much, trust me). You can probably fit in all my stuff in about 10 boxes and a couple of suitcases. In 4 weeks’ time I will go through all my stuff – sell/give away most that I can let go of, rest will put in a storage. I will spend the next year travelling with 1 suitcase occasionally repacking it. How will I measure success: I don’t feel annoyed not having something I need 90% of the time. I spend at least 10% less time dealing with material posessions (like picking what to wear every morning or taking care of stuff).

  4. If I have more time, I will need less money to enjoy life. This one is simple – now I am constantly under stress and have no time. After a long week I need a whole day to recover from being exhausted and need a ton of remedies to feel ok again. Like getting a massage, having a drink or buying clothes to soothe the soul. I believe if I have more time, I will be able to enjoy cheaper things – instead of going out and spending a lot of money on a meal I can go to farmer’s market, buy freshest produce and make a meal for my friends at home. Cheaper and way nicer, don’t you think? You can apply this concept to other things – like avoiding peak hour at the gym will result in a much nicer experience and a hefty discount. How will I measure success: I reduce the portion of my leisure / entertainment expenses by 20% (proportionally depending on the price level of country I will end up in).

Now what?

That’s a lot of hypotheses to test, I realise that. Some will happen simultaneously and organically – like the microcosm and the "being" bucket. The career bucket is a bit more complex and I will approach it in phases – e.g. being a freelance consultant and an artist, then focusing on start-up and journalism. Finding a fulfilling career is a huge topic in itself and I will cover it in future posts.

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