Episode 35 - Experiments


Peter: Hey Jen.

Jen: Hey Pete.

Peter: Top of the morning to you.

Jen: Bottom of the evening to you, gov'na.

Peter: Again with the British; trying to be Australian, but ended up being British. It happens. Okay, so in all seriousness, I have something to talk about today that I think you might like, because it's something that, I guess, we would associate with a scientist doing. And I know you love science.

Jen: I love science.

Peter: And that is, experiments.

Jen: Yes! Isn't life just one grand experiment, Peter?

Peter: That's exactly what I want to talk about, isn't it?

Jen: Oh! Cool.

Peter: This -

Jen: This -

Peter: - is the - please, after you.


Jen: This is The Long and The Short Of It.

Peter: I'm definitely keeping that in, by the way - that muck-up. I think it'd be funny.

Jen: [sigh] Okay. So, experiments. Tell me more.

Peter: I was recently asked by a client of mine, I think - it was a client of mine - who was having some trouble thinking about a certain decision and making a certain decision. And what became apparent to me through asking questions and trying to unpack this decision a little bit was that the fear of making the decision and the decision being permanent. Like, "If I make this decision, I can never change my mind," or, "If I make this decision, I'm stuck with it for the next twenty years." And so, in working through it, what we were able to, or what I was able to help her realize was, you can change your mind once you make a decision. And she actually threw back to me, and asked me, "Well, like, how do you think about making decisions or trying new things or changing your mind?" And I said, "Well, I actually think about things as projects, or - probably a better frame - as experiments, and that I have permission with an experiment. In my head, If I frame it as an experiment, I have permission to change my mind because it was an experiment; maybe it worked, and maybe it didn't. What did I learn from it?" And then I kind of started noodling on this and thought it was worth bringing to you because I think it can go, like, macro, like you did in the intro, which is, isn't life just one big experiment? Like, what if we treated our work, our conversations, our relationships, our - the way we show up every day. What if we treated everything as an experiment? And I actually quite like that as a frame of reference, so I was keen to get your thoughts.

Jen: I love it. I dig it. I'm in sort of a silly mood today, so -

Peter: That's great.

Jen: - run with it. Well, when you say "science" and "experiment," the thing that comes to mind is, "hypothesis"; that part of what you're doing when you're experimenting is seeking to prove or disprove your hypothesis. And what I love about this science experiment thinking is that I, I think it requires forethought and intention in order to be a successful experiment.

Peter: Mm. I would add on top of that, curiosity, as well.

Jen: Oh yes.

Peter: Which is where I'm, I'm, I would think - I was going to take this. So I went, I think I wrote a blog post once called "Mad Scientists Aren't Mad," and basically the assertion was, they're not mad, they're just curious. And what scientists do so well is un-attach themselves from outcomes, and instead experiment and see what happens. And to your point, like, add some intention behind it and some forethought, but then just like, "How fascinating, what can I learn from this experiment?" and then noting that, adjusting variables and trying again. And so like, we think about it as in a lab with a Bunsen burner, and like, doing crazy experiments. But like, trying a new diet is an experiment. Trying a new workout regime is an experiment. Getting up early and experimenting with a morning routine is an experiment. These are things that we can constantly adjust variables on, constantly change our mind about, and, kinda like we spoke about in one of our other episodes, which was about, like, test and learn, test and learn - I think we mentioned in the, in the "Seasons" episode of like, what if we just experimented, tested it, and then learn from that, and maybe adjusted some variables.

Jen: I don't know why my mind just ran to this place - and it's one of those annoying things where I can't even tell you what I'm referencing; I don't remember where I heard this, but I definitely heard it this week on a podcast, just don't remember which one - about how when the, the London metro was on strike, and all of these hundreds of thousands of commuters had to find a different way to work, that when the strike was over, many of them didn't go back to riding the tube because their circumstances dictated they find a different way, and the new way was better, and they would never have found the new way unless this strike had happened. So I was thinking about that all week. Like, I always basically get to work the same way in the morning, and where are the other things in my life where I'm always doing the same thing the same way because it's worked that way. So it's funny that you brought up experimenting, because I've sort of been taking a peek at myself going, "Where have I just really fallen into old habits, because they simply 'work,' as opposed to because they are truly the best option."

Peter: Yeah. And there's like, you can't remember the reference, but I know there's some science behind the fact that it's quite good for one's brain to do things differently. So, what I mean by that is, like, I remember those was a show in Australia that got really popular, and I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called, but it was basically all of these different ways that we can use our brain better and improve our cognitive ability. And one of them was like, take a different way to work. Each day you go to work, travel a different route or route or, or get a bike one day, versus get a train the other day, versus walking another day. And that doing those things slightly differently just makes your brain think a little bit differently, and different neurons, sort of, connect. And so I love that as a, as a like, idea. I mean, some other ones were like, "brush your teeth with your left hand instead of your right hand," and just kind of these little experiments to trick your brain into thinking a little bit differently. Yeah, cause I think these, like, these kind-of small experiments, uh, they're kind of fun and creative, and they can just, you just don't know what they might spark. And this is the other thing I like about experiments, is the difficult part of removing yourself from an outcome of being like, "Well, I'll try this, but I have no guarantee on what will happen." Because I think so many of us get caught up in being so attached to certain outcomes that we try and almost rig our life so that we can hit that outcome. But like, a good decision doesn't necessarily lead to a good outcome. So if you can frame it as an experiment, it helps you just, I think mentally, like, un-attach from the idea of an outcome. The other thing I was going to say is, if we frame things, things as experiments, I think it reduces the friction. And I sort of alluded to this at the start of, if I'm thinking about starting a podcast, for example, or a blog, or starting a new project, or proposing a new collaboration with a, another client, if it's framed as an experiment, I think the friction is automatically, in my head, reduced, in that I have permission to shut it down, I have permission to change my mind, I have permission to stop the podcast, stop the blog, stop that thing. And - this is kind of where I was going with my client, is committing to starting a podcast, it doesn't mean you're going to have to podcast for the next twenty years of your life. Like, what if you experimented with ten episodes, and just see what happens, and then if it's still fueling you, if it's still something that you want to do - and this is kind of what we talked about when we started The Long and the Short of It - if it's still serving you, then continue to experiment. But if it's not, change a variable, try something else. So I don't know if I'm repeating myself, but I just wanted to go back to that idea of using it as a way to reduce friction in the decisions that we make.

Jen: I love that so much. I think that is a wonderful lens to put on it, and something that I would encourage your client, and us, and all of our listeners to do, is when you have concluded said experiment and are in that reflection phase, if what you have determined is that, I was going to experiment with ten episodes of a podcast, I get to the tenth episode and I'm like, "Eh, not for me," that before you move onto the next thing, it's, "What did I learn? What can I take forward? What can I apply to some of the other things I'm working on?" I'm, I think there are myriad examples in science of someone setting out to prove a hypothesis, disproving that hypothesis, and then solving a problem that was so much more important than the original thing they were looking to do.

Peter: Hmm, I love that. And if you think about like, uh, having, if you've read any scientific papers and they talk through the method and the hypothesis, and then they always have like a conclusion of findings, which I think is what you just referenced, is that point of reflection, of like, "Okay, so here's what we did, actually learn by doing this," and often when we think about projects, or work, or something like a podcast is, we kind of miss that, that last bit, that point of reflection and that point of, "What was the conclusion that I draw from all this, or that I drew from all of this." So I like that.

Jen: Okay, I'm going to bring up something that you might not want me to bring up; I'll have to gauge the look on your face.

Peter: What is this?

Jen: Well, before we started recording, you and I were talking about conducting an experiment to prove or disprove our hypothesis about whether or not we need an Instagram account.

Peter: Yes, we were, listeners. We go around in circles a lot about this. We were riffing and exploring this question of, "Do we need a social media account for The Long and The Short of It? What's that for? Is it helpful?" And I think I actually said to you - or maybe you said to me, "We could experiment with it for a month and see what happens."

Jen: Yeah, that's really funny. That is pretty much what happened. And so what I think is interesting here is, several episodes ago we did an episode on social media, where we sort of thrashed about, "Do we want it? Do we like it? Do we need it?" Um, and we didn't really come to a definitive conclusion, but I have definitely been far less active on social media since that episode.

Peter: Me too.

Jen: I felt like I gave myself permission to just get off of it. But now what is interesting is, I think that the space that's been cleared has left some room for new ideas about it to come in. And now we're going back to the drawing board and saying, "Okay, if we were actually intentional about this, how could we experiment with adding value to the lives of the people who would see our posts?" And, uh, so I guess what I'm saying, Peter, is that I'm challenging us to experiment, to conduct an experiment on Instagram, which Grandma Waldman over here has no idea how to use -

Peter: So when we say "we"...

Jen: - to see if - when we say "we," I mean "you" - but how can we, uh, share things of value over there? That is what I am proposing as an experiment for us.

Peter: I dig it. I'm okay with it, and we don't need to edit that out, because I'm open to it. So the thing I like about - again, if we frame it as just thinking through this live example - so, if it's an experiment, then I know that from a timing point of view, I can get my head around, "Okay, I can, I can commit to four weeks of us trying this and seeing what happens. That doesn't sound too overwhelming." The other thing I like about it is, this gives us permission to experiment with what we put on a social media account. And you made a great point of, like, what if we shared on there some of the books we're reading, and what if we used it as a way to have a conversation with our listeners, as opposed to just, like, prompting people to download the podcast? What if we actually use it as a way to have a two-way conversation? I love that idea. So it seems ironic, given the Social Media episode, but I like that we've got more intention to this idea, and we're framing it as an experiment. Hmm.

Jen: I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm excited about that.

Peter: How are you going to monitor said experiment, given your distaste for logging onto Instagram?

Jen: Well, I will log on from my computer, because I won't put social media apps on my phone. No. But I'll log in from my computer, and I will participate by sending you things to post.

Peter: Deal. Okay. And I've just had a look while we were talking, and I've found a handle that we can use. So the app - if you're listening to this and you'd like to follow us on Instagram for our experiment -

Jen: What is it? What's our name?

Peter: It's @thelongandtheshortofitpodcast, because @thelongandtheshortofit was taken, so I just added "podcast" on the end.

Jen: Cool. I - okay. I -

Peter: It's very long. It's very long.

Jen: Old lady over here - should it match our URL, or does that not matter?

Peter: I don't know if it matters. This is an experiment, Jen.

Jen: Okay, cool. Let's experiment with The Long and The Short of It podcast on Instagram. Follow us - but not yet, cause we're not up there yet.

Peter: We're actually not, yet. So, hopefully by the time this is out, we will have something. But getting back to - okay, so that's one way we can experiment. How else for our listeners out there thinking about experimenting, whether it's the way they go to work, whether it's the way they brush their teeth, how else might we encourage them to experiment? What do you think?

Jen: My music director at the studio, Drew Wutke, whenever he's talking about an idea, he always says, "Macro, micro." He always talks about an idea as a macro idea, and then a micro idea. It's part of his genius, is that he's able to zoom out, then zoom in. So I'm interested in looking at experiments through that lens. Like, what is the macro experiment, like, the twenty-four/seven version of the experiment, versus the micro, the, "I'm brushing my teeth with the left hand, I'm walking a different way to work." So I'm thinking that there's a, a macro version of an experiment - could be something like choosing positive self-talk for seven days in a row to see how it changes the over-all experience of being alive. Like, that might be something.

Peter: I'll give you one that I talked to my client about that I referenced at the start. So, she was lamenting the struggle that she was having with creating essentially space for herself to think and act. She's very generous, almost to a fault, too generous, and she has a number of clients that rely on her for the work that she does. And so she was saying, "I have appointments usually in the morning, and have appointments usually in the afternoon, and then in the middle of the day I'm running around trying to get lunch, and I just don't have time to stop and think." And so, the experiment that we came up with through this, through this conversation was, what if you experiment with no longer taking appointments in the morning, and only taking appointments in the afternoon, what would that look like? And then at the end of the month, like, reassess how that changed your over-all attitude to the work that you do, the life that you have, the clients that you serve. And she actually talked me into letting her do one morning a week - so, it's four mornings of the week, she's no longer taking appointments in the morning, but that felt like a cool experiment, and I think everyone could try. It's like, in the same way we talked about morning routines, like, what if you experimented with creating space for a morning routine for four weeks. What if you experimented with taking cold showers for four weeks? What if you experimented with meditating for four weeks? All of these things are really easy to implement, and potentially disproportionately beneficial without much friction.

Jen: I love that. I think that is so smart. I want to add to your list.

Peter: Please do.

Jen: Turn off your TV for four weeks. Get off of social media for four weeks.

Peter: Yes.

Jen: Call someone you love every day and tell them you love them for four weeks.

Peter: Mmm, yeah.

Jen: Smile for four weeks. It's the little things. They're cumulative.

Peter: Yeah. Complete a random act of kindness every single day for four weeks. Now we're just giving people, like, homework. This is great.

Jen: Ooh, I, I had this come up with one of my students at NYU, who was saying that she, she wanted to take her last summer before her senior year of college to really just live; that she wants to, like, experience life, so what should she do? That was the question. And so what we came up with was, she is going to do a daily entry into a journal that we're calling "I had never done that before." So every day she's going to do one thing that she has never done before. But she's an artist, so the way she enters it into her journal needs to be a different artistic expression of whatever the experience was every day. So, it's going to be a Haiku, one day it's going to be an essay another day, a drawing, a photograph, a sketch, whatever it is. Isn't that cool?

Peter: I love that. Yeah. She's conducting a little experiments every single day. Mm. And then it dawns on me, at a macro level, getting comfortable with experiments, getting comfortable with trying things that we haven't tried before, she's actually practicing leaning into imposter syndrome, which we talked about way back in episode three, maybe, which was imposter syndrome, that moment of fear and doubt and insecurity that creeps into our head and says, "Who are you to do this thing? Who are you to go for that role? Who are you to try and talk to someone about that promotion?" that creeps in when we're trying something that we've never done before, and so almost by very definition we are imposters in those moments, and so what just, like, dawned on me is, on a micro level, if we can practice leaning into things we've never done before, we're actually practicing creating change for ourselves by practicing leaning into imposter syndrome, which I think is nothing but a good thing.

Jen: Wow. That's really, really a brilliant connecting of the dots, Mr Shepherd. I, of course, expect no less than brilliance from you, but that was really a "mic drop" moment. So I'm going to say it.

Peter: Do it.

Jen: That is The Long and The Short Of It.