What is the simple, proven method for improving any aspect of your life? The Scientific Method! As a scientist, I am exposed to the scientific method daily in my work, and I also use it regularly for optimizing the rest of my life. I used the method when testing response rates for email contacts when I was applying to grad school. I test the responses to stories I tell in class to my students and the jokes I tell at parties. I test what time of day I am most productive at writing this blog, and what time of day I should go to sleep. I test what facial expressions and body language get the most positive response when I meet new people. You too can perfect any part of life you choose with the scientific method!
To remind you, the steps of the scientific method are:
1. Ask a Question
2. Do Background Research
3. Construct a Hypothesis
4. Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
5. Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
6. Communicate Your Results
The main benefits of the scientific method lie in the construction of an appropriate experiment and collecting and analyzing data. One thing I have found over and over is that my expected results don’t happen, and that what I remembered about the data was inaccurate. Most people expect to be able to trust their intuition and memory as accurate. Psychology and the court system have proven this to not be the case. Luckily when you record things (a moleskin notebook and Evernote are my current favorite means of keeping records), you can trust the information that you have collected and be confident that any changes you make to enhance your life will be backed up with real observations.
To construct a good experiment you need to make the test as simple as possible. Pick a single variable, such as a single word used in an email subject line, or a single ingredient in your soup. Take a moment to envision how the entire experiment will run and what you will need to ensure there is no bias. How do you expect the data will confirm or deny your initial thoughts about the matter (hypothesis). Ask yourself if this test will truly answer your question.
The second important advantage comes when you keep track of and analyze your data. If your joke falls flat one way and not the other, or people reply to emails with a particular word in the subject line, make sure you record what happened. This avoids the pitfall of doing things the same way over and over because you subconsciously favor that way. If you are measuring something like sleep (How many hours do you need? When to go to bed?) which is rather subjective, create a measurable scale that you can use to keep the data (On a scale of 1-10, how rested do I feel? How sharp is my thinking?). When you have the data you want, make the change that will enhance your life. And don’t worry if you are still unsure of making a change: you can keep collecting information and tweaking things!
Leave a comment with one thing that you have tested in your life recently!