All life is an experiment cover: Einstein beakers illusio

The Self-Experimentation Guide

I started this blog with a vague premise that there was something valuable about trying weird things, and taking a few steps off the beaten path. I didn’t have any actual justification for this at the time, so I borrowed an impressive-sounding quote from some famous sage or other: ‘All life is an experiment.’

Emerson’s non-conformity schtick was enough to get me started. But now I have a much better model for why this is important, and how to make experiments.

Over the last five years, I’ve done something like 100 lifestyle experiments great and small.

Generally these have ended well; occasionally not so well. When I say I have a ‘much better’ model of how to run experiments, that’s a relative term. I have at least managed to avoid doing really dumb shit, although this was initially as much by accident as by design.

Here’s my rough guide to self-experimentation:

premature exploitation: popping the bubbles a little too soon

The Embarrassing Problem of Premature Exploitation

Babies love putting things in their mouths: dirt, insects, bits of grass, their own poo. They have no sense of fear or self-preservation, and come up with endlessly creative ways to place themselves in mortal peril. Once they learn to talk, their constant experimentation with the world transcends the physical to the philosophical. They want to know everything. They are bottomless pits of curiosity, with very little in the way of attention span or self-discipline. Your typical two-year-old can only concentrate on a task for six minutes at a time. Young children are not self-aware enough to feel much in the way of shame, or embarrassment. Nothing is off-limits. In a word, very young people spend almost all of their time exploring.

The elderly are set in their ways. The only foreign objects they put in their mouths are dentures and hard caramels; occasionally followed by a fork to extricate said caramels from said dentures. They tend to have stable routines, rituals, hobbies, and social circles. They rarely try new things or experiment with new identities. They’ve lived long enough to know what they’re about, and they intend to wring out every ounce of enjoyment before the curtains come down. In a word, very old people spend almost all of their time exploiting.

The ‘explore-exploit’ constraint is one of the most useful ideas I’ve come across…

Better to Reign in Hell Than Serve in Heaven

‘Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven’ is the fervently-held belief of many freelancers, entrepreneurs and digital nomads I’ve met over the last few years. They’ve all walked away from overbearing bosses, steady paychecks, and nine-to-five office hours to build their own dominions.

There are no rules in hell! You can set your own hours and fire annoying clients and be your own boss and blow off work to go drinking at 11 in the morning. But liberty always comes at a price…

eating the same food every day

Same Salad, Different Day

Probably you’ve read articles about how Obama wears the same suit every day, or Mark Zuckerberg has seventeen identical grey t-shirts in his wardrobe. The idea is to deliberately eliminate inconsequential daily choices and free up mental bandwidth for more important decisions; like ordering extrajudicial killings or strip-mining billions of people’s private information to sell to advertisers.

I say this lifehack is is much more useful and wide-reaching than streamlining your wardrobe: you can automate the important things, too.

If you wear the same outfit over and over, nothing bad happens. Maybe you don’t get invited to Fashion Week. But what if you eat the same food every day?

office hours cover hammock

Office Hours

When I quit my job to go traveling in 2016, I had a vague romantic notion of freelancing on the road. See ya later, corporate drones! No more sterile office cubicles for this guy! Instead, I’d tap away on my laptop while I sipped mimosas at the beach, or dash out genius missives from a hammock in the middle of the jungle.

As it turns out, hammocks are not ergonomically designed workspaces, direct sunlight on a laptop screen causes a hellish glare, and sand and electronics don’t play nicely together.

Constraints that liberate cover image

Constraints That Liberate

“Every morning I roll out of bed and ask myself, what should I do today?”

These were the very first words I wrote on Deep Dish, 2.5 years ago. I’m as surprised as anyone to find that I still have that same untrammelled freedom today. If I had to try and pin down the central theme of this blog, it’s exactly that: opening up your options. I’m not going to stop writing about that stuff any time soon.But I do want to introduce a new through-line.

Something I’ve learned the hard way during this extended sabbatical is that you can absolutely have too much of a good thing. Total unconstrained freedom is – well – kind of freaky, actually…