The Power of Experimentation

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Much of what I write, speak, and teach about involves focus: focusing on getting on your most important tasks, projects, and goals completed as effectively and efficiently as you can.

But it’s also true that “all work and no play makes for a dull person.” That’s why it’s helpful to spend a portion of your time far less focused. I’m talking about leaving room in your work and your life for some idle, playful, curious, or even random experimentation.

This experimentation can take several different directions, each of which can add significant value. For example:

Experiment with Activities

Once you’ve made a solid effort to put your time and energy toward your most important, most valuable tasks, projects, and goals, there’s no harm – and potentially some meaningful benefit – in doing something entirely different.

In fact, I have personally found a great deal of value in leaving a few hours per week completely open and unscheduled. When this time slot comes around, I feel free to do whatever I want. Of course, I can choose to do something I already know I enjoy. But I can also experiment with something I’ve never done before.

Over many years of freeing myself to try new activities, I have stumbled across a variety of people, places, and things that – to my own surprise – I enjoyed. My experimentation has yielded new skills, experiences, friends and acquaintances.

Just as important, these experiments with new activities have helped me stay fresh and excited when I go back to focusing on my primary activities.

Experiment with Ideas

I happen to be a curious person, so I have long been willing to look into and learn something new about almost any interesting facts, perspectives, and ideas that happen to cross my path. Over the years, however, I have changed my strategy.

Now I intentionally seek out more details about some of the newer ideas emerging on the internet, in business, in technology, and in society. I find myself actively exploring various references I encounter in conversations, in videos, or in materials I read.

I also take a look at interesting information I encounter en route to what I am actively seeking. For example, when looking up a reference to stoicism, which I did recently, I took a minute to explore what looked interesting about mental health. In certain cases, I may even spend a few minutes exploring ideas that initially seem silly, pointless, or even wrong.

Naturally, I try not to spend a lot of time on dead-ends or worthless information. But I’m OK with taking a moment to find out what “flat-earthers” (for example) think, and why they think it, because I believe this kind of open-minded exploration exercises my brain and my reasoning power, and thereby helps me stay broadly sharp and aware.

Experiment with People

Although many of us believe that other people – rarely ourselves – fall into definite categories or types, it’s more accurate to recognize that every individual possesses one or more unique characteristics. This creates virtually unlimited opportunities for us to look into many different motivations, feelings, and information that can drive human behavior.

The plain truth is that each person you meet presents a learning opportunity. They have the potential to share with you experiences, attitudes, personality traits, and choices that can prove both interesting and informative. By looking, listening, and learning about lots of different people – both their positives and negatives – you can steadily find ways to improve yourself and your approach to your own work and your life.

In short, opening yourself to new activities, ideas, and people provides a never-ending series of opportunities to learn about how to live a better life, about who you really are, and about how to apply what you learn toward maximizing your personal satisfaction, productivity, and success.  

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