How Self-Experimentation Helps You Unlock Your Creative Potential
Dr. Seth Roberts is a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. While learning to perform experiments as a graduate student, he began to experiment on himself. Roberts’s first self-experiment involved his acne. A dermatologist had prescribed tetracycline, so Roberts simply counted the number of pimples he had on his face with varying doses of tetracycline. The result? The tetracycline made no difference on the number of pimples he had!
Roberts had stumbled across a finding that would take medicine another decade to discover—that seemingly powerful tetracycline, which has unsafe side effects, doesn’t necessarily work on acne. On the other hand, benzoyl peroxide cream did work, contrary to what Roberts had originally thought. As Roberts noted, “From my acne research I learned that self-experimentation can be used by nonexperts to (a) see if the experts are right and (b) learn something they don’t know. I hadn’t realized such things were possible.” Over the years, Roberts has used his self-experimentation efforts to study his mood, control his weight, and to see the effects of omega-3 on how well his brain functioned.
Overall, Roberts has found that self-experimentation is extremely helpful in testing ideas as well as in generating and developing new hypotheses. As he notes: “By its nature, self-experimentation involves making sharp changes in your life: you don’t do X for several weeks, then you do X for several weeks. This, plus the fact that we monitor ourselves in a hundred ways, makes it easy for self-experimentation to reveal unexpected side effects. . . . Moreover, daily measurements of acne, sleep, or anything else, supply a baseline that makes it even easier to see unexpected changes.”
Your own self-experimentation, at least to begin with, should be on procrastination. Keep notes on when you don’t complete what you had intended to complete, what the cues are, and your zombie mode habitual reaction to procrastination cues. By logging your reaction, you can apply the subtle pressure you need to change your response to your procrastination cues and gradually improve your working habits. In his excellent book The Now Habit, author Neil Fiore suggests keeping a detailed daily schedule of your activities for a week or two to get a handle on where your problem areas are for procrastination. There are many different ways to monitor your behavior. The most important idea here is that keeping a written history over several weeks appears to be critical in helping you make changes. Also, different people function better in certain environments—some need a busy coffee shop, while others need a quiet library. You need to figure out what’s best for you.