Think about our education system for a moment, and tell me if you agree with me. I contend that our system is designed to teach us to be followers - to be very good employees. Especially in high schools (I have taught in one for two years), we tend to treat teachers as dispensers of absolute knowledge - knowledge that cannot be challenged or debated.
It follows, then, that we as a people have become very good at using knowledge only in the context in which it was presented. For example, we were all taught the scientific method in biology and chemistry class as youngsters. How many people out there use it on a consistent basis in your daily lives? Scientists included! We tend to believe that what we have been taught about daily life (taking notes is how you learn, you need 8 hours of sleep a night to function, you should eat breakfast for top performance) is absolute fact, and we don't use the scientific method for anything but biology class (never, anymore).
This weeks goal: Learn how to use the scientific method in daily life to determine what makes us tick, what makes us happy, and ultimately what makes us into our highest selves.
Ready? Let's dive in.
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Essentially, this is where you are going to develop your ‘hypothesis’ – what are you going to test? I call this presearch because it is the research that you are doing pre-experiment. Seek to answer the following questions:
a. What is already proven? This can certainly be a starting place for us – after all, we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. Despite the fact that there is typically more than one right way of doing something, there are certainly WRONG ways of doing it. If we can eliminate the wrong ways of doing something, we save ourselves a lot of time. Example: processed, sugary foods lead to fat-gain and/or illness.
b. What is controversial in the field? This is the stuff that is tricky to find because some sources will discuss topics as if they are proven when they are not. Often times forums will have raging debates around these issues. Example: A high-fat ‘paleo-template’ diet is the best recipe for fat loss, lipid panels, and hormonal health.
c. What quantification tools are available to you? What are the sources of error within that tool? Example: Cron-O-Meter is free online and can track food intake fairly accurately. Skin calipers are available for cheaply testing body fat, but are fairly inaccurate. Blood testing is available through WellnessFX.
d. How many variables do you want to test? Example: I want to test the effect of a high-carbohydrate (50% of total calories) plant-based whole foods diet on fat loss, lipid panels, and hormonal health against a low-carbohydrate (10% of total calories) paleo diet.
Quantification is extremely important in running a successful self-experiment. There are a number of ways to quantify your results ranging from ultra-simple and cheap to complex and expensive. Your method of choice will depend on your experiment. In my experience, it is best to develop a habit for quantifying your results.
- Assign a number 1 – 10 for how well you feel at the same time every day.
- Track your daily food intake with Cron-O-Meter
- Track the number of times that you cheat on a ‘diet’ in a month
- Measure your body fat percentage every week (using the same technique each time). See Tim Ferriss’s discussion of methods in the 4 Hour Body.
- Measure your fingernail growth weekly.
- Weekly workout test – how well are you able to perform in a 200 meter sprint every Monday?
- Design a Quantified Mind experiment to test your cognitive function.
- Blood testing at home via glucometer
- Blood testing through a doctor’s office or WellnessFX for a comprehensive baseline panel or a hormone panel
- Use a Zeo to quantify your sleep.
3. Dealing with variables – Repetitions
Attempt to minimize the confounding variables – if you want to see how a yam affects blood glucose levels, eat only a yam before testing. If you want to see how a particular workout protocol affects speed of strength gains, don’t also change your diet when you test the next protocol!
With that said, it is literally impossible to control your experiment for every variable present. Perhaps you had a bad night of sleep that caused your weekly workout test to go poorly one week. This is where repetitions come into play. In order to account for the variables involved for which you cannot control, run a number of repetitions for each idea you are testing. Remember that this is just for you – so don’t get too scientific with it. Choose a number of repetitions that gives every variable you are testing a fair chance (remember that your own biases going into an experiment can influence your results if you don’t give each variable your all), and that you know you can complete. The more repetitions the better, but if you choose too many (whether because of financial constraints or time constraints) you will never complete your experiment. Pick the happy medium.
What type of a time frame are you interested in? If you are testing the effects of a yam on blood glucose levels, you may want to test every half hour for 3 hours afterwards. If you are testing the effect of a diet on hormonal health, you may want to wait at least 3 months to re-test. Pick a time frame that is appropriate and that you can handle.
* A note on cognitive biases:
Before you ever begin an experiment, ask yourself what your motives are for running the experiment. Do you truly want to know what works best for you, or do you want to prove to yourself that what you are doing is right? If the answer is the latter, I suggest not running the experiment. It is far too easy to let your own pre-conceived notions (aka cognitive biases) get in the way of good science. If you want to do your experiment the right way, you must fully commit to all of your chosen variables in order to give them a fair chance. The fact of the matter is that there are ways to manipulate data so that it says anything – I suggest reading ‘Spotting Bad Science 101’ in the 4 Hour Body for proof.
So what are you waiting for? Go out there and answer some questions!
I will make sure to quantify the number of times I poop myself with excitement from seeing this liked and tweeted. Also feel free to follow me on Twitter!
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