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Friday, 22 June 2012

self-experimentation



"Every day, wake up and see what you can experiment with. Foods, lifestyle, exercise, people you associate with and how they make you feel, methods of meditation and self-improvement, methods of feeling contentment when everything seems to falling apart around you. It’s all experiment...Cultivate and nourish the feeling. You are the scientist and explorer of the life around you". 

- James Altucher


James Altucher is a former hedge fund manager, who now spends his time as a blogger-writer. He has written numerous books, which are mostly available on Amazon for free or very cheaply. I have read all of them, and continue to read his blog daily, where he shares his theories on how to live a happy and successful life. If you're familiar with Altucher, and read much of his work, his habit of ‘self-plagiarism’ - or recycling of his own work - can become a little wearisome (purposely, I’m sure).
But while the message may be non too subtly hammered home through seemingly never-ending patterns of repeated paragraphs, stories, and links, they always make you think, even when you don’t quite believe in the message.  
Recently, he blogged on a topic that has become quite popular: self-experimentation. What, in scientific parlance, is known as single subject design, or subject n of 1.



I have been a big believer in running experiments on myself for years, and have tried numerous eating, sleeping, and training methods in an effort to satisfy my curiosity. I have even managed to convince others to do the same on occasion, and as a coach, I am always testing out a 'mini-hypothesis'. 

For example...
One thing I am constantly experimenting with is my eating habits. A decade ago, I began to play around with various forms of fasting. As usual, I jumped in at the deep-end, and I began - foolishly - with weekend fasts, where I would attempt to go 48 hours without eating a thing. This lasted a grand total of two weekends. Two very miserable weekends. So I tried a 36 hour fast - not eating from Wednesday at 9pm to Friday at 9am. This was much more successful. Although quite difficult in the beginning, within a few weeks, I actually began to enjoy it. I didn't find that I got hungry at all, and began to really appreciate my food more and more each week. Initially, I really looked forward to my Friday breakfast, ensured it was of the highest quality, and that I focused on the specific taste of each bite. Eventually, I found that this carried through a little further into the weekend, and then even into the beginning of the following week. By the time Wednesday came around again, though, it was back to business as usual - taking my food and the eating experience for granted, and rushing through meals that were not carefully prepared, or grabbing some food on the go from somewhere. The other problem was - after almost 10 months of fasting - I had lost over 30lbs, and was beginning to look a little unhealthy (probably not an issue for most, but my default is pretty skinny, so I have to actively eat enough and train enough to not look like an anorexic super-model). By not really adjusting my caloric intake during the rest of the week, I was reducing my weekly calorie count by 1/6th.
So I stopped - declared it a success, and vowed to thereafter try to do a better job of appreciating my food on a daily basis. 
And it worked...for about a year. 
And then it was back to rushing through my meals - barely tasting what I ate. I still ate well, mind you, and really enjoyed a lot of meals - but these were mainly at restaurants with friends, where the whole experience is different. What about meals at home? Well, these were pretty hum-drum affairs, that mostly involved another self-experiment: designing the world's greatest smoothie (which we called, courtesy of my buddy Dr. John Berardi, 'super-shakes'). So supershakes and eating out became the standard. Which was OK, actually. I came up with a ton of great shakes, got to know quite a few different restaurant owners, and eventually was able to parlay these relationships into some nice food discounts, some sponsorships for my athletes, and even some good friendships. 
It remained this way until sometime in 2007. It was about this time, when I first began to read some of the research on 'intermittent fasting'. Almost all of the scientific research was done on mice - and it was pretty encouraging - but there was also a group of folks around the globe beginning to experiment on themselves, and others. Guys like Ori Hofmekler (the Warrior Diet), Martin Berkhan (Leangains), Brad Pilon (Eat. Stop. Eat) were devising their own theories on fasting, and offering some excellent results.
So I got back in the game, and started back with my old 36 hour weekly; this time better controlling what I ate the remainder of the week, and combining it with a weekly 're-feed' or 'cheat day', which would involve pretty much eating whatever I wanted (most Sunday mornings involved spending 3 or 4 hours at the local breakfast joint, wolfing down a couple of omelets, half a dozen pancakes, a few Belgian waffles, half a pound of beef sausage, and a loaf of bread with jam). 
Together, the fast and the re-feed gave me a whole new appreciation for eating. I really began to enjoy my food now, and though I still wasn't cooking and eating at home much, I would never eat poorly sourced or prepared food, as the restaurants we went to were always of high quality. My default was a new deli-style restaurant/marketplace near my home called 'The Main Dish', where I got to know owner, Jason Zaran pretty well. Through our relationship, he began to sponsor a few of my athletes, and to this day sponsors a handful of local athletes, and has developed excellent relationships with numerous National teams and the Canadian Sport Centre, and a sport school.
After my move to the UK following the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver-Whistler, I have continued to experiment with various fasting protocols, as well as messing about with sleep timing. My training history is one long self-experiment, which I continue to enjoy. I believe because of all this, at almost 43 years of age, I'm the healthiest I've ever been, and my healthiest days are still ahead of me. I continue to find out more about myself. Throwing away the things that haven't worked. Keeping that which has. My life continues to improve, and I continue to enjoy it more. 
But I can do more. I have viewed my self-experimentation just from a health perspective - i.e. eating, sleeping, and training. Altucher, in his recent blog post, writes about applying it to all areas of your life. Others do the same. Popular blogger, turned multi-million selling author Tim Ferris writes mainly about 'hacking' various things in your life; in essence, experimenting with your life as a means to improve it. 
Altucher agrees, suggesting viewing your entire life as one long experiment. Relationships. Associations. Education. Major decisions. All experiments. Like a scientist, develop a hypothesis. Then test it. You think you can get by on 3 hours of sleep? Try it out for a month. Didn't work? Try something else. 
The benefits of such self-experimentation are many; including:
1. Satisfying your Curiosity
We are all curious beings. Here is our chance to satisfy it. Think that you would be happier if you wore a dickie bow to work every day? Maybe you've always wondered what it would be like to be a vegan. There's only one way to find out - try it!
2. Mindfulness
When you view your existence experimentally, it is much easier to remain 'in the present'; I wrote earlier about learning to actually enjoy the process of eating. By developing and testing a specific hypothesis, this forces you to do the same with whatever it is you're testing. Because of my eating experiments, I challenge anyone to enjoy the process of cooking and eating more than I do now.
3. Sharing
There is a certain satisfaction we all get when we share information with others - especially with those we care about. If we can then help them make improvements in their own lives - even better. But whether you share your results on Facebook, Twitter, a blog, or the old-fashioned 'actually talking to someone' way, the satisfaction is the same.
My personal favorite reason for experimentation is to improve my self and my life - the on-going journey of self-improvement - whether it involves being healthier. Becoming wiser. Doing less. Doing more. It is all an experiment; one which I look forward to applying to ALL of my life.  FOR all of my life.
It's the reason I started this blog. 
It's the reason I don't eat rice, bread, and pasta. 
It's the reason I don't do cardio. 
I think it's the reason I coach. 
To play the role of self-scientist. To find out what works. For me. Subject n1.

"Every artist experiments. With colors, ideas, styles, everything. Now all life is your canvas. Make it a beautiful work of art".

- James Altucher

1 comment:

  1. I challenge anyone to enjoy the process of cooking and eating more than I do now.brain training

    ReplyDelete