Experiments vs. Challenges

I read a little something about experiments versus challenges in Joshua Becker‘s The More of Less and I really like what he had to say.

I’ve tried a few minimalist challenges in my day. (You can read about some of them here.) And although I definitely learned from them, I find it very hard to stick to the strict guidelines of such challenges in my everyday life, especially for the long term.

Challenges provide a definite end-point . When we have an end-point in sight we can just stop — decluttering, eating more or less of something, shopping less, etc — without the challenge leaving a lasting affect. Not always, but that end-point is enticing. And then it’s harder for our brains to imagine a way in which we can continue those goals for the rest of our lives.

Challenges almost act like fad diets instead of a well-balanced and curated lifestyle.

Gretchen Rubin discusses this topic at length in her latest book about habits, Better Than Before. It’s hard to form a sustainable habit from a short-term goal. Harder than if you go into something with a more open mind — mentally ready to adjust and overcome obstacles — and no plans of stopping. Rather, with plans to keep going and going, always making yourself a little bit better.

That’s why I like how Joshua Becker talked about experimenting. Experiments are a little more flexible, adaptable, and forgiving. If you are experimenting with buying less, but you discover you need a new shirt, you can buy it. It’s part of the experiment, rather than what makes you fail a challenge.

Everyone is different, though, obvs. Some people really respond well to challenges. Competitive people perhaps? But I respond well to fun experiences and I find that experiments are more open to keeping the joy alive rather than focusing on barreling to the finish line.

Speaking of how everyone is different… I recently discovered something new about myself. I’ve found I’m a bit more successful when I don’t tell people that I’m trying something new, like an experiment or goal. Gretchen Rubin talked about that in Better Than Before, as well. I can’t definitively figure out which of her Four Tendencies I really lean towards, but surprisingly I’m more of an Upholder when it comes to things like trying to floss every day.

Keeping it to myself went against a lot I read (before I read Better Than Before, of course). I’ve often heard that telling others about your goals keeps you accountable and more likely to succeed. Except, of course, if your personality tends to rebel or resist others’ expectations. What a AHA! moment. Although, as with everyone being different, sometimes I act differently in different situations… So confusing.

But that’s why I like a little wiggle room. Put out your feelers. Test the waters. Grow as you go. Take a break from the competition and try experimenting a little.

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