Experiment (noun): a test, trial, or tentative procedure; an act or operation for the purpose of discovering something unknown or of testing a principle, supposition, etc…
Hypothesis: Focusing on the pursuit of excellence, through a process of continuous gradual improvement, will enable an individual to become their best self, tap fully into their potential, lead to higher levels of success, and transform their life from ordinary to extraordinary.
The Excellence Experiment is about putting this hypothesis to the test. For the next year, I will be intentionally, deliberately, pursuing excellence in specific areas of my life and recording (and sharing) what happens, good or bad.
I’m not entirely sure what will happen, and that’s why this is an experiment. I would assume that the more a person improves and moves closer to excellence, the more success they will experience. Success can be whatever you define it to be: extraordinary relationships, a professional or business goal, financial abundance, adventure, spiritual insight, peace and joy, impact and legacy, etc… I have my own personal vision for what I would like my life to look like, and what extraordinary means to me. But everyone has a different vision, and my theory is that pursuing excellence is a surefire way to reach your personal definition of extraordinary, whatever it may be.
I also believe that focusing on excellence, rather than results, is the most certain way to produce the desired success, and further, this success will be sustainable when built on a foundation of excellence. As Deepak Chopra says, success is the by-product of excellence. The reverse, focusing on results, does not necessarily lead to excellence or to sustainable success (for examples, look no further than companies that focus on meeting short-term revenue goals and wind up filing for bankruptcy, or one-hit wonders who achieve some brilliant milestone and then flame out, never to be heard from again).
But there is always a risk with experiments, and things don’t always turn out the way we want or expect (my graduate school experience proved that hypothesis many times over!). That’s why the experiment must be done.
So, I’m turning myself into a human guinea pig. I don’t know for sure what will come out of my experiment with excellence. Maybe nothing. Maybe the life I’ve always dreamed of living. Maybe something in between.
Guidelines for the Experiment
1. My focus will be on developing the underlying habits of excellence. While I have a definite vision for the results I would like to achieve in each of the areas I’m going to focus on that gives me direction, this isn’t about setting SMART goals and pushing directly for milestones. This is about becoming the best that I can be in a given area, using people who have achieved the success I want as role models, discovering the habits and skills that enabled them to become the best in that area, and then developing those habits and skills myself. It’s about focusing on the process, building the foundation, and testing the theory that the results will follow naturally. This is also to test the theory that excellence is based on habits that anyone can replicate, if they’re willing to put in the effort.
2. My focus will be on continuous improvement, not speed. My goal is to make sure the new habits and skills stick, and sometimes that takes time. A few mistakes I made when I was designing the Excellence Experiment last year were trying to make too many change at one time, and only giving myself about 21 days to establish each new habit (that was before I learned it takes an average of 66 days to change a habit). What I discovered was that the handful of habit changes that really stuck had a lot more impact than the multitudes that never stuck. So, I’m not sure how many new habits I’ll be able to develop this year, but the quality and permanence of the changes is more important to me than quantity.
3. Tools. I’ll primarily be relying on kaizen and microresolutions to make changes specific to me and my overall vision or goal, but I’ll also be exploring general principles that contribute to excellence, like focus, commitment, and mindset, and testing out expert-recommended ways to integrate these into my life.
My Experimental Plan
I’ve decided to focus on three specific areas of my life where I would really like to see some changes, and which I think will have the biggest impact on my life overall (at least at this point). If the experiment is successful, I can always repeat it in other areas of my life in future years.
My big, overarching goal is to be successful as a writer/speaker/coach, and to become an expert on excellence. While there are a plethora of things I need to work on and learn for each of these roles, the first thing that jumped out at me (probably because I now have a blog that needs to be updated regularly) was writing consistently. When I read interviews with writers I admire, the most common habit they emphasize is writing daily. Across the board, they all say this is the most important factor that separates successful/published/excellent writers from the wannabes.
To be honest, writing is not something I’ve been doing regularly. I talk about it regularly. But talking isn’t the same as actually doing it. Talking doesn’t produce words on the page. As mega-successful (and prolific) author Nora Roberts says, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.” So for my first step towards excellence as a writer, establishing a daily writing habit seems a logical place to start.
Related to this is reading. Success guru Brian Tracy emphasizes the value of continual learning, claiming that “One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.” Hmmm. That seems a pretty important step towards excellence too. And on a practical level, if I don’t read something new continually, I’ll run out of things to blog about pretty quickly.
So while purists might argue that this is actually two habits, they are so closely interrelated that I feel like I have to tackle them together. So, I’m rolling them into one for my first microresolution: to develop the habit of spending at least 2 hours a day, 6 days a week, writing and reading on excellence-related topics (at least 1 hour each).
Excellence in Self-Care
Let’s face it, the way we look and feel has a huge impact on how we approach and experience life. It affects our energy level and what we can get done, our self-confidence, the way other people perceive us, and even the opportunities we do or don’t get.
I wasn’t sure what exactly to call this category, but how we look and feel seems to rest on how well we take care of ourselves, so for the sake of a title I’m calling it self-care. It’s kind of a catch-all for fitness, healthy eating, wardrobe and image, home environment, keeping up with life stuff, etc…
Most importantly, it’s an area that aside from exercise, I’ve pretty much neglected for most of my life, and that’s had a negative impact in a lot of ways. For example, even though I envy women who look polished and pulled together wherever they go, and I’ve talked about revamping my wardrobe and image for years, I’ve never put any consistent effort into it. As a result, most days I feel like a cover model for “Modern Frump”, I’ve put off getting professional photos taken for my website (to say nothing of doing videos), and I feel incredibly self-conscious in social and professional networking situations.
So, self-care seems to be a perfect target to test the principles of excellence and how far continuous improvement can take a person. It’s certainly an area with a lot of potential for improvement for me. My biggest challenge is figuring out where to start.
I already have a well-established exercise routine, but I’ve been at a plateau for the past 6 months. I work out 5 or 6 days a week, but I’m still struggling with losing the last few pounds, and there are still some extra unwanted jiggles. So, I’m going to use a kaizen approach for this area, gradually increasing the intensity or distance of my runs, and increasing the weight in my strength training class. Tiny painless steps upward, but over 52 weeks they should add up. I’ve also set a goal to work up to 50 push-ups and 10 minutes of ab exercises daily. I’m starting at 3 push-ups and 1 minute of abs. I’ll increase this by 1 push-up a week and 1 minute of abs each month – ridiculously easy – even my super-sensitive amygdala can’t see anything to fight or flee with steps that tiny.
As for the image and wardrobe part, I’m going to begin to tackle this with a microresolution. Like I said, one of the main reasons this area of my life is a mess is because I rarely dedicate any time to it. I had a huge aha moment when I realized that maybe the polished, pulled-together women I envied looked that way because they invested time and energy on their image. What a concept. I’d spent my life believing they were born with some special fashion gene that I was missing, and I was doomed until they come out with designer Garanimals for adults. But maybe it isn’t a gene at all – maybe shopping and mani/pedis and reading fashion magazines are – wait for it – habits! And maybe the most fundamental habit is that they create and protect the time for these activities.
So, my first microresolution in this area is: dedicate one afternoon each weekend to shopping, learning about fashion and style, doing my nails, and girly stuff like that.
Doing Life Excellently
This is another catch-all category, but basically it’s about building habits and doing things that people with extraordinary lives claim will enrich and enhance life in general.
Gurus say that everything we want in life that we don’t already have lies outside our comfort zone. The only way to get those things is to push back the boundaries and expand our zone. So, my first microresolution in this category is: do something every day outside my comfort zone.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily have to be something big and scary and death-defying – you’re not going to hear about me going skydiving or swimming with sharks on a daily basis (in fact it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear about me throwing myself out of a perfectly good airplane… but never say never… if I ever get on the Amazing Race and have to do it, I will…).
But for the purpose of this microresolution, outside my comfort zone can be anything that makes me uncomfortable or that is outside of my normal routine: going to new networking groups, trying new classes at the gym, having tough conversations, talking to people who intimidate me, going new places by myself, learning some kind of new technology, and maybe even some rock-climbing or ziplining every now and then for some real boundary breaking.
So that’s the Excellence Experiment in a nutshell. I started officially on January 1, 2018, and it will run through December 31, 2018. I’ll be posting regular updates on my progress, and what I’m learning and noticing along the way. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to join me in an experiment of your own!