Put your feet up. Have one more beer. Or another hour in bed.

Settle deep deep down into that cosy routine of yours.

Feel good right?

There's a problem though.

Modern life can be so easy that we forget the value of things not being to our liking: 

When you run from discomfort all the time, you are restricted to a small zone of comfort, and so you miss out on most of life. On most of the best things in life, in fact.
— Leo Babauta

Some of the biggest gains I've made since quitting my job have come from pushing myself into corners, into doing things I'm not sure I can handle, or just plain don't want to do. 

Here's a complete breakdown of 6 of my experiments, which ranged in length from 30 seconds to 30 days:

Experiment 1: Do something unusual in a public place

When my life fell apart I was reading a lot of books like The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. If you can see past the link-bait title, it's got some great suggestions for shaking up your life a little.

As you work through each chapter, Tim suggests small experiments to run, all of which are designed to get you out of your comfort zone. 

Because I was so down and had taken time off work to deal with my depression, I thought I’d give it a shot.

I went to the busiest, most public place in London I could think of, Trafalgar Square.

Then I laid down on the ground for thirty seconds, staring up at the sky with my arms by my side.

Boy did that time go s-l-o-w-l-y.

Then I stood up and walked off.

What happened?
Well, no-one cared. A few tourists might have gotten an interesting holiday snap, but that was it.

Would I do it again?
Sure I would. I got a big kick out of it, and felt geed up to try more experiments. 

Experiment 2: Ask strangers if I can take their photo

Inspired by the story of street photographer Bill Cunningham, I decided to start taking photos of interesting people riding bikes, which became the basis of a blog.

What made it uncomfortable?
I've struggled with shyness for most of my life. (If I had a penny for every school report which read 'James needs to contribute more in class', I wouldn't need to work). I don't like making telephone calls when other people can hear me. So yes, approaching people I don't know in the street was scary at first.

What happened?
9 out of 10 people I asked to take photos of said yes. I started to enjoy the interactions. Sometimes I would even spot an interesting person in the distance and chase them down on my bike to see if I could get them to stop. To the old James this would have been unthinkable. To the new James it became (almost) normal.

Would I do it again?
Yes. It still gives me a buzz, although I've somewhat fallen out of the habit.

Experiment 3: Skip Christmas

Sickened by the rise and rise of the moronic Xmas jumper, the need to "just get along, it's Christmas", and the unending barrage of commercial pressure to consume which starts mid-November, I decided to give Christmas a miss last year.

What made it uncomfortable?
Social pressures not to 'be a Scrooge'. Hard feeling from my family. Being alone knowing that most people weren't.

What happened?
After breaking the news as gently as possible (and asking not to be given presents) I spent Christmas Eve with my family. Then on Christmas Day I spent a blissful day by myself, cycling around deserted streets and cooking my favourite food (Chinese).

Would I do it again?
Yes. But preferably with other people.

Experiment 4: Stopped putting ‘poo in my hair

On the road with two friends for our Tour de Cycle Hire this summer, I was travelling light and had only a toothbrush, toothpaste and moisturiser with me. 

I'd been counting on someone else having shampoo I could borrow, but it turned out that no-one did. And one of my friends told me that he didn't even use it. At all. Ever.

I was a bit surprised by that. Washing your hair with shampoo is almost as much of a reflex action as brushing your teeth in morning. But when I stopped to think about it, animals seem to manage perfectly well without it. (And modern shampoo as we know it was only invented in the 1930s).

What made it uncomfortable?
It was physically uncomfortable at first, as I could feel my hair changing in texture. Mentally too, as I imagined what people were thinking about my greasy locks. 'Imagined' being the key word in that sentence of course. 

What happened?
My hair got pretty greasy for the first week or so of not shampooing. I was worried that people would comment on this, but no-one said a thing. As the natural oils in my hair returned to their normal levels (it's believed that shampooing causes them to be manufactured) my hair became lighter and thicker. So much so that one of my friends thought I'd started shampooing again. 

Would I do it again?
Still am!

Experiment 5: Write 1,000 words a day for a month

Last year I became increasingly frustrated by my meagre writing output... probably because stories of bloggers producing 1,000 words on a daily basis were rubbing salt in the wound.

I reasoned that if other people were doing it, I could to. So I set myself a challenge to write 1,000 words a day for 30 days straight, with a financial penalty to be paid every time I fell short of my quota.

What made it uncomfortable?
Fear of failure. Lack of time: I had to get up an hour or two early to write before work.

What happened?
I wrote over 30,000 words, a similar amount as you'd need for a short novel. People seemed to like my writing. As

Would I do it again?
Yes. Making writing a daily habit has been hugely life-enhancing for me. Although producing 1,000 words every day is unlikely whilst I'm still holding down other jobs. 

Experiment 6: Taken a holiday without electronic devices

Once a year I head up to a remote corner of Scotland with friends for a hiking trip. We'll camp wild whenever possible, carrying our food with us, and sampling a different single malt whisky each night.

(I'm not much of a whisky drinker, but when you've been walking hard all day and are huddled up in a tent, it's just about the perfect way to ease your aching limbs). 

This year our destination was Rum, a small island just south of Skye, which we planned to walk around over a long weekend. Given that we needed to pack light, and phone reception would be close to non-existent, it seemed like a good chance to ditch my mobile phone and camera. 

What made it uncomfortable?
My addiction to checking emails and Twitter. The urge to take photos for fear of forgetting things. The possibility of an emergency, what if I needed to call someone, or receive a message?

What happened?
I survived to tell the tale, and felt much more connected to the earth, the stars, myself. If that doesn't sound too hippyish. I also realised that you remember things better when you're not relying on a camera to do the job for you. (And my friends had phones with them, in case something did go wrong).

Would I do it again?
Absolutely. I've also been leaving my phone at home on weekends if I can, or switching it off completely for a day or two during the week.

How to run your own experiments

I think the key to a successful life hack experiment is to devise something that pushes you into unknown territory , without being so unrealistic that you never get started.

What are you going to try first?


Posted to life, popular in 2014.

Join 2,286 readers receiving my thoughts on life, design and making stuff happen each Sunday