2018: A year of experiments

New Year’s resolution time is at hand. But not for me; at least not in a traditional sense. I was inspired by David Cain’s experiments. In short, he conducts monthly experiments in self-improvement.

The idea of an experiment is appealing in ways that a resolution is not. A resolution presumes an outcome and relies only on the long application of will to see it through. An experiment on the other hand, makes only a conjecture about the outcome and can be conducted for a shorter period.

Here’s my list of experiments for 2018, month by month. Some of these experiments are only about pushing the limits of my own personal projects. For example, I have an obsessional interest in become more fluent in Russian; so two of the experiments are very specific to that. Otherwise, they are commonsense ideas that apply to all of us. Some are connected by a theme of reducing the influence of technology on my life.

January

No news for one month - Reading the news every day is like watching an accident that never stops happening. The U.S. is a disaster. The U.S. president and his ilk are going to say and do outrageous things. Apart from voting, there’s little I can do. So I say, skip it. I tend toward the negative; so I’m curious about how kicking the news habit will affect my mood.

February

Technology sabbath - Since we are a secular family, the idea of sabbath is more like “time away from the mundane.” The intent here is to take a break one day each week away from technology (computer, cell phone, iPad, etc.) This experiment extends the last month’s efforts to break the cell phone habit.

March

No phone day - One day a week, I will power-down my cell phone and put it in the drawer. Since we don’t have a landline, that effectively means others will have find different ways of contacting me. Or wait. I’m curious about whether having a single day a week away from the smartphone is enough to break the habit of picking it up and looking at it during the week.

April

Use reading as sole Anki input - I use a spaced-repetition application called Anki to memorize and practice Russian vocabulary and grammar. On an ordinary day I can add about 10 words a day while reviewing all of the old material. This experiment is about changing the source of my input to find out whether it is sustainable and whether it affects my long-term retention rates. Typically, I work from a frequency list; but for this month I’ll shift to using reading as the source.

May

Pronounce 10,000 sentences - This month, I’ll log 10,000 sentence utterances. Swedish neuroscientist and linguist Olle Kjellin, a champion of patterned repetition of canonical L2 sentences, recommends this way of practicing pronunciation and prosody.

June

No complaining - This is one of David Cain’s experiments. Having a negative bias myself, I’m curious about how forcing myself to reframe events and people’s actions in a neutral or positive way will affect me.

July

Social media once a day (or less) - The degree to which social media frames our perspectives in algorithmic and involuntary ways is frightening. Nonetheless, it has the ability to connect people in ways that can be interesting and touching. This is about trying to slow down the input and make it manageable rather than a burden.

August

No alcohol or caffeine - Simple. No dependencies.

September

Meditate for 10 or more minutes daily - The benefits of meditation are well-known.

October

Declutter daily - Spend 15 minutes a day devoted to organizing and decluttering to observe how it affects my mood, perceptions of order and how it fits into the day’s workload.

November

Aerobic exercise daily - Not too many years ago, I was a committed road cyclist. I’ve ridden up almost all of the major mountain passes in Colorado. Now I’m a couch potato. Time to get moving.

December

Lift weights daily - We lose muscle mass as we age. This experiment is about trying to blunt the effects of age on this reduction by lifting a modest amount of weight every day.

Wish me luck. I’ll need it.