Hard-cover notebooks

The other day I bought three hard-cover notebooks. I was thinking back to my 3rd year chemistry research project. I worked with a researcher from the ANU research school of chemistry for a semester. The contents of the project, although interesting, were not the main thing I took away from the experience. What I was left with was a taste of how to apply the scientific method.

When we were working, we would plan an experiment, write out the plan for it (in our hard-cover notebooks) then conduct it right away and analyse the results. From there we could pick a new experiment to try and progress the project, gradually peeling back the walls of our ignorance. I’d read about the scientific method before, but actually doing it was revolutionary to me, since up until that point the only experiments that I’d done were those planned and pre-tested by my teachers. Getting involved and actually investigating something was a whole new ball game.

Back to the hard-cover notebooks. I’ve been struggling for the past year with the challenge of achieving steady, stable, persistent progress. I’d read about something or come up with an idea for a project, and I’d be really excited about it. That would last for an hour, a day, or a week, then the enthusiasm would fade and something else would grab my attention. I’ve been aware of this problem for years since I’ve always had a pattern of short-lived passionate interests, but now I think I’m beginning to discover a solution.

So back to the notebooks. The first has become my lab book, but instead of chemistry experiments I’m using it to conduct life experiments. When I have an idea I want to test, I write up an experiment to test it. So far I’ve used it for experiments on goal achievement, responding to emotions and connecting with people. I structure it like a science experiment with an aim, method, hypothesis, observations and results. This is a little bit like a 30 day trial, except I’m free to set whatever time frame I think will be appropriate. Selecting a short time frame is far more motivating, since it can take a lot of preparation and commitment to do a 30 day trial. By doing experiments and recording the results, I can learn from my successes and failures. It’s also helping me to loosen up a bit when things go wrong. If my life goes a little bit crazy, it’s not a disaster, it’s just an interesting result to observe (if not one that I intended to create).

What about the other notebooks? I turned one of them into a journal when I realised I needed somewhere to put down my thoughts that glue the experiments together. I also realised that I prefer journaling on paper rather than on computer. On computer I find it too easy to treat my writing as something that will be thrown away, but on paper it’s more tangible, I can’t erase it once it’s written (I’m writing in pen) and I’m much more likely to read back over what I’ve written. I think that’s just a psychological thing, but it works for me.

So there you have it, a simple method to experiment with life a bit and see what you can make happen. I’m certainly keen to see where it will lead over the next few months. I’ll leave you with a quote from Hans Reiser that I find to be a great expression of the spirit of science:

“I am not a genius, I am just never satisfied and very very persistent. I approach science like a blind man with a stick who is determined to fully understand what is going on. The difference between me and my competition is that I poke more than they do. I observe, find something to be unsatisfied with, try something to fix it, most of the time it fails and I try again.”

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