This is a post about self-experimentation–in diet, sleep, pain, and mindset. Self-experimentation is one of my favorite things in the world.
If you are perfectly happy and perfectly healthy, there is no need to self-experiment. Otherwise, read on…
Self-experimentation in diet
Being an avid self-experimenter myself, I often encounter people who are strangers to the concept, or even mock it. Stupidly enough, the thing many people care about most is what you name your diet. My first reaction was to say “It’s not a diet you dummy! This is just what humans eat!” My second reaction was to be more positive and vague: “I eat a whole foods diet.” But that might imply that I only shop at Whole Foods. How about an “Unprocessed Foods” diet? Well, that’s a slippery slope. Chopping up a carrot is technically processing it, as is cooking. I certainly wasn’t going to say “I’m paleo“, at risk of sounding like a douchebag. Conclusion: I just won’t say anything at all, and instead will internally bask in the glory of having a superior diet (joke).
Nowadays, I’m cooking up a new response to the haters. I might say something like “I eat foods that humans eat, instead of food that food scientists in labs manufacture.” This is, on face, a terrible argument. Not many people solely eat artificial foods. But the idea of eating normal human foods HAS TO BE less crazy than the idea of, even occasionally, eating beaver anal glands (found in some artificial raspberry flavorings). This is a recurrent theme–what seems ludicrous is often much less ludicrous than what seems normal.
Self experimentation in sleep
Over the years, I’ve tried a few sleep-related experiments. I bought a sleep tracking watch in 2002, and tracked my sleep patterns for a few months to see how often I woke up for brief periods (which ended up being quite a bit!). A couple years later, I made a failed attempt at lucid dreaming. My very first sleep experiment was in college, around 1999. Being a night-owl who was (is?) addicted to the internet, I ended up reversing my sleep cycle accidentally, and found myself sleeping in two shifts each day. The “biphasic” sleeping schedule is actually somewhat natural, and has been experimented with by some famous online experimenters.
In the past couple years, I’ve tried to reduce the amount of blue light I’m exposed to at night using a screen-darkening program, blue-light blocking glasses, and blue-light blocking lightbulbs. It’s been a moderate success. So what happens when I’m talking to a friend and they bring up their sleep issues? Tough one! If they seem at all open-minded and interested in hearing me ramble, I’ll very gently bring up something. Otherwise, just nod and agree. Nod and agree. Keep doing it over time, and it won’t feel weird anymore.
Self-experimentation in pain
I have had a doosey of a time with pain management doctors. And by “doosey”, I really mean “nightmare”. One doctor prescribed me muscle relaxants when I was in dire need of a refill for real pain meds, for specific joint (not muscle) pain. I mentioned platelet-rich plasma injections to one surgeon who then talked to me like I was crazy. This was especially confusing because there is much peer-reviewed literature for this treatment, of which I brought him three articles explicitly to show him that I’m not crazy (bad idea). The lesson here is that you should respect your doctor’s opinions and recommendations, but by no means should you limit yourself to what a doctor knows. They just don’t have massive amounts of time to read the latest research findings. Do your own research, with the caveat that you probably don’t have a medical education and might misinterpret some findings.
Self-experimentation in mindset
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a strong desire to be a more positive person. The adjective “Pollyanaish” describes someone who is positive no matter what, but really connotes being naive. If you haven’t read the classic story Pollyanna, you perhaps should. It’s free online if you do some googling.
Why is being positive so important, other than the obvious reason that it indicates happiness? In a word…resilience. Everyone has some pretty rough patches in their lives. Cultivating a positive mindset can prepare you for rough patches, so that instead of giving in and spiraling into depression, you can plow right through them (or at least try). So it seems pretty logical that you would want to cultivate a positive way of thinking, right? Well, people are cynics. Every time I’ve tried a self-experiment to bolster positive thinking, I make sure to tell no one. Because the few times I’ve mentioned something, I get mocked. Especially by people who are extremely unhappy–they love mocking more than anyone!
This is just the first post about self-experimentation, setting the stage for future posts on specific issues. If you are not a self-experimenter, I urge you to try stuff at least occasionally. Humans have these big ol’ brains to use–might as well use them to think of ways to improve our health and make us happier.