50 Ideas for Five Day Self-Experiments

Get energized by trying new behaviors, five days at a time.

Posted Nov 09, 2018

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I've long been a fan of time-limited self-experiments, but I've typically done 21 or 30-day experiments.  Recently I stumbled across a YouTube series featuring a woman, Lucie Fink, who does five-day self-experiments as part of her job as a video producer at Refinery29.  Shorter self-experiments have the advantage of being particularly non-threatening and give you the opportunity to try a wider variety of new behaviors.

I thought I'd give you a list of ideas to kickstart your thinking about experiments you could try.  You make the rules, so tweak any of my suggestions to suit you, or come up with your own ideas. 

As you read my list, try noting the item number of anything you're at least moderately interested in.  Or, print this list and highlight.  Where I've given multiple examples, I mean trying a different new thing each day within the category listed.  At the end of the article, I'll give tips for planning and implementing your experiments.

Try 5 days of:

  1. Reading a chapter of a fiction book each day.
  2. Not pushing yourself (for workaholics—try letting yourself cruise. This is one I tried recently).
  3. Rediscovering a childhood passion (can be a variation on what you liked as a child).
  4. Meditation.
  5. Seeing a different friend for lunch or after work.
  6. Wearing something different - five days of different clothing styles or five days of different makeup.
  7. Foods you've never tried
  8. Something you’ve wanted to try for a year or more, e.g., you've wanted to try the rock climbing wall at your gym but never done it.
  9. Playing a game each day e.g., a card or board game, or sporty.  Could include teaching your child a new game, like four square or hopscotch.
  10. Using your voice assistant (Google Home, Alexa) in a new way.
  11. Recontacting important people you've lost touch with e.g., sending an email to you college mentor.
  12. Work-related social risk taking e.g., cold emailing a potential collaborator or getting to know a colleague you rarely talk you.
  13. Random acts of kindness (1 per day).
  14. Doing something different on your way home from work instead of going straight home e.g., calling into your local library one day, sitting in a coffee shop to read, taking an exercise class on another.
  15. Alternatives to driving e.g., ride your bike or walk somewhere, scooter to the corner store, take public transport to work.  Doesn't need to be the same thing each day.
  16. No plastic bags
  17. No ready-made or restaurant food (you decide the exact rules).
  18. Cooking something from scratch (could be making pizza bases one day, cookies the next).
  19. Not using the microwave.
  20. Making a new recipe from one particular recipe book.
  21. Listening to a new podcast.
  22. Taking a different lunch to work.
  23. Vegan food.
  24. Taking a bath instead of a shower.
  25. Going to bed early.
  26. DIY - Trying something yourself that you'd usually pay someone to do.
  27. Self-care that gets perpetually pushed to the side, very broadly defined (e.g., buying new pillows when your old ones are so old they're making you sneeze).
  28. Decluttering—throwing away 5 or 10 items in your house each day.
  29. Creating better organizational systems - one new system per day. 
  30. Tracking your time use in 10-15 min increments.
  31. Finding out something you don't already about someone in your life (having conversations you haven't had before, perhaps about goals, interests, mistakes, politics, childhood).
  32. Investing in an important relationship e.g., calling your Mom, talking to your neighbors, or complementing your spouse.
  33. Political or civic activism e.g., calling your representative's office to give your opinion on an issue, calling your city about a hazard that's never fixed, donating food or a small amount of money.
  34. Someone else's productivity method e.g., Jeff Bezos' 3 good decisions per day.
  35. Spending quality time with your children e.g., reading a book together or playing a game.
  36. Reaching out to someone who has impacted you e.g., emailing the writer of a book you've enjoyed or the creator of a podcast you love, or posting a photo of a food vlogger's whose recipe you use and love.
  37. Giving a compliment to someone new each day (beyond appearance and other very superficial compliments).
  38. No TV
  39. No social media
  40. Adding some meaningful art or decoration to your home (for people who tend to under-decorate). For example, displaying a family photo, or putting some of your child's artwork on the wall. It's fine to go a little more commercial with this too if you think it would be meaningful to you, such as buying a nice bottle for your olive oil.
  41. Switching up your work routine in some way (try a new switch-up each day, or the same one for all five days).
  42. Learning a new skill e.g., a new spreadsheet or other technical skill, or a simple DIY skill.
  43. Not overthinking small decisions (see #5 here).
  44. Restorative yoga.
  45. Trying something you want to do but that intimidates you  (1 new thing per day, or a variation on the same thing for all five says).
  46. Reducing your expenses (e.g., canceling a subscription you don't use, calling to reduce your cable bill, reprogramming your thermostat a few degrees to save energy).
  47. Buying a small item from a thrift/charity store each day.
  48. Making only positive/affirming comments.
  49. Making something you'd usually buy e.g., your morning coffee.
  50. Your idea!

Implementation tips

  • A reasonable schedule for five-day experiments might be alternating a planning week with an experiment week.  You might do a five-week cycle that's: planning week, experiment week, planning week, experiment week, week off.  This gives you 2 experiments every 5 weeks.  
  • Pick experiments with varying themes. You'll notice several themes running through the ideas for experiments. These include: food, fun/games, self-care, environment, learning/technology, money, and social/relationships.  It's fine to gravitate towards one or two categories, but try to sometimes go outside those and try experiments from other categories.
  • Try alternating more/less intensive experiments. Some experiments won't' really require a planning week, but it's better to be itching to try another experiment than feeling lukewarm or unenthused.  Note that some experiments only require one short action per day, whereas others require an all day shift in mindset (e.g., not overthinking small decisions).  During your planning weeks, try to plan every aspect short of actually doing the new behavior.  Plan what you'll do for each day of the experiment as well as how, when, and where.  This increases your likelihood of following through.
  • There's not an expectation you'll stick to anything you try after the experiment ends.  You might, but part of being someone who tries lots of self-experiments is that the more you try, the less room you have in your life for new daily routines. The beauty of behavioral experiments is that it makes it easier to try those behaviors again in the future, as the urge or need strikes you.  For example, if you try making pizza dough for the first time as part of an experiment, it might be months or years before you do that again, but nevertheless, trying anything once makes it easier to try again sometime in the future.  Its also fine to keep up a habit for a while but then let it slide e.g., if the taking a bath experiment inspires you to keep doing that, but only for a few months. You didn't fail if you do this.  People's life and willpower priorities are constantly shifting.  Do what works for you, and have fun switching up your routines.
  • I'm going to write a separate article on the psychological benefits of self-experiments and will link that here once it's posted.  Coming soon!