I spent my 18th summer in Peru, volunteering at an orphanage in the foothills of the Andes with a dozen other teens.
Between my recent graduation and my foreign travels, I felt emboldened to try something new. I stepped off the plane into the dry desert air with this thought firmly lodged in my mind: I was going to be one of the cool kids that summer.
To be clear, I was decidedly not cool back home. But, I had paid close attention to what the cool kids did, and came equipped to try it for myself with my new friends.
I suppose it could have gone very poorly, but luckily, it didn’t.
People wanted to do the things I wanted to do, and buy the things I wanted to buy. They valued my opinions. They wanted to sit next to me. I was never lonely.
A few weeks after returning stateside, I moved into my first dorm. I thought I could continue my fun little experiment, but whatever magic had made me cool in South America didn’t follow me to college.
The next few months were some of the loneliest of my life.
It was, of course, a different scenario. My roommate was wonderful, but she had some mental health struggles that culminated in a suicide attempt for her, and a lot of confusion for me.
These things weren’t talked about back then. Most people didn’t know what happened, and those who did couldn’t tell me how to handle it. I found myself hiding a lot, in an effort to cope. I wanted to be friendly and to be included, but I wasn’t able to find the energy to be that fun, cool version of myself.
Twenty years later, I know myself much better. These days, I don’t necessarily want or need to be cool, but I do want to be more connected.
The original desire to change my personality was the seed of this much truer reality. Now, twenty years later, I recognize that I need to work at staying connected, rather than worrying about being cool.
The point is this: If we want to create a life that fits us beautifully, then we have much to gain from letting ourselves try things in a healthy, grace-filled way.
We take in inspiration all the time from friends, books, podcasts, social media, blogs, and more…but…
…how do we purposefully incorporate that inspiration into our lives?
Action turns inspiration into transformation.
When inspiration catches your attention, pause to pay attention. What does it mean to you? What could be possible for you?
Try it for yourself! Play with it. Pay attention to how it feels, and watch the results.
I like to call these experiments because it takes some pressure off. It helps me approach new ideas with curiosity and openness, rather than a sense of should.
If you want to try this for yourself, here are a few principles to guide you:
1. Try to identify what you really hope to change. Hint: It’s probably not about your behavior. What is it about your experience of life that you want to be different? Less stress? More confidence? Maybe you’re looking for more meaning, or less struggle in a certain area. Perhaps you’ve got your eye on a particular goal. Identify the deeper need before you change anything.
2. Don’t try to change everything at once. Trying too many things dilutes your efforts so you don’t make significant progress on anything. Choose one or two experiments to focus on, and write them out as goals. For example: I will wake up at 6:00 AM because I believe waking earlier will decrease my stress level throughout the day.
3. Pay attention to what works – and what doesn’t. Be intentional about the few things you are trying, and for each, ask yourself once a week: “What is working well here? And what isn’t?” Then adjust accordingly. If setting your alarm for 6AM leads to a more peaceful day but only with three cups of coffee, try a later alarm or an earlier bedtime, or scrap the experiment for something else stress-relieving.
4. Do a gut check. Regardless of the results of your experiment, pay attention to how you feel. Even if the results are good, if it doesn’t feel true to you, you can let it go. Or, maybe the results weren’t what you hoped for, but something inside you says you’re on the right path, and should keep trying. Either way, listen to that internal feedback. It is there for a reason.
5. Journal about your experience. This will help you stay intentional, and will make it easier to integrate your insights, and track your progress.
Over time, hone your habits, routines, and practices to make them increasingly true to you, and functional for your life. Keep what works, and let the rest go, guilt-free. It’s just an experiment! You are free as can be.