Experimentation – Habitual Mastery (Series)

This is the last part in my series on how we can take control of our habits. Habit control first must start with awareness of your habits. Without being aware of how your habits are effecting your life, you are powerless to control them. Once you have identified habits that you would like to replace and what you would like to replace them with, the key to making that change is through conditioning. Using a variety of both natural and simulated techniques you can condition in new responses. If you don’t have enough willpower to make it through your conditioning phase, leveraging yourself to take action can allow you to tackle those big problems you don’t feel capable of. Finally, by understanding how habits are grouped and by carefully replacing old habits with new ones we can ensure this whole process will last.

Habitual Mastery


If you’ve read through the last four articles in my extensive series on how to change habits, then chances are you already have a lot of ideas for how you can take control of your habits. By investing the time to practice these skills, making effective habit changes will become a lot easier. Fixing the habits that you are aware need obvious changes is the first step. Once you’ve reached this level, however, you can start taking your habits from good to great.

To someone who hasn’t mastered the skills of changing habits, experimentation may seem like searching for problems that are not even there. But for those who have become skilled making habit changes in themselves, experimentation allows us to take our habits a lot further. Instead of just theorizing about whether a habit change will improve your life, you can actually go out and test it. Don’t guess what you can test.


Just as awareness is critical to identify your bad habits, awareness is critical to help you notice how you might be able to take your habits to the next level. By reading and researching from a large variety of subject areas, you can continually receive ideas for ways you can take your habits to a new level.

The main problem with getting a lot of information is that the information is largely useless unless you can invest it into your life. Reading about time management is a waste of time unless you can adopt the techniques described for yourself. Reading about health and fitness is also a waste if you lack the skill to invest those abilities in the form of habits and behaviors in your life. This is why mastering the ability to control habits is so critical. Without the ability to effectively control your habits, self-help is just something interesting, not actually helpful.

Read from a large variety of fields, don’t specialize. While reading for your career or passion can give you expertise in that field, running your life can’t be specialized. You can’t delegate your life functions to another person, so you have to be a Jack of all trades and master of none. Learn about diet, business, finances, time management, spirituality, relationships, psychology and science. Don’t limit yourself to studying your favorite subject when it comes to yourself.

Maintain an open mind with whatever you are reading. There are many times when I’ll be reading something, especially something where the author has a different view of spirituality than my own, where a little voice in my head wants to say, “Yeah, right…” During these times I have to consciously turn off the little voice in my head. Use this voice when you are deciding whether or not to take action, but so long as you are still gathering information make sure your skepticism doesn’t rear its ugly head.

Conduct Your Experiment

With your new ability to change habits fairly easily, you now have the option of suspending your judgement on an idea until you have tested it in your own life. People who can’t effectively change habits are stuck with using their narrowminded viewpoint to decide whether or not to go through the process of making a change. With the power to test, you have to learn to restrain your tendency to judge until after you’ve given it a thorough testing.

Weigh out the possible consequences for pursuing your habit change. In almost all cases the potential upside if the habit does work is far greater than the downside if it doesn’t work. By taking intelligent risks with your experimentation you can maximize your benefit. Clearly starting a habit of doing drugs or excessive alcohol is something where the potential negative consequences greatly outweigh potential positive ones. Using commonsense to decide whether the habit warrants a trial is necessary to filter out potentially great habits from incredibly toxic ones.

A successful experiment usually requires a minimum of thirty days to conduct. This is because any less than that and you are still in the difficult part of the conditioning phase. Knowing whether a habit is more or less effective can only be determined once you’ve reached a point where simply running the habit doesn’t take a lot of your energy. Dietary changes may require even more time to effectively study simply because of the added stress of your body adapting to a new dietary pattern. Unless you feel that the habit may be dangerous to your health, I would recommend ninety days for a full dietary trial. Keep careful records up to 30 days and then check back in at the sixty and ninety day mark. This way your body will have ample time to adapt to the new diet and you will start to be feeling some of the long term effects of the new diet.

Once you’ve selected a habit and decided to test it, there are several ways that you can conduct the test to help make your evaluation. Spending a week or two using these techniques before you actually start the trial may be helpful in giving you some data to compare your results with.


Journaling is a great way to test your habit changes. The process works very well even if you already know you want to keep the habit but you need to have a way to work around temporary problems that come up during your conditioning phase. By journaling your thoughts and feelings during the trial, you can get a written record of how the trial is progressing.

To set up a trial journal either open up a new word processor document or buy a small notebook for taking down your thoughts. Every day you should include at least one entry where you write down how you feel the trial is going. Write down all of your observations that relate to your habit. Include observations on your own internal feelings and emotions as well as objective analysis that demonstrates evidence your habit is working or failing.

Journaling is probably one of the easiest ways to conduct an experiment for a new habit and it can be very effective. The one flaw with this method is it really lacks the objectivity that you might want in determining whether the habit is actually effective or just a placebo. This method is probably ideal where much of the reason for changing the habit is emotionally involved. If you are emotionally neutral between one habit and your replacement, more objective means might be desired to actually see if there is a difference.

Subjective Ranking

Although this process is also fairly subjective, ranking the status of your habit is a more objective practice than simply journaling your thoughts. This process allows you to actually have somewhat reliable data so you can see trends in your behavior and determine whether the system is actually working. By using a ranking system you will actually have some numbers to go along with your progress.

To use a ranking method, simply brainstorm a list of measurable categories you feel should change as a result of this habit. If your habit change is to try a new diet, your list might include energy level, physical endurance or alertness. Remember to include areas that might also be effected negatively by your habit as they need to be weighed into your results. Once you have a list of categories, narrow them down until you have 3-5 factors you expect to be influenced by the ranking.

Like your journaling method, make a ranking at least once per day. At this time take your short list of factors and rank them on a scale from one to ten. It might be helpful to decide exactly what each measurement means. If your category is energy level you might decide that a 1 indicates that you can barely make it through your day without sleeping, a five is feeling tired but okay and a ten means that you feel like running a marathon right now!

This ranking process can be combined with the journaling process to give an evaluation that is both holistic and has a degree of objectivity to it. I used that technique when I was conditioning my vegetarian habit and I found it very helpful so I could get some ideas on how it was going both in terms of numbers and in general feelings and thoughts.

Objective Measuring

Forming an objective measuring procedure is very hard to do for many of the things that we find important. It is very difficult to measure things like happiness, emotional control or energy levels. However, when using an subjective ranking or journaling process just won’t cut it, conducting your experiment using an external, objective measurement can work very well.

The first thing to do when using this technique is to decide exactly what you are going to measure. Just like the subjective ranking process, brainstorm a list of categories that you feel would be influence by this new habit change. Once you have this in place, decide how you are going to effectively measure each of these categories using objective means. If your habit involved increasing or modifying your exercise routine, you might decide that endurance and strength are two categories that could use objective measuring. You might then decide that the speed you can run ten kilometers might be a good measurement of endurance and the amount of pushups you can do would be a good measurement of your strength.

Finding objective means to measure changes can give you a level of accuracy that subjective means can’t afford. Be careful in choosing what and how you measure your change. Just because something is measurable, doesn’t mean it is worth measuring. Measuring something that is either irrelevant or is unrelated to the true effect you want to create is often worse than no measurement at all.

Taking your habits to a new level of excellence can be a curious and exciting process. Try to gather as much new information as you can each day to foster ideas for how you can affect the changes you desire. Once you have some ideas, using a combination of journaling, ranking or measurement can allow you to actually test whether or not the habit made a positive effect. Don’t be afraid to try out crazy ideas that might not work. Be creative in your experiments and you might be able to find out new ways to take excellence to a whole new level.

This concludes my five part series on making effective habit changes. Being able to control your habits is probably one of the most powerful tools you can use in your life. If you don’t currently feel you have much control over them, start building that skill today. Just as walking, driving and reading were very difficult for you when you started, effective habit changes get easier as you gain more tools, skills and practice with them. Reach new heights and start taking that control today!

Habitual Mastery


  • Sathish

    Well written series. I am going to use this to help me read and get a certification.

  • Joel Hollingsworth

    Inspiring. I’m going to start working on assignments early, beginning tonight and lasting 30 days. I think my girlfriend will be enough leverage. I also have strategies for two more habits for the next couple of months.

    A few more things I noticed:
    “rood”, “then we are have”, the first sentence with the phrase “‘comfort’ food”, “very people”, “my length five report”.

    Not long ago, I had trouble with “very” vs. “vary”, and with “effect” vs. “affect”, and thought I could slide by because I’m studying engineering, but I think I’m making a better impression now that I’m careful with homonyms.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. Perhaps I’ll return to the site in a month or so to refresh my knowledge.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for keeping me on my toes. Although I try to edit each article, sometimes re-reading what you wrote simply doesn’t catch everything.

  • nick

    Great article! Read the whole thing and the 30 day trial thing definitely clicked with me, one of those “ah ha!” moments that are the reason I get up in the morning. Not sure where to begin frankly, I am about to be done with school and will be painting houses this summer so I think a 6am wake up followed by yoga and meditation would really help me out (as of now I am only regularly practicing yoga) so I think I will focus on that getting out of bed one, what others have you implemented that you didn’t mention in the article?

  • Scott Young

    My suggestion is to start a 30 Day habit trial on the easiest habit change you think you can make, that would be beneficial. Once you understand how to do it, move up the bar. Starting with a massive life change is likely to be very difficult for someone who isn’t used to it.

    Most of the other habits I have changed have been less notable. Currently I’m working on an internet diet where I only check my e-mail/blog/RSS for half and hour once per day. Not sure whether it will give a gain in productivity yet, but it seems hopeful.

  • Zigurana

    Great series, got quite inspired while reading the different parts!

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments Zigurana.

  • Tess Burns

    I have quite a few questions for you. First, let me explain my situation. My husband is leaving for Iraq next week for one year, we have two children, we are foster parents, I work full time and I am a full time student (online). As you can imagine, I have much adapting (habit changing) to do after my husband leaves. In order to adapt I need to change my habits, and quickly before the boat sinks.

    I understand you do not recommend changing more than one habit at a time, but I have no choice (as far as I can see). I need to change my habits as well as my children’s (5 years and 1 1/2 years) so we can function.

    How do you propose I change more than one or prioritize so I only have to change one a month, and adapt what you have said to help me change the habits of my children?

    In addition, I have added a quote from your site to mine, if you mind, please let me know so I can remove it. http://www.babyhomepages.net/bunton

    Best Regards,
    Tess Burns-Bunton

  • Scott Young

    Hi Tess,

    In situations where there is a strong enough need, people have powerful adapting capabilities. Most of the habits I discuss are elective changes. Adapting to a new situation that is more drastic that requires a significant adjustment may be difficult, but if it is necessary you will pull through. My only advice would be to focus your efforts only on what changes are necessary for this phase. I am always amazed at how well people can perform when they have to come through. Good luck, you have my absolute faith and confidence.

    Oh, and of course quoting is fine.

    Have a great day!

  • Nicole

    This is a wonderful series. I found it incredibly useful at just the right time in my life. I’ve felt stuck in a series of habits I wanted to break I’ve had very little success so far. Armed with this information I really think I’ll be more successful this time. I can see where I’ve been making mistakes. Please continue to keep up this great work.

    I do have a question though. What would you recommend for adjusting habits when you’re currently in a very non-supportive environment for the change, and lacking support? In this case friends and family would encourage you to stay the same, though the current habit is ineffective for both them and yourself. I’ve found this to be a rather large obstacle so any advice would be welcome.

  • Scott Young

    @Nicole – I think you might be surprised to find out that most environments you will be in will resist change. Very few people actively seek change in their life and it is human nature to resist any change, good or bad.

    You have a couple options. I’ve gone through them all, and they each have pro’s and con’s.

    1) Tell them and ignore their unsupportive attitude. This can be necessary if the change requires an adjustment on their part. I did this when I switched to a vegetarian diet. On the upside, you are completely upfront about your reasonings, on the downside you may have to deal with criticisms.

    2) Make the change first and don’t require their support. If the change really doesn’t impact their lives, it may not be a good idea to announce your plans to unsupportive people, especially if you are worried they might manipulate you into not following through. I have mixed feelings about this option because it lowers the purity of the communication.

    The ideal solution is, of course, to be completely straightforward with any changes but also completely ignore those that aren’t supportive. If you lack independent will in your commitments, this can be easier said than done. Good luck and know that we are with you all the way!

  • Yael

    I just wanted to thank you. This series inspires me. It makes me feel like I can change whatever it is that I want- and more important, that I WILL change it.
    And that’s a lot.

    so thank you 🙂

  • Darshan

    Hi Scott,

    Wonderful series. Its positive and inspiring. Well I am on my way to replace my list of habits. 🙂

    Thanks a lot and keep it up ..


  • Dee

    Thank you!
    I’ve read about controlling habits in chapters, but your series really summarize everything about it.

  • Maxfield

    I have this habit of playing games all day. I used to play games at cybercafe and wasting my time and money as well everyday after work.

    I tried to break this habit and i only successfully change my habit for 2 weeks or so, then it came back to me again.

    I noticed myself having very low willpower and this habit follows me since im in secondary school. Yea, i like to play computer games a LOT.

    I read all your series but somehow i need your advice on how to change my habit. Thanks for you time.

  • Scott Young


    I’ll try my best to answer your question, but I do cover a lot of advanced tips in my e-book, How to Change a Habit: http://www.scotthyoung.com/how

    For your situation, I’d suggest trying two things and see if they work:

    1 – Go for an incomplete reduction to start. Try time-limiting yourself to a certain amount of game-playing per day.

    2 – Why do you play games? If you understand what psychological needs they are filling, you can seek to replace them through alternative channels. Do you play to relax? socialize? kill time? If you know why you play, you can take on other activities that also do those things.

  • LuciaSoutherland

    This post is really the most poignant on this deserving topic. I agree with your viewpoints and will eagerly look forward to your upcoming updates. Just saying thanks will not just be adequate, for the fantastic clarity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Solid work and best of luck in your blogging endeavors!

  • Yihan Xu

    Very grateful for your writings!I benefited a lot from this series, especially the leverage section which taught me various way to boost up my effectiveness even if my willpower is not so strong! Your example about the diet was equally impressive. I didn’t realize that an alternative habit should be formed to replace the original one so that our body and mind could continue functioning. Breaking a simple problem to six parts and exposing its complexity is of great help when analyzing how to change my habit in the future!

    Thank you a million, Scott! Still, I want to give credit to a friend who recommends your book “Learn more, study less” to me. Sometimes I think I am really amazed at how incredible it is that people who completely don’t know each other get connected through books!


  • Jason

    Hi Scott,

    I really want to learn all I can about this topic. What is the difference between this post series and your book on habit change?



  • Autumn Rain

    Thank you, Scott, for writing this amazing series. It helped me clear out many mental obstacles. I wish you have the best of life 🙂

  • Autumn Rain

    Thank you, Scott, for writing this amazing series. It helped me clear out many mental obstacles. I wish you have the best of life 🙂