Safe experimenting and other obstacles


How so?

  • It’s tricky enough to design safe experiments.
  • Implementing them is an unpredictable business.
  • Recording the results – that is, collating your evidence – may be boring and frustrating.
  • How to use results is often less than obvious.
  • Getting on to the next safe experiment, with what you’ve already know, is not always clear.

From all this, I think it fair to say some small safe experimenting can be problematic.

BUT I am writing this particular page, as I do not want you to lose heart. There is no reason for putting the small safe experiment to one side. There may be ways to inoculate ourselves against any odds being stacked up against us.

That said, If you have come to this page early on, I cannot assume you’ve had a go at some experiments. Do give it a go – go back to this wider commentary in my web-site; for instance, take a look at:

Designing a safe experiment

So what ACTIONS might be included in a small, safe experiment?

Responsibility for Safe Experiments

Small and safe experiments: are feelings important?

Anxiety and small, safe experiments

Adult Education: is this relevant to safe experimenting?

Using a record of feelings, facts and thoughts

…. as offering some direction and a means to encourage you to create a record of your own; one that shows how you’ve designed and implemented a few experiments of your own. Please keep in mind the ever-present risk of my web-site appearing to instruct you in the art of safe experimenting. In fact, I assert the web-site works best when you design your own experiments.

Now seems like a good time to mention what might be done to face some of the complications. There will be steps to take that might help create and benefit from organised and systematic experiments.

Timing: ideally, it is best to record our thoughts and our body experiences as they occur. This is not always possible. It would look odd, for example, if you got your record sheets out in the middle of a party or a  meeting! In this case, make a mental note of what has distressed you, or jot down a reminder on any handy piece of paper. I use the back fo my hand! Then set aside time in the evening to make a more organised written record; it can still be brief. Run through an `action replay’, as you record, seeking to recall in as much detail as possible what happened, and notice how you felt and what your thoughts were.

Avoidance: it is very common to put off doing something different. This is particularly so when writing down negative thoughts: it’s possible to make excuses that keep you from focusing on your thoughts and emotions. You may say to yourself, for instance, `I’ll do it later‘, or `It would be better to forget all about it’. You may find that you are very unwilling to look your thoughts in the face. Perhaps you are afraid they will overwhelm you, or you dismiss them as ‘stupid‘ and not worth the time of day. That’s a stopper for the very handy ‘just noticing’ safe experiment.

It is quite natural to avoid hurdles and sometimes, when we do, it even appears to work! Do not let that occasional good fortune be your answer to everything.

If you find yourself making excuses, this is probably because you have hit on something important, so steel yourself to write something it down. Ignoring negative thoughts will not usually make them go away.

Motivation: Paul Grantham has specialised in helping us with our motivation to change. You may find his company has something to offer:

What is helpful about his learning programmes is the range of ideas that inform his work. His guidance is drawn from a number of sources – including Motivational Interviewing (MI), Cognitive Behaviour
Therapy (CBT), Brief Solution Focused Therapy (BSFT) as well as Client-centred Therapy (CCT) approaches.

However, as with all sources I quote on the web-site, please keep in mind that other peoples’ material need to be ‘translated’ into your world.

Paul identifies a number of learning principles for change. I have adapted them tofit in with the design of  ‘safe experiments’.

  • are you dissatisfied with something. Knowing this is essential for motivation.
  • being dissatisfied comes either from wanting something you haven’t got, or to get away from something you don’t like.
  • experiments can lead you to attend to something. This amplifies our perception of it. That can be a good thing or a bad thing! Knowing the difference, here, is rather important. Therefore, consider ….
  • what is the significance to you of anything that is being amplified?
  • listen to your own reasons. I need to hear them from my own mouth – not from other people! Most of get plenty of that from others, do we not?
  • one of the best ways to discover how to use a strategy is to repeat an experiment – wherever you get it from!!
  • scale the extent of any feelings or sensations when doing a body scan. This will help identify the degree of personal concern to you.
  • do you see that you are already doing things to deal with an issue;  credit yourself with this. In my experience, the people best able to use therapy are already doing it before starting with a professional!
  • ask yourself what you are doing in order to build motivation further.
  • identify change you make that lead to solutions that promote great comfort and self-confident.
  • act to emphasise your own autonomy.
  • edit your own language to improve small victories without ignoring the small defeats.
  • what might you do differently in the face of a small defeat?
  • engage with your own agenda – not that impressed on you by others.

… all this may well sound familiar, and I trust it is still worth repeating.

I have had a number of  clients telling me that motivation is a problem. Too often this manifests in procrastination. The theory, here, is that we delay action when we cannot find the simplest and quickest safe experiment to complete. The task simply looks too large and daunting.

EXPERIMENT: go to your email inbox and work on it, with me, for five minutes. If you do not ‘do’ email then make a ‘to do’ list or examine your current correspondence for around the same amount of time. As you go through the inbox or list, you will note some junk things that do not deserve your attention –  and you will get rid of that without further ado. Emails, like telephone calls, are simply invitations to do something; not obligations to act.

However, there will be some  emails that would benefit from some action. As you arrive at each item in this category, decide whether the appropriate reply, or action, will take longer than two minutes to complete. If it is less than two minutes, just do it. Get shot of it, now.

If it would evidently take longer, then skip over it or allocate it to an action box, if you do that kind of thing. When you review your work after the five minutes is up, your in-box will be emptier. More importantly, several tasks will have been completed quickly.

Consider this: reading those actioned emails may well have taken a minute or two. What is the point of putting them to one side, and coming back to them, when it may take two minutes to read it all again?

if you can sort it in a two minute period, do so. Alter the time gap, as you think fit; I chose two minutes simply as an example. This experiment is known as the ‘one touch rule’. If you can do the task in a short period of time, then touch that task just the once. Do not put it to one side when you will have to return to it another day.

FURTHER EXPERIMENT ON SELF-MOTIVATION: recall a task you have been putting off very recently. On a piece of paper describe it as briefly as you can. Underneath, consider what has stopped you acting on it before now. List those ‘stoppers’, as I call them.

Take any one stopper and look for the smallest, concrete task that would help you overcome the same thinking  it.  see if there are other small steps that might help further. Apply the same thinking to any other stoppers.

When completed, review your list and decide on two or three small tasks that are do-able and a higher priority. Set a time limit within which to complete each of those priorities. At a later date, review again and notice what was achieved and what was further delayed.

Consider what it was that made it easy to complete the finished tasks and what stopped you, again, from finishing a priority task that was of your own design.  Notice whether you are self-critical or what other excuses are made for the inaction.

Consider whether the task could benefit from an even smaller safe experiment. Look for the smallest outcome possible and go on repeating the experiment until you have achieved what you want.

You could, of course, decide it is a junk task and, by all means, give it up if this is so. If you chose this latter option, make a note of any cost to you of implementing that decision.


This is not an easy area to work on. Finding some concrete and do-able experiment works against us as our ‘spirit’ is a rather elusive and ‘unconcrete’ part of our being.  We can visit contemplation, yoga,  mindfulness and other disciplines such as QuiGong. Such activity – if activity is the right name for it – can focus our attention above and beyond our bodies as well as the space and time we currently inhabit.

The key word, here, is discipline as these activities require me to give time and attention in large quantity. This is not easy and it is tricky to find the ‘smallest’ amount of such disciplines that might work for you!


What seems to happen – when we put together our whole being – is that the two siblings and every single part of ourselves – experience ‘consciousness’. We can look in a mirror and see our physical self. We can look inward and experience ourselves as a ‘larger’ entity. We make a number of different meanings about who we are.

With this seemingly unique and rather awesome skill can come problems.

Very few of us will not have experienced something call ‘depression’ at some time in their lives. The term is so vague that it really can be applied to so many common human experiences. These stretch from the inconvenient to the disabling and dangerous.

Let’s look at depression as a example of the SPIRIT faltering. The common symptoms include:

• Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
• Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
• Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
• Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
• Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
• Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
• Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
• Restlessness, irritability
• Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

If you go to the doctor and you are offered some medication, then some of the commonly observed side-effects can include:

Dry mouth  it is helpful to drink sips of water; chew sugarless gum; clean teeth daily.
Constipation  bran cereals, prunes, fruit, and vegetables should be in the diet.
Bladder problems  emptying the bladder may be trouble-some, and the urine stream may not be as strong as usual; the doctor should be notified if there is marked difficulty or pain.
Sexual problems  sexual functioning may change; if worrisome, it should be discussed with the doctor.
Blurred vision this will pass soon and will not usually necessitate new glasses.
Dizziness  rising from the bed or chair slowly is helpful.
Drowsiness as a daytime problem A person feeling drowsy or sedated should not drive or operate heavy equipment.
• Headache  and Nausea  like many side effects, these responses can be passing.
Nervousness and insomnia (trouble falling asleep or waking often during the night)

Now the first-aid available from the doctor can be very helpful, particularly if you undertake some self-management strategies


As you have done before: identify and pursue realistic goals. This will help you to assume a  reasonable amount of responsibility for your recovery, including decisions relating to the use of medicines (allopathic remedies).

Set some priorities, and do what you can as you can. Where this is a challenge, break large tasks into small ones;

Commit to being with other people and to confide in someone; it is usually better than being alone and secretive. Let your family and friends help by letting them know what you want from them. If you don’t ask, you will not get (although asking does not mean you will get!).

Participate in activities that may make you feel better. This can include mild exercise, e.g. walking part of the way to work, walking up and down stairs, ball games.

Participate in some social activities as well.

Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Feeling better takes time.

Postpone important decisions until later. Before making a significant transition- a change jobs, getting married or divorced-discuss it with others who know you well.

People rarely “snap out of” a depression. But they can feel a little better day-by-day.

Remember, positive thinking will replace the negative thinking that is part of the depression and your perception of the small defeats and small victories can shift over time.

FURTHER EXPERIMENT: being your own therapist.

Here are a few questions a good experimenter would ask themselves. Sit down and have a conversation with yourself about some tasks you might undertake very soon. It could be a task to do in the home, at work or even simply  in your head!

¬ How long do you think it will take  …….

¬ What do you predict will happen …..

¬ Can you guess the consequence of …..

¬ What needs to happen  … for that to happen ….

¬ When will you know it’s happened?

¬ What might you do differently as you make it happen ….

What do you need to do to make yourself lucky

That last item may seem like a left-fielder, but do keep in mind that the more you practise, the luckier you are likely to become!

Return to:


What is a nudge

Designing a safe experiment

Obstacles to safe experiments

Responsiblity for safe experiments.