Safe Experiments in Space and Time

One small school

Now I want to continue fitting more experiments into an organised and personal example. I will use the dimensions of SPACE, TIME, BODY and SPIRIT. Each plays a part in determining who we are – the problems that are presented to us, the way we face them, and what milestones we achieve (or not) as we develop and grow.

This focus is on: SPACE and TIME

In my case, it was Exeter in Devon, UK in 1947, shortly after the Second World War. Our heavily rationed and virtually bankrupt country was emerging from one of the coldest winters in years.  How did my mother, with three small children, and a husband not long demobbed, managed that adjustment to peacetime?

Our families provide an important ‘space’ in which we develop. I was the youngest child of three raised in a small village, separated from my father in my late primary years.

I helped my mother, sister and brother to keep a small shop, a tea house and guest house.  In my pre-teens, I was ‘serving on’ at tables and behind the shop counter and happy to do so. A parent would not be permitted to do that today, but it was through that experience I developed an interest in human communications that was to shape much of my life. Each element, especially those in bold, went some way to make me the unique individual I am today.

I attended a tiny local primary school, yards from my home; see the painting above. After passing the then 11-plus examination, I walked a fair distance each school day – to catch a bus to a much more distant direct grant school. All that took over an hour to complete, each way.

At that secondary school, I enjoyed Rugby and Cross Country, In time, I just obtained enough respectable O and A Level examination grades to attend university.

After university – studying on the first tranche of BSc (Econ) programmes – with no gap year – I trained as a probation officer entering that service at the youngest possible age (22 years). That experience offered a solid apprenticeship to me but I had decided on this occupation at 15 years of age!

The culture prevailing in my family, my village, and those schools and work places, played a central role in determining the direction of my journey and my attitude to education, work and politics.

The bold items highlight key issues relating to geography, family, interests that help to identify who I am – my culture and values. What would you list in your own personal profile?


Look at your bold items listed above and complete a similar summary of your life to date. Consider what kind of difference each element of an ‘old normal’ may have made to you and your modern self (your ‘present normal’). How did they impact on your own experience of growing up?

Keep any notes you make as they may prove central to some other experiments to come.

So, families and our communities shape our ideas, beliefs and view of the world. Even when I rebelled against my family, I was still being shaped by it. It may even have determined specific actions I took. Families – and feelings – motivated me towards certain actions in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Such actions from the mid-twentieth century will have strongly shaped my biases in 2020 and, consequently, the shape and form of this web site. You will need to take all that into account when reading what I am saying to you. Watching out for my assumptions may help you question or examine my advice and even your own assumptions. That, in turn, may help you to shape your own experiments more effectively.


Go back, in your memory, and see if you can find a life decision you made, similar to the one I described about joining the probation service. Can you locate a time or place when you made that decision to do a certain job, even if it was years before it was acted on (or not).

Can you locate any information or experience that helped you come to make that decision (for me, it was reading a particular story book)? How good were you at sticking with your choice bearing in mind many us may have wanted to be a train driver at some time, but few of us ending up doing this! For all the train drivers out there now, what’s the different story?! Can you jot down a number of influences that led you to your decision(s)? As you look back on it now, what do you make of the quality of your decision(s), and your line of thinking during those times?

Keep these results, they need to be worked on. See where it fits in to the ROAD MAP experiment later on.


All that said, families do not clone individuals. Even twins follow a different path in their lives. No amount of dressing them in identical clothes will insure against difference. So, where do differences come from?  More importantly, what are the ‘experimental’ implications?

The way our neural pathways develop after birth make large differences. In our infancy, a lot of neural connections exist only to be lost before we are five years of age. Those connections go on being refined throughout our lives. Very specific ones begin to shape our memory – a unique process for each of us.

Also, specialist neural pathways develop (brain scans of musicians and linguists are proof of this).  This process of our development may throw some light on some psychological features, e.g. autism. Some autistic people report a condition termed misophonia — literally a “hatred of sound”. For such people, sounds can trigger strong negative emotions. Another rare example of unusual neural pathways arises in a condition called synesthesia,  in which people form associations between words, colours and the other senses; that is, they can experience a colour attached to a given word. For information on the pruning and selection of active neural circuits in infancy, have a look at:.

The chance events that expose one person to one illness or another can have a large impact on us. The harsh experience that exposes one individual to trauma and another to a loving upbringing appear to offer very different outcomes. Even so, individuals do survive and grow after trauma and a loved child is not immune to ‘going off the rails’. Such outcomes appear to contradict common sense but examples will abound in your family and community.

An insightful example is that of Dr Milton Erikson, an American therapist. He suffered infantile polio, a dangerous condition, that fundamentally impacted on his life – in many bad ways – but with a number of good consequences for the world of psychotherapy. Worth looking him up! The experimental issue here is that we are wise to record the ‘critical incidents’ that mark our lives. They will have shifted the direction of lives visibly and it helps to know where those cross-roads are located and the different directions they offered.


Return to your memories of family, particularly of older relatives. Do you recall specific things they said or did? Look for the ‘small’ things and, for now, put the more unpleasant examples to one side.  Do any specific phrases or sayings stick with you even now? I’m encouraging you to find items such as : this is what life is like; this is who you are; when you are older you will … In my case, I was often told I was a ‘pest’ and I became very good at being that!

For now, just bear in mind that some phrases or sayings can influence us in our decisions to be who we are or to do certain things. That might not have been your relative’s intention, but our elders often have an unintended and powerful impact on our views and actions.

Make a note of these ‘messages’. Keep them brief: one-liners can be most helpful.

Any experiment you design will need to consider your own origins and the life-line you have followed from your birth. For that reason you may find a ‘road map‘ helpful. This can be an illuminating ‘space- time’ experiment to complete.

Let me repeat that the experiments have had a lot of impact on some clients and this can be unsettling. Tread carefully, and seek support, as necessary. Small, safe experiments offer more cautious progress. I have encouraged you to build on small victories in all these experiments but small steps can still have large consequences. Small defeats can invite larger-than-expected shocks to the system. More importantly, missing the smallest victory, with its smallest outcome, interferes with our progress and prevents us seeing any progress at all.  At best, we stutter on; at worst, our self-confidence lessens.

The Road Map to put it all together

This experiment is described elsewhere.

…. but here is a review.

Take a piece of paper and use it in ‘landscape’ mode (side-ways on). At the bottom, draw an horizontal  line all the way across. That will be your ‘t’ or time line.  Then draw a vertical line about two-thirds of the way along that ‘t’ line. Draw it from almost top to bottom. That will be the events line located at ‘today’. See my example, below.

All time to the left of the events line is concerned with your history. All the time to the right on the events line is your future. The vertical line is the present time.

Fill in your history, marking all important dates as best as your memory allows. Some research may help you identify other dates. Note the date and the event in short-hand.

Consider the future: where are you hoping to be in, say, five years time? Are there dates that you can identify when something could or should happen. Again, make a note of both date and intended event.

When you join them up, like a graph, you might want to consider whether the events are ‘highs’ or ‘lows’.  Your freehand graph can allow for this by producing a line with highs and lows along the way.

A result might look like this:

Road Map

OLD NORMAL                                                     TODAY’S NORMAL    TOMORROW’S NORMAL

This is a rather familiar exercise in the world of therapy. Look it over and,  if possible, talk through your own map with some-one you trust.  Look beyond the dates and history, into your impressions, feeling and reactions to those events.

Notice the change in mood and energy associated with different stages of your life. Consider what helped or hindered your progress. Did you make progress or simply repeat an experience ten times over? What might you have done differently or done more of? Maybe it is still not too late to direct your energy toward achievements not quite reached.


This approach to life planning can become quite sophisticated, if it helps. Try cutting a spiral out of some light card. The top of the spiral is your birth-day and the other ‘end’ is your death-day. Some point, say, around two-thirds along can be today.  Fill the spiral with the same key data. Does the spiral tell you more than the straight line? Maybe it shows how close we get to repeating history or re-living past experiences.

Try fitting your spiral into a cone or even a lampshade,  if that helps.  The inner space of the lampshade is the environment in which your ‘spiral’ is operating. There are a lot of other spirals within lampshades surrounding you!! Does it help to highlight some of the limitations within which you are living your present life? Are there any elements of those limitations that are changeable now? For example, how are you relating to the other ‘light shades’ around you now!?

you can delve into your history in greater detail. Some folk get absorbed with genealogy, creating family histories going back through the generations. That can be helpful and it can throw light on your family’s history and traditions. Of course, it can be unsettling so look out for the way in which today’s experiences are impacting on your well-being.

Fitting all this to the SCRIPT

Write down the title of your favourite story. This could be from a book, film, TV or from on-line services such as Netflix or Kindle. It may be difficult to choose and you could use 2/3 stories, but make some active choice. As you consider your preferred story, recall the characters in it.

Is there one character you identify with? Write down the name and add something about that character that you value. What is it about their personality or the things they do that seem important?

In my case, at ten year old, it was Richmal Crompton’s Just William and I loved the freedom and rebelliousness he showed and the trouble he managed to side-step at the last minute – every time! In later years, it was William’s older incarnation – Compo from Last of the Summer Wine. Coincidently, both were William!!

When you have enough material – avoid making it too detailed – note down something about the space and time in which your character exists. It may be historical or set in the future.  It may be set in a fictitious place and time. The character may not be human, and that’s fine.

Consider how this character helps you compare the actual time and space you occupy with the time and space of your selected character. If you find this difficult,  consider an alternative character from your story or even find that alternative story.

As ever, store this data to use it in later small, safe experiments.

Further leads to consider

What is a nudge

How to design safe experiments

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

What’s so important about the SMALL in Small Defeats and Small Victories?

Space and Time changes after losses from illness, death and separation

Life not worthwhile?