The Split Test of Life

We all have routines in our lives; the habits we carry out day to day or week to week that hardly ever make us think twice about their need and value. Wake up at 7am. Take a hot shower (2 pumps of shampoo, never 3). Watch the new Game of Thrones. But what’s our justification for incessantly making those choices? In most cases, it’s nothing more than our pattern-seeking neurology at work. Few of these habitual choices are made based on known evidence that supports the merit of each choice against all possible alternatives. So what if we changed? What if we took an intentional step, not towards eliminating routines from our life, but towards establishing a comparative or A/B test…for each and every routine?

If you understand A/B or split testing, save yourself some time and skip to the next paragraph, if not, I’m happy to build some context. This simple testing method comes from the world of web development (something I’ve spent some time dabbling in), and involves comparing two versions of a website to see which one performs better. You show two variants (call them A and B) to separate groups/visitors within your demographic. The one that yields the better conversion rate/more sales/greater membership/etc., wins. You then repeat the process (theoretically infinitely) in order to present an ever-evolving, exquisitely tuned website to your specific audience at all times. There’s often brilliance in simplicity!

Having seen A/B tests work in the digital world, I was curious to know how it might fare in the physical one, after all, we humans need to evolve just like websites do; the only difference being that instead of websites, I wanted to test personal routines, and instead of separate audience groups, I’d personally be the ultimate arbiter. What existential upgrade could be realized if we viewed or lives as a literal testing ground for a series of A/B tests? Identify a routine (one which you carry out with little to no variation) and test a variant; not a perfectly crafted, painstaking variant, just something simple but different. Here’s an example (which I happen to be testing right now) — As long as I can remember, I’ve exercised later in the day and gone to sleep at or after midnight (a self-proclaimed night-owl, and proud of it). Do I have any reason to think this is my ultimate exercise and sleep schedule? No, it’s just what I’ve always done. I’ve only ever had the A for my A/B test. So, for the past week, I’ve made an intentional shift to get to sleep by 10:30pm and wake up earlier to exercise. Easier? Nope. More enjoyable? Not at this point. Better? This is where it gets interesting because better is yet to be determined. This is obviously a test I’ll have to run for at least a few weeks, but in time, I’ll undoubtedly develop a new level of understanding and added self-confidence in the way I approach this singular routine in my life (whether I go back to being a night-owl or see enough tasty worms to become the early-bird).

As we layer these sorts of probing test into the fabric of our day-to-day, I think it’s important that we remain uninterested in the potential outcomes, and focus on creating honest and distinct comparative experiences. Regardless of the degree to which you’ve become a creature of habit, there will always be an alternative to explore, and in doing so, a new side of yourself to potentially discover.