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Personal Development Experiments: the Tier List

Shane Melaugh
August 25, 2021

On the ikario team, we've recently completed a series of personal development experiments and challenges. We approached everything with the question: "does this help us live a better life?" and we documented our findings in a series of videos.

Today, we're summarizing all of these findings (so far) in a tier list. Of all the things we've done to improve our lives, which ones worked best? Which ones weren't worth the effort? And if you want to improve your life, where should you start?

The Tier List

The tier list ranking is simple: the experiments we did are ranked from best (top row "S tier") to worst (bottom row, "F tier"). Here's the overview of the results we arrived at:

the personal development tier list

Let's have a quick run down of these, plus links to the individual videos, so you can learn more about anything that interests you in particular.

S Tier - the Best of the Best

Memento Mori

The memento mori experiment is about the stoic practice of contemplating your own mortality. If you truly understand and surrender to the fact that you are, indeed, going to die... what does that change? Will it lead to different choices? A deeper appreciation of life and everything that's worth living for?

For us, this experiment was a winner and I recommend you give this a try.

Grappling

For 7 days, we spent at least 1 hour each day practicing grappling. Now, most of us had little to know experience in this, so if this exercise strikes you as strange, most of the guys on the ikario team were right there with you.

So, why grappling? It has the obvious benefit of being an extremely good workout. And of course, exercise is great for your health. But in addition to that, there are a few key psychological benefits that you only get from practicing a martial skill like grappling. For example, it can help you recognize and keep your ego and aggression in check. It can also help you become more assertive and more confident. Check out our video to see why we chose this challenge - and why we loved it so much.

Mouth Taping

Mouth taping is a practice inspired by the book Breath by James Nestor. It's very simple: at night, place a small piece of surgical tape over your lips to keep your mouth closed. This ensures that you breathe nasally instead of through your mouth.

Doesn't seem like a big deal? Just watch this to see why it is (and then try it for yourself).

A Tier - Great Results

Soma Breathing

Soma breathing is a form of breathwork. For our experiment, we primarily used guided breathwork sessions that you can find on YouTube (we made a playlist here).

For a practice that is "just breathing", it's really astonishing how much of a difference it can make. Check out our soma breathing video to discover more.

Self Acceptance Exercises

With a series of writing exercises along with discussions in the group, we focused our efforts on self acceptance, for this challenge. We wanted to explore areas of our lives where we felt a lack of self acceptance and self love and see if we could make progress or even resolve some old wounds.

We have not yet found the ideal way to practice self acceptance, but even in a very rudimentary and imperfect way, it is well worth doing.

Reading Fiction Before Bed

On the ikario team, most of us are avid readers of non-fiction... and most of us hadn't picked up a fiction book in years.

For this experiment, we spent some time reading fiction each day, before bed. Initially, we just wanted to see if this would help us sleep better. It certainly did, but the reason it ranks so highly is not just because of how important good sleep is. It's also because (at least for me) it was a rediscovery of the fact that fiction can teach us just as much and be just as life changing as the best non-fiction books.

Introspective Writing

Introspective writing is a personal development tool I've talked a lot about. I've often called this my most important tool for improving my life.

We used introspective writing in several of the challenges we did. And we also did a 7 day challenge with 1 new writing prompt each day, aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves. The experiement was a success and the only reason introspective writing doesn't rank even higher is because we haven't taken it as far as it can go (yet).

30 Videos in 30 Days

One of our challenges was to publish a new video every day, for 30 days straight (and you can see on our channel that we did indeed do that).

This is primarily a personal development challenge. It's designed to help content creators overcome hesitation and perfectionism. On top of that, it works as a skill building tool for improving basic proficiency and efficiency.

Overall, this challenge was also a great success and I recommend it to any and all creators.

B Tier - Good (But Not Amazing)

Replace Coffee with Green Tea

Coffee is highly addictive and it's debated whether it's healthy or harmful or neither. Green tea, on the other hand, is pretty uncontroversially good for you. Plus, it also has some caffeine. Does it therefore make for the best replacement for coffee?

We decided to find out - with surprising results.

1,000 Burpess in 1 Week

We challenged ourselves to do a total of 1,000 burpees in 1 week. That comes out to just about 140 burpees every day.

It started as a pretty silly challenge, but it actually turned out to be more effective than we expected. It may not be a sustainable way of exercising nor the perfect workout routine - but it may just be the simplest and best thing to do to stay in shape while you're away from home and your usual exercise routine.

No Artificial Lights After 9PM

We did 2 similar challenges with similar results. The first was to turn off all screens after 9PM every day. We then ramped it up even further and turned off all sources of artificial light after 9PM, relying only on candle-light.

It's a simple thing to do, but it led to at least 2 profound and worthwhile changes.

  1. Without artificial light in the evening, it's much easier to fall asleep.
  2. We ended up spending a lot of time just sitting around and having good conversations. Time very well spent.

20/4 Intermittent Fasting

What happens if you only eat during 4 hours of the day and fast for the other 20 hours?

As it turns out, this is an interesting experiment and probably one of the easiest ways to lose weight. However, it can also be logistically difficult to do and you might find yourself feeling a bit obsessed with food.

We didn't do a video on this challenge because we felt like we need to experiment more. Maybe a better plan or better execution of this plan will make it into a future video.

C Tier - Maybe Worth Doing

The Johari Window

The Johari Window is a group evaluation system. It can help you get a sense of how others perceive you, compared to how you perceive yourself.

We had fun with this experiment and it may be a useful tool for teams to improve how they work together, but it wasn't really mind blowing or anything.

D Tier - Meh

Waking Up With the Sunrise

Don't get me wrong, waking up with the sunrise can be great and the video we made on this is gorgeous. Sunrises are very much worth seeing.

However, the reason this doesn't rank highly is because: A) it only works if you live in a place where you have a nice view of the sunrise and B) overall, getting up early is massively overrated. Yes, it was nice to watch a sunrise, but it didn't make us more productive or more disciplined or more anything, really.

Cold Showers

That's right, the greatest self development trope of all is ranked this low in our list. In our video on cold showers, we go into some of the pros and cons and address the oftentimes dubious health claims around it. Overall, I felt quite positively about the experiment when we recorded that. But then, the thing I predicted happened: after a short while, taking a cold shower just becomes routine. It doesn't feel special anymore and the psychological benefits of pushing yourself to do it wear off. Also, it's ranked low because it's overrated.

F Tier - Fail

Full Day Dopamine Detox

This experiment was a failure, mainly due to execution. But hey, you can't win them all!

"Dopamine detox" is a questionable term, but the basic idea of getting away from tech and media and distractions for a while is sound. And there are surely ways to do it well. But as Dean and Ryan found out, trying to do too much at once is not the best approach.

Conclusion

So there you go - if you want to do some things to improve your life, you've got a good sense of where to start. And it may be surprising that contemplating your death, grappling and sticking some tape on your mouth are the top tier choices. But that's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. After all, we're doing these experiments precisely to find out things we didn't know yet.


Shane Melaugh

About the author

Shane is a serial entrepreneur with a long-standing obsession for personal development and life optimization. He has a habit of buying more books than he can ever read. During his childhood his worldview was significantly influenced by Jackie Chan movies, the Vorkosigan Saga and the writings of Miyamoto Musashi.

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