There’s a commonly held belief that when conducting an experiment, larger sample sizes produce better results than smaller sample sizes. That is, if something works on a large population, it’s more likely to work for you because “law of numbers” and all that.
In science, I think that’s accurate. When a pharmaceutical company tests a new drug, a larger sample size paints a much more well-rounded picture of the drug’s potential side-effects. The bigger the population, the better.
But when it comes to us as individuals, the only real sample size we need to concern ourselves with is ONE – us.
I’m not saying ignore research and science. No. Not at all.
What I’m saying is when it comes to YOU, you’re the most important test-bed that there is. Period. It’s just you. If you can walk on water, it doesn’t matter what anyone says about the physics of walking on water. If you can do it, then it’s possible for you – and, you should probably charge admission and let people watch that incredible feat of strength.
I mean, come on…what a side hustle!
Life is an experiment
I like to think that life is just one big test-bed. You try out some stuff and observe the results, and the smarter ones among us will change some shit up if things aren’t working out. Then again, if it works, you keep it in.
If it works for you, that means it works.
It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work for your neighbor. Or family member. Or this research study proves that it doesn’t. Or that dude swears by something else. If it works, keep doing it until it doesn’t. Once it fails, move on.
That’s the beauty of a sample size of ONE.
Case in point: We had a mouse problem in the Airstream over a part of the summer in 2017. We were in Oregon on the coast, and it was damp and we had to park our Airstream in some grass – total mouse country. Eventually, we determined that placing lights outside the Airstream at night will prevent mice from coming in because they don’t like the light. My folks – who also RV’ed for 13 years – used a few of those ultra-sonic emitter things that worked wonders for them.
Anyway, we posted a video about our successes on YouTube in the hopes of tipping off other people to this possible solution. One video commenter responded with a study that “proved” that neither light NOR those ultra-sonic emitter things actually work in preventing mice.
But here’s the thing: It worked for us.
It also worked for my folks. Since we started using lights outside the Airstream at night, we haven’t seen a single mouse inside. Not a single one. Zip. Nada. Thus, neither Courtney nor I care about what some study supposedly proves. This solution works, and we’re the most important test subjects in this little experiment of ours.
We’ll keep doing it until it no longer works, then we’ll find another solution.
Okay, enough about mice.
The point here is to experiment. Try different things until you find something that works for you. Even if the experts claim another solution works better, keep doing what works for you. Keep perfecting it.
I’m reminded of that whole “getting up early” thing. “Experts” say that early risers are typically more successful than those who sleep late. As an early riser myself, I can flatly state that it’s worked for me. Getting up earlier in the morning has had a profoundly positive effect on my life. But, that doesn’t mean it’ll have a similar effect on yours.
Getting yourself up an hour earlier won’t necessarily put another $100,000 in your bank account this year. And frankly, if you’re totally kicking ass by rolling out of bed at the crack of noon, then keep doing it. If you’re satisfied, don’t change a thing. Keep kicking ass…doing what works for YOU.
Because, the sample size in your experiments only needs to be ONE.
However, don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to ignore any and all advice you get. On the contrary, seek out the advice from those who are more successful than you. Take their words to heart and, if the motivation is there, try out their stuff. See if it works. If it does, great. Thank them with a beautifully smooth bottle of Scotch and move on with a big smile on your face (which should be completely unrelated to said Scotch! :)).
But, don’t just assume it’ll work.
Example: I know a guy who can practically think about growing muscle and he’ll get huge. He has that bodybuilding body type. Me, on the other hand?
Yeah, I gotta work ten times as hard to build the same muscle.
What works for him doesn’t work for me. Like, not even a little bit. I need to work harder, and I know that because I’ve experimented enough with my fitness training routine to know what works. I know how many reps and sets are most effective for me (for the record, it’s volume – I need to do a lot!).
It’s seriously frustrating, but hey, we can’t all be natural bodybuilders.
But, we sure as hell can all be experimenters. Don’t assume something that works for an expert, blogger, professor or anyone else will automatically work for you. Try it and see. If it does, great. If not, no big deal. Move on.
Keep focused on the most effective sample size for your life: ONE.
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Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.