Thought experiments have been useful tools for scientists to understand and explain hypotheses, theories, and principles. Einstein’s thought experiments were an essential part of his success. Schrödinger’s cat is a famous thought experiment, which explains quantum mechanics with everyday objects.
Thought experiments free us from the limitations of everyday life. They help us experiment without taking any risks. They enable us to consider the consequences of conflicting scenarios, which can’t be executed simultaneously.
Thought Experiments in Personal Development
Thought experiments aren’t only used in physics. They’re also used in other fields including philosophy, mathematics, biology, computer science, and economics. In this post, we’ll discuss their use in personal development.
One of the fundamental principles of personal development is to have a congruent, compelling vision. Most of us have desires that are just reactions to our current challenges and limitations. When we look closely, our desires contradict each other.
There are several thought experiments to come up with a congruent, compelling vision. I like the audio-program The Magic of Self-Direction by Brian Tracy. It contains some useful thought experiments to clarify your vision.
I recommend you take your time to do the experiments below with a pen and paper.
The Lottery Experiment
A typical personal development exercise is to think about what you would do if you won the lottery. I like to have specific numbers. What would you do, if you received 1 million, 10 million, or 100 million USD tax-free?
Now, calculate the budget of what you want to do. In some cases, we overestimate what a million USD can purchase. In other instances, we overestimate the cost of our wishes.
Think about the period after your initial spending spree. What are you going to do after you burned through those millions? Thinking about that can help you realize that your desires are a bottomless pit.
The lottery experiment helps us set aside our limiting beliefs, take a critical look at our endeavors whose sole purpose is making money, and focus on what we truly want.
What Would You Do If You Had Six Months Left to Live?
Most of us spend our days as if we’ll never die. In reality, we get older every day, and there’s a chance we won’t be alive the next day. We ignore that fact. What would you do if you had a doctor’s visit and they told you that you had six months left?
This thought experiment helps us understand what’s important to us. We need to prioritize our daily schedules according to our answers to this question.
If your answers to this question aren’t reflected in your daily and weekly schedules, you’re missing out on life.
Once you have done this experiment, continue with the following questions.
- What would you do if you had six weeks left to live?
- What would you do if you had six days left to live?
- What would you do if you had six hours left to live?
- What would you do if you had six months left to live and had 10 million USD in your bank account?
Multiple Lives Experiment
We all have numerous desires. Some of those desires contradict each other. As a result, we give up on all of them. What if you received as many lives as you wanted and you could realize each of your desires in a different life.
- Which desire would you pick first?
- How would your life look like?
- What would be the consequences of realizing that desire?
Do this experiment for at least six desires that come up often in your mind.
This experiment helps us analyze each desire without the limitations of our daily lives.
Maybe, a desire is just an escape strategy from your busy schedule. Maybe, you don’t want to spend your whole life in a small coastal town. Maybe, you just need to take a vacation and have a more balanced life when you come back.
Once you complete this experiment for at least six desires, think about how you can integrate them in a single life. Maybe, you can include some aspects in your life, like the vacation example above.
Maybe, some of your desires are impossible to integrate into your current life. This might be the time to acknowledge that fact and let them go. That way, you’ll free up some mental capacity, which you can use on goals that you can accomplish in this life.
Imagine you’re lying in your bed and living the last minutes of your life. You need to get into the feeling for this experiment. Google the term deathbed and look at the images to do that.
- What do you think about your life?
- Do you have any regrets?
- What would you do differently?
- Knowing the answers to the questions above, how would you live your life now?
For a variation of this experiment, you can read my post Write Your Own Obituary. It helps you cultivate the second of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, “begin with the end in mind.”
The deathbed experiment can change your life if you do it regularly.
We all have endless desires but also limiting beliefs that prevent us from pursuing them. Thought experiments help us take a critical look at our desires as well as our limiting beliefs.
As a result, we eliminate the desires that don’t match our vision. That frees up mental capacity, which we can focus on the realization of our vision.
Another benefit of thought experiments is to remind us that our time in this life is limited. That motivates us to focus on what truly matters and let go of distractions.
Just like in science, thought experiments provide us with invaluable insights in personal development. If done regularly, they have the potential to turn around our lives.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.